Senses

Smell is our oldest sense. Collectively, humans can detect billions of different odors. This has played a central role in our evolution, leading to such literary declarations as Fe Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman. The sense of smell has made headlines recently because a microscopic organism has been infecting human brains, disabling the senses of smell and taste: a virus not to be trifled with. But then, evil is rarely to be trifled with, right God?

No answer. The silence isn’t holy. But some days, I just keep talking.

And about this notion of evil, God. Who’s evil? What is it? As you know, I don’t like dust settling on things again and again or ashes as a final destination. I like fresh sheets, crisp salad, and good news. Call me shallow, but that’s the way it is, God. I would prefer to be comfortable, adored, young, well-fed, and smart. And whatever deprives me of what I want, well, let’s call that evil, shall we?

My one-way chat takes a nasty turn as the sun intensifies through the window and I see myself reflected on my computer screen in all my dismal glory. “No wonder God is busy elsewhere,” I say to my image in a mean voice. “You’re all the things you dread.” I consider the procedures and surgeries available to make me seem younger, more adorable, smarter. This breaks my fall. My distended ego deflates, and I give myself a smile that naturally lifts the wrinkles.

See, God? Here I am, smiling. All done judging. C’mon by.

I sit. I force myself to say prayers of lovingkindness for the twisted senator, the mouth-breathing fools on the airplanes, lazy neighbors, unkind people, even those who torture, deprive, and dehumanize. I give thanks for my senses, even though I can smell the blood of the disgusting humans who are destroying the planet. Oh, I wish I were the giant.

This last thought finally rouses The Presence. Holy Words, like sleek black animals, invade my brain. “You can’t eat your way to heaven,” they say in a low growl. “You can’t smell your way to salvation. You can’t see the face of God, and you can’t force your way in.” The Words collect around The Presence, and The Presence turns to me, taking the shape of a very old friend.

“The thing that shines in the broken moment, the shelter of translucent skin, these are lessons. Very little of who you are or what you do is to your credit or entirely your fault. Regardless, you will never be the giant. For this, be grateful. Go listen to holiday music. Inhale cinnamon and vanilla.”

“But that seems so…” I pause.

“Shallow?” asks my Very Old Friend. “Simple?”

“Yeah,” I nod. “It’s like giving up. Surrendering.”

“Yes,” my Very Old Friend says. “Much harder than it seems. But you can do it.  I’ll help.”

Did We Begin on the Seventh Day, When God Dozed Off?

God’s creative management style is not one I’d recommend for small or even large businesses. And I am not saying that behind her back; she’s sitting right here, watching me examine the dust on the mirror. I like mirrors, but they get very dusty. She listens with rapt attention as I mutter about hatred and cruelty and offer critical analysis of her most irritating creatures. The marvel and madness of God is that she is patient, permissive, and absolute. She cares little about insults, greatly about suffering, and allows all things and beings to spin on their wobbly, narcissistic axes until they’ve spun themselves out.

I offer her the keyboard. She refuses. I offer her the day. She laughs.

 “Nah,” she says. “I have so many days I don’t know what to do with them all. And anyway, the day you’re offering is already mine.” This is true, but also it isn’t. I blow on the mirror and watch a few particles of dust shift around. She looks on, hands folded in her enviable lap–a lap that is a cave, a womb–a lap that’s a luxury apartment in Manhattan, a well-built hut in the Congo, the cab of a semi with an alert and friendly driver capable of backing up without a second thought.

“And she’s off,” God says, making fun of my fantasies. This time, I laugh, delighted at the twinkle in God’s eye.

“Laps are great, aren’t they?” I say. “My friend had a dream that she had a horse on her lap. Imagine that.” God already knows this dream, but we enjoy the story anyway.

Once in a long while, when God’s in a tough place, I hold her on my lap and let her be small, but I’ve never held a full-grown horse.

“It’s always what you can handle,” God says. “Until you can’t.”

“Yeah,” I say. “Dreams are some other language. Flying dreams are the best, but mostly, I fall off ledges, try to save helpless children, and find hidden rooms in buildings I’m remodeling.”

“I know,” God says. “It’s confusing.”

I consider that for minute and then ask, “Well, why don’t you let people dream what they want to dream?”

“Oh, I do,” God says. “I absolutely do.” I look skeptical but say nothing. The inner, the outer; the brain, the mind. At the heart of the great mystery, is it simply random synaptic firings? Did God invent evolution for fun? Did we begin on the seventh day, when God dozed off? Are we the dream? The particles of dust on my mirror? The coming and going of migratory birds?

“Yes!” God says. And the twinkle in her eye explodes into blinding light. I fumble my way to that lap where I know I am being dreamed and settle in, migratory and alert.

Good and Evil, Weeds and Greens

I just ordered extra-strength mold and mildew killer for a nasty basement area that hosts a strain of fungi I do not like. And later today I’ll chop, pull, and in some cases, spray chemicals on bugs and weeds and tenacious grasses that are choking the good stuff.

I hate this.

I hate every single stupid aspect of the battle between good and evil, weeds and vegetables, beneficial bugs and destructive infestations, liars and truth-tellers, thieves and the generous of spirit. I realize there’s a purpose for all of creation. Nature is not mistaken. We know a little but not enough. Defining anything as a weed or as evil begs the question of an omniscient creator who pronounces all things good (or potentially good, or redeemable). It violates my premise that God knows what God’s up to. This is why being rational sucks sometimes. The whole of life is filled with unsettling contradictions that must be addressed or endured.

I’m a consumer and a provider–a lover, hater, poet, pragmatist, winner, loser, dreamer, doodler; I’m easily duped but wise in the ways of my insular world. On occasion, I fail to be honest or kind—but I’m skilled at manufacturing reasons to justify myself.

As a human, I have a large degree of autonomy. I have the prerogative to be caring or cruel, truthful or deceitful; I have power over those weaker than I am. Each day arrives new but slightly tainted by the dregs of the day before. The brilliant colors of an unguarded sky disorient me as the hot wind of redundancy stirs the August dust. By late afternoon, I see in my face the toll taken by trying to live well. What do the “evil” people see—the depraved and debauched—do they see the same contours?  Small victories and apparent defeats? Do they glimpse God with her arms crossed, waiting? Do they see my futile longing to give every living thing another chance?

The problem with weeds and germs is that they don’t know their place: they’re not humble. They roam around the party sipping wine from everyone’s glass. They are invasive and infectious. Taking unfair advantage, they form self-defeating monocultures and thus fail to be a balanced part of an intricate ecosystem.

The God I hang out with is the Balancer-in-Chief. She climbs on the scales, lies down in the street, lets the bastards starve her to death. She sustains injuries from the blast, drowns in the flood, joins the protests, widens the cracks, and endures. Unlike me, she seems to know it will come out okay in the end. There will be justice. There will be mercy. There will be love. I shield my eyes from the glare of the moment, but I can only see so far. So while I’m still able, I yank at the weeds with a ferocious mix of futility and hope, and with a certain sadness, I leave their roots exposed to the merciless sun.

Warm Heart

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It is evening. Snowy. The vicious ways of humanity have crawled up on the couch beside me, surrounded me, touched me, and laughed. I see them loading their guns. I offer to eat the bullets. They laugh.

It is the end of a day, an era, minutes strung together with a thin cord falling through the ice. Going under and away. God is the Titanic and the iceberg. I want to refuse the cold comfort, but I can’t.

This is not of my own doing. It is a gift of God.

I warm my hands over my own chest, tuck them under my own arms. I open my mouth to admit my fear but what comes out is anger. This, I quickly see, is what has warmed my heart. What to do with this fire? It is hypnotic to the eye. Searing to the touch.

Recently, I read a book about World War II and said to myself, “Those horrors were only 80 years ago.” I am lured by the distorted consolation of disbelief. My soul entertains the idea of a stealthy migration to meaninglessness; the reabsorption of my face into the masses.

But long ago, in a desperately poor institution, I saw a naked boy caged in a window, his pink-tipped penis, long and limp, his muddy eyes slow-moving and opaque, arms draped through the ornate bars, fingers exploring, imploring anyone to hold his hand. Anyone.

These decades later, I wonder where he is. Did the cage fly open? Did his penis grow erect? Did anyone ever hold his hand, and if they did, did they survive, or did he pull them down into the half-life of that underworld?

He would be a man now. He would not remember my face if he happens to be alive, but I think he’s not. Such poverty sucks the marrow from the bones of the children. I have grieved this child my entire life, and I doubt that even death will change that. He is a part of what I know.

This is not of my own doing. It is a gift of God.