Landing

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In 40 minutes, I will land. We will land. The degrees of separation will fluctuate wildly while my internal Geiger counter recalibrates. Then all will settle, and I’ll make educated guesses about the radiance of God’s face and the relative dangers of the mundane.

No doubt the landing will be turbulent because in Mexico City, God looked bored and restless. Security singled me out, emptied my bags, patted me down. The apologetic guard had thin pink lips. She was extraordinarily short and efficient. God chuckled before boarding the plane like royalty, dressed in pilot’s regalia.

At 30,000 feet, I am beyond redemption, but then everything is. The question is less about redemption–more about restoration, which apparently, will be a real bitch. There’s nothing subtle about restoration. It extends beyond the absurd and tragic, earth scorched and drenched, bones burned clean. The lovely molds and mildew will recede only after, somehow, it’s over, and this particular crisis is removed from the cross and buried.

Explanations sit stoically beside me, overweight and ugly. Back in Mexico, they stare out the windows of the purple bus, flutter in the hands of children selling trinkets in the rain.

The seat belt sign is illuminated. Items in the overhead bins have shifted. Visibility is limited by smoke and tears. But we will be landing shortly. This is terrible. And perfect.

Not Fair

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My brother loaned me his rototiller and I haven’t returned it. He says he’ll come get it if he needs it. I say well, that’s not really fair. He says whoever said life was fair? I mutter something like well, at least I should try to make it more fair. He just smiles.

“Hey, God,” I yell, after my brother drives away. “Whoever said life was fair?”

“Not I,” says God. “I’m not in charge of that idea. In fact, it’s a childish notion I hope you’ll outgrow someday. Who gets more candy? Who sleeps on the top bunk? This is okay when you’re seven. Tiresome behavior for adults.”

It began to rain. It rained on the river and on the cracked, thirsty garden. It rained on the pavement and on a spring wedding somewhere. The wind picked up and blew so hard I gasped for breath. It blew down a tree, it blew waves in the water, it blew away the simplistic demands we make of our shrink-wrapped God. The rain came sideways and the real God shimmered, at ease in the liquid uncertainty we think of as life.

I started a fire. God shook like a dog and joined me. My fate in the hands of rain. My days in the arms of wind. This chills me to the bone. I rub my stiff hands and sip tea.

“Justice is different than fairness,” God says. “You know that eye for an eye thing?”

I nod, wary.

God continues, patient. “That’s the upward limit. No more than an eye for an eye. But less is better. In fact, I favor forgiveness and compassion. Your species is more likely to survive that way.”

“Duh,” I snap at God. “Justice. Mercy. Compassion. Humility. I get it.” I pause and calm myself. “But I don’t think it’s fair you aren’t helping us more.” I smile. God smiles. It’s good we have these little chats.

My twinkly-eyed friend with his infectious laugh will soon be dead from the cancer he’s carried for decades. I can eat a second or third salted caramel while I write this. When I turn on the news, likely I’ll see a child bloated with hunger, floating on a crowded raft. I won’t gag. Maybe I should. God, should I gag?

The rain pounds down and the river’s rising. No answer. No answer at all.

Fear

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Across an expanse of greening alfalfa, a mated pair of Sandhill Cranes use legs, thin as sticks, to pick their way along–resigned, ungainly, slow. They scold the world, aware that few are listening. Aware of the coming storm. Morning is a burden, the sky unattainable, heavily gray. Their staccato calls, made sonorous by windpipes coiled deep in their bodies, drift across the land and dissipate like smoke.

I am startled by rain, arriving sudden and cold. The hills disappear in the downpour and the Gray God of Unknowing washes away the dusty assumptions we use to comfort our selfish selves. Few things are fully true. We are made of approximations. Sometimes, we feed the children; sometimes, we feed the brutal urges coming up from the underbelly of fear. I matter as much as the lilacs, the lilies, the lizards. I am capable of fire.

“Yes,” God says in a sleepy voice from the corner. “You’ve been capable of fire for a long time now.” I pull my gaze from the pouring rain and nod. God looks rumpled. Sweet and a little disoriented. She stretches like a cat. “Good day for napping, isn’t it?” I nod again. It looks like she might go back to sleep. That’s for the best, I think, so I hold very still. I guess God finds this funny. Laughter fills the room, the house, breaks the windows, spills out and floods the valley. Laughter shakes the clouds, astonishes the cranes, brightens the hills, fills the river. Only God can laugh like this. I don’t even try to join in. In fact, I’m a little bit afraid.

Finally, it winds down. God wipes her nose and curls back up in her cozy blanket. “There is wisdom in fear,” she says, before closing those smoldering eyes. “But choose your fears wisely. They’re as powerful as your loves.

Fire

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Before the snow came, I burned rotten, misshapen wood. Dirty wood, not even worth cutting up for the woodstove. Wood filled with unremovable, wayward screws. Such fires are my last resort.

Enduring the scorn of my carpenters, I save every scrap of wood—wood that was once a seed that grew into a tree that was felled, milled, planed, dried, sawn, hammered, and then, in this case, tossed aside as remnant. I am a gatherer of remnants. I restore things. But there’s a limit, and sometimes, fire is the answer. It burned ferocious and unfettered.

Evening came, the fire died down. I went in to watch gratuitous violence on TV and eat fish wrapped in freezer-burned tortillas. Long after dark, I looked out the upstairs window. Of course, the flames were gone, but to my consternation, the embers were visible. The air was still, but I know well the nature of wind—it can blow up sudden and savage. Not long ago, our neighbor’s smoldering garbage nearly burned our house down. My fire wasn’t dead enough.

Boots, flashlight, rake, shovel, I trudged across the uneven ground to assess the cinders. Things were hotter than I’d thought they’d be. I found a long hose and hooked it up to the hydrant. Water hit and hissed. I put the hose down and stirred the steaming mound. Embers, given a last gasp of air, burst into flame. I let them burn themselves down, down, down, littering the night with airborne sparks. Hose at hand, I admired the blaze for a while. Then I broke the fire apart. Flame fell back to glowing embers. I raked a perfect circle of pulsating orange heat and stared into the hypnotic beauty.

The circle glowed vibrant and seductive. I imagined screams of agony, should I walk across these coals, or sink down through the intense heat to the inverse world below. The vision was potent enough that I turned the hose on full force. Fire, water, earth, and air. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It took a while, but finally, I could put my hands anywhere in the gray soup. It was over.

I walked slowly back to the house, a somber carbon-based lifeform, caught in the trappings of a long-dead Deity. I glanced up. Dark sky came to life. My eyes adjusted to billions of stars, mirroring my true, living image back to me. Minuscule. Vulnerable and magnificent. Stardust, spit, and ash. Ragged, weary, incomplete.

I knew I would be what was left after the fire. And I wasn’t afraid. I tucked myself into the womb of the ever-birthing, ever-blazing God.