Speaking Terms

Yesterday, God and I were not on speaking terms. Today, a purifying spring snow is falling, the beer is cold, and I have repented. It was partly God’s fault, but I’m the one repenting. It works better that way. God can be a real handful, but after I calm down, I don’t mind cajoling him along. It’s that or fire him, and I don’t want to fire him: I need the help. We all need the help. Even the toughest among us need the help.

“Not true,” the Bruising Force of God says, smearing bacon fat on the last piece of toast. “Well, maybe true,” he admits, chewing with his holy mouth open.

“Sometimes, you disgust me,” I say, trying to focus on the garden instead of God’s missing teeth, the dead bodies in Ukraine, or the grief inherent in being human. Pandora is playing my Eva Cassidy station. I turn up the volume to drown out the smacking noises. Long ago, a friend introduced me to Eva’s voice—though Eva had already died of breast cancer. She didn’t survive long enough to enjoy her success. My friend does not remember any of this because her memories have come as untethered as cheap kites in sporadic wind.

“Cheap. Fancy. Doesn’t matter. They all come back to earth,” God says, as he brushes crumbs off his shirt. “Write that down,” he adds. “That’ll be a good line.” I glare out the window. The snow is thicker now, each flake a mesmerizing angularity, falling straight and heavy. I wonder if the weight will break branches.

“Yes,” God says, still pontificating. “Branches will break. Oceans will rise. There will be surges and recedings. But in the meantime, I’d sure like another piece of toast.”

My wish to bring God down a notch is palpable, but I manage to get up, walk calmly to the kitchen, and make more toast.

Preparing for Guests

Not long ago, God and I were kneading dough, trying to time things so the smell of fresh bread would greet our guests at the door. Homemade sourdough is one of my staples, and I wanted to impress these acquaintances with my earthiness. I had a hunch they were our kind of people.

Most of us need a few homies; a posse, an inner circle of those who know us well enough to hold our fears and failures–and reveal their own. Recently a chunk of our inner circle fell to the forces of mortality, and the wound is still tender, keeping me acutely aware that anyone can fall at any moment and no longer be. God puts the dough in a cool place to slow the rise. She gives me a knowing glance. “You’re ambivalent, aren’t you?” she asks.

“Yeah,” I say. “There are days I think it’s best to be disconnected. Less risk. Less pain.”

“Slight correction, if I may?” God says. “What you mean is that the illusion of being disconnected offers a bit of respite, but…”

I hold my hand up. Mercifully, the Center of All that Is and Isn’t, the Author, the Plot, the Weaver of the Tapestry, the Queen of Connection stops talking. I know where this is headed. I know about Oneness, and I know about loss. Many’s the time I’ve tried to make God understand how it feels to be on my side of the perpetual falling away, but God only sees it as falling into, not away. I think that’s callous and naïve. God thinks I’m tiresome and unsympathetic. So, once in a while, to show God how hard it can be, I sing to her–usually James Taylor’s Fire and Rain–and she cries a little for our sakes. But being the thing we fall into is also hard. She borrows Paul Simon (himself, a borrower of ancient hymns) and sings to me.

“…I’ve often felt forsaken, and certainly misused. But I’m all right, I’m all right. I’m just weary to my bones. Still, you don’t expect to be bright and bon vivant so far away from home, so far away from home.”

And I cry a little for her sake. The best homies remind us we aren’t home, and the wisest among us realize there is no home, only the lonely journey and the shared and cherished resting places. Most dreams have been driven to their knees, but it’s all right. It’s all right. Even when exhausted, God kneels alongside the dream. And shatters with the dream. And sings.

The oven is ready, the table set. We will break bread together, drink leftover wine, and in those rare moments, we will bravely partake of a singular and temporary joy.

The Harder Truths

“God,” I lamented. “It’s seriously cold and I’m sad.”  My old friend had died in the night, brave and private in his decline. I rubbed my hands together, trying to warm them. God watched me, face impassive. I continued. “You know I hate being cold.” I was feeling sorry for myself. Too many losses. Too much grief. Deep freeze cold makes me insecure, achy, and painfully aware of mortality.

God didn’t seem inclined to do anything useful, so I got a blanket. She watched as I draped it over my chest and wrapped my feet. Then she said, “Most of you secretly want your mommies when you’re cold, hungry, frightened, or sad, don’t you?”

This seemed less than kind. I glared. Said nothing. God went on. “But not your real mommy. You want an imaginary celestial being who understands how hard things are. Someone to fawn over you, feed you, assure you of your incredible worth, make false promises, and tuck you in, safe and sound, every night.”

I wasn’t enjoying these revelations, and the blanket wasn’t helping much. I shivered and looked away. God continued. “Oh, I know you sometimes arrange to be tucked in by surrogates, but even if they give you warm milk, dim the lights, or stay and snuggle, they aren’t what you long for. They can’t save you from yourself.”

Why on earth was God saying such things? I’m not all that demanding. I don’t think I long to be taken care of—at least not all the time. Is a blanket too much to ask? Overall, I’m relatively independent, nearly a prepper, minus the guns. I have two outhouses, a pantry, solar panels, wood stove, tons of rice, and an attitude.

God sat big in the middle of my brain. I sat uneasy in the presence of this God, apparently determined to say things I didn’t want to hear.

“Being grown-up means you put yourself to bed at night.” God said, as if ending a sermon or an inspirational talk.

I was not inspired. “No,” I wailed. “You’re wrong. You’re there. I know you are. And there are others. The ancestors. The nymphs and gnomes, the weak and strong. My beloved. My children and the children in such despair. Such need. They all go to bed with me. And we sleep. And we wake up. And we hope. And we believe as best we can.” I made these shaky declarations between ragged breaths, my hands fisted, ready to slug it out.

God took the fists and blew warm breath on them as they unclenched. I looked up and saw that God was crying, too. We flung our arms around each other and let the tears drip into the vast and rising darkness where the souls of the dearly departed wait to tuck us in with a strange and certain warmth.

Aerobics

On road trips, it is important to adapt. I just finished hopping around for 30 minutes in this guest house, urged on by a British man and two scantily clad women on YouTube. As is often the case, the women were silent, but they kept the beat. God sat on the edge of the bed, observing this ritual. My upper arms will be sore tomorrow because I do not routinely wave them around like that. I prefer the treadmill or the great outdoors.

“You’re always welcome to join in,” I say to God, as I wipe sweat droplets from the floor.

“Kinda busy,” God mumbles and turns to the map of the world on the wall.

I follow her gaze and feel the familiar plummet of significance. Not counting disputed regions, for now there are 195 independent (and artificially defined) nations on earth, populated by over seven billion of us. None exactly like me, but all of them a twinkle in God’s eye and a pain in God’s neck. All of them a whisper. Each of them a vision just out of reach.

“Remember,” God says. “The map is not the territory.” I do remember. Albert Korzybski, a Polish-American thinker, said that a century ago. Wise man, but still. Maps are something, right?

I grab my jacket and invite God along for a stroll in the park with the puppy and me. “Already there,” God says. I knew that, but I thought I’d ask. The proportionality of God is the issue. The map on the wall is a flat reminder of a round planet in serious trouble. Many of the flags along the bottom include red. I hold out hope that bleeding isn’t necessary, and weapons are not the final answer.

God sighs. “You left the key in the car and the car unlocked last night,” she says. “Might want to lock up on your way to the park.”

“Might not,” I say. “I like it when nothing happens.”

“Right,” God says with an eye-roll. “Your choice. A safe car is not a blessing. A stolen car is not a curse. Just so you have that straight.”

Of course, I don’t have that straight. I’m human. I manufacture imaginary blessings like that unstolen car all the time. “Sure thing,” I say to God with false bravado. “I get it. You had nothing to do with the car being safe.”

“That’s not what I said,” God says. “It’s just that I hate riding along in stolen cars, but I won’t blame you if that’s what I need to do. I’ll ride. I always ride. Even when it’s only a minor traffic violation, not a stolen car.”

“You ridin’ black or white?” I ask.

“Black,” God said. “Black and male. If they shoot me, call my mother, will you?”

I’ve not spoken with God’s mother for a while. I nod. “I will,” I say, imagining the cosmic grief the call would inflict. “But do you have to take such risks?” God gives me a disappointed look. “Yeah,” she says firmly. “Yeah. I do.”

Driftwood

Today, I examine the curves and contradictions of driftwood and stones rolled by the river while I sip small amounts of soothing beer and let ideas of God come and go as they will. Some stay longer than others. Some wake me up. Some put me to sleep. Some are a comfort; others are profoundly disturbing. Even when I utter prayers beyond words, I laugh at myself. I don’t ask for much. No, that’s a lie. I ask for everything.

Everything. Why not? Ask and ye shall receive, right? But here’s something I’ve noticed: Don’t ask and ye shall receive anyway. Or ask and ye get nothing ye asked for. So ye makes up ridiculous sayings like when God closes a door, she opens a window. What? A window? I’m too old to crawl through most windows. See why I laugh? Windows let in light and air. It’s nice to sit and look out a window. It is not nice to crawl through one. So if God has shut a door, maybe sit on the couch and appreciate the view.

Maybe invite God to sit with you. Maybe give God a chance to explain herself. She won’t, but that’s okay. Humans are ingenious inventors, projectors, and deniers. I have no doubt you can think up more clever sayings about God or about Not-God to offer the grieving family, to scold the misbehaver, to justify your choices, judge yourself or others, get even, or get ahead. It’s so easy. Just sit there and make things up, drawing from ancient writings, evangelists, humanists, feminists, misogynists, economists–whatever your sources, brew up an elixir, gird your loins, and… No. Wait. Touch the driftwood.

Wait. Take the fingers on your left hand, run them gently up and down the tender skin on your right arm, feel the tingle, and marvel. Marvel. Fill your lungs with air you cannot see, and marvel. Blink your eyes, wiggle your toes, taste the inside of your mouth, and marvel. Glance at God, smile sheepishly, and apologize for everything. Then regroup and ask for everything. Eternity. Driftwood. Stones shaped like broken hearts. Everything. God will hold the ladder as you crawl out the window. Try to laugh all the way to the ground. It will help you manage your terror and the enormous sadness you should never wish away.

Sometimes God is known as Eddy

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Sometimes God is known as Eddy, and he drives an older Oldsmobile. He dates an Asian lady who sells apples off her tree. Perfect crimson apples, cheap and crisp. Everyone admires their simplicity. The union of the holy and profane.

Sometimes God is known as Wonder. It’s lonely at the top, lonely on the edges, lonely in the alleys, lonely deep inside. But Wonder turns the tables and leaves a giant tip. Wonder drinks bad wine with relish and greets the coming storm. Wonder drops all pretense and bares its glistening soul.

Sometimes God is known as Bastard, parentage unknown. A conception so spectacular it must forever go unseen. Protested, but unseen. Tortured, but unseen. Orgasmic, but unseen. Left flailing in a dumpster, flushed in desperation, wrapped and suffocating in discarded plastic bags. So much blood. So much blood.

Sometimes God is known as Alpha, other times Omega. Still other times a word of praise will drop him to his knees. He has no knees. He has no wallet, has no reason, has no home and no idea. If you find him close to midnight, he’ll be sober. You’ll be drunk.

Sometimes God is known as Nothing. Sometimes known as Gone. Fallen through a fracture, inhaled as poison smoke, a dream that turns to nightmare, a promise come undone. Don’t pretend this isn’t true. The slaughter of the innocents is common, like falling off a horse. Falling off a horse.

Out of nowhere comes the rainbow, out of broken comes the whole. Sometimes God wears hyacinths and gains the upper hand. The fragrance overwhelms you and drops you to your knees. You do have knees. You have your reasons. You have wallets and ideas. Sometimes what you know is God. Sometimes, not.

Dismembering is easy with the ligaments of love, your muscles and your tendons giving way. But God braids these threads like water in her ever-flowing hair. The strands you think you’re made of are called Hyacinths. Or Eddy. And the only way you’ll ever make it home is come apart. Just come apart.

Grieving in the Old Blue Chair

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Today, I sit in the light of the rising sun, rocking myself in the old blue chair–the one I loaned my mom before she died. It’s an unusually small recliner. For a few months, with planning and effort, she could get out of it by herself. But then she couldn’t. She fell and laid helpless on the institutionally-bland carpet for who knows how long? They found her tangled in the floor lamp, alive but not coherent, her body bruised from her efforts to get up. That was Mom. Never stop trying to get back up.

Dylan Thomas would have approved. Mom did not “go gentle” into any dark nights. In her stubborn way, she raged against the dying of the light. When faced with a challenge, she’d clamp her thin lips tight, stomp on the gas and shoot down the road, her ever-shrinking body taut with determination. She’d arrive in her shiny white Ford, peering at the road from just above the steering wheel. She never stayed long.

God has stopped by to reminisce. He’s wearing decades on his shoulders, and our whole upstairs has become quite crowded. “Oh God,” I say, shifting to make room, glad for the company. “Remember how she believed that when she got to heaven, she’d have to give Dad an account of how she managed the ranch after he died?” God nods, a little teary. He really admired my mom over the years. “And remember how much she gave away?” I added. God smiles with pride.

There’s not much else to say. Those last three days, death pulled her tenderly down through the layers of life until it was just her brain stem fighting for air. The Wasabi sting of emotion threatens my placid mood as I sit with the memory of her  insistent breath, sucked in and out, in and out, irregular and awful. Not a memory anyone needs to have.

After she fell out of this chair, she never sat in it again. I brought it home—slightly more worn. I’ll keep it a while.

“Tell her, will you?” I ask God.

“Tell her yourself,” God answers, and holds up a mirror Mom carried in her purse. She used it to reapply her lipstick and smooth her hair. God slips open the purple plastic cover, and I see the unadorned eyes and lips of eternity–of now and forever. I see the eyes of God, wide like a baby, and the lips of God, as full as Bob Marley’s, singing.

I fight to let God’s swaying body save me–to believe in mercy and compassion in this broken, greedy, hungry world. To use my breath for good, and welcome my demise with grace. I rock in the old blue chair, sun warming my bones, while God, as audacious and angular as ever, dips and weaves as he hammers out the beat on the steelpan drums.

Seven Onions

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Today, I harvested the last seven onions, but the beets and carrots can wait in the dark autumn dirt a while. Frost only makes them sweeter. There’s a chill in the air. I wore my mother’s jacket. She died three days ago, against her will, but in the end, peaceful. That damn body betrayed her–the one she’d shoved into high gear every morning until it gave out. As I signed the papers, I knew she wanted that body burned to ash and flung into the wind–the same wind she knew as well as she knew the neighbors over the years–but I cried anyway.

I am in mourning. God has flitted in and out, respectful but adamant as I rail against her awful ways of doing things. The ways of God. The ways of God. What does that mean?

God is trying to be a soft barrier between me and despair. I prefer despair. God strokes my hair the same way I stroked Mom’s as she lay unconscious, her spirit moving slowly up the other side of the ravine between life and death. I push God’s hand away, angry and ashamed.

“Don’t do that,” I say.

“Okay,” God says. She tears up with me. “I loved her too, you know.”

I nod, reluctant. “I know. But you have a strange way of showing it.”

God nods. “The birds have started migrating,” she says. “I suspect another brutal winter is on the way.” I frown. The unstable shelter of the seasons is little comfort.

I look into the craggy face, the sad eyes, and realize that for God, this might be the hundred-millionth brutal winter. For God, everyone is dying, their bodies transforming, their warm, frightened souls flowing to where they will be known and welcomed. I want to know how. I want to know why. But God’s face is etched with a kind of wisdom I’m not ready for. I look away. Instead, I look to the hills. They are my oldest friends. I trust them. “Take care of her,” I tell them. “Make sure she finds her way.”