Uncle Bud

Just days ago our beloved Uncle Bud fell and did not regain consciousness. This past year his body and mind had started giving way, and our collective family grief began. Now it’s in full force. He’s gone.

Among his many achievements and passions, Uncle Bud was a master fisherman. I walk by the river, seeing it through his eyes, feeling his hand-rubbing oh-boy enthusiasm from the inside out. God walks alongside, quiet.

“It wasn’t all rosy,” she says. “For him or your mom…”

“I know,” I interrupt. “They didn’t talk about it much, but I know.”

Uncle Bud was generous, kind, and positive. Filled with good humor and gratitude. In contrast, his childhood included poverty and difficulties most people don’t have to face. In a moment of rare self-disclosure my mom told me that she and Uncle Bud had a pact: They would be there for each other, and they would never, ever give in to the negativity and deprivation they experienced as children.

I’ve known a lot of bitter, unkind people, who constantly blame others for their troubles. Their parents, the government, teachers, partners, neighbors, children—anyone but themselves. Fault-finding is a toxic hobby; blame obliterates gratitude. This is ironic because gratitude lifts the spirit. But for some reason, finding fault is simple, and blame is easy. Gratitude takes effort.

“Why is blaming so seductive?” I ask God.

“That’s a no-brainer,” God answers. “It’s lack of center. Lack of compassion. Insecure people crave admiration. They focus on what’s wrong around them to build themselves up. They’re takers, not givers. Enough is never enough and they are never to blame.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I feel that tension all the time.”

“What tension?” God asks with false innocence.

“I want to be positive and cool like Uncle Bud, but I also want everyone to notice how much I give, how hard I try. I tell myself it’d be good for them to be grateful. But that’s not how it works is it?”

“Being positive is a choice, and gratitude’s a choice. You can’t demand gratitude,” God says with a knowing grin. “Trust me. I’ve tried!”

 “Ha! You’re almost as funny as Uncle Bud.” I smile sadly.

“Thanks,” God says. “He really was amazing.” I nod. We watch the trout rise. And together we remember Uncle Bud with sadness, love, and deep well-earned, willingly offered gratitude for the courageous choices he made and all the ways he added happiness to the lives around him.

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.