Road Rage

When I’m driving around, sometimes a line pops into my head and I think it deserves a whole poem. Like this little phrase earlier today: The exquisite pain of knowing… The chances of remembering it for long were slim, so as I negotiated the traffic, I repeated it over and over, even though I didn’t think I was in pain. I was, instead, enraged.

The roads were terrible; people were driving stupid. It’s election day and as usual, my beloved state has gone to the highest bidders. Good, honest people ran against paranoia and lost. I knew I was angry, but when God tapped me on the shoulder I jerked the wheel and yelled, “Fuck you, God.” This surprised us both.

I’m home now but there’s no poem waiting for me. God made a hasty exit at a red light. Fine with me. Who needs any kind of God riding along, let alone a misrepresented, passive one?

To ward off a potential return, I put my fingers in my ears and sing la la la la la. I think of people who don’t love me and hate them for it. And then I retract the hate because I don’t want to be loved anyway. I’m weary of it all. I make herbal tea and wait for the end.

“Finished?” God asks, in a quiet, almost tender voice.

“Yeah,” I say. “You?”

“Oh, I’ve been finished for a very long time.”

“Did you quit or were you fired?” I’m still feeling a little hostile, but I push a slice of sourdough toast toward God. Breaking bread together might help.

“Technically, I was finished before I started,” God says, and takes a bite of the toast.

I make a face, hoping to signal that I don’t like these cryptic answers.

God also makes a face. “There’s something wrong with this toast. It’s bitter.”

“Well, why don’t you whip out your magic wand and fix it?”

God smiles. “Because as I said, I’m done. I turned in my wand so we could be friends. Maybe you should feed this to your pigs.”

“We’re going to eat those pigs someday,” I say.

“I doubt it,” God says. “But good on you for trying.”

The snow continues, and visibility is limited. There will be anger, anxiety, and accidents throughout the day. Night will fall and bring a temporary peace. This moment will be the last for some. The first for others.

God remains soft and circular. I am linear and limited, and I realize that this is the knowing that brings the exquisite pain.

No worries, I whisper to myself. You’re tough. And you can always make more bread. This isn’t true, but God doesn’t contradict me. For that, I am grateful.

Holy Preppering

The question of what to believe and what to believe in has plagued humans since consciousness seeped into our thick skulls and we uttered our first Why? So many ways to explain what happens, what matters, and how things are related: Science, sorcery, nature, love, revenge, big bangs, money, freedom, justice, magic, self, country, and a wide variety of gurus, presidents, and Gods; it boggles the evolved mind.

When things don’t go our way, we also ask Why not? We assign culpability for painful, scary, disappointing events. Awful things must be someone’s fault: the failings of the various Gods, the devil’s doing, the stupidity of our fellow humans. It’s comforting to blame.

But such attributions are simplistic and often wrong. Absolutes are always nuanced. We naively pit cause and effect against chance because for a species of meaning-makers, meaninglessness is terrifying.

“Yes,” God agrees cheerfully. “It’s astonishing what humans think up to believe in. Accepting meaninglessness, ever-evolving truth, or limited comprehension is tough.”

“Don’t you think I know that?” I ask.

 God shrugs.

Recently, I had a brief encounter with a bona fide Doomsday Prepper. Talk about meaning-makers! Preppers believe fervently that a specific global disaster is imminent, and they enjoy actively preparing for it, honing their skills to endure against the odds, spinning conspiracy theories late into the night.

They hoard food, toilet paper, and usually, weapons. They have generators, animals, flour grinders, and secret stashes of who knows what else. If they are rich, they are building biodomes where they can live once the rest of the earth is uninhabitable.

Generally, they’ve formed God in their own image. This God wants them to have supplies and ammunition. This God wants them ready. This God wants them to survive.

“That’s so sad,” God says. “So isolating. Devastation around every corner. Enemies on every horizon.”

“I know,” I agree. “And it’s likely self-fulfilling.”

“Maybe,” God says. “But what matters is who you’re prepping to share with and who you’re prepping to kill.”

My heart sinks. “Well, that’s easy. We share with those who are like us and kill those who are not. And we kill anyone who threatens our loved ones or our supplies.”

 God nods. “It takes an enormous amount of prepping to be ready to love your enemies.”

“I don’t even know what that means,” I snap, crossing my arms.

“Oh, I think you do,” God says patiently.

“Nice chatting,” I say, backing away. “But I have things to take care of.”

“Going to order another crate of toilet paper?” God asks with a grin.

“Yes,” I admit. “But I’m planning to share the outhouse with anyone who needs it.”

If I Love My Enemies, Who Will Hate Them for Me?

Loving my enemies, even if the list is limited to humans, is a tall order. If other lifeforms are included, say vicious dogs or mutating viruses, all bets are off.

“Who’s betting?” God asks. This is a trick question. Instead of answering, I distract myself by reviewing things or people I detest. First, the obvious: Covid. Putin. But the list rapidly expands until I am simmering in the cauldron of generalized hate. God waits.

The dog I’m in charge of today isn’t vicious, but she’s often overtaken with spasmodic joy when she sees me. Neither of us can contain it. She squeaks, grovels, dashes here and there, and even though she knows better, she leaps up and knocks me down. I yell “No.” She meekly allows me to put her in timeout but then howls in protest. God is still waiting.

One definition of enemy is someone or something injurious or destructive. The dog knocked me over in joy, but the bruises are the same. How does intention factor into this complicated equation?  God clears her throat. I guess I should stop ignoring her.

I’m betting,” I say. “There are too many hateable things and people.”

“You are SO right,” God says. “It’s too much for you. How about you let me do the hating?”

“That would be great!” I say. “I’ve got my list right here.” I hand it to her, but I can’t quite let go. She pulls. The list rips, leaving me clinging to a small corner of the page.

God glances down the list, rips it up, and explodes in laughter. She is a stampede of wild horses pounding the earth. She is an invasive species blooming bright yellow. She wraps her irrepressible presence around the artillery and dies blood red in the battlefield. She is chemo, killing all rapidly reproducing cells, innocent or lethal. She is a Supreme Court bent on destroying democracy, a river rising, a child playing near the den of the rattler. She is Source and the End.

“Hate won’t get you there,” she says, marching by in a parade of endangered species. She tosses me a floatation device, a flak jacket, and some abortion medications to distribute as needed. She puts a big fat hand out, taps her clawed foot, and waits. Reluctantly, I put the remaining corner of the hate list in her palm. She wads it up and eats it with determination reminiscent of Maxwell Smart. I should be happy. Relieved. But I want my list back. Hate is easier, vengeance feels good.

“Hey, God,” I say. “Turns out I don’t want you to do my hating for me. You’re not very good at it anyway.”

“You’re right,” God says. “I’m not.”

You Can’t Make Me

God and I are listening to Bonnie Raitt on Youtube. “I can’t make you love me if you don’t,” she croons, her voice resigned, gentle. The lyrics were inspired by an article about a man who’d shot up his girlfriend’s car. During sentencing, the judge asked the offender if he’d learned anything. He replied, “Yes, I did, Your Honor. You can’t make a woman love you if she don’t.”

“Well, that’s true,” God says. “But don’t extrapolate. She’s singing about eros–an attraction that’s sensuous, artistic, and spontaneous.” God gave me a chummy wink. “It may not have been that wise, but I put eros slightly out of your direct control. And I’ll admit, I get a kick out of watching eros make fools of you all occasionally.”

My mind drifts to some of my youthful escapades that may or may not have been fueled by eros. I keep silent. God laughs.

“I hid it in the genes; biology and all that,” God says, but quickly adds, “I also gave you a modicum of willpower and common sense. You can channel eros in some very nice ways.” God smiles. “It’s a source of energy.”

“Yeah,” I say. My mind drifts to the notion of loving my enemies; definitely not a source of energy.

“Ah,” God says. “Let me clear that up for you. It’s a problem with language. I never command eros. It’s there or it isn’t. My first–and actually only–commandment is this: Have compassion. Choose self-sacrifice. Act for the common good. I don’t just hope you love each other in this sense of love. It’s a full-on mandate.” God pushes back in the recliner, watching me squirm.

“Penny for your thoughts,” she says. And I say, “You already know what I’m thinking, But fine, I’ll say it. I’m thinking about mandates. I don’t like seatbelts. They make me itch and feel claustrophobic. There are mandates I hate.”

“Yup,” God says. “I know that.”

“But on the other hand, I detest second-hand smoke, and drunk drivers terrify me.”

“I know that, too.”

The song continues. “Morning will come, and I’ll do what’s right. Just give me ‘til then to give up this fight.”  The longing in her voice, the beautiful, ultimately loving surrender always chokes me up. Such a heart-wrenching choice.

“Now, about those seatbelts,” God says. “You realize that in a crash, your untethered body becomes a bludgeon, right? It’s a mandate for the common good, not your comfort.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” I say. “That’s why I wear the damn things.”

But sometimes, I finish my half-beer in the car when I’m not driving. I haven’t shot up any vehicles, but I admit I still have some work to do.

“Oh, most of you have quite a bit of work to do,” God says. “And not to rush you, but like the song says, morning will come.”

Bad God

Here’s how it started: I spotted God strolling in the fading garden at sunrise and shouted, “Okay, God. Get in here right now. You’re in serious trouble, old man. Serious.” If God had a middle name, I would have used it. Like, “God Henry, I mean it.”

God heard me and waved. God heard me and pointed at the sky. God heard me and heard me and heard me because I didn’t stop yelling until I had dissolved in a coughing fit from over-exertion. It was only then God approached, slapped me on the back, and helped me catch my breathe.

“Pretty upset, huh?” God said.

“Oh, don’t try that Carl Rogers stuff on me,” I said. “You know damn well you’ve got to do something about your fake followers. Have you seen them, enshrining cruelty? Greed? Millions dancing at the thought of women forced to carry unwanted fetuses to term as if that’s what you want, rejoicing about your amazing creation being endlessly “developed”? Have you noticed the air quality? The hurricanes? The fires? The poor?”

“Slow down, partner,” God said. “Last day of good weather for a while. And it looks like you’ll have your first female Vice President, and she’s from Indian and Black parentage, and she’s smart. There’s that.” To my surprise, there were tears in God’s eyes. I mellowed a little, but the image of my neighbors wearing those detestable red hats with insulting slogans didn’t fade enough. I live in a beautiful place that voters have placed in the hands of the rich and morally corrupt. I live among people unwilling to pay taxes to care for the sick, the widowed, the poor, the broken. Unwilling to even pay their fair share for the common good.

God saw my despair. “Well, honey. You all have a long road ahead. I’ll give you that. Let’s try something, O.K.?”

I nodded. With God, a nod is a dangerous thing but not as dangerous as saying no.

“Pick a neighbor with a red hat. And get the image of the face clear in your mind’s eye.”

I complied, but there was a low guttural sound in my throat.

“Now, take the face gently into your hands and let your eyes speak love. Let your pain show. Let the truth generate a kind of holy light around you both.”

My hands clenched. My eyes burned. “I can’t do this,” I said to God. “I just want to snap the neck and be done with it.”

“I know,” God said. “But then who’d pay the taxes?” He laughed at his own bad joke, extended his elbow to my imagined neighbor, and they walked arm in arm back to the garden. God offered my neighbor some carrots. My carrots. My garden. My Bad God, out there loving my damaged, vicious neighbor, sharing my harvest.

I remained outraged, but I didn’t dare summons Bad God a second time. Who knows what else he’d give away? I just watched and sipped my beer.