Mercy

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A confused Canadian Muslim wants to go home after veering into a nightmare that hasn’t ended yet. He wandered off to Syria to fight his version of the enemy. We’ve got him now, somewhere off some coast, in solitary confinement. He admitted to having thoughts of suicide.

Soon, if certain people have their way, there will be women in Alabama with unwanted pregnancies. These women, too, will be having thoughts of suicide. And when God was living in our basement, after he started using meth again—I’d be willing to  bet suicide occurred to him as well.

Our house is made mostly of trees that died in a forest fire but were not consumed. We peeled the scorched bark and ran them through a sawmill, creating slabs and beams, trim and studs, enormous posts, and artistic pieces good only for admiring. Our house makes a lot of noise. It cracks and pops like an arthritic skeleton. It scares me. Impermanence. Sounds from the dead as they twist, protesting their static existence. Once they were proud Douglas fir trees, drinking rain, basking in sun, rooted. Now, they hold the frame. They are flammable shelter. They are already dead, but even so, I wonder if they wish for transformation into smoke and ash.

“They do,” God said, confirming what I already knew. “I assure you, they do.”

“Some days, I don’t think I can stand the guilty anymore,” I said, touching one of the larger, smoother posts. God nodded, but said nothing. I blathered on. “Some days, I am afraid of fire. Other days, dry rot. Other days, mold. And I tell myself I deserve whatever happens to this house. This land. This earth.” God listened, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. This is always unnerving.

“But no one deserves anything, right God?” I thought of men and women deprived of basic freedom. Their bodies legislated, their mangled souls desperate. Penitent. Defiant. We are all once-burned trees. Waiting. Uncertain of how to go on.

“Walk with me,” God said. “Let’s go to the river.”

We sat on a fallen cottonwood, watching the muddy water. God was quiet for a while, but then said, “You know what you need? You need mercy.” I teared up. God went on. “Mercy is beyond forgiveness. Beyond fairness. Beyond sympathy. Entwined with justice. This is what you need. Mercy.” God paused to make sure I was listening.  “And you know I’m willing. I’m always willing.”

I felt a rush of relief, but it was quickly followed by indignation. I have a house and a truck and a savings account. Mercy? Who wants to be in need of mercy? “You do,” the cottonwood said as it continued its descent. “You do.”

Emerging From the Night

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Last night my dreams were especially ridiculous and sometimes I was awake. Dead alive awake asleep human mortal disgusted frightened elated alone. These could be hashtags for the night. I take pride in dehydrating myself in the evening so my bladder can’t force me to get up very often. Of course, then I wake up thirsty, but this is a small price to pay in my never-ending quest to fool Mother Nature and stay asleep.

The evening news had the bird bones of Yemeni babies on replay again, so the eyes rolled round and round in their skulls and mine. What is it to me that somewhere thousands of miles away in impossibly dangerous hovels tens of thousands of children have starved to death? Their innocence is unbearable. I hate their parents, their governments, their cultures, their practices, their bones, their eyes, their deaths. I hate it all. I think, “If there was a God, this could not possibly happen.”

“Ah hem.” The God in my living room makes a throat-clearing noise.

“Oh, I know,” I turn, impatient. “There you are. Fat and sassy in my living room. This proves nothing.” Frumpy and gap-toothed, God sits complacent in a housedress on my leather couch.

“What would you give to save a baby?” she asks, unfazed by my dismissiveness.

“Which baby?” I reply.

“My point exactly,” she says.

“No, don’t do that,” I say. “You always get preposterously convoluted like that. I meant it. Which baby? You know damn well I’d risk my life to save a baby in front of me, a baby I knew, a baby I could touch. I’d cut off my arm to feed it. You know that. You wrote it in my genes.”

“Maybe you would,” God agreed. “But the dark ones, out of reach. Not them?”

I ground my teeth, gulped my beer, blew out my breakfast candle. I pushed my eyes deep into my head, rattled the cage of being, and screamed, “They aren’t mine. They aren’t here. They aren’t real.”

God breathed in and absorbed all the air in the room. “But they are mine, I am there, and they are all too real. Your genes are one thing. Your soul’s another.”

I waited for the outbreath. Mercifully it came before I asphyxiated. The outbreath of God filled my lungs before I realized that it is not the kind of air I want to breathe. I want easy air. Nice water. Pretty clothes. I want genetic absolution.

Too late. “What do you want from me?” I asked, filled with self-pity, afraid of the cost.

“Eyes that see, hands that reach, a tongue that speaks the truth,” God said. She patted the spot beside her on the couch. “Come snuggle with me.” I knew it was an invitation filled with peril, but I couldn’t help myself. I’m like that. God’s like that. Against the odds, it appears I’ve been given another day.

The Burden of Autonomy

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God and I are organizing my mom’s memorial. God keeps writing rhyming poems and trite drivel. This surprises me. One might think God would be a more free verse sort of entity.

“Why are you doing that?” I ask. Rude, perhaps, but this kind of writing seems so constricted and sentimental.

“What’s an uplifting word that rhymes with death?” God asks, chewing on a pencil, ignoring my question.

The word comes out unbidden. “Breath,” I say with a frown.

And then I cry. For three days and three nights, her body breathed on. Brain stem at work, they said. So we waited, and read to her, and sat by her, and combed her hair, and rolled her body gently to and fro. We talked, watched football, played music, and sat. Sat with life as it fought to hold on, sat with death as it waited with us.

She would not have wanted to die that way, but then, she didn’t want to die at all. She wasn’t one to give up. Ever. Her favorite saying was, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Obviously, she wasn’t Buddhist.

“God,” I say. “Why did you keep her alive those last days?”

“I didn’t,” God says, surprised. “She did. You did.”

I shake my head but I know it’s true. God looks on while we ignore basic quality of life issues, and invent ever more life-prolonging machines, medicines, and treatments, and provide them selectively to those with resources. God looks on while we starve and murder, deny help, and blame the poor for their conditions. God looks on while some people rake in millions of dollars as providers of interventions, medications, or insurances, and others go bankrupt trying to save a loved one.

If God fell from scaffolding and broke up his body, would Worker’s Comp fight to minimize the costs of his rehabilitation? Would we deny him Medicaid? If God slipped on the marble floor she was mopping…if God got cancer as a child…if God…

God interrupts. “I did not invent dialysis, chemo, or the electric chair. You did. I don’t set bones, prescribe blood pressure medications, or do CPR. You do. I don’t distribute food, goods, or services—nor do I withhold them. That’s all you.”

“But what about “thy will be done” and all that?” I ask. “Aren’t the fortunate fortunate because of you? Aren’t the rich rich because you blessed them? And the healthy? Isn’t it your will for people to live as long as they possibly can?”

God’s eyes roll and she makes a gagging sound. “No,” she says, steely-eyed. “Absolutely not. I’m sick of being used as an excuse. My will is, frankly, for you all to get a clue. You’re so self-absorbed and short-sighted, I have to repeat myself endlessly. Mercy. Justice. Compassion. Self-sacrifice. Translate those, would you? Your finite lives are your own. You have autonomy. You have choices. Stop blaming me.”

The weight of human prerogative pushes the air from my lungs. I have no reply.

“Breathe,” God says. “Breathe.”