Five Part Harmony

more cranes

I

Magic is harder to come by as the brain gels and arteries harden. It takes more courage to jump when your bones have webbed, but jumping is required for regrowth. No parachutes. No bungees. No soft landings. Not even cushioned shoes. You owe this to yourself and generations to come. Just jump.

Remember when you were young? Magic lived in your disconnected tissues and made a practice of fooling you all the time. Your tears were sudden, and your laughter rose from the belly of a good and jovial earth. I knew you then. I had a rainbow of toes and fingers and lent them to the sky without a second thought. I knew God then, too. Promises untested and playful, simple to reconfigure–easy as spiders or buttons to swallow.

But now? God woke me this morning, dangling precariously, kicking his legs like a puppet hoping to get away. The gingerbread man. Mary Poppins with a faulty umbrella. Fragile and tattered, ready for anything but breakfast. But breakfast was the only thing I was ready for. Not magic. Not jumping. I sent God away so I could make toast.

II

The human brain is easily seduced by a nice, clean dichotomy; such a delight to be on the right side of wrong, a relief to declare zero tolerance, a comfort to await the final vanquishing of evil.

God glides back in, refuses the offer of toast, and declares, “There are no absolutes.”

“Ha!” I say, having rehearsed this come-back many times. “Are you absolutely sure?”

III

The universe is expanding. Things collide and collapse. They warp and rework themselves. Down under the event horizon, gravitational forces consume the entire electromagnetic spectrum from infrared to ultraviolet. But fear not! God lives in the black holes where captured light awaits definition. General relativity, while offensive and frightening, is the source of all good news. It’s where we find tolerance, forgiveness, and the will to try again.

IV

Space shivers because she wears such thin clothing and like the worthy suitor he is, God wraps his jacket lovingly around her shoulders. They make an adorable couple, God and the space time continuum. God’s mother is proud of the gentleman she’s reared. “I never raised a hand to him,” she says with such love that another planet is spontaneously born. This should humble us all.

As for me, I confess that I’ve raised my hand, formed a fist, shot a gun, drowned some kittens, eaten flesh, picked a fight, and weaponized my words. Sometimes, I’ve tried to befriend zero as if I’m not to blame. As if I need no grace. Rarely have I had the courage to offer my jacket and certainly not my cloak as well.

V

Thousands of starlings take over the sky but not a single starling falls. The perfect snow is scarred in every direction by hungry deer, their heads buried in the failed harvest. When I touch my lips, I can feel the warm truth of this moment, but when I roll them inward, they disappear.

Nothing Happens for a Reason Other Than the Happening Itself

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“God,” I said. “Are you into cause and effect at all?”
“Hmmm?” God said, raising her eyes from the screen, her fingers politely pausing above her keyboard.
“I mean, like for every action, is there an equal and opposite reaction in your way of seeing things? Do you define force as mass plus…”
“Acceleration?” God filled in the last word before I got to it and added, “Is this about that apple and Newton?”
“No,” I said. “I think it’s actually more about that apple and Eve.”
“Oh, that,” God said. “Pshaw.” It appeared she was done with the conversation.
“Wait,” I pleaded. “Could I get a straight answer before you dive back into your manuscript?”
God sighed and looked at me, fingers still poised to type.
“What I’d like to know is do things happen for a reason, and are you the force behind things happening, or do you just watch?” That last bit might have been said with a slightly nasty tone, but God didn’t rise to the bait. She put her hands in her lap and glanced at her fitbit.
“Want to do a few stairs while we talk?” I asked. She nodded.
As we climbed the first flight, she began. “Nothing happens for a reason other than the happening itself. You make the meaning. You create the reasons. If you create none, there are none.”
“Are you talking about me or the whole human race?” I asked.
“Both,” God said. “The raw material generated by being alive is food for the mind and soul. It exists only to be transformed into meaning. Sometimes individual. Sometimes shared.”
“But do we ever get it right?” I asked.
“Depends on what you mean by right and on who you ask,” God said, surprisingly patient.
“I’m asking you,” I said.
“I know,” God said. “A lot of people make that same mistake.”
So who are we supposed to ask?” I said, frustrated.
“Oh, you can ask but then don’t blame. And remember, you’re asking the me-in-you.”
“Um, God,” I said. “Sometimes it seems like you’ve forgotten who you are. Like you don’t want to face what you’ve put in motion, an experiment veering towards a bad outcome. I feel like you hide when the going gets rough.”
“Sorry you feel that way, bunchy-boo. But it just ain’t true.” God had gone from thoughtful to punchy. I gave her a push, and she rolled down the stairs momentarily acquiescing to the curvature of the space-time continuum.
“See?” she said as she picked herself up. “Now I’ll get more steps in.”
“You make me crazy,” I said.
“Nope,” God said. “You do that yourself.”
“Augh!” I said. “You make me sick.”
“Nope,” God said, eyes crinkled, stunningly luminous.
“You make me happy?” I said with a question mark, trying to get out of this loop.
God beamed and belted out, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray.” She paused. “C’mon, bunchy-boo,” she said. “Sing with me. I’ve got a killer harmony worked out for this one.”

Slutty Shoes

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Sometimes, life-on-earth sashays by in slutty shoes, feigning a seductive innocence. She beckons with a bend of her little finger and whispers. “Come here, you sexy thing. I want you.” But the delicacy is an illusion, the promise of eternal youth, false. Life-on-earth has muscular legs and sturdy ankles. A swift kick can leave bruises. Break bones. And then, who’s to blame? The idea of God is an easy target; I confess to using it myself on occasion. But the real God runs away from simplicity like a wild-eyed colt. The real God crawls onto your lap like an old dog. The real God knows what happened on Mars and is already aware of the first name of the last child. God can perfectly enact the mating dance of the Sandhill crane and knows how to apply a tourniquet to stanch the flow of blood.

I know this because the faint smell of wet dog often lingers on my clothes (and we don’t have a dog). I know this because I’m relieved that the Martians (and all our kinfolk from other planets) are loved, have been loved, will be loved. The Sandhill cranes glide by in pairs, the name of the last child will be as holy as the first, and when it’s chilly, I pull a patchwork quilt of tourniquets around my shoulders.

But none of this stops me from flirting shamelessly with life-on-earth, hoping to get more than my share. She’s so dazzling, so tasty. My DNA matters, doesn’t it? My ideas? Don’t I deserve second helpings and the rapt attention of those around me?

God floats into the room, shaped like lips, shimmering crimson. The lips pucker up.

“Unpucker,” I say, and sit up straight and tall. “Not ready.”

The lips relax into a goofy grin. “I know,” they say. “But don’t you love this shade of red? It’s called Kiss of Death.”

“Funny,” I say. “Very funny.” God and I have a good laugh. The luscious lips frame God’s open mouth, teeth like mountains, ribbons of saliva catching the light.

Life-on-earth sits down beside me. She’s grown pale in comparison to the glorious mouth of God. She’s wearing sensible shoes. “Shall we go?” I ask. She nods, looking a little worse for the wear. I pat her shoulder and add, “But let’s keep it honest. I like you as a friend, but it can never be anything more.”

She nods again, crying a little, but handling it. I cry a little too. The sadness is unavoidable, but there’s a lot to do today. We need to get on with it.

“You’re just a short-term expression of something much bigger,” I explain to her as we get in the pick-up and drive across the field.

“Yeah, I guess,” she says. “But so are you.”

“Oh, I know,” I say. I slow down so we can hold hands and watch the eagles circling the river. Majestic and hungry.

An Email to God

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Yesterday, I got this email:

Dear Honest God,

I’m not sure how to reach you, so I’m sending this through your friend Rita.

I woke up at 3-something in the morning talking to you. Which is pretty odd since I don’t believe in you, and besides, you are Rita’s, not mine. I was talking with you about being a 72 year old woman – closer to my death than to my birth, although perhaps I am also reborn every day. You, of course, are ageless, so maybe you can’t relate. But if that’s true, what does “older than god” mean?

I have this fear which surfaces occasionally – especially at 3-am-ish, of getting old, losing my memory and my energy / strength. Losing my relevance in the world. Not that I was ever any big deal. My kids with their work and their marriages, kids and jobs and friends – well, I’m not that important any more. Side lined a bit.

My Buddhist brain chants placidly ” We are of a nature to grown old.. We are of a nature to die…” but another louder, more demanding part of my brain (at that hour) is saying “nononono” The image is of being on a big river, some big rocks ahead and then a big waterfall. And I can hear the roar of the falls….

I waited a bit, but then decided I was going to have to step in, so I wrote back:

 Dear Nancy,

So far, God has refused to email me. She’s an awful co-author—whimsical, contradictory, self-important, demanding, and sometimes frightening. She shows up on her own schedule, pesters me at all the wrong times, and provides few answers. But on the positive side, she doesn’t seem to care if anyone believes in her. She’s not needy in that way. And though humans judge “on her behalf”, I haven’t found a judgmental bone in her ephemeral body. Just infinite compassion for the human condition—a condition which includes an evolutionary leap into consciousness that we have trouble handling—thus that 3:00 AM torment of mortality, meaninglessness, and impending death.

I find comfort in the fact that I didn’t choose to be born. Likely, leaving the womb was terrifying, cataclysmic–something to resist. But I was born. From what I can gather, life’s a gift—mine to squander, live selfishly, cruelly, and in fear, or I can live  compassionately, generously, joyously…I can prolong it, or end it, or see what happens next. I can welcome the day or hide from it. And since I try to be as honest as God, I admit I do, or consider doing, all of the above. All of the above.

I used to think I wasn’t afraid to die, but I am. I would welcome eternal youth or at least less arthritis. But though we have choices, they are limited. I try to be at peace with aspects of being alive that I cannot fix or change—even if they totally suck. But one of my torments is this: could I fix more? Am I doing enough? This is where God comes in handy. I remind her I am NOT her, and therefore, it is her job to show me what to do—point me to a calling or two. Or not. I keep my ears tuned to loving frequencies and my eyes as open as I can.

Yes. Big bruising boulders. A roaring waterfalls. Our lives, a river. We drift along, occupying increasingly battered bodies and steadily declining minds. Sometimes, I like to maneuver to the shallow spots and dance. Or float on my back, find the sky, and dream. The raspberry harvest looks to be abundant this year.

Hope this helps.

Love,

Rita

Attacking the morning

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I’ve attacked the morning, vacillating between quiet desperation and grim  determination. God stopped by numerous times yesterday, causing internal turmoil and external chaos. Things went wrong. The septic system backed up, the radios all stopped broadcasting, the window coverings failed, the befuddlement of age scrambled my thoughts. I said sarcastic things, and was almost mean—okay, maybe full-on mean–thus failing the most elementary of God’s little exams. Oh feeble creature that I am. Yes, I can hear the fundamentalist among us quoting Romans to me. Fine. But are you aware that God is both the heckler and the heckled? The wound and the balm? God’s the hot dogs and beer–and God’s the hangover. God’s the 1992 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon with a side of caviar, and the species endangered by such excess. God is the manna, and the little organism that made the manna rot.

Here’s what I say to myself: Get real. Get humble. Get over yourself. Get going.

And God, what do you say?

The alfalfa is vibrant; the sky, hazy. The river runs clear, the turkey vultures eat carrion. All the while, the sun grows more brutal and insistent. God is late. She has that prerogative, but I find it nearly intolerable. In my impatience, I run my hand over my face and half of it falls off. Then the other half. My worst fears explode. I am faceless. Nameless. Alone. An old fool, thinking that I matter in some unique way. Thinking I’m something other than ordinary.

My grandmother once told me I was plain. She met my glare directly, squared her shoulders and added, “But you have piercing eyes, and I like the way you see the world.”

My eyes are still in my head, God. But the world looks jagged. My ears hear sabers rattling. My heart is blunted, predicting disaster, doing nothing. I’m glad my face fell off. I don’t want it anymore.

But the potter has finally arrived. With strong, sure fingers, she takes thick clay soil from an undisturbed spot in the garden and recreates the face I will continue to inhabit. It has loose, permissive skin. She calms my soul and kisses the top of my head. “Take heart,” she says. And I know I will try.

We sit down together on a pallet filled with rusted metal I’ve collected. Survey the stones I’ve gathered. It is the sixth day. “It’s good,” she says, finally. “Very good.” And then she is gone.

God Dead in Yemen

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(Photo from Reuters News)

I had an appointment with God, set up for 9:30. She no-showed. I called to remind her, but got no answer. Three times, I called. Finally, a sleepy voice explained that  appointments with God are not a sure thing. God’s calendar isn’t set in stone. The voice suggested that I could either make another appointment, or open my eyes. Neither sounded like a good solution, so I turned on the news, sat back, and drank beer. The news was a mistake. And possibly, the beer.

In Yemen, for instance, I watched as my Big God became a little bag of bones before he died into himself. Bird legs twitching in the nurse’s arms, torso etched with ribs, beyond hunger, his eyes glazed over and he was gone. Out beyond where I can reach, he walked through the thin veil, fell, and died. I know the place where they’ve taken him. And like it or not, we will meet there someday.

The Sufi poet, Rumi, wrote, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.”

But I’m not in a Rumi mood. I’m in a throw things kick things fuck it damn it shit storm fury at myself and all my fellow human-fucking-beings who cannot seem to get it together enough to make sure children are fed and safe. And yes, you too, you No-showing, Big-eyed God, Big hungry God, Big creator, Big sufferer, Big idea. How many miserable, awful, torturous deaths are you going to attend before you call this whole thing off?  Were you too busy dying of starvation to stop by? You in them, you in me, them in me. I, who have never known hunger, cannot look away.

God, wherever you are, I would like to remind you how insignificant and helpless I am. How sarcastic and selfish, how thwarted and inhibited. I’m tired, too. And disgusted. Thoroughly disgusted. Rich people make me sick. They make you sick too, don’t they? Well, not all of them. But why isn’t it enough that we’re trying? Can’t you help out a little? Or a little more? Flowers are nice. Food is better.

Finally, God seeps under the door. “About time,” I shout. But she’s wounded.

“Water,” she whispers. I run for a glass, and hold it to her lips. She drinks gratefully, and falls asleep in my arms. The wounds are superficial, but the blood is thick and red. She is so thin. So very, very thin.

Her eyes slip open. “We’re more alike than you think,” she says before drifting back to sleep. I want to protest, or deny it outright,  but I know she’s right. And this is not good news for either of us.

A Smidgen of Atheism

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“Here’s something funny to think about,” God said, lounging on the motel bed in Bozeman, shedding innocent dark skin on the bleached sheets. “Short bursts of exercise are good for aging muscles, and short bursts of atheism are good for the soul.”

The previous occupants of this room had left the alarm set. It went off early, an unpleasant throbbing tone, and I was not in a good mood. I was tired. My mind didn’t want to think. My body didn’t want to move.

“Why do you come by like this?” I asked, unwilling to consider anything but my irritation.

God sat up, beautifully naked. She draped herself loosely in the manicured landscaping outside the window, and quoted Ayn Rand. “That which you call your soul or spirit is your consciousness, and that which you call “free will” is your mind’s freedom to think or not, the only will you have, your only freedom, the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and your character.”

God stressed the words “your mind’s freedom to think or not”

I put a pillow over my head and curled fetal under the covers. God must have read Martina’s blog. I’ve been worried about the state of humanity, and human consciousness for a long time. Are we more than our genes? Is anything our fault, or is it all our fault? I blame God for this confusion. Maybe we’ve evolved too fast. We seem to have stopped thinking. We seem to be arrested, elevating comfort over compassion, allowing simple confusion to muddy the clear waters of the complicated truth. Endorsing selfishness as holy.

I pulled the pillow tighter, but it disintegrated. The flimsy walls fell, and children from Venezuela, Syria, Arizona and Maine, children from concentration camps, war zones, and desperate homes, traded, displaced, abused, malnourished, and frightened–they crawled into bed with me. They should’ve at least bounced and played, but they were too hungry. Too broken. Too angry. They found my left-over Indian food in the wasteful individual refrigerator and smeared me with it. It burned my flesh. I screamed for mercy, for healing. I pleaded with the universe for food and shelter, sanity, wisdom, consciousness, humility, and an end to human greed. Or at least insight into my own.

There’s got to be something, I said to myself, frantic. Something I can do.

I felt as though I was going mad. The small gestures I imagined fell into a black pit of irrelevance. Too little, too late. The children grew quiet and sat with me.

God looked on. And on. The meticulously-planted flowers continued to bloom.