There are two granny smith apples in the basket, slightly bruised and aging out. The thought of eating one sets my teeth on edge. I don’t know why I buy them. It’s a repeating pattern with me and fruit. I have unfettered access and there’s room in my cart, but is that reason enough? I sit with the ethereal miracle of vibrant green, tangerine, and sweet potato in the loosely woven wicker that holds things together for now. Minutes and hours fall from the heavy sky. I keep watch, and in my own way, I pray. There’s tea steeping and a bag of chips open in case God comes by. She likes the salt. I like the company. I try to be accepting, not greedy, not demanding, not intrusive, not filled with expectations. Just quiet and receptive. But it sucks. It’s harder than winter. The God small in each of us is to blame for tart apples and the long seasons of discontent. We are unskilled at listening, even less skilled at loving. I hear God in the hallway, dragging something behind her walker. It must be laundry day. Well, I can’t wait forever. I have errands and obligations. I understand how the self-important God of billions might ignore me now and then, but the laundry lady? When God embodies thus, the roles reverse. She’ll ask me for quarters and for help folding her flannel sheets.
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.
From Whence We Came
Almost every day, God and I sit in a ratty blue recliner angled toward the window and sip beer. God expects me to hold still and listen. I try, but it seems nonsensical—an inefficient and unreasonable request.
Then I remind myself that efficiency isn’t the only road to success and not everything worthwhile is reasonable. The ability to reason is one ingredient in the soup that defines us, but it’s not the entire recipe. There’s sausage, kale, and wonderment. There’s an extravagance in creation that can’t be explained. Abstract thought and scientific inquiry may be the pinnacles of evolution, but pinnacles need foundations. Humans rationalize cruelty as readily as they eat that second donut.
“Working on some interesting similes and metaphors this morning, aren’t we?” God teases, sliding from chair to mirror to window to bird, sashaying to music I can barely hear.
“I’m thinking about foibles and do-overs,” I answer, happy that God seems loose and crazy today. “Could I have the last ten minutes back? I went down the wrong rabbit hole.”
“Nope,” God says. “Why do you even bother to ask? You know better.”
“No, I don’t,” I say, gleeful and untethered. “YOU know better.”
God winks and pulls me out of the chair. We do a four-pig jig creaking around the room in old bodies. We dance straight through the newly purple wall and fall, barriers breaking like bones.
I am blissfully unaware of dinosaurs, dodos, and all the hapless creatures currently facing extinction before they even have a name. They can all be Adam. They can all be Eve. I love them fiercely, but I can’t save them. I can’t even save myself (and truthfully, I don’t want to).
God’s reading glasses fly off while we’re cavorting. They shatter against the edge of a light green piece of granite I keep nearby for thermal mass, and small pieces fly everywhere. But no worries. The dangerous shards gather themselves into a coarse form of collective compassion, willing to return to the fire from whence they came. The fire from whence we all came. The fire to which we will all return.
“Sorry about your glasses,” I say. “I could read to you until they’re fixed if you’d like.”
“I’d like that very much,” God says.
“Do you mind if I start in the middle?” I ask. “I’ve already read the first chapters.”
“Not at all,” God says. “I suspect I know the plot.”
“I’m sure that’s true,” I say, oddly defensive. “But the descriptions are spectacular. And the details matter.”
“Yes, they do,” God agrees. “They really do.”
God was clipping her nails this morning and a luminescent fragment the shape of a crescent moon landed in the backyard: a beautiful asteroid, a source of light, the end of the raspberries.
My entire garden is now filled with holy DNA. If this were a crime show, I could easily make a positive identification, but would there be a conviction? Even with humans, that’s never a sure thing. With God, highly unlikely.
“Sorry about that,” God says as she lifts the massive sliver of fingernail from earth and tosses it into the cosmos. “Careless of me to clip so close.”
“You could’ve wiped me out,” I say in an accusatory tone. “I can’t handle these jagged leavings and dangerous castings off.”
“I said I was sorry.” God can be a little defensive sometimes. She pauses, then adds. “Ah, c’mere. You don’t look so good.”
“Yeah, I’m not feeling all that well,” I admit as I crawl into the downy nest that God and I have created for the coming hibernation.
“Me neither,” God says with a sniffle. “Probably just a cold, but with all the upheaval, it’s hard to know for sure.”
“Isn’t it peculiar that before execution, the prisoner can choose a last meal?” I ask as we snuggle in. I ignore God’s quizzical look and continue. “So, what would you order?”
God is silent for a minute, then asks, “Sometimes, you’d like to kill me off, wouldn’t you?”
“Yeah,” I admit. “You’re precarious and whimsical. Inscrutable and endless. I need something easier. Less promise. More substance.”
Again, silence. Then, “I’d have nuts and berries mostly. Goat cheese. A little pasta. And three or four stiff drinks. White Russians, maybe.”
I whack God with a roll of political flyers from the recycle pile and offer her a megadose of vitamin C. She flinches dramatically, smiles, and takes two of the chewable tablets.
“How ‘bout a siesta?” she asks.
I shake my head. “You go ahead. I’ve got to transplant the rhubarb and that poor little pine tree.”
“Oh, good grief,” God says. “Can’t you leave well enough alone?”
The pine tree is a sore subject. I’ve moved it four times because I keep changing the layout of the garden and it’s in the way again. I want it to thrive but only where I want it to thrive.
To my chagrin, I start to cry a little. “I’m tired of everything,” I say. There’s a catch in my voice. “Especially myself.”
“I know, honey,” God says. “That’s why a little nap is such a good idea.”
“I had to invent death because none of you hold still long enough to sort out what matters,” God told me this morning as I rushed around, distracted, getting ready for a demanding day.
“Well, that sounds vindictive,” I said. The toast was burned, and I’d just poured sour cream in my coffee. “Inventing death might be creative, but I assume you’re aware that the living prefer to stay alive.”
“I know,” God admitted. “I haven’t worked out all the kinks yet, but I have good intentions.”
The Subdivisions of God began their own conversation. The Source of Transformation looked down at her hands. “I’m not proud of causing so much fear,” she admitted to the others. “And such grief.”
Liquid God spoke from the banks of the drought-reduced river. “It is in sorrow and weakness they find their way,” he said. “But it’s hard to accept drying up, having less to offer.”
God the Rodeo tried to sell everyone tickets, promising rides on the bucking broncs, but the Rest of God refused. “I’m sick and tired of the cacophony,” she said, her voice deep and mountainous, her presence profoundly still.
I wanted the others to go away. I wanted only her.
“See?” God said, merging back into Oneness.
“No, I don’t see,” I protested. “Being surrounded by peace is different than being dead.”
“Is it?” God asked. “How would you know?”
“Just a hunch.” I shrugged. Then I reached into my pocket and pulled out a fat roll of rodeo tickets. “Hedging my bets,” I admitted with a sheepish grin.
The corral gate swung open, and God the Rodeo raced toward me on a shiny black stallion. “Let’s go, pardner!” he hollered.
I ran toward him, and just like in the movies, God reached down and swung me up on the back of the sweaty horse. I wrapped my arms tight around his lean waist, and together, we galloped madly toward what we knew was the setting sun.
To my astonishment, I saw the Rest of God ahead, clearing away debris from the flood. And Liquid God had pooled up so we could quench our thirst. The surface of the water was so smooth there was no difference between my reflection and my face.
With reverence, we dismounted and kneeled to drink.
Fittings and Flushing
At 5:53 this morning, I was chanting fittings and flushing over and over because the new toilet seems to be malfunctioning which I must investigate so it can be returned within the grace period if need be. And I need to call the plumbing fittings store because I’m in the market for a new pressure tank.
I do not allow myself to get out of bed until 6 a.m., so given my distractibility, if I wake early and think of things, I recite them until I’m up and can write them on a list.
This discourages God. The holy art of being chill eludes me even though, as God has pointed out for decades, fretting at dawn does not necessarily enhance the chances of a good day.
But today, the chanting paid off. By 9 o’clock I had called the fittings store; the size of pressure tank we need will have to be ordered, not just picked up. And I’d flushed enough to realize the flapper chain was too short. An easy fix.
Next, there’s the broken screen door handle. And powdery mildew is taking over the garden, and right at this moment, a wasp is buzzing around in the living room. Even though we usually have five or six swatters available, I can’t find a single one.
But I do find God, standing motionless in Mountain Pose on the porch.
“Hello, God,” I say. “What’re you doing out here?”
“Considering autumn. Funerals. Firewood. Frost. Harvest.”
“Want me to memorize a list for you?” I ask facetiously.
God picks up one of the onions drying in the sun. She peels away dirt-encrusted layers until she reaches the moist, succulent flesh and releases the pungent signature of onion. “This will take care of it.”
Only God can do this with an onion. She had summer mark this tragic year with three gargantuan pumpkins, renegade tomato plants, and cauliflower heads, white as snow, which we’d forgotten were there.
Spring is one of my worst distractions. We always overplant, but this will change.
Nothing stays the same. Nothing lasts. To know this is a burden and a blessing.
Between impermanence and consciousness are caves and canyons worn by water, made beautiful by clay, resisting, yielding, and resisting again.
And letting go again.
That tasty cauliflower grew to fruition unnoticed, but the gigantic, neon pumpkins are entirely obvious, frantically ripening a raucous orange on frost-damaged vines. God and I are cheering them on–God perched comfortably on the pinnacle of forever; me, less centered, patting the pumpkin’s belly, dreading the coming winter, but imagining pie.
Humans are natural believers but the things we choose to believe in vary radically: Exercise, Love, Money, Science, B vitamins, Power, God, Not-God, Red Meat, Medicine, Herbs, Famous People, even Wishes made on Falling Stars. The propensity to believe makes us vulnerable to being duped. And often, instead of being open or skeptical, we act as if loyalty to a belief is a virtue. It’s humiliating and painful to be wrong, so we ferociously defend what we believe in.
“And yet…” The Creative Force woven into all things seen and unseen jigs into view decked out as a troupe of Finnish dancers raising money for the war.
“Hello, God,” I say, waving. I clap to the beat as The Troupe does synchronous high kicks and fancy footwork. At intermission, they link elbows, pass the hat, and fly away. I assumed they were Finnish, but there’s an Irish feel in the remaining air.
What makes something Finnish or Irish or Nigerian? Who’s in? Who’s out? No matter how glittery or damning, all the fine distinctions are temporary. Driven by beliefs, such dichotomous thinking can cause great suffering. It’s deadly to believe rather than inquire. We overlook the still, small path that leads us alongside the unknown and unknowable.
“That path is narrow and dangerous,” God warns in the strained voices of those who’ve fallen away. “Unknowing isn’t safe.”
“It’s safer than pretending,” I say. “Safer than being certain something is true when it might not be.”
“And are you certain of that?” God teases in a thousand laughing voices. I laugh, too. I admire these courageous, vague expressions of the God Who’s Fallen Away. They don’t name themselves God, but I do.
“This may seem obvious,” God says. “But I need neither definition nor defense.”
“I beg to differ,” I argue. “What about the least of you?”
There’s a tall woman in a Russian prison, a short man beaten senseless, a desperate woman forced to be a mother, flood and fire victims, prisons burgeoning, the rich getting richer as the poor sink further into despair.
“Ah, I see what you mean,” God agrees. “But definition? Defenses? These won’t help. Justice. Mercy. Lives laid down, not weapons raised up. Wealth distributed, not hoarded.”
“Much harder,” I say in a sad voice. “Nearly impossible.”
And again, God agrees and without further ado, fades into the nightly news.
Why not admit I know nothing but do something outlandishly braver regardless? I ask myself as I get ready for bed. May as well take a few risks. You’re going to die either way.
This may not be the best way to fall asleep, but it’s an excellent way to wake up.
Spending and Spent
Saved time is not insured by the FDIC because there is no such thing. Saved time is just time used differently. Your supply dwindles no matter how you choose to spend it.
“True. How are you going to use yours today?” God popped in, casual as a neighbor.
“I’m going to stare out the window and resent incursions into my space or thoughts.” I crossed my arms, wishing God would give me a little more warning sometimes. God laughed, but then did a double-take.
“Wait. Are you talking about me?”
“Of course not!” I protested vigorously. “Feeling a little insecure? You’re the reason I wait. You’re not an incursion; you’re magic. Granted, it’s dark, rude magic sometimes. But mostly welcome.” My voice may have revealed a touch of ambivalence.
“Mostly?” God teased, unfazed and clearly not insecure.
“Yeah. It depends on mirrors, memories, seasons. It depends on how ready I am to be one with the universe, to be confident that life has meaning, to accept my fate gracefully. Stuff like that.”
“Makes sense,” God said. “I don’t mind being quiet once in a while.”
“That’s not what I mean. I don’t want YOU to be quiet. Be loud. Beat the drums. Fling a double rainbow around your neck. Grow vast fields of grain. Hatch eggs. Lift off with the latest telescope or dive down into your oceans and find what’s dying. Heal things.”
“My, my,” God said, facetiously. “Those are some tall orders.”
“I know,” I admitted. “But it’s best if we all keep busy. Especially you.”
“Wait,” God laughed again. “A minute ago, you were planning to stare out the window all day.”
“Yeah. Well, Emerson said ‘A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds’. And remember? I said I was waiting for you.”
But was I? Anyone who’s tried waiting around for The Real to reveal itself, for the Self to gather strength, for the soul to lead, for the heart to extend compassion knows it is a fraught undertaking. Some of us pretend uncertainty so we don’t have to do the good work right in front of us. Others are mean and selfish in the name of a contrived and certain god.
Real God slapped her legs and stood. “I’ll take you at your word,” she said. “The wait’s over. Let’s go.”
I lowered the leg rest on my recliner, took God’s bony black hand, and said, “Fine. What wonders will we work today? What miracles will we perform?”
God punched my shoulder, “Let’s start with being nice,” she said. “Then we’ll see what else might be possible.”
Life as a One-Act Play
Shades of green and lavender dance in the background. Even with eyes wide open, it’s impossible to tell if the room has walls or is defined more by water and isolation. Actors are vaguely aware of each other.
Me: (sermonizing to a nebulous offstage audience) Mother Earth is exhausted by this adolescent phase of humanity. We’re facing severe consequence. All it will take is one big planetary shrug and we’ll be a species known only by bones. We’ve failed to outgrow our epic selfishness, destructive impulsivity, and futile denial of mortality. Earth won’t clean up after us forever; our money and phony apologies won’t save us…
God: (muttering to self, pacing) She’s right. They should know better by now. Maybe I should have set firmer limits.
Me: (turning to God) Or maybe you’re sending mixed messages.
God: (slightly mystified) I thought love would be enough.
Me: (sad, defensive) I don’t know why you’d make that assumption. Love is a lot harder than you realize.
God: (indignant) You think I don’t know that? I keep course-correcting with forgiveness and wearing my best clothes so that nature might have a chance to teach you something. I hate to mention this, but on other planets, things are going better.
Me: (shaken) But aren’t we your planet of choice? Aren’t we your favorites?
God: (thoughtfully muttering to self again) Too close to call. Tough to know how much more to invest. (Turning to me) Everyone wants to be my favorite, but actually, I’m my own favorite. It has to be that way.
Me: (indignant, arms crossed) Well then, I’m my own favorite, too.
God: (wryly) How’s your lumber supply? You’re aware of the supply chain problems, right?
Me: (trying to be funny) Are we talking ark? Greenhouse? Firewood?
God: (expanding to ginormous) All of the above. And more. Add marshmallows to your list.
Me: (despairing) And coffins? We’re gonna need lots of coffins.
God: (grabbing my hand with tenderness, a thousand eyes crying) Yes. I can’t change that. But eventually, they’ll be empty, baby. Empty.
Me: (trying to yank my hand free) Are we talking resurrection or decomposition?
God: (many heads nodding) Yes.
Light fades to the point where photoreceptor cells in the well-developed vertebrate retina are challenged, and the cones let go. Color dies but thanks to the rods, a set of hazy gray paths are still visible. They merge at the vanishing point.
Partying with God
“Hey, God,” I whisper, slipping quietly down the dimly-lit stairs. God’s an early riser, but others are still asleep. “Wanna party?” Sometimes, my morning mood is both desolate and overly energized. I don’t even know why I say what I say.
“You bet,” God answers with enthusiasm. “You mean like eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die?”
Exactly, I think to myself. I want a reassuring party with my adoring little God: a fatalistic precursor, debauchery-laced denial.
My eyes slowly adjust to the sunrise out the window. The pasture glistens far beyond a describable green. Turkeys have been eating the tops off my onion sets, and chokecherries are budding. Spring is arriving with her usual expectations, but each winter leaves another indelible mark on my psyche.
Inviting God to party is risky, but not inviting God is risky too. This one will cost me a bottle of beer, some lime-flavored chips, and the kind of scrutiny only fools and children are willing to endure. But right now, I am an unswaddled child. I’ll be fine, I tell myself.
“No, you won’t,” God says in a million joyful voices. “You won’t be fine. You are fine. There’s a difference. C’mon. Let’s get this party on the road.” God is legion. They are many. They are beautiful. I don’t have enough beer. And even if the chips expand like the loaves and fishes, they’re stale.
“Ah, never mind,” I say. “Let’s skip the party. I need to go shopping and pull some weeds. I need to put things away, do the floors, make some calls.”
“But you invited us,” God protests. “We’re coming along, no matter how you spend your time. And we brought plenty of refreshments. You didn’t think we’d show up empty-handed, did you?”
I have endured scorn, exalted in adoration, sought invisibility, reveled in mastery, and played by myself on any number of shorelines and precipices. What possessed me to issue that rash invitation? A party with God at dawn? I might be an unswaddled child in my mind, but in reality, these stairs are a real challenge.
I sit on the bottom step, cover my ears, close my eyes, and will God to disappear. Instead, she scales down to singular and sits beside me in superhero pajamas. She hands me coffee. I hand her the day. She turns it this way and that, gazes at its beauty, touches its pain, and hands it back.
“All yours,” she says. “Enjoy.”
“I’ll try,” I say as I put the day in my pocket. And I mean it.
“I know you will,” she says. And she means it, too.