The City of God

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Last night God populated the street with threatening poses that grew increasingly dense: closed faces briefly lit by yellow streetlights; eyeballs flashing warnings in the gloom; mouths reluctantly exhaling into the thin haze of hopelessness. “Give nothing away,” I said. “Give nothing away.” But things were being taken. In Spokane, God nearly froze to the sidewalk last week. They’ve opened more shelters. In Syria, though, the little ones ice up and are gone.

In the restaurant, safe and warm, I ordered more than I could eat, but I tried to eat it all. The garlic was potent. It protected me as I walked back through that God-infested version of hell, that sinking ship, that over-burdened set of human systems cracking under the weight of evolution derailed. I wanted to touch each face. Instead, I touched my own. I had a dollar in my pocket. Earrings in my ears. Back in the artificial safety of my pale room, I pillowed my head and slept through the blaring sirens within and without.

It’s no easier this morning. God is in the hallway with a cart of towels, soaps, and other deadly products, waiting to clean up after me. I could make God’s day by leaving a generous tip. The life in me says what the hell, leave a twenty. The death in me says give nothing away. Give nothing away—after all, you’ve made your own bed. I see myself dropping diamonds for the groveling masses (I hate diamonds. I hate groveling masses). I see myself–a beheaded simpleton with a gnarly finger in a greedy dike. Mostly, though, I see that I want to matter.

“What to do, Black God?” I ask. “What to do, Brown God? Helpless God? Transgender, transported, translated God? How do I touch you and not get burned?”

The Laughing Buddha, belly large and round like earth, is on fire. The cherubim and seraphim descend with burning coals they have stolen from Allah. The Small One puts her icy hand in mine and says, “Don’t be afraid. I’ll cool your lips when it’s over.” I bow my head, then lift my eyes. I tell myself I’m ready. Nothing happens. Everything happens. I see now that the frozen child has come to save me. She has given everything away.

The Words Live On

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This past week, Ram Dass died. He’d had a stroke in 1997, and his acceptance of that disabling event was inspiring. This morning as I read over quotes that capture his sensibilities, I feel envy. Don’t we all want to be a guru? An old soul? But I say to myself, “Choose your poison, choose your longings, choose your savior. But most importantly choose your words.” Ram Dass knew the power of choice and the power of words, especially after the stroke. Words are part of the way we build up or tear down. We can hurt each other with a simple twist of the tongue. We can speak vicious untruths.

One of the reasons I like God is that God lives so far beyond words. Sure, she stops by, and we chat in English (I am hopelessly monolingual), but sometimes she lifts me by the back of my neck and nestles me down in something indescribably warm and delicious. “What is this place?” I ask by lifting one eyebrow. She laughs.

“I call it forgiveness,” God says. “But you might think of it as gratitude. The place where the best ideas are born. I don’t know. Call it whatever you’d like. Use your words.”

I throw a holiday pillow at God. She’s put a Christmas stocking on her head and wrapped solar LED lights around her waist. “In the beginning was the Word,” she says, teasing, almost giddy. “Why do people ignore that? Word. Word. Word.” She then begins singing. “All you need is Love…da da da da da…All you need is Love. Love. Love is all you need.” She leans in, holding a golden microphone. In the glow, I feel old. Unshiny. Words are escaping me at ever accelerating rates. I want them back. I want fresh starts, clean sheets, no scars. And lots of fancy words. But God just shakes her booty and turns up the volume.

There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known
Nothing you can see that isn’t shown
There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be
It’s easy…Love is all you need.

“Lennon and McCartney.” She kisses her fingertips and takes a bow. “Brothers from another planet.” Again, envy. I want to be a brother from another planet. I want to be Ram Dass, Maya Angelo, Sir Paul, Lady Gaga, Nancy Pelosi, Mother Theresa, and Harriett Tubman. I want to matter. The glib assurances of salvation from a distant God, formulas and pat answers—I spit them out. I want to eat first fruits from the magic tree.

“Oh, no you don’t,” God says, suddenly quite serious.  “No, you absolutely do not want to do that. Why on God’s green earth do you think such things?”

“Because someone has to save us from ourselves,” I say. But I know that isn’t true. It’s already too late, and the saving has been neatly wrapped in the dying for longer than anyone but God can remember. God grins at me. “Been there, done that,” she says. “And to tell you the truth, sometimes I wonder if it was worth it.”

Now I’m the one who is suddenly serious. “Oh, it was, baby God,” I say, letting those words take my entire being. “It absolutely was.”

Lifelines and Little Gods

Hulk and me and some new chairs

We’d survived another Thanksgiving, welcomed by others who were excellent cooks and hosts, and to be honest, I felt smug about it. No skeletal remains to deal with, literally or figuratively. We’d manage to locate ourselves firmly between generations, contributing only rolls (purchased) and our willingness to engage in small talk or do dishes. I made no attempt to locate God in the national news or football games. I engaged in no fleeting glances into the shadowy corners where God often lurks. The hatches were temporarily battened down. Placid.

This state never lasts. God shook me awake this morning, insistent. Large. I crawled out of the dream to the edge of the bed, and fell into a seething sea of meaninglessness. I flailed and hyperventilated. The lifeline God threw me was a twisted old tow line named tradition. It cut into my hands, but I had to hang on. These were deadly black waters. Not a good way to die. Or was it? As I debated this, the waters receded, along with a whole school of gleaming little Gods, small piranha that had nibbled away the dead flesh around my cuticles. In some exotic countries, you can purchase this sort of visitation.

Big God was digging in my suitcase, looking through Goodwill purchases. Mostly colorful scarves. I have a weakness for colorful scarves. She wrapped herself in a turquoise beach scarf, tied Irish green silk around her neck, and topped things off with hunter orange on her head.

“Why do you do this sort of thing?” I asked. “Isn’t this beneath you?”

“Nothing is beneath me,” she said, filling the room. “Nothing. You’ve mistaken me for a little God.”

“Oh, and how would you know that?” I asked. My voice was not warm.

“Ah, child, I think you know this.” she said with patience. “Little Gods are the products of little minds trying to make sense of things. There are lots of little Gods, lots of little minds. I’m well acquainted with them all.”

“Yeah? Well, I’m sick of them,” I said. “Can’t you at least make mine go away?”

“No,” Big God said. “That’s your job.”

I threw a snow boot at her. She ducked. Laughed. Faded. I kicked at the suitcase and considered braiding the scarves into one long rope so next time, next time, I could save myself. This struck me as the funniest thing ever, and the day began again.