Transparencies

There are days when dinosaurs, cockroaches, and head lice provide me with a certain comfort. The deliberate ignorances and cruel choices of our species are hardly inspiring, but when I consider the magnificence of survival and the wonders of extinction over the inconceivable span of years these creatures represent, I relax. We can all relax.

Consider the lesson of the glass winged butterfly (Greta Oto). Freed of human tunnel vision, we can ride the tails of invisibility and let our perspectives shrink and swell. Trippy. Who needs externally induced altered states when you can consider the history of our planet and become completely disoriented, bodily displaced? As one researcher noted, being transparent makes for great camouflage. There’s no point in hiding cumbersome errors, glaring false starts, or neon selfish longings. Why not own up to our foibles, strip down to essence, and have a good laugh at ourselves as we give up or start over? In a cosmic, tragic sort of way, we are hilarious. This may be the sole reason humans have consciousness; we can laugh. God likes to laugh.

Or maybe, it’s terror. We inflict terror on each other, and when we do, we often reach out of our bodies to see if anyone is there to help. We come apart so easily because we’re afraid of being nothing, but here’s the funny part: We are everything; the thorn and the rose.

Across the meadow, the Artist is painting roses with blood—your blood, the neighbor’s blood, God’s blood, the soldier’s blood.

“Please,” I whisper to the Artist. “No more roses.”

The Artist pauses, hands me a brush, and with a smile that brings tears to my eyes, says, “Paint what you will.”

“No, I’m not that kind of artist,” I protest, holding the dripping brush away from myself. But I see that the blood is holy, and I relent. I paint myself red. I paint the Artist red. It occurs to me we are the embodied Scarlet Letter, marked as shameful, marked as chosen, marked as doomed, marked as loved.

These absurd contradictions make God laugh. I laugh. The Artist laughs. The dinosaurs laugh. Lice and lichen, seconds and centuries, grief and gladness, daylight and starlight, the endless longing for justice, mercy, and release. In my humbled alteredness, I understand there is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend and sadly, there’s no greater delusion than to think you can preserve your life or anything you love anyway.

“Well said,” the Artist comments gently, combing through my hair with a fine-toothed comb, checking for lice. “I have nothing to add.” I know that’s not exactly true, but I let it go for now.

Tender

God jokes around so much it’s tempting to think that maybe the whole damn universe is a plaything: an elaborate war game, a psychological thriller, a slo-mo drama for the viewing pleasure of a warped creator. Look around. There’s a decent chance we’re on our way to extinction or global misery so ubiquitous that many will wish we were already extinct. Every day, I fight off the satanic seduction of the glib slogans or easy answers generated by the hateful to justify greed.

It’s wild turkey mating season. The turkeys in the yard are flirtatious, energized in the ways of turkeys in heat. Generally, I don’t admire turkeys, but they’re scrappy and they adapt. I suspect cockroaches and turkeys will outlast most other species on earth. In Montana, wild turkey mating season coincides with our efforts to legislate. Both are awkward to observe.

Who can carry guns, where, and why are questions in play. Even though God is allowed to pack, weapons are not the answer. Spread randomly among the populace, they provide neither safety nor security. Yes, they provide a means of killing. But from what I can tell, God is not a big fan of killing or even of self-defense. Self-sacrifice, yes. Self-defense, no. This is very hard to contemplate. Maybe God’s creation has a lot of humorous quirks embedded to make life a little more mysterious, but it is very, very unlikely God approves of killing in God’s name–or anyone’s name.

How do I know this?

In one of my unfinished novels, the main character’s name is Tender. An unusual name for a strapping young man, the son of a tall American soldier. But his Korean mother liked the sound and meaning as she considered various English words to name this unlikely offspring. Of course, I’m the author of this novel, so I invented this Korean mother and named her child myself.

Tender: Fragile, sensitive, easily hurt, often bruised, gentle: the tender green of newly sprouted seeds. With my ranch background, tender also means easy to chew. A tender cut of beef, vegetables cooked until they’re tender… And then there’s the transactional meaning; you can tender your resignation—always a tempting option. And finally, there’s legal tender–anything recognized by law as a means to settle debt or meet a financial obligation.

The novel isn’t finished and may never be. This is due in part to the fact that God emerged from the pages, and I realized God’s name is Tender, and it frightened me. It still does. God is gentle and kind, easily bruised, willing to let us flounder and resign from even our most basic human duties. God sprouts vulnerable in the deep purple light. And God steps in repeatedly to settle serious debt. Sure, God jokes around. God chases turkeys. God rocks herself to sleep among a million spinning planets. But this is the awful truth; one of God’s names is Tender.

Teeth

I have a friend we’ll call Albert who sends me Dark Web QAnon Planet X Antifa alerts on a regular basis, hoping to inspire me to get a gun, stop posting naïve declarations about compassion and forgiveness, and split more firewood. Albert likes me. He wants to help me and my family survive the coming apocalypse. I appreciate the intention, but I wish he could help me survive my arthritis and osteoporosis instead.

God stops by Albert’s place now and then. There’s always a pot of coffee on the back of the stove. Albert and his wife invite God in, and they have lively chats. Albert warns God about the evil afoot. God leans back, and from behind her Covid mask, she smiles a big, inclusive smile. I don’t think God means to be condescending, but she can be sarcastic in ways most people miss.

“What’s your take on survivalists?” God asked me. I was pretty sure she had Albert in mind.

“Depends,” I said. “I kind of like preppers and hoarders, but the conspiracy militia crowds freak me out.”

“Yeah,” God agreed. “They require a little more effort.”

“Effort?” I said with a snort.

“Un-huh. Effort. They’ve concocted some exhilarating realities to play with. It’s addictive. They roam around looking for something to make into an enemy, someone to blame and hate and shoot. It’s like they’re living in their own video game, and it’s a whole lot more fun than a being a grownup.”

I shrugged. Being a grownup is not all that easy. “God,” I said. “Humans have a lot of adolescent fears and fantasies that set us up for some very bad outcomes. And we have a lot of trouble outgrowing them. I, myself, have a few I’d like to outgrow.”

“I know,” God sighed. “Open your mouth.” I gave her a look but complied.

“Got some crowns. Fillings. And overall, your teeth look thinner. Not shiny white anymore.”

“So?” I asked, a little ashamed of the state of my teeth.

“So,” God said. “Teeth don’t lie. You can whiten them, cap them, pull them all out. You can just keep flossing and brushing ‘til the day you die. You have choices. They’re your teeth. But someone could come along and knock them out. Then you’d have a new set of choices.”

My tongue curled protectively around my chipped tooth. My mind curled protectively around the days I inhabit, the bones that carry me around, the ways and means I use to navigate these deep, choppy waters.

“God,” I said. “I don’t think I could kill someone to insure my own survival.”

“Of course you could,” God said. “But I hope you don’t. Survival is unattainable anyway. Your teeth won’t be with you forever, you know. No matter what you choose.”