Nothing to be Done

Sometimes I take God by the neck and shake him until he goes limp and falls like rain and dust and shards of stained glass at my feet—a deadly mix of elements within my power to restore but broken and unlikely. I walk away barefoot, continually astonished at the human propensity to self-destruct.

Usually, the high wind warnings are accurate. Anything of value or consequence must be weighted down or be lost. But somehow the birds stay light and navigate the currents of air with enviable grace. It’s easy to resort to anger. It’s tempting to bow down to lesser gods and find temporary nourishment by eating the tender parts of your own soul. Tempting, but not wise. This morning, I pause and chew my thumb nail instead. Penitent. Pensive. Wishing I had the patience of Job or the dark wings of Kali.

God assembles himself. I keep my hands in my lap. God swivels his hips. I nod noncommittally. God leans in and whispers, “I can tell you where the chickens are hiding their eggs.” He’s flirting. I resist.

“I can predict the next storm,” he says. I shrug.

“Hell, I can control the next storm,” he adds, trying to get a rise out of me. It works.

“Do you think I don’t know that?” I ask, exasperated. “Do you not understand how hard that is to hear? You can control a storm but not an army? You can make it rain, but things die of drought and starvation?”

When I’m like this, sometimes God gets irritable and defends himself, claiming to suffer along with everyone else. Sometimes, God gets all loving and huge and tries to instill hope. And sometimes, God just takes a single sip of my dark morning beer and waits.

And I wait. And the silence reminds me of wonder. And the slow-moving clouds remind me of water. And I remember the unusually fat worm I dug up yesterday. Of their own volition, my calloused hands come together in a kind of praise—a grudging acceptance of very thin skin.

There’s nothing to be done about God. Ground cover only lasts so long. Light breaks through. Dirt blows in. Rain eventually falls and the magical seeds sprout; rhizomes shoot along in the dark until they surface uninvited. The tenacity is a splendor and a curse.

“You remind me of quackgrass,” I tell God, breaking our shared revery.

“Funny,” God says. “I was thinking the same thing about you.”

Good and Evil, Weeds and Greens

I just ordered extra-strength mold and mildew killer for a nasty basement area that hosts a strain of fungi I do not like. And later today I’ll chop, pull, and in some cases, spray chemicals on bugs and weeds and tenacious grasses that are choking the good stuff.

I hate this.

I hate every single stupid aspect of the battle between good and evil, weeds and vegetables, beneficial bugs and destructive infestations, liars and truth-tellers, thieves and the generous of spirit. I realize there’s a purpose for all of creation. Nature is not mistaken. We know a little but not enough. Defining anything as a weed or as evil begs the question of an omniscient creator who pronounces all things good (or potentially good, or redeemable). It violates my premise that God knows what God’s up to. This is why being rational sucks sometimes. The whole of life is filled with unsettling contradictions that must be addressed or endured.

I’m a consumer and a provider–a lover, hater, poet, pragmatist, winner, loser, dreamer, doodler; I’m easily duped but wise in the ways of my insular world. On occasion, I fail to be honest or kind—but I’m skilled at manufacturing reasons to justify myself.

As a human, I have a large degree of autonomy. I have the prerogative to be caring or cruel, truthful or deceitful; I have power over those weaker than I am. Each day arrives new but slightly tainted by the dregs of the day before. The brilliant colors of an unguarded sky disorient me as the hot wind of redundancy stirs the August dust. By late afternoon, I see in my face the toll taken by trying to live well. What do the “evil” people see—the depraved and debauched—do they see the same contours?  Small victories and apparent defeats? Do they glimpse God with her arms crossed, waiting? Do they see my futile longing to give every living thing another chance?

The problem with weeds and germs is that they don’t know their place: they’re not humble. They roam around the party sipping wine from everyone’s glass. They are invasive and infectious. Taking unfair advantage, they form self-defeating monocultures and thus fail to be a balanced part of an intricate ecosystem.

The God I hang out with is the Balancer-in-Chief. She climbs on the scales, lies down in the street, lets the bastards starve her to death. She sustains injuries from the blast, drowns in the flood, joins the protests, widens the cracks, and endures. Unlike me, she seems to know it will come out okay in the end. There will be justice. There will be mercy. There will be love. I shield my eyes from the glare of the moment, but I can only see so far. So while I’m still able, I yank at the weeds with a ferocious mix of futility and hope, and with a certain sadness, I leave their roots exposed to the merciless sun.

New Shoes

Old shoes IMG-3339

This morning, on the Stillwater, smoke from both the fires of Canada and the fires of hell invade my body and soul with every shallow in-breath, and I endure the artist at work–yesterday’s ashes glazing the face of granite into something too terrible to touch, too beautiful to behold.

Not long ago, I began to pack for yet another autumn transition. I picked the last of the purslane-choked green beans, pulled the onions, undid the hoses, and with sickening ambivalence, bought poison to deal with mice. Traps or poison? I’m not a rodent, but I’d rather be poisoned than trapped. If we had a decent God, we wouldn’t have to use our crude, projected empathy to make these wrenching decisions. Maybe we’d even feed the mice and marvel at the prodigious quantities of seashell pink offspring. Or maybe in the spirit of the grand circle of life, we’d learn to eat said offspring. A delicacy. Except for their tiny spasmodic appendages, curled baby mice do bear a remarkable resemblance to shrimp. Wait. That wouldn’t solve the problem.

Eat or be eaten. Poison or be poisoned. By and large, the weeds won this year. And now, forests are being blazed out of existence, flood waters gorge on land, and lives are lost. I sit in unearned comfort, grimly examining the karmic consequences of nonaction, trying to goad my flesh into movement, my mind into comprehension. It feels useless. Why bother? Such is my mood today.

Yesterday was a different story. I had new running shoes, and there’d been rain. And God, I know you don’t like it when I imply you’ve engaged in miracles for my sake, but it seemed you’d reduced the gravity along the highway where my stride was effortless and I bounded along like a deer, legs spring-loaded, heart lifted and extraordinarily light.

“It was the shoes,” God says.

“I don’t believe you,” I say.

And God laughs. I can barely see the big, sharp teeth through the haze, but I can hear the riotous sound of a happy God.

“No, really,” I say in my loudest voice. “I don’t believe you.”

“I know,” God says. “Next time, run in old shoes with rocks in your pocket.”

“Fine,” I say. “That’s just what I’ll do.”

“And what will you prove, darling?” God asks, suddenly all innocent and interested.

“Nothing,” I shout. “I’ll prove nothing. There’s nothing mortals can prove. You shift the odds, change the playing field, turn down the volume, distort the light. We’re mice in an endless maze. Where are you, God? That’s what I want to know. Where are you?”

“Sheesh, oh ye of little vision. Calm down. You cannot look anywhere I’m not. I’m the maze and the fire, the weeds and the water, the new shoes and the rocks. And by the way, you got a good deal on those Sauconys, but I liked the yellow Asics pretty well too.”