The room is rolled all over in thick blue, no, red paint, like vinyl. Or pulp?
Maybe it’s purple. My eyes are closed and I am so warm. It’s like having a memory of your first concert.
I bounce the edges of my fingertips off the stained yellow formica countertop. I always want the cat to come up on my workstation, and then when she does I always wonder what I was thinking.
She is jealous of my labors, as they are jealous of each other. Think I tried to make a whole religion out of intuitively sensing what to do next. Like there was a moral answer as to whether I should go for a walk or read a book or listen to music.
I need to be more immobile. One of the main imperatives of getting lost is to not get any more lost. I did not take this to heart. I did not take this to heart because, for one, I had not heard it, and for another, I would have ignored it. I thought I was setting out. I thought I was charting a course. I didn’t think I was in any way lost.
You are legion. You can be in more than one place at a time. You already are. There are a thousand pieces of you strewn across a thousand paths you started up one day. The world has become unbearably loud since I started calling mine back. Unbearably loud but perfectly bright.
She loves to roll around on the cold concrete just before the door. Often she has cobwebs or leaves or lint or other various debris clinging to her ears that I try vainly to clear away. She often resists, as though the detritus were a diadem of her choosing, or as though my hand sought only to play.
I wonder what acts of grace just passed me by. I wonder what kindnesses I no longer felt motivated to extend. I built a castle out of the pain of separation, then I built it defenses and reinforcements. In becoming other, I lost touch, until…until I could hold a cat in my arms and still want to fall from this world.
The art department of my heart would like me to create a beautiful and incisive narrative in which I characterize but never name my vain attempts to ascribe meaning to a life without Jesus. But for now I am too surfeited with the blank knowledge as is to create a shadow narrative, – an artifice to make the world swallow the Jesusier bits and the drive to conceal them to begin with.
Did I deny the savior just to look smart in public?
It used to be that I couldn’t leave the house to go on a walk without dark, dark sunglasses and music blasting in my earbuds. Had to be sensually self-contained and NOT INTERACT if I was going to go out in the world.
Didn’t matter if it was 4 in the morning; I had to be closed off. Can you imagine being so afraid of the outside world that you have to wear coke-bender sunglasses at 4 am?
The funny thing is that the only thing I guess I feared more than going out in the world was not going out in it. Something kept me going every day. I choose now to think it was grace. Something told me something awful would happen if I stopped going out in the world – something worse still than all the judgments of men and their empty sidelong snickers.
I didn’t want to interact with the people I might pass on the street primarily because they had become projections of everything I hate about myself. Passing people on the street was an intolerable trap of trying to determine: pride or envy, pride or envy. These are our two conditioned responses to seeing other people, and as someone with very low thinking of himself, I almost always experienced envy and by extension shame.
Not that I could have put this in words when I needed to wear sunglasses at 4 in the morning. My explanation would have been something like their eyes. Their eyes are always on me. I never know what their eyes are going to do, and I never know what to do with my eyes. If I smile they might think that I am trying to kill them. If I ignore them they might think I am rude. Short of plucking out my own eyes, and I have not excluded this, for now I look straight-ahead into the nothingness of my coke-bender sunglasses.
But after receiving the grace of the Lord, wearing sunglasses started to give my stomach queer turns. After the elation of coming back to the Lord, I started wondering if I weren’t doing it wrong again. Here I was on my daily walk, the panic of my old life creeping back in. What if, I thought, what if I take off my sunglasses? And then I came to see what the trouble was:
I could tolerate more light.
I can tolerate so much more light now that the light of God is upon me. Strike. The light of God has always been upon me, but I have hidden from it. I have hidden from it behind sunglasses, and in the constant narrowing of my eyes. Lord only knows how much smaller they could have gotten, pun very much intended.
So, too, it came to pass with music; for even as I turned in my fervor to familiar hymns, the noise in my head was entirely too much. A soothing walk, an uplifting musical turn, and still I was left in a shaking cold panic nearly every time. What if…what if I take out my earbuds?
Neuroscience tells us there is no such thing as multitasking, only switching rapidly between single tasks. But there is an exhausting lag every time you switch tasks, which directly impacts your ability to do any of them.
When I was without, I needed constant screaming just to distract me from the hole in my life. This is not how I would have phrased it when I needed constant screaming. I would not have known what you were talking about if you had pressed me on the matter, and I might have said something like: art appreciation is deeply and wildly important to me, and I think it is such a wonderful function of our time that I can carry all the world’s greatest music and literature right in my pocket for constant and unceasing consumption. Also, there are unquenchable voices inside all of us that point us toward the future, and you have to forcefully drown them in an onrushing tidal wave of nostalgic longing to get from one day to the next.
Sometimes I shake a bag of treats if I want the cat to come running. She likes being in my little basement studio with me now that she’s used to it, but it took a lot of giving her treats to get there. Now after she gets her treats and a few pats and scratches, she’s back off again to explore the rest of the basement.
Remember praying to God when I was a little boy of about 6 to bring me these Star Trek action figures. I didn’t need or really event want, well, want, yes, but that wasn’t the point, I was capable of getting Star Trek action figures, about one per every grocery store trip. No, I didn’t need supernatural intervention to get the action figures. I was a six year old and I was testing God. (Think to avoid duplicates I asked God to bring me Counselor Deanna Troi with a different color uniform than the one I already had. “The marketing on these things, I tell ya…”) By the way, God was supposed to leave the action figures outside my bedroom door, immaculate delivery-style.
God didn’t give me what I wanted because I didn’t need his help to get it. Even more importantly, I had no faith that He would actually deliver. I posed God a stupid, childish request I barely wanted fulfilled and didn’t believe he would fulfill – to what? To prove that God denies us? To prove he isn’t there? To provide a moving example of the pressure children living in consumer society face to misdirect their love?
God won’t shake a bag of treats to steady your faith. In the ensuing quarter-century I’ve never told anyone that story because even at 6 years old I knew how stupid and childish I was being. Still…I wondered where the line was. When does your request transcend the selfish? – and can Christ fulfill requests even if they fulfill selfish ends? He says over and over that anything you ask in prayer He will offer – so what is fitting to ask?
Sometimes it feels like Jesus has given us just enough rope. To build a ladder to heaven or hang each other with. You get to feelin’ good about being right about something, and then you remember that that’s called pride. Then you get to feelin’ low and want to be more like your neighbor, and then you remember that that’s called envy.
The sinfulness into which we all fall in the barren absence of divine light could be the ark that bears us to that Other shore. Instead, we beat our pruning hooks and plowshares back into swords and spears, and gather up all the splinters in the eyes of our brethren to craft a cross to bear.
I bounce the edges of my fingertips off the stained yellow formica countertop. I always want the cat to come up on my workstation. She doesn’t always come, but when she does, she shows such devotion that I could never stop from trying.