Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Knocking on Heaven's Door
Photo by C. Sanchez-Garcia
"...Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,
because you have struggled with God and with
men and have overcome." Genesis 32: 28
I’ve just dropped some people off and I’m steering my way out of the parking lot of the mall. I’ve got NPR on the box and now that I’m alone I turn up the sound. Some numb nuts married to Nicole Kidman.
“We met each other at a social affair and we just had this deep instant connection.”
“Oh fuck you. Please.” Now the bitterness is beginning and I’m not sure how to cut it off before it trashes the rest of my day. I put on a CD of old Chess records recordings. I’ve got Muddy Waters on the box singing “I Just Can’t Be Satisfied.” Good. That’s what I want to hear. You and me, Mud.
I pull the van over under a tree in the corner of the mall. I shut off the engine and roll down the window and just breathe for a while. High over head, a mated pair of brown tailed hawks that have always seemed to claim the mall as their hunting grounds, are circling like beautiful little fighter planes. Usually there’s a lot of squirrels around but they vanish when the hawks are up there. I love to watch them, circle and circle, like gold fish in a bowl. As old uncle Walt Whitman says, they don’t weep over their sins, and there’s not a question of respectability or unhappiness among any of them. Watching them calms me.
I'm suffering these days from a kind of spiritual fever with which I infect myself when I struggle to recover the past.. The years in the “Garden”, as I think of it. In my religious days, when I lived communally, when I was an idealistic young man growing up in my huge crazy spiritual family, as lost and wasteful and regretful as those times sometimes appear to me, watching the hawks overhead reminds me those were also the happiest and most purposeful years of my life. I had to let it go.
How I became spiritually soul-sick this week, is this. Recently I heard of the death of someone I knew a little bit from those days. I knew his wife a whole lot better. When we were young, we lived in the same “church center”, did everything together and were very close friends. Now understand, this was a profoundly erotic, beautiful young woman, the kind of woman my shy young self would have been absolutely paralyzed in the presence of under other circumstances. She was a buxom, slender young thing, small faced and sweet, with beautiful sleepy eyes which disappeared when she laughed, which was often; philosophical and curious, creative and artistically gifted. We were strictly celibate, and that gave us a great freedom which is not something people usually associate with celibacy. We were brother and sister, Adam and Eve before the apple, living like happy monks together in the spaciousness of that great innocence, doing what we believed God wanted us to do to make the world better, as free and open hearted with each other as children.
Years later she was “blessed” in the wedding tradition of the Unification Church and dropped off the face of the earth for the next twenty five years until I got the news about her husband. Now she's an aging widow with kids. There was a contact address and I sent her a check to help her family. I didn’t hear back, but I know the check was cashed.
It wasn’t so much about her, really. It was a check I wrote to myself, to that fortunate kid who walked at the side of that magnificent young woman as her best pal, brother and confidant. They were inhabitants, hot house flowers of that invisible Garden.
There are web sites, where members still gather. I visited some of those sites, looking for her new face, looking for the friends I used to know. The faces were there, but other things too. Discussions of purity. Suspicions of liberalism. Laments about the cultural corruption of our youth by the secular popular culture.
These were not new ideas to me. These were the ideas I'd sacrificed for, long, long ago when, among other things; we marched together picketing adult book stores and theaters. I stood there at the Garden’s gate as it were; I read the words of my old friends, saw the old care worn faces with their children and even grandchildren. And all the time I thought - what would they think of me now and my stories? What would she think, not even so much if she ever read my books, but was simply exposed to their existence? Stories of graphic sex, stories of desire gone wildly wrong. Violence, and not the playful kind either. Tragedy and illicit ecstasy. Would they see the intention, the soul behind the stories, or would they whisper “He’s become a pornographer. He’s become one of them.”
The thing I can’t explain to my old crowd is that these very stories they'd find so viscerally revolting, these stories come from them.
Without my romanticized notions of our life and times, without the spiritual pain of isolation, without the grief of our shared betrayal by those we trusted, I would have nothing to say, no story to write about worth the reading. There has to be deep pain, because like a violin string, a soul has to be stretched tight before it sings.
I had faith. I was a good disciple, a good follower. It was the ravenous and unforgiving God I followed and the too human custodians of that great unblinking faith that were unworthy of that young man. And when I finally did blink – it all fell apart. Coming from a idealistic place to an ordinary place, the world looks so harsh to me, probably more than it does to other people. And when I think of this wonderful young woman, now much older, though her wings were cruelly clipped, her faith hasn’t changed, I just have to wonder. How does the world look to her? How would I look to her if she knew me as I am now? Would she really despise me so much? Maybe it was better she didn’t contact me to say thanks for the check, or maybe she already knows my stain, has heard about it from someone in sad, disgusted whispers, and steers clear of me, a sinner and a leper from the world she still cherishes.
One of the spiritual goals I aspire to, and haven’t yet achieved is the ability to let go of the past, because it’s a very rich and passionate past, filled with adventure and soaring spiritual experiences. Filled with the most excellent people. I’m still struggling to embrace exile as the gift that I do really know it is, and to be happy not only with what I have but what I’ve lost.
Overhead, the hawk couple are circling close together now. Do they love each other the way people do? Are they better off if they don’t? Do they ever go just joy riding together on those huge spread soft wings, or is it all business for them?
One of the hawks has seen something. She dips her wing, gathers herself and drops in a fast glide until she disappears behind the trees. It’s a beautiful sunny morning in a beautiful world, where some small animal is having a horrible moment.