“The world breaks everyone and you become stronger in the broken places."
“But what is a good English tea, something I could find around here?”
“Ty-phoo tea is pretty good. I like to have it afternoons with digestive biscuits. But you call them cookies here.”
“Digestive biscuits, what an awful name for a cookie.”
“Isn’t it, though?”
“Sounds like medicine, like Alka Seltzer. Like you have to eat it. Be a good boy and eat your digestive biscuit.”
“But certainly loose leaf tea is the best.”
“They call it the 'agony of the leaves'.”
“Mexicans have this expression ‘like water for chocolate’, it’s about making a cup of cocoa but it also means a sexually excited woman. I don’t know why.”
Voices. Voices. Hands reach out and shake mine.
“Those were very kind words you said up there at the service.”
“I meant them too. Every word.”
I retreat back to the coffee pot and draw off half a cup. A woman offers me a hug which I accept eagerly. I’m a junkie for hugs. Hugs turn me on. I’m chronically starved for touch and squeeze her a little harder than maybe I should. She doesn’t seem to mind. “I’m very glad I stayed,” I say to her. "You all saved me from going crazy.” I reach across the woman to the folding table and glom some toothpicks with little pieces of sausage and cheese.
“A good English beer? Let’s see. Theakston’s Old Peculiar is terribly good. But the best beer is hand drawn in a pub.”
“I’m brewing mead at home. In my garage.”
“The oldest booze there is."
"I always think of Vikings drinking mead from cow horns."
"If you’re ever about in Yorkshire and want a pub, look for the church steeples. The pub is always next door to the church.”
“Why?” I offer my friend Graham a toothpick with a piece of sausage.
“Go on, what do you suppose then? They own all the bloody booze is why! Always ‘ave!”
Campfires, copulation and conversation are Paleolithic pleasures passed down to us unchanged and primitive. They have the power to heal the soul because the soul is passed down through these ancient acts.
I’m sitting in the church pew on the second row, left, close to the center aisle. The theme of the service is “Blue Christmas”. One of the worship associates lights a chalice candle, a Unitarian Universalist tradition, and a bohemian middle aged blond woman with a terrific pair of tits in a tight pink sweater, new jeans and big fur Eskimo boots that come to her knees stands in front and sings a Joni Mitchell song. God, she’s got a helluva torch singer voice, Grace Slick and Billy Holiday together and really works that thing. I can’t take my eyes off her. She feels my eyes and looks at me.
Pat, who sometimes works with me in the soup kitchen downtown, takes a microphone and the pastor lights a small votive candle. “This is the part of our service where we invite those of you to come up and share your joys and sorrows.”
It hits me suddenly, its been a year almost to the day. A year since I first wandered into a Sunday service here like a feral cat. And I'm still here, and so much better. I stand up.
As I reach the mike, other people are lining up behind me to speak a little. I’m holding the mike a little awkwardly and I don’t know what I’m going to say except that I should speak. I want to offer these people my words. They may be good for somebody, my words. They must be good for somebody. Its that way with writing. I don’t write because I want to be a writer. I write because I need to speak. Like the messenger in the Book of Job. I alone have lived to tell you.
Voices. Voices. Voices. I sink under them like a hot bath, losing myself in the intensity of conversation. I need this. I need them all so badly.
“I didn’t realize it until just now while I was sitting here, but this is the one year anniversary of my knowing all of you.” I look out over the sea of faces and squeeze the mike tightly. I want to look them in the eye. “I used to hate Christmas, I absolutely hated it, because it seemed like the time of year that embodied all the things that were wrong with my life. But now I don’t, because of all of you. I grew up in a spiritual community, that’s the life that I come from. Things happened and I lost that community and it left a huge wound in my life. And then I found that community with all of you and I’m so very glad that I get to be here. Thank you.” I hand the mike back and go sit down wondering if everybody thinks I'm weird.
“Physicists are saying that time doesn’t flow forward the way it seems. That past and present and future are all existing together at the same time.”
“But isn’t that what the Buddhists have always said?”
“Everything that has happened to you is still happening somewhere, and there’s now and everything that will happen to you is already happening somewhere right at this moment. Time isn’t an arrow; it’s a loaf of bread.”
“Have you read Deepak Chopra?”
I’m glancing over at the folding table to see if there’s any cheese cubes left. This is the hardest part of the Unitarian church service, and its an official part of the tradition. You have the church service, hymns and all just like regular churches. And after that everybody goes to the coffee room and drinks coffee and tea and snacks and just hangs out – talking. Marvelous, marvelous talking. For a shy person, and there are many shy people here besides me, it’s a kind of torture, like exercise. Its much easier to just run away and retreat into my head. For the first ten minutes I have to force myself to stay, to wait, fighting my wallflowerness, trying to engage the eye and hope someone will talk to me. The healing talk.
That first day I ever came here, I sat down next to a tall, thin professorly woman with cheerful turtleshell spectacles and waited for someone to say hello to me. Another woman addressed her and said “So, Sandy. How was Borneo?”
Borneo?? I knew I'd found my people.
From a young age I lived communally and that was my way of life for many, many years, living in various houses filled with idealistic young people like me, I swam in a sea of conversation and intense prayer and was no more aware of how lucky I was than a fish is aware of the existence of water. I never had privacy and didn’t miss it. I didn’t have any personal money, and very few personal things, but I never felt poor. I felt free then, the way a monk is free. All that I owned I could pack up and carry on my back. I was celibate, but instead of feeling lonely felt liberated from the need to prove myself to women and to compete with men. My home was the wide wide world and my family was everyone. They were my tribe. Then I lost them. When God drives you out from the Garden, its very hard to go back.
If God gives a shit at all, He wouldn’t want you to go back. A person can become more interesting by staying out of the Garden and letting life come at you. Like Adam you have to earn your bread by the sweat of your brow, and its meant to be a curse, but over time you learn it isn’t. Eve was cursed to yearn physically and emotionally for a man, and give birth in mortal pain and danger as a result but Eden’s curse turns out to define so much of what is magnificent in woman. The suffering shapes and bends you. Breaks and refracts the light through you. Suffering is only a dark energy. It’s something that just is. You have to suffer well.
Kids are running around dressed as shepards. The Christmas pagent is next week. Randy, a professional stage actor married to a Wiccan pagan prietess named Jezebel (really) comes by with a staff and a robe.
"Are you a wise man now?" I shout after him.
"No! I'm a wise guy!"
A little girl runs by dressed like a sheep. A little boy carrying a sugar donut runs after her, dressed as a big gold star. “Hey,” I call to him. “Are you a rock and roll star or a regular star?”
“But I think now that consciousness underlies everything like a great energy. I’m convinced that it exists independently of us and when we die we return to it, we’re all part of this great web, this great conversation that never stops. You want some more coffee? I’m going over there, give me your cup.”
Voices. Voices. Voices. When I die will there be voices?
“I love museums,” I say to my friend Mary Ann. She showed up on the same day I did a year ago and she still comes around. She's deep. “I was at the Smithsonian in Washington and saw the Wright Brother’s first airplane. The uber airplane.”
“Did you see the Viet Nam memorial there?” says Mary Ann.
“No, I missed it.”
“Oh, it’s amazing,” she says. “There’s this little museum nearby of all the stuff people brought to the memorial. It just makes you want to cry. There’s a beer glass and a note that says ‘I promised we’d have a beer together when we got back home.’ And a Brownie Scout sash with little merit badges and a note that says ‘I wanted to show you my badges when you got home, Dad’. It just breaks your heart.”
“People have the wrong idea,” I say, “About what sacred is. Like its supposed to be only about religion. But sacred is anything. An old teddy bear. Your grandma’s cookies. It can be a glass of beer. Or a Girl Scout sash. If you give it soul, if it means something it becomes sacred. It has power because you give it power. That’s how magic works. Its imbuing something with emotional power; with soul.”
When I say that to Mary Ann it reminds me of Nixie talking to the reader about why some vampires fear the cross and others don’t. Some vampires are afraid of a cup of tea, Nixie said. It’s a matter of soul. It’s a matter of what you loved before you went all wrong inside.