Tag Archives: bravery
Divine Love, Divine Hate, an essay
Scientists have of late discovered that music stimulates the same areas of the brain as food and sex. That’s why listening to music can bring a chill, raise the small hairs on the back of the neck. That’s why music demands — and gets — our closest attention. You need me, the music calls, you need me to survive, to perpetuate your species. Without me, you will have less well-being, less pleasure and satisfaction. What a design! Food, sex and — music.
The pleasure centers of the brain — the reptilian, primitive intelligence — is not involved in abstract thought but entrusted with the very essence of staying alive. Yet the impulses and desires which originate there find means of expression in our higher intelligence. Food and sex are necessary for survival, so necessary that sometimes it seems as though the whole human world, all human society and culture, can be thought of as nothing more than an interesting mechanism to keep us supplied with food and sex.
The appreciation of music springs from that same primal area of the brain — could this possibly mean there must be a God, after all — a God who gave us another instinct, one for pleasure and beauty, in addition to our basic instincts to survive? Music, a divine invention with no practical purpose. No purpose at all other than to inspire in us joy, mystery, fear and abandon.
Think of all the emotions we can express with food, sex and music: passion, joy, disinterest, experimentation, violence, anger, tenderness, wistfulness, meditation, transcendence. Food, sex and music can be used to communicate, even intensify, all these emotions, yet the trio can also be used to push us past all of these feelings to a region of Godlike rationality and knowledge. Yes, occasionally our existence becomes clear, understood fully until surface complexity falls away into the deeper simplicity of detached understanding. A strangely quiet joy — a joy beyond anything prosaic.
A poetic joy, able to recreate itself in the mind forever. Sometimes the memory of such enlightenment is what keeps us going when the enlightenment itself feels as far away as Uranus or Pluto — as cold, as unreachable. Remembering how once we held it in our bodies and it filled us so there was nothing empty, noting lacking, nothing to fear — not even death. It is a knowledge, a contentment, which infants possess without awareness. To possess this peace with awareness is the greatest achievement, but one which few people are able to sustain for long. We hold it and fall in love with it and in an instant it twists out of our hands and flashes off into the distance like an agile, silvery minnow. Enlightenment as God’s minnow. Look at it too closely, try to keep it too long, and you may never see it again.
I myself have only a rather wobbly faith in God’s existence, but I nonetheless feel pity for people who declare without hesitation that nothing divine exists. What a drab, ugly world their interior castles must be, with only themselves for company.
The divine cannot be ruled out. We cannot know what exists beyond our senses. Certainly people have been enraptured by the idea of divinity — especially, most recently, the notions of divine anger, divine vengeance — modern terrorists have embraced these, but without embracing the corresponding ideas of divine love and divine compassion. Yes, people have fastened their wills on the idea of divine judgment, but they have ignored completely divine forgiveness.
The cockroach is as marvelous a creation as anything — see it scuttle away from the light, a most marvelous mechanism, see it copulate, see it reproduce itself, see it taste its food with pleasure twinkling in its delicate, wavelike feelers. No less miraculous than us. But we have an ability the cockroach does not have — to be self-aware of our divine impulses — our duty as human beings is to dive both below and above our own ordinary human consciousness. To bring all our unconscious knowledge and desires into to the conscious realm — both those desires labeled primitive and those labeled exalted.
Some elements of love are to be found in the roach. It loves its life: flees from danger, attempts to avoid harm, and tries to survive no matter what the odds. This is where the terrorists have failed. They have embraced only half the divine order — divine hate — the half that appeals to them more and suits their political purposes. They need to stretch themselves, accept all things God has created — even those they find distasteful or abhorrent — and leave the judging to God. They need to cultivate in themselves divine compassion and divine love. Terrorists profess they love God, but they do not love God’s creation — therefore that love is flawed, is not really love at all. Their love has turned inside out into hate.
They need to learn from the cockroach, as do we all. We possess vast potential for divine virtue, yet are so capable of falling into the abyss of pride. These terrorists have fallen, and they are trying to pull us down with them. We must not surrender to only part of the divine order. We must catch ourselves with the feelers of the insect before we tumble too far.
I cannot blame anyone who feels the need to destroy the terrorists. I feel that need myself, the blood lust of anger and retribution. But we must find a response pleasing to the divine. That is what prayer is — thinking about what a divinely perfect being might do, waiting for the small voice to tell us the right way to handle this new permutation of evil — without ourselves falling under its wicked spell.
This is what all religious searching has been aimed at. Whether we believe God exists or not — we can imagine God, as God might exist. Sometimes it is better to die than to kill the blameless. We can feel such things in our deepest selves, and these places are just as important to reach with the conscious mind as the highest levels of abstract thought.
We can imagine God, we can love God, we can honor God, and that is what matters most, not whether God truly exists. Good and evil, love and hate, right and wrong, call it whatever you like. It is our uniquely human gift, our uniquely human burden. Did we ask for this? Be careful what you wish for, goes the old admonition. Would I rather be my dog, or my cat? Sometimes I envy their peace of mind. They don’t know about world wars. But my most divine pleasures, feeling them and knowing that I am pleased, and knowing why — in this way I have my cake and eat it, too. The lure of that apple in the garden is a lovely allegory, whether it happened or not — we invented it. This is the quality of our humanity which we can never give back, no matter how much we might want to.
She is made of wood, a silken hardness that begs touching.
Should anyone reach, trail a fingertip across her flesh,
the man in straps would speak, his mumbled words rasping
through the stopped air, turning beating cells boorish,
piercing desire’s heart, killing a love so old, so pure,
it has no real name. Such is obvious from the way she stands,
lifting her heavy hair, each hand the careful cynosure
of being — she drapes the primal fiber like garlands,
letting it flow free only to capture the thickness of trees.
Her eyes are closed. Under abraded lids resides the look
everyone knows: pupils enlarged by pain; simple refugees
from knowledge received of the body, woman’s final textbook.
The belly asks first. It says come, reside here within me,
neither cold, nor afraid, nor desirous — twirl and dream
of nothing but this spare salt universe, wear only veins, silky
wisps of hair, discreet, pale limbs enfolded by soft cream.
Her feet nourish the ground, her head becomes the forest.
Walk where her shadow falls, seek the margin of her arms,
soothe your tired neck in mother’s lucid heat, hedonist
entity you have become, set in blind motion under charms
worked by no laboratory scientist in a trim white robe.
Rather, you emerged redly from a thousand other deaths,
one messy cauldron holding shapes; the patient, springy web
of chosen elements drawn together, joined by many faiths.
The breasts want, too. Child, they sing in unison, nourish your
body with our thin white blood — suckle, cradle the nipple deep
against the palate, pull the flow from a dozen small pores, gnaw
strong like a velveted vise, drink true until you swallow sleep.
The need to believe is more than skin. Need is the whole glossy
image on this lonely wall; what it means to be such a mechanism!
She never schemed for her fey power — nor does she expect mercy.
You exist, mere fragile accident, in perfect jeweled synchronism.
Not as simple as punishment, nor as complex as grace, her skills
for life reside at a place men cannot enter, no fault of their
own. They build instead the world, of brick, stone; shy stabiles
meant to appease longing, courageous memorials to light, to air.
Heavenly Dances, Heavenly Intimacies, a short story
“Isn’t there any heaven where old beautiful dances, old beautiful intimacies prolong themselves?”
Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier
How can I be “dead” to any of the men I once loved? They are not “dead” to me. Not even H. How can I be “dead” to H.? They — even H. — are each as alive as when I was with them; as alive as the first time they touched me, whether tentatively or with confidence; whether softly or roughly; whether with passion or mere lust. It is shocking and appalling how H. lurched so radically to the right after 9/11. He began that journey to the Tea-Party-Mad-Hatter-Neocon-Bill-Buckley-Wall-Street-Apologist-Fringe-Brainless-Faux-News-Right when Ronald Reagan was shot; I was with him the very night it happened. We had a short affair, right then, because we started thinking the end of the world had arrived and we decided, like the crazy college students we were, to get married to celebrate our courage in the face of chaos! I realized very early on (but still way too late!) I was embarrassed to be seen in public with him. Did you ever start seeing, and marry someone whom you later realized you were embarrassed to be seen with? Perhaps the person in question was “dorky,” “geeky,” dressed “badly,” or had questionable “taste.” H. readily admits he was a “dork” in high school. He was on the debate team; need I say more? When you can’t bear to be seen in your lover’s/spouse’s/significant other’s/partner’s company, things usually don’t work out.
Still, I put in ten dutiful years, trying to make amends for my mistake in marrying H. The second he started making the big bucks, he dumped me. He left me for my best friend! I guess I deserved it, not taking control of my own life & filing for divorce two weeks after we married. And I guess I deserved how my ex-best-friend S. ruined me, as she subsequently did. She was in charge of the whole group we had socialized with: dictating how everyone in our “circle” should think, speak, act, or react. H. was dead wrong about most everything, but, to his credit, he was dead right about her. At the time I thought him merely woman-hating, but I see now, even though he did hate women, there was something more than simply being a “woman” he hated about her. He was covering up the fact he loved her by pretending to hate her. Now, I have no desire to see her, not ever again. She is definitely “dead” to me. Yes, I understand intellectually, a living death (call it shunning) can happen to anyone.
The upshot of all this boring history? I’ve been waiting for something a long time. I can’t blame anyone but myself for my unhappiness, not anymore. There is something dispirited inside me, something empty, drained, and beaten — something sick, something tired, something that has surrendered. I gave up, when? When my first ex-husband arbitrarily said no to children, breaking his solemn vow. When I realized I couldn’t find happiness outside myself — not with an old love, not with a new love, not with any of my subsequent husbands, my friends, my eventual children, or my family. Yes, to casual acquaintances and virtual strangers I am “happy, happier than I’ve ever been.” And it’s true! I’ve never been this happy, this contented, in my life. Yes, there are still problems. My oldest son is still half the world away, fighting an endless war on behalf of my “country.” My youngest son still has an ignorant, racist, rabidly conservative father. I am getting old. My face is melting. My neck is turning into a wattle. I am drooping.
Still, I cannot imagine any of them, the men I have loved or made love to, being dead to me the way my former best friend, S., is dead to me. Yet that is how they must feel about me, the way I feel about her. Wanting her removed from my memories. Wanting never to have met her. Not missing anything about her. She wants to see me, I heard from a mutual friend I still speak to. I don’t want to see her, or even see the mutual friend. I don’t even want to get as close as that! Because of reasons. Top secret, NSA, DOD, CIA, FBI, SEC, IRS, FDLE, GPD, ACSO reasons! No further comment!
Baby Chicks and Free Speech, a short story
Here I am, sitting on the long, narrow side patio of “Ye Olde Neighborhood Coffee Parlor” listening to yet another, tiresome & self-aggrandizing, homeless guy tell some adoring young female his “war stories.” So this one night, under this bridge… they usually begin, as does this one.
And then they arrive as quickly as possible (as does this one) at the “no one dares to call the police on me anymore,” stage, or is it no one dares call the state troopers, or the FBI, or the CIA, or the NSA? Whatever. Boils down to the fact that some dangerous, or just plain, old, drug-addled sociopath, is trying to pick up a drunk, defenseless-seeming chick (and I do mean chick – even her hair is fluffy like a newly hatched & dried chicken’s) on the side porch at “Ye Olde Neighborhood Coffee Parlor.” Then I hear the magic words: crazy bitch! Bingo!
So, to cut a long, boring, pointless ordeal short, I let him have it in the face with both barrels. Told him from where I sat, not even lifting my head to look, or my pencil from page of the blank composition book I was writing in, that if he could call someone a “crazy bitch” loud enough for me to hear him all the way at the opposite end of the uncovered concrete patio, then I could call him a “stupid, fucking sociopathic, prick asshole” as loud as I wanted to, from my end of the patio.
“Yes,” he said, “that’s your right of free speech.” And then he went inside to have the management call the cops on me. Ooh, he just trotted back out to tell me he works at the College of Law — he’s real important!
The poor, homeless chick I was afraid was going to end up as a body dumped by him somewhere along the nearest exit of the nearest interstate is not going with him now, she’s clutching her head and moaning how she was “just on my way to the lake, man!” She sounds like Janis Joplin after a shot of heroin and half a bottle of whiskey. I just kept telling her I loved her, over and over and over. And that he most definitely did NOT love her. Or have her best interests at heart.
I gave him a fucking piece of my mind. Maybe I didn’t save her life, but I definitely saved her poor, little, skinny ass from a predatory, muscle-bound hunk of steroidal ego-maniac-ism. With a tanning booth tan, or maybe it’s a spray tan, who gives a fuck. I think the other patrons inside this place just told him to get the hell out of here. We’re all here, some of us twice a day, almost like clockwork – since this is the first time I’ve ever seen him, I doubt he is a “regular.”
Oh, but the poor, unjustly accused, wee man-child protests plaintively he was “just trying to do somebody a favor, buying a homeless person a cup of coffee.” The “crazy bitch” he referred to outside on the patio was, drum roll please… his mother! Wow, there’s a shocker. What sociopath/serial killer/manipulator/user/con man/misogynist/racist/violent/physically or emotionally or financially abusive A-hole doesn’t blame their “crazy bitch” of a mother for everything they’ve brought on to themselves!
I told him she must really love him, his mom, especially when he calls her “crazy bitch” to her face on Mother’s Day! I thought his head would explode right there, all over the rusty, rickety, nasty tables the owner is too cheap to replace. Why I keep coming back here, I’ll never know. My nephew says it’s haunted… maybe the spirits are trying to get me here so they can tell me something I desperately need to know. What if I don’t want to listen to them? And I don’t! Not the bad ones, anyway. So I generally try to ignore them all, altogether, because trying to sort the good spirits from the bad spirits seems like tempting fate.
Miss “Chicken Little/Little Chicken/My Little Chickadee” would have paid handsomely for that “free” iced coffee drink with a priceless piece of her tiny, bony ass. Look on the bright side: maybe she would have left him with a little something infectious and/or potentially itchy to remember her by. Of course, if she had gotten pregnant, he would have denied everything, including ever having met her. And pity the poor child born of such a freak-o-zoid union!
Now the musclebound sociopath is gone, back on his expensive racing bike, continuing on his way to the neighborhood weightlifting “meat market” joint three blocks down the road, where he can peacock his spray-tanned asshole-ry around for all the other macho/macha bodybuilders. College of Law employee? We’ll just see about that. Yeah, that’s what I thought… nobody on the staff possesses his distinctive face. How considerate of the College of Law to have its own mini-facebook thing! Legal Sociopath Dude vacated the premises, and quickly. Thank you, all good spirits haunting “Ye Olde Neighborhood Coffee Parlor!”
She Finally Had Enough, a short story
One fateful, thunder-stormy, early summer, north central Florida evening, this thrice-divorced, somewhat neurotic, fairly attractive for her age, fifty-three year old woman suddenly and completely unexpectedly decided she’d finally had enough snuggling. Not just enough for the moment, the hour, the day, the week, the month, the year — no, she’d finally had enough for an entire lifetime. From February 15th to June 15th, she tortured her brand-new, super-hot boyfriend (who had long, luxuriant, ginger hair with a couple of silver strands mixed in to add visual interest) with so many snuggling demands, and he was so kind, so generous with his snuggling (and other) abilities, which were, shall we say, subtle, complex, and mature, as well as multiple in nature. If you get the hidden meaning. No pun intended. That’s a damnable lie. Every pun intended, and included for general salacious effect upon you, dear reader. Deal with it! Go get your own damned snuggling, right this second, from whomever it is you most wish to snuggle. Maybe it’s your wife, your husband, your child, your parent, your neighbor, your bitterest enemy, your dearest friend, maybe it’s Adolf Hitler or George W. Bush, or your dog, or the armadillo that’s digging a big trench next to your driveway and gave birth to a litter of babies last week, maybe it’s your hippie nephew you’ve taken into your care who’s living in your former mother-in-law suite, whoever. Maybe it’s the lonely woman eating at the take out Chinese restaurant downtown, maybe it’s the funky bartendress at your favorite liquor lounge, maybe it’s the espresso maker at your local coffee parlor…. See the picture? Find yourself somebody to snuggle and leave me the fuck out of it!
So anyway, in four short months this awesome dude donated so much snuggling to the fifty-three year old woman that she’d finally, finally, finally had enough. And just like that, she never needed to be snuggled again. The teletype machines couldn’t spit out enough copy; she was nominated for International Lifetime Snuggling Achievement Woman of the Year, the Decade, the Century, the Millenium, in whatever year you think this could happen in, whichever is your favorite year, whichever year of the cat or rabbit or duck or dog or snake, whatever year you want to choose, pick the year you were born, for example, or the year in which you’ll die, whatever year gives you the most satisfaction. Because when the Stones sang, “I can’t get no satisfaction,” that was a vicious lie, a piece of propaganda promulgated to make women everywhere stop expecting said “satisfaction,” and to make skanky little slutty Mick Jagger seem more handsome and powerful than he actually was. The Beatles will forever kick the Stones’ lame asses. Forever and ever, amen. No matter what cowards who enlisted in the Coast Guard to avoid being sent to Vietnam might think. Cowards can’t be trusted. Ever. And that’s my final word on this subject. Forever and ever, AMEN.