Sunday, November 29, 2009

Through the Cracks

Through the Cracks


“Come on, Faith, hurry up.”

“But Mom—”

“Hush, just come on. God damn New York traffic.”


“I’m friggin’ an hour late already, so hurry up. You’ll just have to come to my office for a while, and I’ll take you to day care later during lunch or something.”

“But Mom—”

“WHAT, Faith?”

“My shoe’s untied.”

“I’ll tie it in a minute. Look, see, here we are.”

“Good morning, Bethany.”

“Morning Bri. I can’t believe it’s almost 9:00 already! Damn traffic on the bridge, wouldn’t you know. Maxine is gonna kill me.”

“No problem—actually, she’s not even in yet. Maybe she got stuck in the traffic, too? She hasn’t called in or anything…so you’re safe. And hello, Faith!”

“Hi, Miss Brianna!”

“Sorry I had to bring her in again, but traffic was a mess. I’ll keep her with me and then take her over to the day care center in Building 5 later.”

“Fine with me. And how is my favorite little girl this morning? You want to come spend the night with me this weekend? We can go play with some of the kids at Church…but your shoe’s untied!”

“I know Miss Brianna. I telled my Mom.”

Brianna, a thin pale woman, not more than a girl herself at all of 19, stoops down and ties Faith’s left Hello, Kitty! sneaker. The laces are white, bright white, and the glittery pink sneakers have a little white kitten on each one. The kitten is chubby, smiling with cherubic glee, watching Brianna as she ties the laces. The kitten’s eyes watch Brianna’s much narrower but equally cheery face as it concentrates, brow slightly furrowed, on the thin laces.

“Faith, if you’re a good girl in the office this morning, maybe your Mom will take you to FAO Schwarz after work! Huh, Mom?”

“Brianna, don’t get her started.”

“Can we go, Mom!!!”


“And if you’re extra good,” Brianna adds, “I’ll give you…five whole dollars for a toy!”

“Yay! I’ll be good. Promise.”

“Okay, then I’ll—”

But an explosion cuts short Bethany Shore’s sentence. The building lurches, throwing her, Faith, and Brianna to the thinly carpeted floor of the office. Brianna hits her head on the desk and lies still, as if napping—though it isn’t even nap time down in the day care center in Building 5, and definitely not here in the office. (At this moment, the day-care kids are having their snacks. Today it’s grapes and chocolate pudding in little plastic cups, the kind with the aluminum lids that you peel back. The triangles on the bottom have a “1” in them, so these are recyclable, though you have to throw away the peel-off lids. Miss Marietta, who runs the place, always tells the children to throw away the lids, wash the cups in the sink, and put them in the recycling bin. “Why do we recycle,” she asks them? At first they didn’t know, they were all less than four after all, but by now the older ones can tell her in chorus: “To save the Earth!” The younger ones do their best to sing along, too, like incompetent parrots. She always laughs when they sing it…they’re so smart!)

The building still hasn’t settled down yet. It seems like there was an earthquake, with constant aftershocks, and now the concrete and steel and glass are shivering, shuddering, groaning. Smaller explosions punctuate the movements, and…are those muffled screams, too?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

From the Well

From the Well

To Tina

Do you hear it?
Between the bird calls,
Under the rustling leaves.
Did you hear it?
A sound, a voice
From the wilderness.
And follow it
Into the woods…
And there…
And again
Like a drum…
Do you hear?
Come quickly,
Tread lightly
On crackling leaves,
And watch your step,
Never lose your way
In the shadows.
Again…and again!
Over there, in the brush,
In the shallow pool
Of dim sunlight
That drips through the trees.
Can you see it?
The rim of a well,
A ring of broken rocks,
Cold and gray and green
With lichens and mold.
From out of the depths,
A broken sound…or a voice?
There…and again…
And again, like a drum!
Peer over the rim,
Peer into the dark,
Can you see
What it is?
Too dark, so dark,
Too deep for the light.
So reach down,
Extend your arm
Down deep into
The swirling black,
And break the cobwebs,
Scatter the dust,
Brush away the leaves,
And dig into the dirt.
Dig deep!
Can you feel it?
Something warm and wet
Trembling in your hand.
Now bring it up,
Give it some light
And a breath of fresh,
Long-forgotten air.
You have found it!
Down deep in the dark,
Buried, abandoned,
Once lost but now found,
Maybe better off dead
But still clinging to life:
Clasp it close to your breast
And kiss away the bloody tears.
Can you hear
What it says?
Over and over,
Always the same:
Thank you…
Thank you…
Thank you…
My friend…

Image credit: Andrew Bossi, from Wikimedia Commons, under a creative commons license.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Glory Without God

I recently had a conversation (okay, an "interview") with a friend, who is a devout Christian, about my beliefs...which she did not know in full. Since I do not believe in God, I was admittedly anxious about responding. But luckily, she is also open-minded and intelligent. She wanted to understand how I can connect with and find value in the world despite living in a state of "godlessness." It ended up being a rewarding experience for both of us, so I thought I would share her questions and my answers. Long live the wonder of the world!

1. How do you connect with the world around you?

I am a nature junkie. I connect with the world around me in profound ways, at every level and in every moment. You see, I can appreciate the beauty, magic, and unexplainable wonder of the universe around me on its own terms, without any reference to, dependence on, or "explanation" through a conscious Designer. My love of the world takes the world for what it is, however it got that way, as it is in my experience; I do not have to seek some higher meaning or purpose at another level, a level I cannot experience directly. It is sort of like being a gift that you cannot enjoy and be grateful for unless you always refer it to the person who gave it to you. The value and meaning of it to you may still be very powerful, but it always requires another, separate element that, if lost, could diminish the gift's value.

In addition, I can respond to the frequent comment that a world without God is a cold, lonely place. Personally, and I know I speak for many other "heathens" like me, I actually feel so much warmth and connection and "love" in the universe that I am a part of—for however long I am a part of it, and however I happened to get here...which, in my view, can be fully and well explained in biological/scientific and sociological terms. I constantly wonder over how the universe works, how life popped up and continues to pop up and bloom before us. But I am even more amazed at the thought that it all happens without any intentional, "intelligent" design behind it all; it just happens because of fully natural laws, patterns that exist because that is how things just work. When I see a beautiful sunrise or stand at the top of a mountain, I honestly would feel sad if I knew it was arranged by God; it would feel too easy, too simple, too convenient. I can take heart and feel connected with all the other living and non-living things in this universe because we are all, in fact, connected...we are all stardust, in the end, for just about every element in our body came from the stars. I do not need to have faith in God to feel at one with the universe around me; I am at one with all things on a very physical, visceral level, right here and right now.

2. How do you focus or give direction to your spirituality?

At my core, I believe that the only meaning of life is the meaning(s) we give it, in the course of living it, being fully present and in it along with my fellow beings. So in my personal practice, I try my best to bring myself into the present moment, accept it as it is (pleasant or painful or neither), and then appreciate it in all its fleetingness. I try to be in the moment fully—a terribly hard task, but an important one nonetheless. On another level, I try to practice compassion and kindness as much possible, as well as tolerance. I wish for all beings to live free from suffering, as well as to be as knowledgeable as they can about the many sources of "enlightenment" available. I want them all to have as much understanding about various (important) issues so that they can make informed, rational decisions in their lives, not to fall victim to blindness and blinkered ignorance (often self-imposed...often going under the name of "faith"). At the same time, I am a terribly rational creature, and I love to study just about everything, so I am always reading about many topics—from philosophy to literature to science—in order to learn more about the world, about life, about us as humans, about myself, and about how I can live fully. Plus I just love to have things to think about—big questions to ask, even if I know (and revel in the fact) that I can never truly find the answer to most of them.

I suppose that for me, what it all boils down to, whether or not you believe in God, is the persistence of wonder. Just as with life, wonder can and will and should spring up wherever conditions allow it to. The greatest threat to life, fulfillment, and happiness is indifference. Ignorance is a pretty close second; in fact, they may be two sides of the same coin, two interdependent conditions. Either way, there is so much to wonder over in this life of ours. Why miss any of it?

Image credit: NASA, public domain image.