my great uncle laurence was a skeleton in a plaid shirt with a crooked belt and he hated wildlife and baby kittens. he once soaked a cow carcass in gasoline and lit it on fire so the coyotes wouldn’t eat it. they didn’t. and it just sat at the end of the meadow and rotted. and my dad with the weakest stomach on Indian creek. the worst barbecue ever.
he drove an old chevy truck, the back full of dead moles and gophers (in season). and he liked to show them off. he had giant blue rheumy eyes. and you could see every tear and sparkle because of his pop bottles. other than that stuff, he and i were the same. we were dry in the humor and we both liked vela-mints.
when i was 7 he gave me a little gray plastic box that contained a child’s tool set. a real saw and hammer and wrench and screwdriver. they had blue child sized handles.
it started because i had stolen several of the beautiful heavy stainless steel tools my father kept in the tool box attached to the side of his john deere tractor. i took a few things out and hid them under a quarter round of doug fir in the wood pile. he had so many. and i didn’t have any.
a few days later i was busy staying off to the side while my father cussed and searched through the tool box on the tractor and eventually the gas shed. it occurred to me slowly that i had that thing. i might be responsible. i was never responsible for anything. but it dawned like the dawn’s Earl Lee Light that tools were individuals. each tool did its own thing!
he needed to attach the hay wagon to the tractor. Because there were giant high school boys on the way to pick up bales and show off throwing them high up. and he needed the one pin. a pretty, heavy stainless steel one.
i ran back to the house and tipped over my secret log and unearthed the tools. i kinda knew i might be in trouble, but i was the youngest, and really, i was pretty proud to be solving such a big problem.
i spread them out in my hands to show him. i remember his confusion. his flare of anger. he asked my why on earth i would take them. i explained about my tool deficiency and how i never realized he needed all of them. but then he was just so glad to have the thing back. and it showed initiative i think, taking those tools. my father always was a sucker for initiative. “do something even if it’s wrong!” he used to scream.
uncle laurence was not a feminist but he had been a carpenter. and i guess he believed that everybody (even 7 year old thieving girls) ought to have their own tools. and he went out and got me the child’s set. but they worked like real ones. especially the saw and hammer. so i started building things. even if they were wrong. i nailed up foot holds to the sides of some of my favorite cottonwoods so i could see out and spy. i put together rickety bird houses with only two sides and mash-nailed them into branches. i made boot-jacks for everyone for christmas that year.
and one evening, i was downstairs pounding together some things just for the pleasure of pounding. because I was a builder now. not so much a planner. and when i turned the mess over i realized i had made a pulpit. like divine guidance! it had a little slanted top tightly secured to a 4 by 4 sitting firmly on a not so rickety base. and it was exactly the right height for me. to lean over top. search the eyes of my congregants… to preach! i’d never made anything so excellent! i was so taken with the whole idea i nailed a little shelf about half-way down for my bible. and then i hauled it all upstairs to show my mom and my sisters.
They were all standing in the kitchen icing some cinnamon rolls.
“I’m gonna be a preacher!”
I showed them the bible holster.
Oh man, that was hilarious.
And cute. But my sister sandy, the christian librarian had to break it to me.
“girls cannot be pastors. only men can be ordained.”
i am so ridiculous.
i think i know now why the preacher preaches. why any of us preach. we want to believe. believe our own brains. believe the story we are telling ourselves. about how we are doing the right thing. with the new idea. the one that will set us free. but it’s hard to believe if it’s just us amening to ourselves in a vacuum. we are feedback monkeys. we can’t be sure until the congregation waves a hand or nods. we need to see ourselves reflected. i am in here are you in there?
the preacher man needs us to believe so that he can believe.
we are one another’s congregation. we preach and drink and grieve and plead our cases. we write sacred scripture at each other’s kitchen tables and proselytize to the heathen hearts of those who know us best. and if we can get them to believe, oh boy. if they believe my narrative of salvation…we are all saved. we are diverted from the precipice. and we carry on. like magic. that did it. we can now carry forward. she believes in me. in what i said. and now we can curl up in the sanctuary of each other’s bodies. our common story a shelter. we are cemented in the fellowship of food and gossip and facebook likes. we are one another’s church. we belong.
so here’s what i need to believe: i want to believe that there is beauty in this place in my life. a place i am told is closer to the end than not. to believe in beauty within and in spite of and because of the biopsies and contrast dye and pain and the infusion chair where i sit. my little body. the one i always drive.
sitting below the 12 foot doctors numbering my life in months. this month and the next and the next. they see a straight line of months and squint into it. counting. the closest distance between now and then is months. years? it is hard not to march straight with them. it is hard not to be conscripted by the jolt of fear into the fight that everyone wants you to fight. and it’s true, there is a powerful instinct to resist death.
to say, not me. i will not die. and why? well, because i have never died before.
but i will not say no no no. i will not battle cancer. i will not battle time. i will not fight.
fighting is full-time and i only want to build. i want to create something.
even if it is wrong.
and also, i cannot see that fighting will prolong my life. it will only occupy my heart and mind with war when i would rather occupy it with life.
and i need to confess something right here. and to say it, feels like a magician revealing a trick. but i having been preaching my entire life. even after they told me i couldn’t. i have been proposing theories over tables for years. passionate expositions. sometimes i get converts and sometimes just profoundly fascinating conversations. it is my favorite thing about being this self.
always it feels like if someone else believes me, i can create a more tangible internal landscape. lushly populated. a place to live and relax when the life outside is full of terror.
so right now i am working on a theory of a new place to be. when the medical reality is looming like everest. this impending death. unknown number of days. straight ahead. and it is imposing and demanding all of our energies all our attention. it is mesmerizing, this promised death. how it can be said in short, easy to pronounce, words. but words that are utterly useless in helping us navigate the cosmic untethering.
and i keep feeling this pull to side. i am listing to starboard. the pull of an internal landscape. something to the left or right of me. something shiny swirling in the eddies of this horrible momentum.
and here is my faith. what if we are curious for a moment? what if there are secret paths everywhere? to small delicate moments. to the feel of cool air on your arm and warm across your cheek, or to let someone shave your head, or to eat the most delicious beet you ever ate, or to laugh laugh laugh because someone knows how to tease you perfectly– what if these mercies bend time? or shake it loose? or make it irrelevant?
i believe there is lateral time. that this life is full of hidden landscapes. if we explore. look straight into what is terrifying. i believe that connection is time. joy is time. and love is time. and that i have all the time in the world.
i cannot control that this is happening. but i can create something from it. i’m asking you to help me. i am in need of stories. your art. your humanness. your presence. help me have faith that this exists. because it does. right?
so i need help. tell me your stories. the places you have been. that dazzled you. confounded you. and we can the let lazy brilliant ideas drop off our fingers onto the floor. where love is so big and plentiful it makes sickness seem like a mute brown bird outside the window. hardly worth noting.