Thursday, December 25, 2008
Looking For God
I've posted this one before, but it's suitable for Christmas. A first draft with all the awkwardness intact, but I doubt I ever will work on it and I like the basic idea.
Jonathan is looking for God. He has looked everywhere: in Christianity, in Judaism, in Islam, in Hinduism. He has studied native religions from all parts of the world, studied meditation and shamanism. He has read all the holy texts, but he has not found God. He has talked to believers of all the faiths he has been able to find, and he has found them convinced of their own truths, shiny-eyed in certainty and happiness, and, yet, somehow, very frightening.
Of course, God might not exist, Jonathan thinks as he makes coffee in his kitchen, grinding the shiny, brown beans in the electric grinder. He probably doesn't exist. Jonathan pours the ground coffee in the filter and filtered, clean water in the coffee-maker. He clicks the on-button and waits. Who made the water? Did anybody or anything intend coffee to grow and humans to drink it? Or is the world just a chapter from books on physics, chemistry, geography and biology? And people, what are they? Lumbering apes with small lusty eyes, who can rape and kill, who can break everything with their clumsy paws, who can decode the DNA and go to space, still lumbering apes with small lusty eyes? Who, then is the god? The man with the most Nobel prizes? The man with the most money? The man who killed the most men and impregnated the most women?
Jonathan takes his coffee to the balcony. It is a beautiful morning, birds sing and the sun dapples the grass under the trees below. Here he sits, watching children play, drinking good coffee and drinking in the sun and the birds, the fresh breeze of a spring morning. He doesn't see how this goes with the lumbering ape theory, and, besides, he doesn't believe in lumbering apes. Apes are a mystery at which people gaze through human eyes, a mirror which humans warp to see what they believe is there, what their theory needs to be there.
The wind ruffles Jonathan's hair. It is not a chilly wind. Still, it sends shivers down his body. This is why he needs God: because everything affects him, tells him something, and he can't close his doors against that. A God would let him see patterns, understand what refuses to be understood. Not just why there are wars, holocausts, murders, cancer or airplane crashes. All religions tell stories about this, and although Jonathan doesn't believe in these stories, he is more obsessed with other patterns; patterns so subtle that he can't even see their presence, only sense them in some apparent absence.
He finishes his coffee and sets the empty cup down on the balcony table. The wind tosses a green willow leaf into it. The leaf hesitates a moment on the edge before falling to the bottom of the cup. Was this a conscious act? Anne would have smiled at this thought.
Jonathan picks up the leaf and looks at its intricate veining. Anne found Jonathan's search for God funny and exasperating. She knew that there was no God. They had read the holy texts together, criticized them to each other. She was the first to point out their inconsistencies, their espousal of some values which ancient tribal societies once shared but which now seemed reprehensible. She was the one noting that the god in these texts favored men over women. But they both saw the texts as reflections of what people once had thought god to be, what they had wanted god to say, not as a proof of the existence of God. Jonathan had been disappointed, Anne had been deeply hurt at his disappointment. She wanted to know why Jonathan could still seek for such a god as the texts described. She feared that he needed a heavenly father even if this father had disowned her as an equally loved daughter.
Jonathan wished that she could be with him on the balcony this morning. He would tell her that the God he is seeking is not a man, is not a father. Probably God would resemble no human being. But if Jonathan had to choose he would have God be a heavenly mother, a Goddess. Anne would raise her eyebrows in disbelief. Still, Jonathan rather liked the idea of a Goddess: a beginning and an end in her dark lap.
Is that where Anne was now, he wondered, in Her dark lap? Do suicides sleep there peacefully? Or is Anne simply gone like her ashes he had to sprinkle into the winds? Would she miss him if she could?
He misses her, the dark twin to his light, as she laughingly once said. They were together from the beginning, sharing the womb together, hardly ever apart even later. Without her Jonathan is unfinished, neither coming nor going, a man with one foot in some other invisible world. He needs God to put him firmly in one or the other.
Anne had taken the leap alone, trusting in the existence of no-one, not herself, not God, not Jonathan. She had been outfought. Her war against the world was an impossible one, and when she knew that she could never be more than half-alive, she had opted for total death. Leaving Jonathan behind, half-alive.
Jonathan picks up his cup and goes indoors. He is not working today and plans to spend the whole day looking for God. It doesn't matter if God doesn't want to be found. It doesn't matter if God doesn't exist. If ancient people could create gods in their own image, Jonathan can surely look for God in his own life. Today he is going to do so by meditating in the park.
The park is full of people. Joggers pass Jonathan as he walks in. Children and dogs run around and the benches are all taken. A kite climbs toward the sun. Jonathan finds a small empty corner and sits down under an oak tree. It must be an old tree; its roots are everywhere. Meditation is something Jonathan learned when he studied Buddhism. He never got enlightened, but he can relax his body, quiet his mind and, for some time, enter a state of emptiness. Should God come calling he'll be at home.
He closes his eyes and the sun paints psychedelic bursts on the insides of his eyelids. His body slowly slips its tension and his breathing gently expands. Thoughts drift in and out of his mind, then stop. Somewhere deep inside him a neutral eye opens and observes. Time passes and the sun moves.
He comes back to ordinary awareness when something earth-smelling and moist touches his face. He opens his eyes, staring straight into the brown curious eyes of a dog. There is barely an inch between their noses. Jonathan doesn't know dogs very well, but this seems friendly. It waves its large plume of a tail from side to side. He gives it a clumsy pat on the head. The dog looks at him with raised eyebrows. Evidently pats on the head are not correct.
The dog steps back a little and then bows to Jonathan. Or whatever it does, that's how it looks. It? He? She? She. She turns around and walks away, stopping and turning her head toward him as if asking him to go along. Who does she belong to? She has no tags or collar. She doesn't act like a dog who belongs to somebody. Jonathan looks around for a possible owner, but the park is now empty. The dog keeps insisting that he follow. Perhaps he should, perhaps the dog will show him what she needs or lead him to an accident victim or to God.
This amuses him as he gets up and starts trailing the dog. Dogs are used to hunt, after all, and he is a holy hunter. And wasn't Artemis, the goddess with the bow and arrows, always accompanied by hounds? Then there are the hounds of hell, of course. Better be careful.
Off they go, the man and the dog, stopping every now and then for her to sniff at an interesting smell, zigzagging across the park in apparently meaningless patterns. Jonathan begins to feel like an idiot, but whenever he tries to turn around and leave, the dog looks at him again with that challenging expression in her eyes.
They finally leave the park through one of the side gates. The street outside is busy and Jonathan suddenly realizes that loose dogs are dangerous in traffic. He lunges at the dog, trying to get hold of her but ends on his knees and elbows, staring at the ground. She must have evaded him at the last moment. He must have imagined that his body had gone straight through hers in its path to the ground.
The dog has already crossed the street, and Jonathan rushes after her. She disappears into the crowd and is lost from sight. Suddenly following her is imperative. Jonathan starts running, bumping into people and objects. He can't spot her and is becoming desperate. He looks everywhere, almost ready to give up. Then he sees her, patiently waiting for him at a corner. She turns to a sidestreet and Jonathan follows.
They walk on for what seems like hours to him. The streets begin to look alien. There are fewer and fewer people about. Jonathan is getting tired. Their tempo speeds up. She seems to know where she is going, now, and he can barely keep up. Storefronts whizz by and the occasional pedestrian on the street looks frozen in place. They go faster and faster, turning corners recklessly, crossing streets without checking for cars. Jonathan needs to catch his breath but they go on. He develops a stitch in his side. They keep going. He is sweating freely now, and his legs tremble and ache. They must have run for miles; the dog always at the same easy trot, Jonathan more and more haltingly. Finally he simply must stop and rest.
He stands leaning against a lamppost, drawing in ragged breaths. He doesn't know where he is, the shop windows are full of writing in some foreign script. He doesn't see any people. The dog sits at the next street corner, a vague blurry shape. She hasn't released him yet.
Jonathan closes his eyes and notices that they are full of tears. Is he that tired? The tears fall down his cheeks. He hasn't cried since Anne's death. She didn't care for tears; she managed her emotions by acting them out, by violently throwing books into the wall or by lifting weights until she was exhausted. Jonathan didn't want to cry for her but now he does. He wants her back alive and he wants God to arrange it.
The dog is coming towards Jonathan, stopping once to pee on something on the sidewalk. She is not a handsome dog, her ears don't match and her coat is tangled and matted. But she has something Jonathan needs. Perhaps she knows God.
She sits down nearby and waits until his tears are done. Then she gets up, tells him to follow and trots off.
Jonathan is hollow and light, empty to his bones, but he follows. They pass through streets he never knew existed, cross rivers marked on no map. They walk by odd, distorted buildings, by traffic signs with constantly changing wavering messages. He doesn't understand any of them.
The sun is setting and the mounting shadows take the shapes of plume-tailed dogs. Jonathan thinks that he may have walked like this not for a day but for a year, an eternity. He no longer feels tired, he can now walk tirelessly, softly like a dog. Anne walks by his side, sometimes smiling, sometimes turning her head away. She tells him stories which he doesn't understand. She storms ahead in frustration, then waits for him in mock resignation.. She takes his hand, her eyes fill with love and then she becomes ashes, scattered by the winds. Jonathan looks at his empty hand.
The dog has led him into a deep forest. He has to bend down to avoid the tree branches as he makes his way in. The needles of evergreens sting his cheekbones, the roots try to snare his ankles. The dog is a dim light ahead, still moving deeper into the darkness. Jonathan follows. Finally they emerge into an open area, a hollow, a bog surrounded by trees. The air is scented with something pungent, earthly. The ground beneath him gives on each step, squishes liquid and musky half-remembered smells as he forces his weight on it. A full moon is centered in the sky.
The dog leaps into the bog, splashing water everywhere, her four legs dancing in the air as she rolls onto her back. She rolls back on her stomach and lies there, panting. Jonathan can hear her panting; it is the only sound.
He sits down against a tree trunk and waits. This is where God will speak to him. The dog gets up and shakes herself. Suddenly she starts running. Not the way she moved before. Now she runs in the air, rising up in impossible arabesques, twisting around in slow motion. She chases her own tail high above Jonathan's head, chases imaginary cats around the moon, bounces and leaps through Jonathan's heart. She is all motion; a gentle, piercing song of air, a wild howl of pirouettes. She runs and turns into a golden shower of ashes which rains down on Jonathan. She becomes a dog again, lies down next to him, panting, and starts licking her paws in order. She turns her head and looks at him again with that unfathomable message. Anne turns her head and looks at him, her eyebrows raised. He almost gets it.
He opens his eyes. He is sitting under the oak tree in the park. It is night and he is alone. His body is stiff and numb; it takes a long time before he can get up. His clothes are wet and cold and there are pine needles in his hair. He walks home trying not to think. He takes a scaldingly hot shower still not thinking, changes into dry clothing and makes coffee.
He sits down at his desk with the coffee cup and pulls open a drawer. Somewhere in there is a picture of Anne and him, looking at the photographer through sun-squinted eyes. They are smiling in that picture, wearing matching T-shirts with 'twin' emblazoned on the front. Jonathan had hidden the picture in his grief. Now he needs it. He pulls open another drawer and finds it. He props it against the cup and looks at their faces, first hers, then his, then both of them together. He thinks of the dog. He almost gets it.
After a while he gives up and goes to bed, taking the picture with him. He places it on the pillow next to him and closes his eyes. Tomorrow will be a new day. Just before he falls asleep he hears, from somewhere far away, a solitary dog howl.