There are two things I can do with writing. I can tell stories, and I can be honest about the broken down machinations of my mind. Of the two, telling stories is easiest and the most fun. I like to write fiction and I like to write about the small things I see around me. The problem is that if I don’t continue to be honest, my writing stutters to a stop, a car with a giant rat’s nest in the engine. How can I write honest fiction if I can’t write honestly about my insides? It may work for others, but somehow it doesn’t work for me.
It gets harder and harder to be honest, because you have heard it all before and this blog has sprouted arms. Really good friends read it. Acquaintances from my town in Thailand read it. I am a walking glass display case, like the kind that house the sometimes larger-than-life Catholic statues of Mary here in Goa, except that I am holding Isaac, rather than the baby Jesus, and Isaac is covered in mud, grinning from ear to ear, and squirming to get down. I am sweaty and hot and I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing those long nylon robes or the inch of makeup that the statue Mary sometimes appears to be wearing. I forgot my hat in Thailand, so my face is getting rather bronze and freckled, but at least it’s not orange or garishly white. Ah, good, an old-fashioned rabbit trail. I’ve distracted myself, and I hope it’s working with you.
But if I’m not going to be honest I’d be better off quitting here, because that’s what began all this, and that’s what should continue it. So here’s me. Sorry that I’m not fixed yet.
There is simply a lot of self-loathing going on, the kind that is pervasive and stinky, like bathing suits that haven’t been hung up to dry. I often feel fairly certain that I'm the kind of person who ruins life for other people, which is simply another variation on the constantly humming anxiety that drones under my ground— everything is your fault. Yesterday, when I sat down to listen for the pure voice of God to tell me the truth and to wipe this away, the droning went up an octave in pitch. He frowned at me, but only in my wildly distorted imagination. What are you doing ruining everything? my imaginary god said. (Sometimes our imaginations get the better of us, don't they? When we are children, we are afraid of monsters. When we are adults, we turn God, the very nature of love, into a monster.) Later I got off a joyful phone call with a friend and could only think, Why do I wreck every conversation with my own self-centeredness? She must be so tired of me.
Clearly I had veered off toward some terrible lie. It could have been because Chinua is away and I haven’t had the kind of solitude I need to pull it together. It could have been hormones, or lack of sleep. It could have been the heat, oppressive and thick. But let’s think this through, because Mary was a real person, probably very young, definitely Jewish, certainly slight and bent and a little afraid. And very brave. People now imagine her in a sort of distorted way, standing in a glass case, wearing purple and gold, holding a baby with a large crown, wearing what appear to be false eyelashes. This imagining is not even related to reality, the translation full of flaws, and I suppose this is how I am translating myself, in a myriad of mistakes and undone things that I feel define me, that actually are just circumstantial. In my glass case I see an unfinished woman who puts her foot in her mouth far too often, who is often unyielding and ungiving, who makes far too many mistakes. I am in my own glass case. But I don’t see you there. I don’t think those things about you. I have far more grace for you than I have for me.
This is how I think God thinks of you: I think he looks at you with a little bit of wry pity and overwhelming love, the way you would look at your eleven-year-old who just pronounced menagerie “minna Geary.” Or the way you run to your baby to pick him up when he falls down. Or the way you feel about your husband when he is sleeping and you reach out and touch his face. I think God feels more love for you than you can possibly imagine, that on your driest, hottest, most slug-worthy days, he is rooting for you, cheering for you, on your side, working to help you, nudging you closer to himself. I think he is singing to you. I think he is over the moon for you.
Oh, how to bring it fully in? How to take what my head knows and crack my dry, old, withdrawn heart open with it? I know it is not God’s fault. I know he shows me love in a million different ways. But I am stubborn and I often run and I don’t know how to receive love or compliments. I pull away. So he has to somehow reach me where I am.
I was on the scooter yesterday, driving to get bread for dinner, and I felt rotten through and through. I put back my head and yelled, the way one does in moments of crisis, “Jesus!” Not a curse, God forbid. A long call in the desert, almost a song. Two heartbeats later, a brilliant green parrot flew across the road in front of my bike, a bright flash of green and blue in the gold of the late afternoon sun. I caught my breath. I heard it very clearly. “Like that. I see you like that.”
I’ve never had a parrot fly so close to me. My heart caught with love and longing and God was speaking my language, the way he always does if I listen closely enough. This small bird was not worthy of contempt. God, in the mystery of his genius and his sacrifice, loves me. His breath catches in his throat when I stand in his circle, a small bright bird. How can this be? Again I recognize my life work in learning to be loved. Again, God comes to me and speaks to me in a way I can understand. I feel unworthy and cherished, a smooth, firm place to be. My imaginings can be transformed. I can find Mary again, under the robes, bent and steady, sorrowful and full of joy, poor, with her tiny perfect child with her. My monsters can disappear and the real God will come barreling through the waves, out of the sea, running toward me across the water.