|Oct/Nov 2016 Salon|
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. —Matthew 10:34 NRSV
I was walking with the Rabbi down the Plymouth Road. And a city main broke, and the water burst like a bubble and flooded the road with nonstop flow and pressure and catastrophe. Like an open artery. The sheer force. And good and bad pilgrims alike were washed away in the flow. On the Plymouth Road.
Fast forward, 15 years later. And you can still feel the pressure, the force of the wind, the heroic leaning in, long after it has all subsided. Like a ghost.
Fast forward, 15 years later.
These days it's just something you don't want to talk about anymore.
The ship left port.
"And I alone survived to..."
It was 15 years later, and I was surprised by the emotions that hit me. Walking on the Plymouth Road. Ambushed by feelings and ambiguities. The first responders. The workers at ground zero. Lung disease. Respiratory aliments. The smell like burning tires that permeated everything.
I was walking down the Plymouth Road with the Rabbi, and it was flooded, and every subtlety was elided and erased, and there just wasn't anything more than what it was.
Over 91,000 Afghani souls.
I74,000 Iraqi souls.
All those souls.
And the 6,800 souls of Americans.
And the American soul.
I was naked, and the Rabbi wasn't wearing any mask.
I looked at him, and in the twinkle of his eye, I saw...
"Are you okay?" I asked the Rabbi.
He looked at me with a look of perfect terror.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"You look swallowed."
He looked me in the eye.
It can't be easy being the Rabbi.
The Rabbi leaned in to me. Crumpled in my arms. There was just so much. And so much. So much. And accepted my warmth. And I just held him. We held on to each other.
I held the Rabbi. And he held me.
Fast forward, 15 years later. And the hand that was being touched could not differentiate itself from the hand that was touching. Fast forward, 15 years later. My heart broke. And against my will, love abounded.
The Rabbi accepted my love.
As the blood coursed through our veins. And dripped from five holy wounds.
Grand Guignol: The Twins
I was dreaming. And in this dream I was Abel. And I was watching my brother, Cain. He was chopping with an axe at the roots of a great tree. Tree of life. But he was standing in a swamp. This is Cain we're talking about here. He was sluicing about the swamp. And there was no purchase. And he was slipping and sinking. Chopping at his legs. His limbs. And there was just no difference between roots and branches. Or legs and arms.
Some things grow up, and some things grow down.
My brother stopped and gave a rebel yell. He held the axe in one hand and let the other wave free like the swell of a chorus, and his slowly extended finger left a slow motion trail of blood. And we were lost in the mist. The wind-blown, bloody mist. We were sinking in the swamp.
And I was watching my brother Cain. I was not able to wake up. And he hadn't even murdered me yet.
I was lost in the mist and going down. Chopping at my legs. Tree of Life. Trying to suss out my own responsibility. Before it was too late.
I was lost and couldn't wake up.
With my face so blood-mist-stippled.
Plymouth Road Memoir (Diving for Pearls)
When I was young, I dived deep for pearls. I wonder now, that I am not young, if I am not experiencing the bends.
Where I was once fearless, lithe, strong, and clueless, I am now fearful, rude, compromised, and informed. A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. Every time you play out more string for the kite in the wind, you slacken the muscles to draw it back in. If you're not careful, that string is going to snap. It's going to go beyond your control. You're not going to be able to reel it back in. It's going to snap. We weaken with every resistance overcome. It just takes a while to feel it in your bones, your muscles, your body that keeps betraying you.
There is the fact of the wind. Ruach. Pneuma. Holy Spirit. And the fact that our skin is only so elastic and can only bear the wind so much, before we must shatter and founder and fold and fall from the sky to the earth.
And then you discover the string that can't be snapped. And the kite that does not fold. And the flight without end.
And then you discover the snapping of the string and the crashing of the kite, and the flight that ends.
And there is no difference between that, and the string that cannot be snapped, and the kite that does not fold, and the flight without end.
And you just stand there.
Only just now, beginning to realize, that you are standing. Like Peter on the water. Standing on the water. Just seconds before the fear that will make you sink.
The Man Who Wasn't Yukio Mishima
I was walking down the Plymouth Road. It was me and the Rabbi. And we came upon a man sitting in a meadow. And he looked a lot like Yukio Mishima. On his forehead, he wore a scarlet kerchief, and on that kerchief were words in white, in a language I did not read. And he had a pistol to his temple. He sat in the meadow, as still as "a speeding locomotive abandoned for years to the delirium of a virgin forest." Full of mad love. He pulled the pistol from his temple and spun the chamber. He returned the pistol to his temple. He shouted, "Purgation! Hai!" counted his breaths, and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.
He pulled the pistol from his temple again and spun the chamber. He returned the pistol to his temple. He shouted, "Illumination! Hai!" counted his breaths, and pulled the trigger.
Finally, he pulled the pistol from his temple one last time and spun the chamber. He returned the pistol to his temple. He shouted, "Union! Hai!" counted his breaths, and pulled the trigger.
The meadow grass waved in the wind, so much like reeds in shallow lakes in the midwest that the meadow itself became a lake. The man stood up. Turned. And looked at me. He'd blown off half his face. Drip, Drip, Drip. Into the lake. He just looked at me.
Every golden pavilion, every lovely thing, every chorus of every radio song that ever lifted, every inside joke, every spontaneous joining of hands in the face of awe, every secret coronation among the freaks and the creeps and the dorks and the losers, the vindication of the blind and the deaf, the rhythm of the halt, the joy of captives, and the day of the LORD, every little letter from home, just dripped into the lake. Drip, drip, drip.
I looked closer, and it wasn't Yukio Mishima. It was someone else. Looking at me. Dripping into the lake.
I turned to the Rabbi. "Nice," I said, "and it's not even Halloween."
And out of the bloodied, open mouth of the man who was not Yukio Mishima, entire souls and persons and individuals began to climb out, like passengers manning the lifeboats, and they just stood there, looking stunned, blinking in the sun, in the meadow that had become a lake. There were tons of them. The people who came from the blood-clotted mouth of the man in the meadow. They just kept coming from the open mouth of the man who was not Yukio Mishima.
I looked at the Rabbi.
"You don't have to kill yourself, Pilgrim," he said.
"I know. I just have to be born."
"Birth is violent," he said.
"Tell me about it."
I stood there and stared at the people who had climbed out of the mouth of the man who was not Yukio Mishima. And they just stared right back at me.
"Everything necessary has been given. You could breath."
Drip. Drip. Drip. Into the lake.
"You could live."
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. —Genesis 1:1-2 NRSV
Black Lives Matter
To speak the truth is one thing; to let it be true is another. Gospel truth. Pilgrim had spoken the truth every day of his ordained life, Gospel truth, but he had only let it be true for him, himself, in discrete moments. And it's not as if it's easy to let truth be true in the first place. There are a lot of factors to be considered. We have responsibilities beyond ourselves. And the whole thing is kind of slippery.
Truth has consequences, and where there are consequences, someone is going to get hurt.
It's a world of hurt out there, my brothers and sisters. Because if you are going to truck with truth, if you are going to traffic in such goods, you are going to hurt. You are going to hurt others. You are going to get hurt. There's just no way around it. It just hurts.
And it's not as if the alternative is any better. To not speak the truth, Gospel truth, is pretty much to guarantee more hurting, both to the one who speaks and to the one to whom one speaks. The violence of not speaking the truth. Gospel truth. But this kind of hurting, this kind of violence, is stupid hurting. The kind of indiscriminate hurting in which all are brought low. And healing itself is swallowed and absorbed in the inevitability of hurting. Everything hurts. Everything hurts. Still. There is healing. And stupid hurting wants to avoid it. Avoid the hurting. Avoid the healing.
Because it hurts to heal. Because it hurts. Because it fucking hurts.
Pilgrim was looking for the smart hurting. Always calculating the angles. But he just wasn't that smart. And it just fucking hurt.
It was no skin off the Rabbi's nose. He was going to be there either way. Making the hurt pay. Whether Pilgrim liked it or not.
Because that's what he does. The Rabbi.
Make the hurting pay.
Make the dirt stick.
I was walking down the Plymouth Road with the Rabbi, but was in a boat on the water, and it was night and we had no lantern. Out of the mist and through the darkness, a figure came steadily walking toward us. And I totally freaked.
The waves lapped at the boat like hands slapping faces, and that thing just kept walking, just kept walking toward us on the water. And I freaked.
I begged it not to come any closer. That thing! That abomination!
I turned to the Rabbi and screamed, "What should we do?"
And a voice said, "What do you mean 'we,' kemosabe?"
And I said, because I couldn't help myself, "That's not funny anymore."
And he said, "Yes, it is."
"Kind of getting old, if you know what I mean."
And it was only then I realized the Rabbi wasn't there with me in the boat.
And that thing just kept walking. Walking on the water. Like the Fear of the LORD. Which is the beginning of wisdom.
But not the end.
And I panicked. And I begged it to not come any closer. And it just kept coming closer. It was like one of those dreams when you try to run and can't move your legs.
And then it stopped. That thing. Walking out of the dark, on the water.
And it said, "Okay, I'll make a deal with you."
Someone turned on the lights, and I started to see some angles.
"Yeah. A deal."
"I won't come any closer if you get out of the boat and come closer to me."
"Let me get this straight."
"Go on, I'm with you."
"You won't come any closer, if I get out of the boat and come closer to you?"
"Yeah. That's the long and short of it."
"So what you're saying is that if I get out of this boat, walk on that water, and come closer to you, you won't come any closer to me?"
"That's what I'm saying."
"What do you think, Rabbi?" I asked.
But he wasn't in the boat.
I looked at the thing on the water and asked, "What's in it for me?"
"Well, it would stop the immediate panic."
"Stop the immediate panic."
"That's what I said."
"And you think that's worth something?"
I thought a moment and then said, "Yeah."
I was already out of the boat and three steps toward the thing when I realized I was walking on water. I started to sink.
And found myself in the Rabbi's arms.
On the side of the road. With no boat. And no water. And the Plymouth Road holding my weight.
"I've got to say," I whispered in his ear, "the production values on this one were really state of the art."
"No expense spared, Pilgrim."
"I appreciate the little touches."
"Don't mention it."
We let go of each other and walked down the Plymouth Road.
In discrete but noncontiguous moments, the fear sputtered and disappeared. For entire moments. As the subtle vibration of the mansion on the hill began to reveal itself like light trapped in trees.