Sunday, October 2, 2011

Mini Me

Does God give us second chances? Can we sometimes set a howling wrong at last and finally right?
When I looked at you and thought, you're me. . . it changed everything. Can I love you the way I was never loved? Will the stars permit it?

Can I, must I steal away the chance, before anyone can see?

Love rushes in, before the question's even asked.

Does everything happen for a reason?

For more years than I can count, I carried a little slip of paper around with me with a few lines of what looked like poetry on it. I remember what it said by heart, but cross-checked it on the internet just now. The title is, "I don't know".

I don't know where to start
There are scars I could show
If I opened my heart
But how far, Lord, but how far can I go?
I don't know.

What I need I don't have
What I have I don't own
What I own I don't want
What I want, Lord, I don't know

What I say I don't feel
What I feel I don't show
What I show isn't real
What is real, Lord - I don't know
No, no, no - I don't know

Once in a while I risked showing this  slip of paper to someone, and they read it in blank puzzlement and handed it back to me. One woman - God, how I regret giving it to her - read it out loud in a sweet, querulous, schoolteacherish voice, the final "I don't know" in a fluffy little voice out of a '50s sitcom.

All right, I don't know. I don't know what this piece is going to be about. The quote is from Leonard Bernstein's Mass, a mammoth undertaking that was a cross between a formal Latin mass and the hippie-ish Hair sensibilities of the day. It had only mixed success, and I have never actually heard it.

I got thinking this morning about Fate. God is kind of beyond me right now, though I will blushingly admit there was a time not so long ago when I thought I understood God, or knew what God meant. Now I wonder. Is there a "something" that shapes our ends, rough-hew them though we may (to paraphrase/massacre Shakespeare)?

How many of us get what we want, what we really think we want? Might it be true that on our deathbed, we will suddenly sit up and cry, "That's it!" - then fall back lifeless? (For a long time I had this odd vision of a monk in that situation exclaiming, "I could have had a woman!", then collapsing backwards forever.) Conventional wisdom says things like, "You can do/be anything you want to, so long as you want it enough and work hard enough." But what if one day your doctor calls you up and says, "I'm sorry. It's MS." (Or ALS, or pancreatic cancer, or schizophrenia, or . . . ) What if your lovingly-raised children, hopelessly embroiled in a miasma of drugs and despair, can't look after their children, and you suddenly find yourself raising them instead of retiring to a carefree life of sun and surf?

I'm talking about the curves life throws at us, some of them fatal. I'm talking about a beautiful young woman shot in the back just as her life is starting, with a "loved one" suspected. If this is love, how do we define hate? Almost all murders take place within families. Most of them are perpetrated by spouses, with husbands predominating. What am I trying to say here?

Another trope that bugs me no end is, "Everything happens for a reason". People say this at memorial services all the time, and it makes me want to scream. If a baby has a convulsion and dies in her mother's arms, it happens for a reason. If a person finally commits suicide after 40 years of endless turmoil and failed dreams, it happens for a reason. If the bottom falls out, people whose lives still have a bottom spout this bit of cowardice and ignorance, then, having done their philosophical duty, go home.

What's reason? It's an explanatory thing, isn't it? Or else something logical, almost cerebral. Isn't this just people's way of rationalizing and taming a reality which can be ferocious and terrifying? Does God keep score, have a little abacus up there (and it's always "up there", not inside us or around us), and dole out lessons as per our spiritual needs?

I can think of a worse thing. These tin-plated philosophers secretly believe that because the tragedy has a reason behind it, it's - well - almost deserved, isn't it? It's all part of a mysterious higher reality or karma or Fate, and whether the person has done something in a previous life or just stepped on a crack in this one, God has just decided, well, that's it - I'm really tired of all this transgression, intended or not. For what else could this "happens for a reason" mean?

I also have trouble with angels. The angel fever has died down somewhat, but for a while the books were so stupid, one of them had instructions for finding your wings. I mean it, trying to find the actual spot on your shoulder blades where the wings sprouted out, or would, I assume after you croaked.

The idea was, if someone was falling off a 70-story building and fell on an awning and didn't die, their "angel" must have been looking after them. It came rushing up underneath the person like Superman catching Lois Lane.

OK, then. . . you know where I'm going with this, don't you? How then do you comfort the agonized family of the guy who fell without an awning? No doubt, many would just fall back on the familiar escape clause, "Everything happens for a reason," then go home.

Did September 11 happen for a reason? If it was a lesson, and most Americans are incensed at the very idea, then what was it? For it provoked the same old human reaction that has kept us in chains for millennia: REVENGE.

I have dreams. Yes, I have them, and I've been told from the very beginning that I have potential, but here is a confession. I never fulfilled that potential, because struggle as I might, I just can't do it. There are obstacles in my path that no one told me about because they were too busy saying I could do/be anything I wanted to be if I only tried hard enough.

I have been put somewhere, and don't get me wrong, it's the best place in the world because it is the bosom of my family. But why can't I do other things besides that, why can't I fulfill my dreams without some sort of blood sacrifice?  I see other women doing both. They're not trying to steal it from their families, or from other writers. They just have it, they do it. They sign contracts, they don't sit in the starting gate slowly dissolving from the acid of unfulfilled promise.

This is probably the most personal thing I have ever written here, and I know I take a risk in making myself look like an impotent loser who never got beyond being a housewife. I swear to you, I don't know what I have done or not done to miss  the magic that seems to happen to other writers, the sort of magic that creates "buzz" before their book even leaves the starting gate.

I have reviewed hundreds of books, literally hundreds, many of them wildly successful, but when does it get to be my turn? Am I wearing some sort of invisible pink chiffon bridesmaid dress, now tattered from a few decades of use?

It's fashionable to ignore me, in spite of the sometimes-rapturous reviews I received for both my novels. "Well then, dear, just be happy with that," the sweet little Betty Crocker voice tells me. "East, west, Home is best."

Then take it out of me, God, take it, rip out of my chest the desire and uproot it forever. "What I need I don't have/What I have I don't own/What I own I don't want/What I want, Lord, I don't know/No, no, no, I don't know."

Except that I do know. The "reason" for everything, that mysterious force that orders the universe and every person in it, has somehow or other never happened to me.