Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Catch me if you can

One Saturday, I was in a real big hurry, racing down Magnolia Drive, NPR on too loud, important thoughts in my head: Love money marriage Prada shoes retirement planning. Suddenly, there’s a young Hasidic boy chasing a ball in front of my car. I stop fast, real fast, squealing, people-look-up-from-their-newspapers fast. The boy? Picks up his ball, smiles and runs back to the curb.

I crave faith like that. Not the one that has me facing 100-degree Angelino heat in a black wool suit but the one that has me facing danger with a smile. I crave that one.

I always have. I’ve read the Bible four times, four different translations. I studied Kabbalah – before Madonna made it vogue. I studied yoga and meditation and drumming and chanting – anything that would get me out of my head and into some other place.

I went to a yoga retreat and could not, COULD NOT, achieve Eagle pose. Tiko, the instructor, was one of those small, freakishly wiry men of no discernible age. I was resisting, I could feel it, which made it even more embarrassing. “Carline, Carline, Carline.” I closed my eyes and tried to focus. “You lack concentration.” Well, now you’re just making me nervous. “I should not affect you. Downward facing dog!” I changed position, Tiko pulling up on my hips. “Carline. Are you breathing? The breath is your chariot to the self.” What? “Your chariot waits for you and you do not want it.” Yes I do. “Then you must be open to receive it.”

Oh, Christ, I’d done the receiving work soooo many times, open, open, open, receive, receive, receive, blah, blah, blah. “Whatever.”

“Cobra!” I slid forward, hating this one, hating Tiko, hating everything. “You must receive the practice. You do not do the practice, you receive it.”

“What is it that you want?” I looked up at him from cobra, arms straight, back arched, chest open. “I want God.”

“Then you must let God come to you. Child’s pose.”

I pulled back into a tight curl.

“Carline. Keep breathing and at the end of your life is a palm.”

I’d drifted away for a moment there. What? “A palm?” “Yes, a palm.”

I was flooded with the old familiar sense that there’s a code to the divine and I just don’t have the key. “What kind of palm? A date palm, a coconut palm, a banana palm? WHAT?!”

Tiko crouched down next to me – I couldn’t see him, but for all his flexibility his knees cracked like shotguns. I turned my head. He held out his hand.

“A palm. At the end of your life is a palm.”

A palm, a big huge hand to catch you. We are each a universe in miniature. God is becomingness. Kabbalah teaches us how to shatter without being destroyed. Your chariot waits for you and you must receive it.

The search for God is its own kind of faith – In not giving up, in believing that what you seek you will find. God knows my intention. “The leap into the arms of Christ is more difficult for some than others.”

I’m in midair.

Namaste. Shalom. Amen.

Shameful confession #12

At my job I have a security badge. I look awful in the photo. My fear is that if I continue to work here, I will become more and more that person. Around the corner from my desk is a short hallway. For many, this is just a shortcut from the elevator to the restrooms. For me, it’s the corporate version of a death march. The hall is lined with The Women, the women I might become if I stay too long. The Women are all middle-aged, single, and making the most of it (or the best of it, depending). There are five of them, in five separate cubes. Five separate cubes that each has decided to make her own.

The cubes are stunning in the “dumb-struck” sense of the word: One gal has picket fencing attached to the front of her desk and a garden-ful of potted silk hydrangeas, faux Tiffany desk lamps (even the whimsical stained glass turtle), and a length of polyester damask swagged across one wall. Another has made collages of photos of her boss’s children – pasted to wood cut like hearts and clouds, and decoupaged with inspirational slogans and plastic flowers. A third gal has created an homage to our Lord Jesus Christ. There are portraits in elaborate gilt frames; casual poses in Lucite or ceramic; hand-crayoned pages from an evangelical coloring book; and a signed photo of Mel Gibson that reads, “Thanks for sharing my ‘Passion’!” I was raised born-again Christian and this offends me.

The most chilling, though, is the most minimalist. There are very few personal items, no home décor, no mini-fridge stocked with Weight Watcher’s desserts. What gives me chills, what causes me to look away as I pass, is a simple ceramic plaque that says, “Pets are God’s giggles.”

The hall makes me woozy with its invitation to consider this 6x8 space a sort of second home and feel free to cozy it up. I’m afraid that age, missed opportunities and a few failed relationships will have me thinking that a couple of dupioni cushions or an aromatherapy candle wouldn’t be out of place at the office. Is this how it starts?

It’s not just the cubes, it’s the gals themselves, with their Oprah and their Hondas and their condos. It’s their jewelry parties. I resent them for making me aware of jewelry parties and candle parties and holiday ornament making parties and recipe exchange parties.

Yet….they do seem happy with their lives. All are overweight which could mean suppressed rage and disappointment, but in every other respect, they seem….content. So which is better? To be the happy gal in Kohl’s separates with two pugs and a condo? Or the bitter town gal with the acerbic wit and edge? Is there another choice?

I don’t know how to begin to answer that question.

The House of No

Once upon a time there was a little girl who was the

complete opposite of everyone she knew.

She didn’t like loud music

She didn’t like driving with the windows open

She loved the winter

She loved the moon

Sunny days made her tired

No one knew what to do with her.

Her parents said no.

Her grandparents said no.

Her teachers said no.

The father of the boy up the street, who was so nice to everyone, when asked if he would be her father instead of the one she had, said no.

The only time she heard yes was when she asked if she was a princess. She thought she might be because in all the books she read, the princess was the one who was denied, imprisoned, cast out, or put to sleep – things the little girl felt she knew something about. She checked in with her mother who said, “Yes, you are my princess!”

The little girl walked down the stairs, through the kitchen, out the back door, over the wall, across the busy two-lane road, up the hill and into the tall grass, where she lay down to think princess thoughts.

“Hey you! Little girl!” Her thoughts were interrupted. “You, little girl in the grass! You can’t lie there! Get up and go home!”

She looked up at the big blue sky and said, “I am a princess in the House of No.”

She was the opposite of everyone she knew.

Her hair was curly

Her skin was white and didn’t take a tan

She couldn’t play tennis

She liked the library

She liked to be home

She looked in her mother’s mirror. She opened a drawer even though she knew she shouldn’t and took out the light blue plastic box that held 34 one-inch lipsticks and found her favorite, In A Panic. A dark, dark red her mother told her she couldn’t wear because of her skin. She looked at herself and wrote the word NO on her forehead, in big, bright, In A Panic letters.

Later she sat with her family and ate fried chicken. She looked at them and they looked at her but nobody said anything. No one said anything about her word. No one asked what it meant. No one even told her to go to her room and take it off.

She thought they couldn’t see her. She didn’t know they just thought she was weird.

What's the plan?

In my head, it goes something like this: There’s a place. From the outside it looks as crumbling and rock strewn as everything around it.

On the inside, everything is soft and smooth. There are no sharp edges. The color is blue, the shimmery blue of sea glass and good spas. Tile floors are cool in summer, warm in winter.

Only women live here. And they spend their time singing, cooking, or making things out of bright cloth, colorful thread, and beads. Maybe they just sit. Maybe they put their feet in water.

The women who live here are done.

These women are among the hundreds of northern Afghan women who have set themselves on fire as their only means of escaping lives of misery, brutality, indentured servitude and hopelessness.

I think if you have reached the point where you douse yourself in cooking fuel, light a match, and survive, there’s nothing more to be asked of you. Breathe in, breathe out. Be safe. And never again feel rough, sharp, or hot against your skin.

I’m not naïve. I know this isn’t how it’s done. I also know I am one woman, in the west, who’s not wealthy, connected or political. But I’m also one woman, in the west, who has reached the point where I can no longer continue with this. This is where I stop: Too many things enrage me or defeat me.

At a loss for where to begin, I write a check.

Subscribing, reading, posting, listening, watching, the world on fire. So many women pushed to the ground, faces in the dirt, skirts around their waists. Dangerous daughters of Diana.

Women on fire, burning, itching, raging, clawing at the air like blind cats.

What’s the plan? Because there has to be one.