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Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence? -Sathya Sai Baba

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Giant Sand Where God Lives

The mushrooms had just started to kick in when I saw the storm roll down the canyon toward me.

I'd driven out to the Saguaro National Monument (now a National Forest) in my first car, a sand colored Volkswagen Rabbit I'd named "Shadrach,"expressly for the purpose of tripping out in the desert. Out here, surrounded by the petrichor and the smell of the creosote and the slightly alien looking giant saguaro reaching their huge arms in supplication to a darkening sky, I felt like I would have the kind of experience I'd been looking for. I'd often said to my friends who asked me why I still lived in Tucson, long after most of them had moved to bigger cities and better things, that "God lives in the desert." Just ask the Jews. Just ask the Muslims.

The line of rain, a grey haze billowing like a sheet across the sky, seemed to move slowly. You always think you have plenty of time. The closer the rain comes, the tougher it is to tell just how far away it is. The hard dividing line between rain and sand becomes fuzzy and indistinct.

There was a sound, like a few people sucking in air between their teeth, moving my way. A few people became a group. A group became a crowd, then a mob, now all shushing each other, running toward me. A few drops plashed my face, and then it was upon me. Hammers, buckets of water, soaking my clothes, my skin, the earth. I felt the strong urge to get to higher ground. The part of my brain concerned with bodily safety was rapidly shutting down, but it must have managed to remember that flash floods were a real concern in this area, and was able to send up a subconscious signal flare through the star bursts that were starting to explode in my frontal lobes. I clambered up a hill, over shifting shale and dirt that was rapidly churning into mud beneath the onslaught, until I found an outcropping of rock under which I sheltered, shivering in my wet clothes.

It dumped. It plummeted. The heavens shouted rain down on the desert until the visibility decreased to only the few feet just beyond my primitive shelter. Thunder clapped and boomed, but I remained entirely unconcerned about my safety. Wind hooted and moaned, driving rain into the mouth of my little makeshift cave. I laughed.

Then, it was over.

The sun came out almost immediately on a disheveled and ravished scene, I stepped from the cave, dripping and cold, and felt my skin tighten as I started to dry. I stood on a rock, my heart quiet and full of light, and looked down into the valley below where my car was parked. The air still glistened with moisture, and the low sun made a rainbow from where I stood right down to the car. I swear. Mushrooms or no, that happened.

The same kind of ramshackle grandeur, the aloneness that isn't lonely, fills this song.The tension that mounts as the storm rises, the sun that opens up on the hook between the verses. This isn't the song of the storm, but what comes after, the still, small voice that speaks in the quiet when the storm has passed. Imagine the voices stuttering to a halt in your head, imagine the sun coming out, imagine the darkness that is coming, has gone, is still to come.

Howe Gelb - "This Purple Child"

Enjoy

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Pop Goes the World

If I stood on the concrete outside the boxy, modern-looking fine arts complex at Canyon del Oro High School northwest of Tucson, and looked south toward Mexico, I believed I would see it, that it would be the last thing I would ever see: a flash of light as the nuclear missiles from Russia detonated over Davis Monthan Air Force Base. It was 1988, I was 17 years old, and I believed that the world was about to end. Not in a couple of days, or a week, or this year, or before I graduated. Today. 

The madness of absolute certainty had gripped me that morning. Awakening from a dream perhaps, or maybe after church youth group the night before. I wasn't sure where the idea had come from, only that it was unquestionably true. I could feel the truth of it humming in the center of my chest, fizzing around the edges of my brain. I was glorious with it. The day glowed with edges and shadows sharper than the usual razors of Arizona sunshine. 

The fact that everyone went about their days without panic, with no sense of the horrible destruction about to rain down upon us, only served to further confirm my knowledge. I couldn't tell anyone, of course. They would never believe me. I had been given this knowledge, not because anything could be done, but as a gift, from God. I could say goodbye to the people I loved, my friends and family, I could ask for forgiveness for my many sins, offer my paltry soul to Jesus for safekeeping, and die, hopefully instantly, in the fiery inferno descending on us all from the clean blue sky. 

I was one of the lucky ones.

I walked around in pious, giddy sorrow for almost three days, joyously mourning every person, every beloved thing I came in contact with. My heartfelt farewells at every parting with every friend might have raised a few eyebrows, were I not already a little (a lot) weird. Nobody probably gave my doe-eyed departures a second thought.

It was the end of days! Finally! No more depression. No more unrequited crushes on almost every woman I was friends with, had ever met, or had read about in a book or seen on a screen. No more the inescapable weight of guilt every time I masturbated to pornography, skipped class, wrote poetry instead of doing homework. No more impossible to fulfill expectations of success, and, finally, no more "potential." I would never disappoint anyone ever again. I would be free. All God had to do was kill the world.

I wondered, briefly, if there would be a mix of the bloody biblical grotesqueries I was so fond of reading about in the Book of Revelations, the ones my youth group leaned on when they wanted to spice up bible study, and the hard science fiction of nuclear holocaust I knew so well from television and movies. Would Jesus come before or after the mushroom cloud? Would the Devil ride down from his kingdom in the air on a Soviet bomb to do ultimately fruitless battle with angels and principalities before he inevitably succumbed to the powers of Good?

Not my problem. Here come the jets. 

The hardest thing about prophecies that don't come true is the moment of double vision where two worlds exist simultaneously. There's the world where the prophecy is going to come true, absolutely, without question. This world is luminous with meaning, fraught with portent.

Then, superimposed over this world, off by just the fraction of a degree necessary to require a choice between them, is the other world. A world in which none of that shit is happening at all. This world has the benefit of continuance, but it is terrifying in its uncertainty, and it is meaningless, 

One morning a few days after my vision of a world cleansed in nuclear fire, I woke up and realized that it just wasn't going to happen for me. The bombs, despite my hopes, were not going to fall. Jesus wasn't coming back, no matter how bad tensions in the Middle East got. I saw the world of prophecy, and the world that was, and I knew I just didn't have the energy to sustain that kind of crazy. I started going to class again. I thought about applying to college. The sun continued to rise. 

All of this is to segue into this song by Scritti Politti, It's called "Overnite" and I'm pretty sure it's about someone who believes the world is going to end. I've done my research, and nobody else seems to subscribe to this theory, nor are there interviews with its author, Green Gartside (the "Green" of "Tell us about it, Green" in the lyrics), confirming it, but none of that matters. The guy who believes, against all evidence, that the world is going to end via nuclear conflagration in the middle of his senior year of high school clearly isn't looking for validation. It's just a theory, and a beautiful song. As the song says, "Check it out."

Overnite - Scritti Politti

When I was seventeen (Tell us about it Green)
There was a world to know about (Check it out)
Everyday she'd call me (What'd she say?)
Is it over yet? Do you love me?

Overnite - and while your troubles away
Under the stars up above - I'll build you another day
Close your eyes - I'll be home before it's light
And all the tears you cry - will dry in the dead of night

And now I'm in between (Tell us about it Green)
It all became a mystery (Check it out)
Everyday she calls me (What does she say?)
It is over yet? Do you believe them?

Overnite - and while your troubles away
Under the stars up above - I'll build you another day
Close your eyes - I'll be home before it's light
And all the fears you have - will die in the dead of night

Someday - maybe soon - we could show them a way
I would love just to watch it falling
Oh my pretty one - show me a way

Overnite - I heard a satellite say
There'll be a wind from the west - to blow all your dreams away
Close your eyes - and maybe before it's light
Oh all the hopes that you have - will die in the dead of night