A New Part of Town

“Did I tell you my friend Mary hurt her leg yesterday?”

A short moment of silence ensues. Every time I find myself speaking with my mother, we come to an impasse, a crossroads of a sort. To the right is her part of town, the part where God is good but sometimes makes mistakes. To the left is my part, and there all is perfect, even if not readily understood.

When we talk, it’s not a question of IF we will arrive at this crossroads, but WHEN. Will it be in the first five seconds, or will we dawdle a bit, perhaps racking up two or three exchanges before we get there? Let’s see….

I might start off saying, “I’m sorry to hear that,”… but that wouldn’t be completely honest. That’s what I’m supposed to say… but to my mind, there has to be some good reason for it happening. So instead I might wager a “Really, how did it happen?” And the conversation may go on uneventfully for another 45 seconds or so, until I try to pull her into my part of town, because I actually enjoy speculating on what the good reason might be… Is Mary supposed to learn to sit still and listen for awhile, learning patience and stillness? Is she supposed to let someone else take care of her for awhile, learning humility and receiving?

Anyway, the other day, I found myself in a new part of town, one I had never even imagined, a white part of town. There were no streets or buildings, just white light… like in the film The Matrix. Surrounded by this bright white light all around me, I felt no fear, and I knew all to be perfectly under control. Wonderfully, I felt no need to explain or understand anything, as if my need to understand had finally run its course. I could really just sit back and relax, without demanding from God any more explanations for what He does. As the New Yorker cartoon says, showing an old man grinning over a pile of books in a library: “By God, for a minute there it suddenly all made sense!”

Anyway, I suddenly understood that, from this place, from this singular point of view, all my earlier musings had in reality been on the same side of town as my mother’s. With a little shame, I saw that my speculation had just been another form of doubt, not much different from hers.

God certainly didn’t need my reasoning, or my permission, to run the universe.

Carbon Dream

The other morning I had a dream in which I was with a friend who was proudly showing me what he had accomplished in the last year, and it was quite a lot. He had built a brand new house on a hill, three-stories tall, with two cars in the garage and a light-filled house complete with beautiful art and wonderful architecture. I’m not prone to jealousy, but it did occur to me that I, too, had had a productive year and had something to share.

So in the dream I invited him to the house I’ve been renting in Umbria, a wonderful 4-bedroom house on a hill with a lovely panorama of the Umbrian hills. I’ve had quite a difficult year – as anyone who knows me will attest – so I had no idea what I was going about to show him. It surprised me when I didn’t lead him into the house, as I would have imagined, but around the back, to a corner next to the fence where I’ve been throwing out ashes all winter from the two wood stoves I heat the house with. (I’ve come to think of these stoves, burning throughout the winter, as a kind of constantly burning heart in the center of my life, purifying me.)

Proudly, I reached into one of the dozens of ash-piles and pulled out a chunk of burned carbon for us to see, larger than most, with jet-black facets and a real shine to it. It was a wonder to behold. “I remember this one,” I said, as tears came to my eyes. “Oh, and look,” I said, picking up another beauty, “there’s this one here.”