Sunday, January 11, 2009


Relentless winter. Snow, then more snow. Snow on snow on snow. My camera lies idle in its box. The church choir dwindles to two. My voice cracks on high D. The house slowly returns to order after the last of the heating installations, but there will be more disorder to come when the workmen haul out old pipes and boilers and radiators next week.

After vacation came a solid, bruising wall of work: the penultimate of Friday's notes got written at 11 pm, the last one is still unwritten. There is one MD, whose notes I sometimes see in the EMR, who writes his at 4 in the morning. These long nights of writing are not uncommon, then.

Writing ? Well, not exactly: dictating, pointing, clicking, hoping to catch the Dragon's more egregious boners before I sign the entry, like the one that had the IS tech in stitches as I begged her to help me correct it: the dictation program had replaced a stairwell's dangerous "protruding beams" with a "protruding penis." I did catch the "little liver bracelet" that had somehow malapropped its way into another note, but I am sure that there are other improbable toads in the hyper-probable garden of my electronic medical record entries that I have missed.

Language is slippery and I am in one of my apophatic, let all mortal flesh keep silence phases. Maybe it's a byproduct of the disorder of the house, the thronging, syllogomaniac masses of accumulated stuff, that has me addled. That old dresser in the guest room that I've been clinging to ? Chuck it. And while you're at it, chuck the guest room too. Bathwater ? Baby ? Gonzo.

Even with the best of intentions, it's hard to let go. My closet was in disarray after the workers ran pipes through it, so, righting it, I took the opportunity to get rid of masses of unused clothing, some worn to rags and unwearable, some wearable but, for whatever reason of aesthetics or comfort, unworn. Some, like these unfortunate LL Bean shoes, barely worn and basically unwearable. (Let me remind you that the shoe life of a vegan is not easy.)

Some garments, the most beloved ones in fact, like the torn-and-threadbare beyond repair red flannel shirt (hand me down from DK) , went right into the trash, sentimental attachment be damned. The others ? I would haul them to one of those roadside, charity clothing collection bins. Like those three pairs of pants that fit so strangely they, by the end of the day, induce a case of mild hysteria. Get these freaking pants off me !!! Perhaps someone out there has a body shaped like them. And those sweatshirts I never wear, and that 5-sizes-too big white oxford shirt -- be gone ! All of ye !

Then there was the bag of my mother's clothes, given to me by my father after her death.

Mom was always a careful, stylish dresser and left racks of clothes in pristine condition. I, on the other hand, to quote a nurse I once worked with, "dress like a farmer." I came downstairs a few days ago wearing jeans with a six inch hole over the right knee, a old, much-mended but still fraying cotton sweater, an ancient gray shirt acquired from some undeterminable male relative, and a black hooded sweatshirt from my son's junior high days. Even DK seemed appalled, and gently suggested I discard the jeans. The outfit was, I admit, squalid.

Hold that image, and imagine its antithesis: that was Mom.

I did try on the clothes. The neat pleated trousers, the tasteful, fitted blouses, the bold, patterned sweaters. I even retried those sweaters after hacking out the 1980's shoulder pads. It was no use: I was wearing another woman's skin. I was an imposter. I was in drag. I felt strangely nervous, in a sci-fi sort of way. Possessed.

So, finally, I decided to give them away. All of them. I would keep two things -- a nubbly, zippered, brown cotton jacket with a pattern of galloping horses on it, and a lavender trenchcoat -- puffy padded shoulders notwithstanding -- I don't have a raincoat and this was a perfectly good one. I could stand feeling squirrely a few times a year. At least I'd be dry.

So, last week, I loaded up the trunk with three bags of clothes -- two mine, one my mother's -- and drove off into the cold, winter night toward the collection bins in the local Super-Gargantuo-Mart parking lot, just down River Street. I pulled up next to the bins and stared, disheartened at the sight: the large metal containers were full to bursting. They were vomiting torn bags from their metal mouths. Bags were piled on top of them, and littered the snowy ground around them, bags with clothes bursting from them, others clearly stuffed with and disgorging trash. There were piles of bright, broken toys and appliances and other unidentifiable objects, in a visual metaphor of the just-past holiday's excess. A stuff hangover.

How could I abandon my mother's clothes to that waste heap ? I felt a knot in my chest and throat, and sped away without getting out of the car. But I would not abandon my project. There was another collection bin across town, beside a small grocery.

It was silly, I knew it. These were just clothes. But they'd been her clothes. Why, there was probably some of her DNA in them ! Now I knew that was ridiculous. I wasn't about to clone my mother. I wasn't attached to some forensic trace of her. I have a small jar of her ashes on my bureau, and I am oddly detached from that, too. But, still, these clothes represented some version of her -- a version of herself she created by choosing and wearing them -- a version of her against which I grew up and created by own version, much like how one strand of DNA encodes a complementary, opposite strand.

I drove, and tried to conjure my mother. To summon some vestige of her. I have tried this time and time again, and it never works. No neat, stylish ectoplasms ever materialize even when I promise to let them smoke in the car. A paroxysm of mourning hit me, magnified by the darkness and the snow-clotted roadsides, intensified by the memory of the scrap heap of abandoned objects that I was fleeing.

This was the essence of the pain of attachment, I reflected. To the clothing, yes, but only as an extension of my mother. Attachment to myself as well -- to my old red flannel shirt and to the woman who wore that red flannel shirt for a decade. I thought of how hanging up clothes still warm from my body never fails to unsettle me -- the thought of the heat leaving them, of my body leaving them, of my body and self dissolving back into its Source and joining every sentient being that has ever and will ever draw a breath. A comforting thought, perhaps, that death is the least lonely place, that, in it, we rejoin the Source, God Who is Love. But still there is that nagging amour propre that wish to be this self in perpetuum. That wish to have ectoplasms summonable from somewhere at our beck and call.

It reminded me of what I chafe at in Christianity: its various economies of the afterlife, as locus of bliss or punishment, and the attendant further eschatologies of the last days. If hell is alienation from God, exile in the outer darkness (where it is always cold and snowing) -- then hell is on earth, hell is an experience of our sentient minds and bodies, as is heaven, as in on earth as it is in heaven. What about heaven-on-earth, what about the Kingdom of God, how do we attain these ? It's simple. Christ taught us: love God, love each other. That's how, and that's it. Honor the immense dignity of everyone and everything. In the end, as at our ends, the beneficent Source gathers every one and everything lovingly back into itself, even Its most wayward children, into a place beyond the dichotomies of heaven and hell.

Like many, I have grown weary of and impatient with all the gender-based -- and, ultimately, power-based -- aversions that some Christians have elevated to core doctrine. As if the Infinite Ground Of Being actually somehow gives a shit about and wastes time fretting over what particular physical expressions of erotic love occur between consenting adults. I, for one, respectfully decline to "believe in" an I-GOB with such a prurient mind.

Weary and impatient, yes that summed it up. Maybe it was the recent construction chaos in our house, or the bruising wall-o-work I encountered after vacation, but I was weary and impatient. I was listening to Zen dharma talks again and avoiding the Daily Office as if we'd had a lover's quarrel. Well, we had had a little spat. The Old Testament reading on January 1 -- Holy Name -- was from Genesis, God speaking to Abraham:

And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession.

Which had led me right back to last summer's Daily Office waterloo, the book of Joshua -- the conquest of Canaan -- and its triumphalist descriptions of deity-directed genocide. First, Jericho:

Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep and donkeys.


For Joshua did not draw back his hand, with which he stretched out the sword, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.

And from there to Makkedah, and Libnah, to Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, Debir, until Joshua defeated the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowlands and the slopes, and all their kings; he left no one remaining but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel had commanded.

How in the world could reading this kind of stuff further anyone's spiritual growth ? Shouldn't we all just plop down on zafus and think not-thinking until we get a collective grip ?

I was weary and impatient, so the least I could do was clean out my closet. I pulled in to the little lot beside the grocery store. There were two neat clothing collection bins, impeccably clean, side by side against a fence. I smiled. There was room in this inn for my mother's old clothes, and for mine. Our clothes -- our DNA -- would rest side by side tonight, cozy, companionable, safe and secure. It was a small thing, but, like a candle sputtering in an immensity of night and cold, it would have to suffice.

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