Monday, January 18, 2010

Bad Platitude (with apologies to Rupert Brooke)

“Idols can be many things, in fact, anything we put before God. I’m not talking carved wooden statues here, but a spouse, a career…”
“Addictions,” suggests some bright spark.
“Yes, addictions.”
“Like smoking?” asks Ohio Dave, knowing our speaker tonight has struggled and failed with giving up. There is a murmur around the room. It’s good-natured ribbing, but with a barb. Is Ohio Dave going alpha male on us?

I lean further back on the sofa and gaze at the fairy lights wrapped around the gantries. Safe in the magic of my woods I lay and watched the dying light… We are in a rehearsal space, a fitting venue for this bunch of disenfranchised bohemians who don’t exactly like church, but can’t seem to entirely escape the imperative to meet with other Christians either. At least, that was the crowd until a gaggle of putty-faced theological students arrived. How do I know they’re theological students? Well, first they wear earnest expressions and second they look really stupid trying to play the drums. I do too, but I have the good sense to leave the bongos to those with rhythm.

“You see, idols can’t give you real comfort, or validation, love, whatever it is you’re looking for.”
(“No-oh,” I imagine the group sing-songing their agreement.)
“These things can only be found in God,” continues our speaker.
(“Ye-es,” I hear the group chorusing, like a bunch of kindergarten kids, but wait! Someone is actually going to state the obvious.)
“Yeah, and like, when you’ve got all those things, it’s like, ‘Now what?’” says a guy grinning and shaking his head at the idea that anyone could expect to find fulfilment except in God.

My hand shoots up, but the speaker is droning on about God’s sufficiency. Finally he can no longer ignore the arm stuck in the air.
“But what about when he isn’t?!” I say, sitting up straight so everyone can hear me. “What about when God isn’t sufficient?” My mouth starts to wobble. Oh no! Too much red wine. My indignation is spilling over into tears.

I remain upright at the edge of the sofa, waiting for the tide of words coming out of the speaker’s mouth to run up against some beachhead I recognize. It takes me a good five minutes, but I realize he’s talking about suffering. He takes a comment. Then another. They’re all talking about suffering and how we don’t understand it and, ho, aren’t we glad we didn’t always get the things we prayed for, and sometimes depression can lead to secondary depression because we blame ourselves about being depressed (is he talking about me?) and the rest I lose because it’s either not relevant or just the same clap-trap, trap-clap, quacking platitudes.

I take a swig of wine and collapse back against the sofa, the blue pin-pricks of light blurring and swimming overhead. And I knew that this was the hour of knowing, and I should find soon in the silence the hidden key of all that had hurt and puzzled me…

The speaker is annoyed. I’ve derailed his agenda and it’s time to wrap up. Someone taps me on the shoulder. Ohio Dave.
“He should have stopped and prayed,” he says, retrospectively directing events. “I understand how you feel because I hurt in that way too. I’m going to pray for you.” Before I can realize this doesn’t mean later – at his house, a safe distance from me – a hand is clamped on my forehead. Fortunately, his prayer is short, but when I look up a woman is hovering in front of me.

“I wanted to share a vision I had. I think it’s for you. Well, it was for me, but I think it’s for you too.” She settles in to describe walking through a fiery furnace and Jesus waiting on one side (because he’s coming to the east gate of the Temple, she tells me, as if that explains everything). The noise of a fool in mock distress, crashing and laughing and blindly going, of ignorant feet and a swishing dress, and a Voice profaning the solitudes...

“But we’re going to Glory, such glory!” she concludes. “It doesn’t matter what happens in this life.” Oh God, she thinks this is about suffering too. Didn’t anyone hear me? Oh no, of course they didn’t – I wasn’t given a chance to speak.

My new neighbor is as skeptical as I about whether ‘pie in the sky when you die' is really of any comfort.
“God’s a bastard,” he confides, and then tells me the story of a friend dying of cancer.

“Okay, thank you,” I say, jumping up. “No more counselling, no more praying!” I watch them draw together in concern as I walk to another group. Oh, for goodness' sake! Now I’m going to be known as The One With Emotional Problems. Emotional, yes, but I blame that on the red wine. And secondary depression, of course.

The speaker drifts in our direction, not sure of what to say to me. “Ah, here’s the man with all the answers,” I say, sardonically. Unsurprisingly, he abandons the attempt at conversation and instead annexes the friend who brought me tonight.

“I don’t buy all this ‘You haven’t been in my shoes, so you can’t understand,’” I hear him protesting. Your flat clear voice beside me mouthed cheerful clear flat platitudes… My friend rolls her eyes in my direction, a signal to go.

“It wasn’t about suffering!” I shout into the night air as we hurry down the dripping sidewalk to her car.

You came and quacked beside me in the wood.
You said, "The view from here is very good!"
You said, "It's nice to be alone a bit!"
And, "How the days are drawing out!" you said.
You said, "The sunset's pretty, isn't it?"
* * * * *
By God! I wish…I wish that you were dead!


Anonymous said...

Lou, I offer you more tea, red wine, a bagel or a bakers dozen, and a lopsided smile... and friendship.

I do not offer pithy statements, scripture verses, or knowing furrowed brow-ed pained expressions at the audacity that you question the Almighty.

be true always.

Lou said...

I'll take the friendship, and maybe a bagel or two. Thanks, friend!