15 October 2009

5 first person singular

my grandparents used to have this preacher. he repeated every fucking thing three times. so it would go like this:

in today's sermon, i will be making three main points. three main points will be made in today's sermon. in conclusion, i have three main points and i will be making them today in this sermon.

and that was just the opener. you can imagine the length of the actual sermon.

that said, i have three main points.

and i'm going to start with a story that has nothing to do with any of them.

kara beautiful gold is the bravest girl i know. hands down. the woman got hitched at a pool party for christ's sake. that takes balls.

but it's more complicated than that. it is kara beautiful gold who, in perhaps the greatest flannerian slip of all time, uttered the profound truth that a hard man is good to find. she's one of the six people i've kissed. we've rolled down hillsides. i've appropriated her laugh. she's survived tough shit.

there's a moment in every relationship when you know you're in it for good. in june 2001, kara came to see me at summer school. that night, we drove around the darkened campus blasting u2's "discotheque" and what i remember is the bass, the stadium, the stars, and her bare feet dangling out the window of my mazda. and i remember feeling for the first time in a long time that i was truly home.

we went two years without talking, kara beautiful gold and i. then she showed up in my mailbox in hyde park then again on my doorstep in memphis. she has always, always shown up for me.

i'm the realist. she's the romantic. one lazy mississippi winter afternoon, we watched shakespeare in love three times in a row and scribbled The Quote on a poster board that's hung in every house i've had since.

in wigs, we look like twins.

i have three main points.

1: i don't listen to u2 when i'm happy.

in fact, it's when i'm happy that they annoy me most. with their intrusive earnestness, their political bombast, their cloying neediness. yes, bono. you're the biggest band in the world, so shut the fuck up.

i can barely bear them when i'm happy. i do not need them then.

no, u2 are for other times. for that september morning when the leaves first start to fall. for that day in may when it seems like summer should be upon us but the radiator's still on. they're for long farewells and rainy nights and new year's day.

much as i love and adore them, they are not the main event. they're the after-party. when it's 34 degrees out and i'm on a train in open-toed gold shoes. when everyone else has gone home and the room is dark save the remnants of half-empty bottles. then i turn to the boys.

this seems counterintuitive. that an all-consuming love affair should have such limits. and though when the young men of my youth bought the entire discography and faked fandom and blasted "ultraviolet" to woo me, i never had the heart to say, no, no, that's music for the dark nights of the soul, it truly is.

because u2 feels like home. not as in the full-colored, four collie dream or memphis bbq or arlington place, but in the sense of capturing something i seem to carry around with me always, tucked into the corners of my soul. it's not a place i can go every day. but when the time is right, when the night is long, when the ache is there, i'm ready to listen.

there is a general sense in my family that my grandfather is going to die soon. if not this year, then the next. my father is the only one to have explicitly said that, but it's there. if you go looking for it, it's everywhere. in my aunt's defiant declaration atop the tour montparnasse-- as we clung to each other, arms entwined-- that we would have a thanksgiving "last hurrah." it's in the glittering in my mum's eyes. in the tiny cracks in my grandmother's voice. everywhere, there is a palpable anticipation of a grief that has not yet come. we all of us know we are running on borrowed time. which is both a burden and a very great gift.

2: love (not fear).

it always seemed somehow important that my first name was "faith," that my parents chose to put that first though they never called me by it. like maybe that extra shot of "faith" might get me into heaven should i ever misplace mine. but i don't think it works that way.

i'm kind of pissed at God right now. i said this to my most die-hard atheist friend, which might seem disingenuous but i figured who better to confess a lack of faith to than someone who has none.

good girls probably don't get pissed at God and, if they do, they've got the decency to hide it. but because i am often indecent and not a good girl, i repeated this pronouncement to my parents a few days later. the gasp of horror echoed all the way down the phone line from memphis to put a chicago chill into my bones.

but there are stories we must tell. things that, no matter how difficult, we must say.

i tried to handle this on my own. a woman of action, i had gone and stood out on the beach with my bible to do battle with God. in my heart, i knew i looked like a total loon, a sacrifice of personal pride that netted me little more than a wicked case of windburn and an ever-increasing uneasy sense of betrayal.

we don't talk about faith much around here. because i abhor even the slightest sheen of proselytization, but also because if there's anything we hate it's bad writing and, to be decidedly unchristian, generally speaking, there is nothing worse than "christian" writing. (exempting, you know, the bible and whatnot.)

this started awhile ago. it's been unfolding for maybe a year, but it began in earnest when i reread my high school journals. because back then i was in the bizarre habit of writing prayers alongside my entries and upon unearthing these journals this past july i was confronted with my silly sad little 17-year-old self asking to see where i was going and to trust that i would get there. which would be pretty much the same question 28-year-old oline was asking every day.

which seemed to imply that maybe this was something i would struggle with the whole entire rest of my life. that i would someday be sitting around at 202 with kara beautiful gold one wheelchair over still thinking, dear God, where am i going and why can't i get there? all of which came together to make me really fucking mad and brought me to a point where i told my parents i was pissed at God.

i honestly don't know what was more scandalous-- that i was mad at Our Almighty Lord or that i said the word "pissed" to my parents.

my entire belief system is built around one thing. that same fundamental truth kara beautiful gold and i penned on poster board all those years ago. it is the idea that life is generally difficult and inconvenient and scary as hell, but that everything works out as it should. by which i do not mean you sit around and wait for it to work out, but that you act with the assurance that it will. in the end, as i've said before, that boils down to this: love (not fear).

because there are times when you have to risk everything. when you have to say fuck it and take a ginormous scary leap that may make you look like the biggest, unlovable, awful idiot the world has ever known.

i told my parents i was pissed at God. a month later, i wound up sitting in a parisian hotel room having the most honest and brutal and wonderful conversation i've ever had with my father. a conversation i've been waiting pretty much my whole adult life to have.

3: there's no place like home.

it's funny how quickly life can change, how fast a world you've been steadily packing away can suddenly spring open, like a jack-in-the-box or a murphy bed, into an unexpected adventure.

i do not have the words for my love of this city. it is my home, it is my heart. it is here, on chicago's streets, in its rhythms, on its riverbanks, that i always find myself.

and it was on one such riverbank that i was sitting when kara beautiful gold said her latest greatest most profound thing: there's a very great freedom to be found in the fact that we are always us. what she was saying was that no matter how circumstances change, you are always you. not just your weaknesses but also your strengths.

this brings to mind an eaton family favorite saying from our mary englebreit iron-on decal days: wherever you go, there you are. a truth so simple i wonder now what compelled us to emblazon it on half a dozen pastel sweatshirts. where you are, you are. simple, yes, but i'll be the first to admit, i am very very bad about forgetting where i am.

it's probably a wee bit melodramatic to say that seeing u2 in chicago on september 12th was like spending three hours looking upon the face of God, but in all honesty that is how it felt. for the first time in a long time, i was where i was.

the next morning, staring at a deep forehead wrinkle that had seemingly entrenched overnight, i briefly entertained the idea that i'd been marked for my fervency, much as after talking to God on the mountain top, charleton heston's moses returned with silvered hair. turns out it was a sheet print, but nonetheless. i went up the mountain. i got my answer.

fear not. love, love, love.

i had three main points. my conclusion is this:

winter's coming. i have no idea what it will hold and i don't much care. because life is difficult and inconvenient and scary as hell. the natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster. and sometimes you have to take a risk, take your restless self out and shout at God so you can finally be still. so you can find a profound loveliness right where you are and sit on the riverbank, the gold shoes beside you in the grass, and watch the boats go by as the sun sets into the water.


Linda said...

*gives oline loud messy kiss on the top of her head*

Meggie said...


Lara Ehrlich said...

WOW! That was incredible.

Les Savy Ferd said...

I suppose I am a little less concerned about where I am going than you are, O. Perhaps this extends to my belief (ack, belief may be too strong a word, my feeling) that there is no master plan, no higher powers.

I think we are here for the same reason everything else is, we just are. a happy coincidence. As such there is no plan or project, we aren't supposed to go any which way, or do any specific thing.

Thus morally speaking the best you can do is be kind, to surround yourself with people who are equally kind, and avoid hurting others whenever possible. That's it for me, the big secret. For me, God is another name for the sheer luck that I am here at the same time as Lara, my family and those I care about.

I wish there was more, but I honestly don't think there is. We should just try and be happy and make others happy and take of the ones we love because yes, the universe is a big scary place. On that we agree. I just think that eventually the blessing is we won't have to deal with it all anymore because we'll all be folded back into the nothingness from which we came.

That scares the piss out of me, the whole lack of consciousness and 'not being' part, but at best we all had this brief shot at life in the first place and at worst, well, there is peace in unbecoming.

oline said...

thank you for your honesty, dear dread pirate.

i have some cotton candy with your name on it. because there's few things to make us love being alive as much as spun sugar.