Thursday, February 22, 2007

Church Signs: "Coming Down the Mountain"

Church Signs: "Coming Down the Mountain"

I struggled with this week's topic. I had it in my head that the phrase meant something, something specifically biblical, and it was tripping me up. I thought it had something to do with receiving enlightenment-slash-the-word-of-god, and so every time I started to mentally prepare an essay on the subject, I would falter partway in, feeling as though it was important to bring it back around to what I thought was the intended meaning of the church sign. Yet, I also felt a strong internal resistance to seeking out the biblical reference because it seemed it would taint my otherwise independent experience with the phrase. It was slowing me down enough that I finally decided to spend a few of my writing minutes on researching the topic, just to get it over with. I Googled "coming down the mountain" and was surprised to discover that the number one result was not a religious site, but a Butthole Surfers lyric.

"Some will fall in love with life
And drink it from a fountain
That is pouring like an avalanche
Coming down the mountain"

I picked up a magazine this week and saw Demi Moore on the cover. She was standing on a bridge-like deck in her mountainside home (that is practically a treehouse) in California. She looked healthy, fit, and strong. Her hair was long and lustrous. Her feet bare. Her fingers and toes were manicured and pedicured in dark polish, a deep purple that seemed out of place with the apparent lightness of her life. There were green leaves all around her, not crowding, just creating the dappled sort of lighting you get through forests in the summer. Looking at her standing there in her jeans and bare feet, her red kabbalah string barely visible around her wrist, you could practically feel the trees exhaling fresh oxygen all around her.

I flipped through the pages of the architectural magazine and envied her her riches. Her young handsome husband, her spacious new home, her children. I fantasized about what it must be like to have all that money, all those resources. To have the ability to actually make your dreams come true. To dream of a home, in a certain place, designed and furnished and decorated just the way you want it--and to make it come true. When you have that much money, the only challenge is to know your dream and then find the people who can create what you imagine.

I heard myself thinking, "If I had that money, I would have a better life. I would make the most of it. My home would be cleaner, prettier, more welcoming. It would be a place where people would gather and feel safe, relaxed, and nurtured. It would be a place where I felt good about myself and did good things in the world."

Then I looked at Ashton and Demi posing playfully on the couch, laughing, affectionate, giddy. And I thought, everyone thinks they would do better if they had what these famous, wealthy people have. But Brittney's shaving her head and flashing her crotch and driving with her kids in her lap, while men and women all over America are making beautiful homes and lives with barely a fraction of that wealth. Of course I want what they have--I want to be able to make the most beautiful home I can and share it with the people I love. But getting money won't suddenly make you that person. If you aren't making those things in your life now--cleanliness, beauty, love, comfort--then there's no reason to think you'd suddenly make the most of what you have, just because you have more.

Last weekend, I went away. I drove out to the Cape to be with new friends and their old friends. It was a cold and sunny February day. Clear and crisp and wonderful for driving. I had music and snacks and a clear sense of where I wanted to go and why. I was happy.

As I drove along the pike, I found myself thinking of my niece and my nephew. I feel for them a love that comes straight from god, from the universe. I love them the way god loves everything—unconditionally. When I think of them, this love comes down from the heavens and up from the earth and I channel it toward them. I ask the universe to make sure they know how much they are loved, how much they belong here, no matter what anyone ever says or does to them, they are graced and special and endowed by their creator with an inalienable right to love. It flows through me, this gorgeous powerful love, this total bright acceptance, and it fills me up until it overflows and my world is full of light and I am weeping tears of joy. I drove this way for a while, speeding accidentally, tears running down my face as I laughed out loud and grinned until my face hurt.

Over the course of the weekend, I was introducing myself to these new people through my words. I told them the story about my great grandmother shooting my kitten and killing my pet geese. I told them about the strip club my boss took me to in New Orleans, and the man who stuck his dick in my mouth there. I told them about the fights I got into in high school and the time Eddie Levesque snuck into my room and tried to strangle me. I talked about outhouses and ramshackle homes and my rural experience of poverty. I did it without thinking. I opened my mouth and the stories that came out were mostly about shock and violence, about fighting, poverty, and betrayal.

As I drove home from that trip, I felt as though I was coming down the mountain. I had climbed up high where the air was cold and the view was more profound. I looked around while I was up there and I saw that my life is so much more than those old stories.

From up on the mountain, I could see the patchwork fields of the days gone past. I could see the many colors of the stories that make up my life, all the hard and gritty things, and all the gorgeous ones, too. I could see that each of them is stitched together with another story of triumph or forgiveness or good fortune. The hard parts of my history are only one small fraction of what I am. I tell them out of habit, but it's time to change my ways. It's time for me to dream of a metaphorical tree house where the air is fresh and my home--the place where I keep my self--is clean and comfortable and full of light and love.

Our relationship to ourselves, to our own lives, is like the ones we have with other people. Sometimes we have a hard time, after someone is gone, remembering what they were really like. We make them heroes or villains; we ache for what they gave us without remembering what they took, or we forget how much they offered and remember only what they stole.

I have struggled to assimilate my past, to integrate it into who I am today; to neither be ashamed nor boastful; to have depth without drowning in it; to be comfortable in my own skin. It's true that there has been violence, poverty, and heartbreak; but there has also been so much more than that. There has also been so much love and openness in me that I sometimes weep from the joy of it all. I gulp it down like water, from a fountain, that is pouring like an avalanche coming down the mountain.

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