The People Who Made Me…

Yesterday morning I woke to the distinct smell of clove cigarette smoke in my bedroom. I don’t smoke. When I opened my eyes, someone who was not one of my dogs was sitting in the gold velvet armchair in the corner, looking back at me; it was my old friend, David, with a big, cheesy smile on his face. “What are you doing here,” I asked aloud, as if it’s the most normal thing in the world to wake up to the odd man sitting in my bedroom unannounced, and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes as I sat up. When I opened my eyes again, he was gone. But the smell of clove cigarette smoke lingered for hours.

I lost track of David a few years ago. The last time I saw him was in Florida, holding – of all things – a box of abandoned kittens he found, outside of the hospital where I had just had yet another surgery on my hand, that he was determined to raise himself so that they wouldn’t be killed at the shelter. After this surprise visit yesterday, I broke down and called his sister, only to learn that they buried David last Saturday, next to his mother. No one really knows what happened, she told me; she had seen him the week before, and he was fine. All anyone could say for certain is that a friend found him collapsed on the bathroom floor one morning, and the medical examiner will have a toxicology report in three month’s time. That’s going to turn up a bit fat nothing of useful information; David’s drug of choice was chocolate anything. Still, 50 is far too young to die. Whilst I’m not really surprised by this, I’m saddened and disappointed by the knowledge that I just missed him. I’m forever telling myself that I need to call this person, or that cousin, to tell them that I love them, only to learn that they’re gone forever. You always think that you have time, but you don’t. Time is an illusion, the stupid pet trick of a selfish, procrastinating mind; after that, all that is left are memories that will die with you, too. They fade, like the familiar spicy smoke coiling in silky gossamer tendrils out the open window of my room….

My friend David was tall, built like a tank, athletic, with dark curly hair that never behaved and eyes the very same colour as the Atlantic Ocean that he loved so well. Like me, he was an artist interested in too many things at once. Unlike me, David could draw perfectly proportioned animals and landscapes in fine detail with his eyes closed, and it was fascinating watching his long, elegant fingers trace coal across the page in lines as fine as sharp pencil without effort. He taught me how to snorkel and free dive (I was too much of a chicken to learn SCUBA, even though he offered many times to teach me) and, by necessity, how to treat a jellyfish sting without peeing on anything. We had fun collaborating on silkscreens we cut images for in layers with pen knives from emptied Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch boxes. My memory of him is his handsome face peering out over the Eastern horizon, dark hair tousled by the misty wind as he sat smoking cigarettes on the beach, whilst giving me minutely detailed, exacting instructions on how to take care of my sea aquarium so that my clown fish (kidnapped by me from the sea years before anyone had heard of Nemo) would live long, “happy, happy fish lives.” Girls, babies and animals loved him, men respected him and, whilst it was amusing to watch, he legitimately deserved their admiration and trust.

About twenty years ago we had lunch together at some forgotten food court; he said to me, “Write this down,” as he sat drawing a live skulking tiger from memory, and he dictated a long, beautiful poem. “Bleeding heart, filled with barbed wire…praying for peace,” it began. When he was finished, I considered the page, then asked him what it meant. “That’s you,” he said tersely with a furrowed expression, as if I had missed the obvious. I blinked, and read it again, only vaguely understanding then. To this day, it is one of my most cherished possessions; turned out that he knew me far better than I could have imagined, even when he was not quite in this world, with his head in the clouds of his own artist’s reason.

David is the fifth beloved friend and family member I’ve lost this year. Whilst I’m relieved to know where he’s at, I’m truly sick and tired of losing people. Especially people whom I consider solid touchstones in this world of swirling uncertainties and darkness. Last year I asked another such friend, “how many times can a heart break before it can’t be put together again?” I don’t think I’m ever going to find the answer.

Anyway….Thanks for the visit, David. I’m sorry I missed you. Very, truly sorry I neglected our friendship…I have no good excuse for it. But I am genuinely relieved, if not happy, that you are safe with your mom, and I hope that you have peace. I suppose it’s never really too late to say I love you. And I do, Good Man.

Scripture is pro-death penalty. Why does Pope Francis want to ignore the Bible?: My Letter to the Editor

It’s been a fews years since I’ve written one of these. A LttE published yesterday at the L.A. Times (which google thought I should like to read) annoyed me:

To the editor: The editorial on Pope Francis’ declaration that the death penalty is never OK in any circumstance fails to use the word “murderer.”

The Torah — the first five books of the Christian Bible and the law of Judaism — in numerous places states that God directed mankind to execute murderers. And Jesus, whose teachings and life form the foundation of Christianity, said, “Not the least point nor the smallest detail of the law will be done away with.”

I cannot understand why the pope does not address its need to ignore the scriptures upon which his church’s faith is based.

Mel Wolf, Burbank

…I have no doubt that if the L.A. Times ever does bother to post my response, it will be butchered into nonsensical tweet form, so I’m putting it here, as I wrote it, for safe keeping.

Dear Editor,

A letter addressed to you regarding Pope Francis and capital punishment popped up in my newsfeed today, and I would like to respond to it. It reads in part:

“The Torah — the first five books of the Christian Bible and the law of Judaism — in numerous places states that God directed mankind to execute murderers. And Jesus, whose teachings and life form the foundation of Christianity, said, ‘Not the least point nor the smallest detail of the law will be done away with.'”

Actually, in context, what Christ said was, “I have come not to abolish Torah, but to fulfill it.” In so doing, He releases us from it. Torah is not addressed to “mankind,” but to the Hebrew nation; Christ’s salvic mystery is for all, Jew and gentile. This is why you don’t find Catholics eating kosher, stoning televangelists to death in the streets as false prophets, absolving themselves from burying the dead lest they become “unclean,” taking ritual baths, cutting off the hands of women who grab men by the family jewels in anger, or stoning their children in public for being disrespectful little punks to their parents…though I can think of a few who might actually deserve it (I’m not kidding…my brother’s kids when they were younger immediately come to mind). On the contrary, Christians are only bound (according to Christ’s own words) to this law: “That you shall love the Lord you GOD with all your heart, mind and strength, and that you love your neighbour as yourself. This is the whole of the Law and the Prophets.” (which is why, I’m certain, my nephews are still breathing) And, according to Matthew 25 part 2, the price of admission to Heaven is mercy to “the least of these My brethren.” There is none so pitiable or “least” in society as the rapist and the murderer, for their souls know only pain and malice apart from conversion, and an executed corpse cannot repent, nor find forgiveness. The Gospel [Christ] also calls on us to forgive pefectly (70×7), to pray for our enemies, and to bless those who persecute us. Additionally, out of 613 mitzvot in Torah, Christians are only bound by ten of them, and those are the first that were given directly from YHWH to Moses (the other 603 were delivered by “angels of YHWH”), the 5th of which reads, “You shall not kill.” It doesn’t say anything beyond that. You. Shall. Not. Kill. Period. So simple. So direct. Straight from the anthropormorphized lips of GOD; I seriously doubt He changed His mind (Numbers 23 says He doesn’t, and can’t). And one has to remember where the Jews were when Torah was recorded: they weren’t exactly known for their superior privatized for-profit prison system, for crying out loud. Do you really think that a dinky tent and an old guy with a stick in the wilderness is going to be an effective deterrent against a criminal with a bloodlust after a month on a diet of quail and manna? Execution may have fit the crime 5,000 years ago, but we have no such excuse today.

It’s fine to disagree with the Pope when he’s actually wrong and spouting nonsense, which he has been known to do (I groan on these occasions; the secondhand embarrassment is strong with this one), but this is not one of those instances. Vengeance does not belong to us as disciples of Jesus Christ anymore than the Mosaic prohibitions on pork and lobster, and just as no one has any business telling a Catholic that bacon and delicious butter-swimmin’ sea seabugs are verboten, so no man can say that capital punishment is our Christian duty, doctrinally or secularly. You can never make a good out of answering evil with evil (Isaiah 5:2), and killing is always evil, regardless of who the victim is. Even a murderer is a child of GOD, made in His image, belonging to Him alone. We have no right, no divine directive, to destroy His creation. Unless it’s to make bacon. I’m sorry, but bacon is just the best proof we have that GOD loves us and wants us to be happy, and we could never have that ecstasy if Catholics were bound under Torah. Thanks be to GOD for the Gospel, which has freed us from kushrat and killing our brothers!

Sincerely,

Miki Shiverick
Three Graces Farm

Making Hay Whilst the Sun Shines

“The woman does not work because the man tells her to work and she obeys. On the contrary, the woman works because she has told the man to work and he hasn’t obeyed.”

~G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong With the World

The last argument I had with the person I “married” before he left me (without admitting that that was what he was doing) began with him telling me late one night about all of the imaginary awards he was going to win for projects he hadn’t even begun to work on, whilst I (in a prickly hot sweat) was sitting on the bedroom floor adding up the new stack of bills in my lap and comparing the total to what I didn’t have in the bank to cover them. I lost my temper and cried.

“Tell me,” he said, “Tell me what I need to do to make you happy.”

“Get a job! My answer is the same now as it’s been for the past two years: stop sitting on your ass living in your computer’s Neverland and exchanging text messages with my best friend, and get a freaking job! I don’t care what it is, just help me pay the bills so that I can stop being stressed to the gills 24/7. You want me to be happy? Do your duty, and be a husband.”

He walked away without a word. A week later he flew out to stay with his parents in Atlanta under the guise of looking for work; a month after being camped out on her sofa in front of Fox News blaring on the television, his sick elderly mother finally took matters into her own hands and got him a job with a landscaper…and two days into this? He yelled at me over the phone, and told me how angry he was that I had “forced” him away from his “destiny” of being a filmmaker, and that working outside under the hot sun “with a bunch of wetback spics” was “demeaning” and “humiliating” and I was an “abusive bitch for emasculating” his manhood this way.

That was the day I learned that I’d not only “married” a closet racist, but a boy who did not understand the sacramental dignity of work. It was also the day I lost most of what respect I had remaining for the person I had yoked myself to.

Yesterday was my wedding anniversary, and it began in the front yard, transplanting feral St. John’s Wort from the unkempt lawn and weeding the front walkway before retreating to the breezy shade of the front porch to scrub pots and pans and season my dutch oven. It’s been three years plus a month since that nasty conversation, and I chuckled at the memory of it. Where would I be had he not left? I shudder to think.

Manual labour is one of those things that all too often gets mislabeled as boring drudgery, but there is a certain freedom in work. When your hands are occupied, your imagination is free to roam, and you are creating physical order whilst ideas emerge inbidden. That’s the secret of work: it’s not just one thing…it’s multifaceted, and has secret benefits that you cannot know until you land upon them.

I like this part of life. The sweet, clean breeze around me, the sunshine on my back whilst I yank out long self-braided tendrils of morning glory and set fat dandelion taproots aside to dry for Winter coffee, and my mind meanders down the winding road of possibilities for projects that I want to create for my own fun and frivolity. Tonight, after I’ve taken all the recycling to the dump, I’m going to be making a watercoloured box from a sheet of handmade paper I found in a long forgotten box the other day. I saw it already finished in my head whilst I was absently chewing on lambsquarters leaves as I ripped their feetsies from the earth.

I had an awesome anniversary yesterday. The first one, actually, since that whole mess began. Who would have thought that such a simple thing as pulling weeds could turn out to be the best gift I could have given me. 😉