I am at work, seated in my gray chair at my gray desk, and pulling apart a 152-page insurance policy. It's dry work, as much archeology as insurance. Terms like "appurtenant buildings" and "business income and extra expense" are trapped within an ocean of doublespeak and redundancy, or so it appears. Actually, when I read through the policy, I see that the puzzle of provisions and exclusions and give-backs does result in an accurate amount of coverage, that what I first perceived as repetitive is actually necessary. Though dull and thick as lead, the policy language is not vague.
As I dissect the stack of papers, stapling and highlighting as I go, my brain dances along with the strains of music which flow through the ear bud placed delicately in my left ear. Bluegrass makes the time fly. The bounce of the banjos keeps me awake as I stumble through the eighteen pages of glossary terms.
It is the end of a workday and I'm driving home. Around me, the river of cars is rushing eastbound in a race with the setting sun. I am thinking of home. My new writing studio is in working order. Goldenrod curtains flutter at the open window. A yellowed globe gives me a view of the world. A framed photo of a turquoise door in Prague reminds me of all the potential which lies in an idea unopened, makes me want to fling open all of those ideas and get them down in print. I want to be home and in my chair at my dark wood desk and tapping out my thoughts through the keys.
But traffic isn't helping me meet my desires. We are slow. Anxious drivers are flooring their gas pedals and speeding around slower cars as though they are the rocks in the stream. I am prepared to hear horns and the crunching of metal and glass at any moment. Driving in traffic is rarely peaceful, but I've noticed that tempers have been more accessible in recent months.
At least twice as week I see a truck cab of haggard men "keeping up foreign relations" with oblivious soccer moms who forget to check the blind spots of their buzzing, swinging SUVs.
Outside, a basketball plays hopscotch on the concrete. Our neighbors, a father and his young son, are participating in their regular ritual of shooting hoops before dinner. The boy wears a red shirt. He is skinny and sturdy and shoots frequent air balls. But he's only seven or eight years old, and his father doesn't comment when the ball arcs off into the bushes after spinning away from his son's tiny, brown fingers.
They do this religiously.
I'm a fan of this religion. I don't know my neighbors well, though they are kind and are quick to wave at us and smile. We've handed candy to their kids on Halloween. We've left mail on their front porch when it gets mixed in with ours by mistake. (They like Pottery Barn, too.) But what do I know of their religion, per se ? Mom is Asian. I'm inclined to say Korean, but I'd hate to be wrong. Dad rides his bike to work or on Saturday mornings around town. He always wears his helmet. There is a daughter, too. She's elfish and sweet, a small child who wants to do exactly as her older brother does. Recently, Dad bought the little girl a small version of a basketball hoop for her to practice with as he continues to coach his son on the real hoop. From where I sit or stand or park my car, theirs appears to be a healthy home. Whatever they do religiously, that is, whatever they make a habit of, it appears to be working for them.
Stormy clouds smudge the sky with various shades of gray. It is early and there is a bite in the air, a chill which reminds me that Spring is still new, still budding from those stiff Winter-dead branches, and can be reigned in any time. I am driving to work. The stop-and-go on the on-ramp could be miserable, but I take the time to illegally check my email and task myself with stuff for the day. Schedule doctor's appointments, surprise Dad at school with lunch, set up annual egg dyeing date with Cindy, call the Stanford Theater to see if the recent fire closed them for a while, write one of two dissertation-lenth emails to the gals in my Bible study/book club.
Recently, our group finished with Lauren Winner's Girl Meets God . It was a re-read for me, and I loved it the first time. I pull the book from where it fell to the floor of my Jeep, was crushed by a bag of groceries. As I unfold the crease in the cover, I flip through the pages and see how many times I underlined thoughts and phrases, how many notes I scribbled in the margins.
Ms. Winner converted to Orthodox Judaism when she was in high school, but converted to Evangelical Christianity when she left for graduate school in Oxford, England. Girl Meets God is her testimony. She is booky, witty, self-deprecating, descriptive, observant and willing to share. I like her.
And I know that many would find her second conversion interesting, especially given how much she had adored the ritualism of Orthodoxy as a Jew. The woman swam in the Torah and the Old Testament, "living inside these texts like clothes." Upon leaving that faith for Christianity, she was suddenly outside of that specific type of religiosity. Less rules about the day to day. Less structure. Less rubric.
However, I believe if asked, Ms. Winner would say that her religion today, after being won over by "that carpenter," is more alive and ingrained than her interlude with Judaism ever was.
The mammoth insurance policy has been pulled apart, inspected, catalogued and pieced back together. The thing rests at the very edge of my desk with a colorful summary on top. My summary is neat and perfect, an easily studied table, blues and purples keeping the eye entertained. But sitting atop of the sad, sagging policy, all flags and highlighting and Frankenstein stitches, it's like I'm covering a cadaver with an Amish quilt.
My eyes are spinning in opposite directions. Mom tells me to take a break from the project. I discover that after doing any one thing for six straight hours, any other thing feels like a joy. This is how I explain my jubilance at being able to email endorsements to my clients. Piece of cake.
I focus again, landing on a set of sticky notes tacked to the wall above my desk. Names. People I know... Cindy/EMI, Amy/Job, Jonathan/Knee, Michelle's Grandpa/Surgery, Julie/Mustangs . People I don't... Sandra Cantu's Family, Homeless in Livermore, Amanda E. Ward/New Book, Rochanne/Sinking Ship .
For a few seconds I'm thinking about these people. My thoughts are rapid and run together, they spin out of my mind like a tornado. I cover these and then the momentum carries me further... Earthquake in Italy, Binghampton, Joey/Oakland PD, Daniel/Marines, Ted/Life, Jacob/Life . There is no way I can control all of these pleas. Everything is dire. Everything includes blood or stress or fear or uncertainty. And isn't that the way life goes these days?
I consider myself an eloquent person, but when it comes to praying, my latest philosophy is that letting exhaustion take over is the perfect surrender. God knows what I want to say; He knows what must and will happen; He is the eloquent one.
Flicking my right blinker on, I check my blind spot and stifle my irritation as a blue convertible zooms up and refuses to let me in. But I remind myself that home will be there 30 seconds later that I want to arrive, too. The red pickup behind the convertible is kinder and I slide onto the off ramp and then swirl onto Vasco and push for home.
In my study, I can click the keys on my computer like the happiest of tap dances. The basketball dribbles outside and my neighbor's little boy makes his layup. Disney meows for my lap. Jonathan hoists the newest addition to my little sanctuary and affixes it to the ceiling. I write. I think and I think. Words come from me, from the depths of a spring of something which is there by the grace of a God I follow religiously. I fail constantly, but even in my failure I am not defeated.
Dear God, don't let me fall apart. You've held me close to you. And I have turned away in search for answers I can't understand. They say that I can move the mountains and send them falling to the sea. They say that I can walk on water, if I would follow and believe... with faith like a child. -- Like a Child, Love Song for a Savior, Jars of Clay