Joe kicks at the dust on the road with the tip of his right shoe in disgust. A soft pillar of fine earth rises quickly and then floats back lazily down. Some of the dust comes to rest on the cuffs of his Levi’s, more on the top of his runners as he walks slowly up the dirt logging road that runs along side of St. Mary’s Creek, just outside of Kimberley, B.C.
The way Joe sees it; someone owes him an explanation, about life in general and about his in particular. And, they owe it to him today, right now. There are too many things happening in his life that he doesn’t understand and it’s just not right.
Joe is forty-three years old, five foot seven and 158 pounds right out of the shower. He’s not muscular or wry, just kinda thin. His brown hair is just that, brown, nothing else and is beginning to recede beyond his temples (Like his Dads’ did about this time in his life.).
His light blue almond shaped eyes set below a medium brow and above high cheekbones distinguishes his face. His eyebrows are fine, like the rest of his hair and just as thinly spaced. His lips are average and surround a medium sized mouth and above a cleft chin (A deep cleft.). Besides his running shoes and Levi’s Joe is wearing an older, white golf shirt, one of those with the alligator above the pocket. The top three buttons are undone and the collar curls under itself. It’s a hot August day, the 17th day, just after one p.m. Joe has both hands shoved into his back pockets as he goes.
The road he walks on is both heavily wooded and heavily logged (a contradiction until you’ve seen it) and right beside it is the creek. Sometimes the two separate, out of view of each other, but, never for long. St. Mary’s Creek is a fast flowing creek, even in summer that narrows and widens twists and turns at will, following deadfalls and the new banks carved by the loggers and the old by nature. Sometimes the road crosses the creek over side-less log bridges and sometimes a spur road just goes right through the creek, never minding to bridge it, just goes right through it in a rude sort of way. There are rainbow trout in the creek, some of them over a pound in size, which you’d never guess the creek could hold just by looking at it. Joe once caught an eighteen-inch rainbow out of one of the pools formed by a deadfall. Surprised the hell out of him, it did. The road is one of the main ones the logging company has been using for years and is deeply rutted and wash boarded despite the road crews constantly working to keep it up. With this August heat, those ruts fill with fine, fine dirt up to a couple of inches deep that varies from doe colored to chocolate brown, intermingled with the bark and bits and pieces of wood from the logged trees that fell off the trucks. Being a Saturday, there are no trucks running and only occasionally does Joe have to move to the side of the road as some pickup or another comes by with fisherman or families on their way to St. Mary’s Lake or some other spot high in the mountains that surround Kimberley. Mainly, the road is empty which suits Joe just fine as he has some serious talking to do with the Man before darkness comes and forces him to go back to the house in town that is home.
“You and I are going to talk.” Joe begins his conversation by looking straight ahead at the road in front of him. Once in a while he’ll look up at the puffy white clouds that sit in a baby blue blanket of a sky. “And we must start now because it is all too confusing for me anymore and I want some answers.”
Joe walks on a little bit, looking inward and straight ahead, too. He continues.
“Why do I have to die? I mean, why did you give me, us, mankind, the ability to think, to speak, to reason and to know that we are alive and then make it so we die? Isn’t this the most insidious form of behavior there is?” He pauses to give Him time to take this in. “Aren’t you the benevolent one?” All the while Joe walks. “Every religion I know of teaches that their God is the ‘knower of all’, the ‘one most high’, the ‘enlightened one’ and ‘the lover of man’.” Joe‘s hands come out of his back pockets now as he uses them to ask questions, waving them here, pointing them there, gestures of all kinds. He continues.
“And then, then you kill us. One way or another, you kill us. We may be the ones wielding the knife at each other or shooting or neglecting one another, but, you are responsible because you created death.” Joe looks up at one of the white puffs of cloud and speaks to it as if it were a microphone, a conduit for his conversation with Him. “And, I don’t like it, it’s just not fair. That’s not loving, that’s cruel. Sometimes I think I would prefer being like the rest of your creations, ignorant of fate; the price of knowledge seems too high some days.”
Joe looks back at the road and rest his hands on his hips. “Am I going too fast?” He glances up, “Getting ahead of myself here?” he asks. “Maybe we should start with something a little easier, something you should be able to answer me… Who are you? All right, you’re GOD, your YAHWEH, you’re JEHOVAH, you’re BUDDHA, you’ve got more names and more guises than any Hollywood actor I’ve ever heard of, but, just who are you, really?” Joe pauses for a few seconds while continuing his slow pace up the road. “Do you really exist or are you the salve for our lives, justification for death so we don’t fear it? Every one of you, every one, offers us something for when we die a promise of continuance, a reason not to be afraid of the finality of creation, the elusive hope of life everlasting.”
Joe shuffles to a stop and looks around for a place to sit. It is hot now, the hottest part of the day and he wants a little respite from it while he and the great one continue their dialogue. “Well”, Joe continues. Looking left, north, he sees a couple of fallen logs, a stump or two in amongst new trees and, on the right, is the creek and some late flowering weeds that are scattered on the banks of the creek. The bank is a couple of feet higher than the water here. The dirt is a gray color and where he would sit is mostly bare of those aforementioned weeds. Joe decides to sit on the bank and put his feet into the water. He walks the fifteen feet or so to the edge of the creek and sets himself down, moving his buttocks from side to side, to get comfortable. He takes his runners off and slips his bare feet into the cold waters. Joe glances up and down the creek just to see what’s there, to familiarize himself with his new podium. He puts his hands in his lap, letting them sit there, loosely, ready to punctuate a point or to ask why at a moment’s notice.
“Where were we?” He squints his left eye and looks up at those meandering clouds. “Oh, yeah.” he says, lightly shaking his head in affirmation of what he has remembered. “This placebo you offer us of ‘life everlasting’ or ‘reincarnation’ or whatever you’re offering us so we’re not afraid of dying. And who you are.”
Joe’s in no hurry, he picks up a small smooth stone, absentmindedly and tosses it up in his right hand a few inches, catching it a few times while thinking of his next questions and while waiting for His answers.
He begins again. “If you really exist and are the ‘good’ god we keep telling ourselves that you are, then why do you do these things?”
Joe tosses the stone into the creek, shattering the reflections in its’ smooth, flowing waters.
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know, Joe.”
Joe looks up across the creek and sees Him. Him is coming out from some young pine and tamarack dressed in a raw caftan that is tied tightly at His waist. He is walking to the bank opposite Joe. Joe can’t tell us what He looks like because He looks like no one and all. He looks like Joe, like you and like me. Joe takes this in for a few minutes, very nonplussed and much more relaxed than he should be under the circumstances.
“You don’t know?”
“That’s not good enough. Not by a long shot. You’re god-damned God, for Christ’s sake!”
“And Buddha, and Jehovah and all the others you mentioned, I know.” he says wearily.
“Then how can you say, “I don’t know?”” Joe’s aggravation is evident. On top of that, he is puzzled as to why he is not showing Him the respect and awe he was taught to have and that he should have when dealing with Him.
“I can’t, won’t, answer most of your questions, some, maybe. I will listen though.”
Joe considers this for a few minutes, looking into the water as it glides by, sunlight dancing off the ripples where roots of trees have intruded into the creek. Joe looks up at Him, sitting down now on the opposite bank from Joe, about twelve feet away and Joe nods his head once, saying,
“But you’ll listen?”
That seems to be okay with Joe.
“Okay. I’ve been having a lot of trouble lately with the way things are, I think you heard me say this?”
“I’ve asked who you are. I’ve asked why we die. Okay.” Joe fidgets for a minute, looking alternately at the water and then at Him, not sure how to proceed. He decides, “Let’s go for something a little more personal… a little easier for you, perhaps. Why is it that man and woman have so many problems loving each other these days? Why do we hurt each other? If you get down to physical basics, the reason for man and woman is to procreate, to continue the species, right?”
“We need each other to survive. So, here’s what puzzles me:
A lot of species mate for life, a lot don’t. I’ve been taught that man does, mate for life that is. More and more we break up, we divorce, we cease to pair.” Joe pauses, raises his butt and places both hands under them, one at a time in a side-to-side motion before continuing. “And I’m not sure why. That bothers me because it’s not right. Is the fault our time, I wonder or, the time of the century? Have we gotten too far ahead of ourselves, ignoring the basics in favor of the comforts, of success, or achievement? Have we raced so far ahead, advanced our technology so quickly that we’ve forgotten what is important, what is love, hope and forgiveness, helping each other rather than threatening and killing? I’m so confused about what the male role is anymore. It used to be that as the physically stronger of the two, we males hunted and protected our family, provided what was required to survive. Not now. Now there’s women’s’ lib, gay rights, animal rights, you name it and there is someone out there espousing or protecting it.
There are so many rights out there that it seems you can’t help but come afoul of one or more of them on any given day. I don’t want to be negative, I want to feel good about being human first, man second and I can’t ‘cause I don’t know who I am or what I should be doing half the time. Sometimes I’m afraid to open doors for women for fear of patronizing them while other times I’ve come to expect that they have to share what I was taught were male ways, things such as paying for dinner out or “making” the first move. I find myself afraid to be decisive because I’ll be called a male chauvinist pig, or worst yet, that I am attempting a ‘date rape’. So, when I’m not, I get labeled indecisive and wimpy. I look at my life and I can’t help but ask, “What’s wrong with this picture?” Men and women still need each other to reproduce, sometimes, somehow, but we, and I mean both women and men, are so shell-shocked over our failures with each other that after the first, second or third divorce/separation we just don’t trust one another. In the last century, right up to about the 30’s and 40’s, people didn’t get divorced as much as we do now. It seems to me that it is easier for us to say, screw it’ and get a divorce then it is to solve the problem that leads to our wanting to jump ship. Do we have more problems today than our grandparents did?”
“No. Different problems, but not more.” He answers.
“What’s the difference between the problems now and then?” Joe asks himself, forgetting about Him. “Is it that the problems of one hundred years ago were more immediate, more life-threatening in a literal sense? I think women were definitely treated as lesser than men, by men, and that is and was wrong. If given the opportunity then, would more women have divorced their husbands? Do men cheat on their wives more today than then? Wasn’t there more honor then? I don’t see honor today. I doubt that very many people know what it is, much less care for it. Another thing we seem to be lacking is self-respect. If problems were different, but not more, then, what can we do to save ourselves, our families and our lovers?”
He watches Joe.
“Why?” and Joe is silent. For all of us, I think. The creek continues its’ way, He looks at Joe and feels the weight. Time passes, fifteen, twenty minutes before Joe visibly shakes himself and continues on as if he had not paused. Questioning. Some questions have pauses, some come rapid fire and are accusatory.
“And death. Why are we so scared? Why am I so scared? It is no different dying today than it was then, although people certainly died earlier then. Was it easier to die in that when you suffered a disease it was a foregone conclusion that that was it? Was death, and therefore life, more intimate then? Was it more necessary to embrace death as part of life in 1891 than in 2011? It must have been. Does that make living easier knowing death as a partner to life, as it surely must have been during that time? So, if that is true, what do I do now? Why do I fear dying and why have you told us there is an afterlife and is there an afterlife? Why don’t I believe you? Do the animals go into this afterlife? I think not. I’m afraid we just die and that is it; no more breathing – laughing – loving – feeling, just, no more…
He says and does nothing, just looks at Joe.
Joe gets up from the bank of the creek now and reaches his arms over his head, shutting his eyes and does a stretch to the heavens that you can tell feels so good. He lifts his legs slowly, one and then the other, to bring back the circulation. Joe thinks about moving on, looks at his watch, seeing he’s been there for just about an hour, thinks better of it and sits down. He’s not through.
After he is comfortably settled in again, he asks, “Why is there pain? Oh, I know why we have physical pain, that’s our body’s way of telling us how badly we are injured, where we’re hurt and to do something about it. No, I’m talking about the emotional hurt of losing someone or sometimes, something. What is the purpose of that? God, I can’t fathom the ‘good’ of that pain. If you’re so good, why do you do this to us?” Joe cries, softly, as each hurt he has suffered is made new again through remembrance. “I remember my son being physically hurt and how I bore his pain as he cried out that, “it hurts, daddy, it hurts, please stop the hurt, daddy, please stop the hurt…” Why do we have that pain?
He doesn’t say.
“I’m divorced, did I tell you?” Joe asks.
“I didn’t really want to be and it wasn’t my idea. It hurt too. Really hurt. And I miss my kids. We have three, you know? Cathy, Jason and Jacquie.” Joe says to himself, looking into, but not at the water, his hands clasping and unclasping, eyes empty and full at the same time. “I’ve never known such hurt, that I could ache so much. God?..” Joe looks at Him. He is crying. Joe doesn’t notice.
“Have you ever been alone? Really, really alone? When there was no one, no one you could turn to, to help you? I have. That hurts too. It was right after the divorce, a couple of years after and things weren’t going right. Everything I touched seemed to turn to shit. I was seeped in despair and I was afraid. Sometimes I still am. My children were with their mother and didn’t seem to care. My family never was and I had no one to love as a man and woman should,” Joe looks at Him, “that hurt.”
It is almost 3 PM and shadows are changing directions as the sun travels overhead. He and Joe sit there looking at the creek flow by, the swirls, the eddies, uncaring and yet with purpose.
“Another time”, Joe begins, “I was without a home. Really, no home, no money and no hope. Do you know what that is like? Do you know what a failure that is? God, what is the purpose of that pain? To not know how you will find food, where you will sleep. How can you maintain dignity, the only thing that makes life worth living, if you don’t have a home? Oh, I did find a home and my homelessness was only for a few days, but, what days those were. The hurt of that ultimate failure was almost more than I wanted to bear. I love life, God, but I wanted to die. I know why people do that now, commit suicide” comes as a whisper, barely heard.
The wind stirs the treetops, ripples the water where a pool has formed at a bend in the creek. Time is still for a while. It’s after 3 PM and the stand of trees from across the road has thrown their shadows towards Joe and Him. Joe looks at Him to see what effect this is having. He can’t tell. He sits there with his head down, shoulders too so Joe can’t see.
Joe decides to continue. “War. The shedding of life for an ideal, for land, for country and always for you, God. Always we invoke your name.” Joe picks some more stones, about four of them and with his right hand he squeezes them, moving them back and forth in the palm of his hand. He looks up at the treetops and back to the creek, keeping his voice even, reasoned, as he continues, “There is only one time, only one reason for killing and none for war. I would kill to protect my family from harm, danger. Unfortunately, people, we are not prone to acting rationally and we attack and kill each other over territory either to steal it or protect it, for righting alleged wrongs and for many other reasons that seem right at the time. Or, we are told is right at the time and we believe. We steal each other’s freedom. We put our neighbors under our jurisdiction ‘for their own good’ or without any justification at all, just because… I would fight if someone tried to imprison me or my family, for I love my personal freedom.”
Joe looks to him, “Why do you allow this?” he asks.
He looks at Him who is now She and She, too, looks like Joe and you and me, like us all. She is exasperated, not with Joe, with us.
She looks at Joe/You/Me and says, “Joe, I am you, I am everyone and I come in and out of existence as you all want. I am no more than a mirror, no less an ideal.” As She talks, Joe sees She is changing, colors, sizes, shape and sex as if to emphasis His/Her point.
Joe shivers. He doesn’t speak, enough has been said. He notices it is getting late; time to go home for the sun is now resting at the tops of the pines and tamaracks. So he takes his feet out of the cold waters, feet white and wrinkled, and puts his runners back on. He gets up, dusts the seat of his pants with both hands, slowly. He looks away from God and, instead, looks up and downstream, taking his time, no hurry here. He flexes his knees by lifting his feet off the ground, listening to them pop. Turning his back to the stream he walks to the road where he stops and without looking back says simply, “Okay”.
He kicks at the dust on the road with the tip of his right shoe in disgust.