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Emblem 096: The devil’s bargain

A man is approached by the Devil, who says to him, “You know the drill: three wishes for your soul. Anything you want, right now, in exchange for something you’re pretty sure doesn’t exist. What do you say?” The man thinks about it.

He’s seen every episode of The Twilight Zone many times. And if Rod Serling has taught him anything it’s that, no, you can’t have what you wish for. Something will screw it up, and that something will turn out to be the wish itself.

But why?

He thinks that wishes are about not accepting the way things are—“I wish this was different than it really is.” It’s as if when you wish something was different, you’ve set yourself in opposition to it. You’ve made yourself its enemy. And it returns the compliment.

Really what the man wants—behind the obvious things like lots of money, a big house and the fastest car in the world—is not to die. Ever. He can just imagine how that one might backfire. He’d make the wish and then realize he was actually a robot, or a department store mannequin, or a ventriloquist’s dummy. Something that shows you that you were better off before you started. As if the way things are right now is exactly the way he would wish they were, once his wishes were granted. As if all his wishes are already true, without him making any.

For some reason the man finds this very moving. He clasps the Devil’s hands in his. “Thank you,” he says, tears in his eyes. “Thank you so much. I won’t forget this.” He goes on his way into a world transformed.

The Devil isn’t used to such a response. He’s not sure what to do now. Maybe take the rest of the day off?

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Emblem 086: Frankenstein versus the Wolfman

No, I don’t want to hear about your pain. Your pain is nothing. My pain is important. You need to understand about my pain. Why can’t you understand this?

Don’t give me that shit about you have a history of suffering. I’m the one with the history of suffering. A long history. And I’m so tired of it.

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Emblem 088: The book

You stop at a newsstand or bookstore or library. And browsing you find just the book you’ve been looking for, the one that has in it exactly what you need in this time of your life, that will light your way. You take it home. Where it soon becomes clear that no, it isn’t what you thought—it’s all right in its way, interesting even, but just a book. Not the book.

But for that moment when you first browsed and skimmed you held exactly what you needed. As if treasure buried down in the dark cellar had been brought up and scattered in front of you, sparkling at your feet, lighting the way.

And if before you had read the book, you sat down and wrote as much of it as you could, wrote what you knew you’d find when you began reading, what then? Some of the passages would be vague, yes, but others present in surprisingly crisp detail. What would that book be about? And who is its author?

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Emblem 087: Inside and out are different

In the middle of noise there is silence.

In the middle of the solid object is empty space.

In the middle of activity, stillness.

In distress, peace.

In grief, comfort.

In loss, discovery.

In ending, beginning.

In crowds, solitude.

In solitude, companionship.

In less, more.

In the toddler, the man.

In the old woman, the young girl.

In poverty, abundance.

In the feast, famine.

In ecstasy, fear.

In wood, fire.

In lead, a dove.

In fate, freedom.

In that, this, and in this, the mystery.

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Emblem 067: Gratitude

It’s such bullshit. Everything I have I’ve earned. Other people haven’t had to work a day in their lives and they have things I’ll never have.

What is it I’m supposed to be grateful for? That my pain isn’t worse? That whoever keyed my car didn’t decide to smash the window while they were at it? That although I hate my job I have a job?

That I have both my legs, that soldiers don’t break down my door in the middle of the night and shoot everyone, that even though this is the city I can hear a mockingbird and he reminds me that the planet isn’t beyond repair, that it’s not too late? That I’m alive and suddenly aware of that while it’s still true?

My God, if I become grateful for my life where will it end?

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Emblem 083: The emptiness

In the center of hell is emptiness. It’s what hell accumulated around. Oddly enough all that torment and suffering is so you don’t go wandering into the emptiness by accident. Or if you do, the suffering acts like one of those ladders at the side of a swimming pool. This way out.

Perhaps you’ve fallen into it once or twice yourself? In which case you know what it feels like—nothing at all. Very unpleasant to anyone who exists. Compared to that, any sense of fear or hopelessness or shame is a step up. At least you’re feeling something.

Meanwhile most of us live lives that keep us out of hell as much of the time as possible. We lead good lives, or really good lives of total over-accomplishment, or find a compulsive behavior that can carry us faithfully, or mix and match. Our lives keep us out of hell—most of the time—the way hell keeps us out of the emptiness: most of the time.

And if you deliberately (and carefully) seek out the emptiness and begin sitting with it, what then? The old legends say that when this occurs hell loses much of its purpose and downsizes considerably. Drinking becomes less charming, as does overwork. And the terrible drive to be the person people want to be with eases up, and the one you really are comes forward to say hello and enjoy the cool evening breeze.

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Emblem 045: The tree

This is that tree you may have heard about. The one that grows through the middle of everything—heaven, hell and here so it all turns together on the same axis.

Sometimes it’s a fountain, though, and rises from what you can’t see up into what’s right in plain sight. They used to call it the fountain of youth, or the water of life. You knew when you were getting closer to it because things became more interesting.

At other times it’s a relationship with someone whom you haven’t met—have you? Someone who makes you feel good. So good that you’d go anywhere to meet them, anywhere to stay with them.

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