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God's First Presence Given to Me
I met death and God the same day. I was eleven or twelve and it was a humid summer day in Houston, Texas. The only distinct memory I have is one of me stalking out the front door of the house. I was livid, raging, and cursing. I didn’t just stalk out, I slammed through the front door hard enough to loosen it from its hinges.
The day was bright, the sky blue with white puffs of clouds slowly moving across the landscape below. I was so mad I was fighting back tears and knowing I had damaged the door took that angering and heaped the fear of retribution on top of it. Singled out again, excluded for no reason other than I was a boy. My two sisters one older and one younger once again curried favor. They were gloating and giggling while I was to remain home so my father would not come home to an empty house.
I was angry about the injustice created by my father’s patriarchal system and afraid of the beating to come when the damage to the front door was discovered. I was humiliated by the gloating and prideful giggling by my sisters and despondent over the tired old feeling of being inadequate and inconsequential in a family that viewed me as a useless appendage with no known value yet not worthy of even the effort of removal.
I was all ready under the threat of punishment by my father for talking back to my mother, so she was uninterested in entertaining a discussion at that point of taking me along just for the ride with them; I was given no expression for my rage. The door was broken and the thought of breaking something else wasn’t conceivable. She was angry, my sisters were laughing and my father tolerated no dissension. The black void of hopelessness and frustration welled up in me as I crossed the street to the front porch of the vacant house, the extreme limit of my boundary just defined by one of the four nemeses in my life.
My thoughts were incoherent and I was choking on the hysteria rising in my throat. As I was wiping the frenzied tears rolling down my cheeks I looked up at the sky and cursed God. I cursed even more violently than my Marine Corp. fighter pilot father in the heat of battle. I raged at God swearing and ranting, swinging my fists in the air and back against myself. I dared him do more. This was shit. Give it your all. Black faced, lips swollen, eyes red, hair a muss, I lashed and berated, I censured and condemned.
My tears were drying, my frustrations venting and as I began to gain a little control over my discontinuous thoughts, I slowed beating myself and kicking the low fence running around the front porch of the house. Sitting with my back against the front door, my fists still clenched, hating everything my eyes fell on, my sisters and mother walked out the front door of our house across the street. I remember thinking how good it felt to hate and mentally vaporized each of the three whores as they walked over to the car in the driveway.
My sisters fought and yelled over the front seat, the little one getting in the back, my mother got in behind the wheel, started the car, put it in reverse and drove over my cat. The only sentient being I had in my life, the only living breathing thing to which I had some kind of connection. Bump and it was gone. Bump and eleven years of companionship was history, just a little bump.
I wasn’t particularly religious at the time. But my father’s family was a big name in the Southern Baptist Church. His parents were missionaries in China in the early 1900’s. He was born there. Two sisters and a brother were missionaries in China and Japan and South America. The brother went on to become a heavyweight at Baylor College. Many extended family members went to Baylor, some taught there. Others helped build churches and congregations around Texas.
When we moved to Houston, Texas a few years before, my father started dragging us to church. Up to that point, we had our lightweight, middleclass; Marine fighter pilot’s version of “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” drilled into us by the family First Sergeant, my mother, ever since my sisters and I could talk. And of course, the standard issue short grace before dinner. Breakfast and lunch were far too busy and discoordinated for our busy parents to worry about grace there.
However, our lives with father were not particularly Christ like or religious except in the sense that a hierarchy was imposed with, essentially, my father at the top. Occasionally, this Christian God would be brought in as the boss, in the same way that the chaos and fear of battle would force hard ass marines to start bartering for help and mercy. However, Dad like his dad before was a puritanical, guilt and shame filled and frustrated authoritarian who used that structure to justify his every action taken in heat or self-doubt.
Our folks liked to drill the Christian sense of guilt and shame into us taught to them by well-intentioned folks as well. By the time I got over the shock of watching my mother run over my cat in the driveway, a great dark cloud of both guilt and shame settled over me. It stayed there for years and years, long after I finished burying my companion in my back yard.
My father came home and I suffered the lashes for the broken door in silence, not to mention the blame (by angering my mother) for causing the death of my cat from first her, then him and then my sisters who readily supported that truth. I began feeling that it was the least I deserved for disrespecting God Almighty the way I did. Though, I began wondering about this time, about all this love flowing around from God, my parents, my sisters, et. al.. I wasn’t sure how much more of this love I could survive from anybody.
So, the crack which had been forming slowly through my childhood and now adolescence widened and grew into a fissure. The nagging questions which I used to discuss with my companion, now had no one with whom to entertain resolution. And adding to that vacant hole which was the memory of a childhood was a burning ember of the afternoon’s memory.
I realize now that if it wasn’t before this it was definitely after this experience that I began to live a life of separation. I no longer felt if indeed I had before this, any kind of a bond between either of my parents, either of my sisters, God, or any other living breathing person. The upside of this was my unconscious decision to be a traveler and a mystic with no desire to own things or allow others to be an intimate part of my life. When Simon and Garfunkel’s song, I Am A Rock, hit the radio I purchased the album for that one song and it became a personal anthem well into middle age.
I quickly seemed to develop, or begin paying attention to, what people talked about as psychic abilities. It was far more than becoming overly aware of body language or tone of voice. I intentionally began focusing on bits and pieces of these kinds of experiences and by high school had become quite adept at bringing to mind any kind of information I felt pressed upon needing. From what other people were motivated by in their thoughts when interacting with me to becoming highly skilled in working with animals. I discovered I needn’t study outside of school hours if I paid attention to the general focus of the teacher in class. On test day, be it essay or multiple choice, I “knew” the answer. I made Honor Roll consistently. My “friends” marveled.
I never took it for granted. Because I knew I was unprepared either academically or in a social situation, I lived with a constant level of anxiety of being wrong, rejected. But which then allowed me to tap into whatever this thing was that always provided an answer, this deep well of ;“knowledge” into which I could throw a bucket, raise it, but not knowing if it was foul and poisonous until bringing it to my lips, drinking some and survive again the pressures of my island.
Everything then became an abstract. There was nothing real, nothing solid in my world. Not God, friends, school, dates. Not time, nor space. Flying and traveling almost 20,000 miles a year, at 30,000 feet it was just as easy to imagine it took so many hours to get some place, or so many places to pass some time. The beauty of it is that as Rumi points out, because I had no set beliefs to hang onto, it was easy to look wherever I was drawn to for that question, for that answer:
Mystery of the King
You haven’t dared yet lose faith, so how can faith grow in you?
You haven’t dared yet risk your heart, to what can you see of reality?
You’re obsessed, still! with the carnal screams of your life.
How do you hope to step into the Mystery of the King?
You are a sea of gnosis hidden in a drop of dew,
You are a whole universe hidden in a sack of blood.
What are all this world’s pleasures and joys
That you keep grasping at them to make you alive?
Does the sun borrow light from a mote of dust?
Does Venus look for wine from a cracked jug?
- Jalal-ud-Din Rumi
(Translated by Andrew Harvey from A Year of Rumi)