Please don’t skip this part. It is the most important section of the story – in fact, it’s what creates the story as a contemporary (Post-contemporary?) story. This, as far as I can tell pre-editing, will be the only collection of words throughout to be self-referential out loud. Meaning, that this work acknowledges itself to be fiction. But it hopes to leave that fictive realm and dwell in the your (the reader’s) world, making an impact that perhaps transcends your world into the outer world. I know that this a monumental task (but so was the decision of Judas to betray his leader). Don’t let this section stop you from reading the following narrative. But, also don’t let it coerce you either (Grace is a gift of love, not a forfeiture of hate). Just let this section be as it is, an ironic detachment from something I hope attaches itself to you.
My original plans for this section were to include all the minute ways that I, as the author of the text, could understand the story in light of the Eucharist as expounded in Christian tradition. But, with the death of the author, and the cataclysm of the story beginning with a death, I decided instead to leave room for the reader to play and toy with the text. Now, don’t get me wrong. I hope that the performance below certainly compels you in a certain way (like I said above), but as a confessional faith inasmuch as it’s a response by you, the reader, to assent (and ascent) to things saturated beyond your own assumptions and base beliefs. It’s a call, like that of Jacob, to become the descendant of God’s people – only wrestling with him and then “giving up” (like God “giving up” his holy spirit).
Now, this might be too religious for some. And that’s okay. That’s the whole point of this section: to lay down my intentions at the foot of the reader and agree that all I can do is point to things that defy common ideas of knowledge in the rationalistic sense of the term.
Care to join me, and the whole host of readers, in embarking the tale of God’s straw?
I began my real adult life when my younger brother crossed the threshold between Life and Death – literally, entering a store similar to Hot Topic, but only shopped at by those weird ironic people that call themselves “the Mementos”, based on the phrase “memento mori” – remember your death. I say ironic because they don’t live their life as if death had any final say, instead, as the middle schoolers used to say: YOLO.
The day he first entered that store was also his last. Later that day, he died to unknown causes at a football practice. When I heard the news, I grabbed my keys and sped to the hospital – getting pulled over and getting an escort there. Now, there were many tears and a chaplain came and explained that God “has a plan” and that he works “mysteriously” through all things. Bull shit. Then, and now.
Like a magician who reveals her secrets, so this chaplain revealed God’s. Even if the trick is shown step-by-step, the aweness is still there in the whole performance. We’re still made fools, and a fool is one who doesn’t believe in God.
I looked her in the eyes when she told me that and nodded once. Maybe, twice. But the fact of the matter is, it didn’t help. I decided to get up and take a walk down the hallway.
“How you doin?”
“Great, thanks!” Y’know, considering my brother just died and his body was laid open for examination. Examination that included tools cutting open his body, pulling out his intestines and turning him inside out. Wow, the physical manifestation of everything I felt.
After I had left the hospital, I was walking down the street full of odors that ordered my nose around from one bakery to the next. The scent of blueberries brought a sense of peace found only the memories of my childhood. And I recalled one specific memory of this river we called God’s Straw.
God’s Straw is one of the few rivers (really a stream) that flows north. As a child, I held maps that showed north was up compared to the words describing all the various places. And so, with the logic of a friend, “If North is up, and God lives up above our heads, then the river is a straw for God to drink the water”. Now that leaves to the imagination what all rivers flowing south are.
This river was home to many stories based on its unique properties (the other being its vivid clarity and almost sunlike presence in the night). It’s been thought of as the river Styx, which means we’re the living dead – seemingly quite true and the normal way of things. But, also it’s been categorized as the river flowing with Water of Life, which means we’re the dying alive – seemingly quite true and the normal way of things.
In this memory, blueberries were the cream of the crop. My brother and I were sent out to pick them along the river with our friend Mary. My brother, close in age to her, had a massive crush on her. This had caused him to try and impress her with whatever means possible, including one-upping his older sibling in berry-pickin skills.
Watch this!” He had darted from bush to bush grabbing handfuls of blueberries. The juices had run down his wrists and arms like blood.
“James, you’re squeezing them too hard!” Mary had said while chasing after him with a napkin, seemingly pulled out of nowhere.
“What?” had echoed throughout the bushes, contra the normal ways of scientific understanding. He hadn’t known that Mary would much prefer quality over quantity – a lesson he later learned when he walked in on her touching another boy from school.
“You’re destroying the berries, idiot! You have to be careful, otherwise your mom can’t bake the pie!”
I had walked over there as if paint were drying, with no interest nor speed.
After we had picked the berries, we decided to take the long way home that included walking through the forest alongside God’s Straw.
“We have to do it with Mary!” my brother had interjected himself into my thoughts.
“The thing we started! Were we become superheroes!”
My brother and I had created a game at God’s Straw were we’d spit into the water, hoping that God would suck it up, thereby making part of us go inside God and become part of him, thus we’d be part God. The thing is –
“Wait, what?!” Mary had interjected herself into my mind now.
“We spit like this,” my brother had spat into his hand. “And we shake hands, say ‘God make us like you’ and then rub them into the dirt underneath the water in the river.”
“Fine.” With a fake, but deeply true smile and sing-song voice, I had called upon the Big Man upstairs and shook their hands.
“God make us like you!”
“God make us like you!”
“God make us like you!”
We had done it! The transformation had begun – we were to be gods amongst men. The living dwelling with the dying. The just in the face of the unjust.
“What’s that?” Mary had pointed to something coming upstream. A white lily.
“The White lily” James had replied.
“What?” My head twisted in confusion. That’d been a new addition to this ritual.
“It’s the sign sent from God. With it comes the knowledge we are born from him and will become like him.” He had been making this up the spot.
“I want it!” Mary had reached to grab it, but my brother had gotten in front of her and used his relatively small body to stop her from grabbing it.
“No, only that one can have it.” He had pointed to me and reached down, still body-checking Mary, and handed it to him.
“Thanks, James.” Hadn’t I been so confused in the moment, both by his story and him giving me the white lily, I would’ve realized that our actions had worked upon him. That, in that moment of giving, he had become a god.
This memory is the first one that popped in my head. Could it have been because I smelt the muffins? Could it have been because I witnessed my brother lying cold in the hospital? Or could it have been because my hands felt the presence of the lily still present in my wallet? Truthfully, to this day, I don’t know which experience triggered my memory to be released from the chains of forgetfulness found in the cave of my mind.
I continued walking down the street, taking a left at the community garden to cut through yards to go back to the river. I wanted to give this sign back to God because I no longer needed it. I saw were it leads – to death like every other object we come across. This white lily no longer embodied the water of life, it represented the abyss of the deepest ocean.
However, as I traversed and crossed from garden to forest, I came to the conclusion that releasing it would do nothing. As a reminder of my brother and the gifts he had given me, it mattered. In the scheme of its existence, however, I didn’t. Therefore, to release it is to allow it to continue its life uninhabited by mine. And, in that moment, I wanted control over something.
I took a step toward the edge of the river and spat. “Drink that and become me, God.”
I heard a noise from upstream and looked to my right. A man, kayaking alone, whistled a tune that I’ve never heard before.
“What’s that,” I yelled, hoping he’d hear me.
“It is what it is, my boy.” The man smiled and continued his way.
I grab ahold of you and we run to God’s Straw.
I just hope that this works.
“I used to come here with my brother, and his pseudo-girlfriend much more than I’ve ever let on. And, that white lily he gave me, I brought here today.”
“You are a version of that white lily, a sign that pulls me in and above. Your beauty ever presently transforming me, challenging me to see it in everything else. All I see, everywhere, is your smile interlaced with the pure white of this lily.” I hand it to you.
“No matter what happens, between the pureness of the original sign announced by that flower, or the ugliness that it turned into the day my brother passed, I will long to strive for you and will always love you.” I get down on one knee.
“This river, a timeless one that flows north and shines in the darkness, connects me to him, and now to you. In the past, in the present, in the future. That white lily held in your hand alone is what proves it to me. That lily, now a sign of my life reborn with you.”
I pull a ring from my pocket.
“Will you marry me?”
You nod and we embrace. You hand the white lily back to me and I toss it back into the river. Our lips meet at the same time it ripples.
The white lily, ever going to my brother through God’s straw.