“So, Joan,” he begins, leaning an elbow against a quasar. “I’ve got this absolutely fantastic idea.”
But he didn’t speak to Joan directly, did he?
Instead he sent three luminous angels. Saints, really. But at that point in existence, what’s the difference?
She was young. So young.
I remember being young.
It wasn’t the content of the visions that mattered so much.
It was the experience.
The finding of the secret door at the back of the wardrobe and walking into a whole new land.
And realizing that this whole new land was real.
So did she understand what was being said to her?
Go lead a man’s army into battle and win the war for me.
Of course. Of course I will.
It wasn’t the reality of the assignment.
It was that he asked.
And, being young, being asked anything by God is everything.
If not more than everything.
But who, in any novel, in any piece of imagination, would put a teenaged, peasant girl at the head of a man’s army and expect her to win?
She had, in herself, no magical qualities. No superhuman strength. No prodigious understandings.
She just had enthusiasm and willingness.
But, still. Only God could come up with such a plan.
And make it work.
I was enthusiastic and willing once.
When I was young.
Then I wanted to be normal.
That didn’t last very long, really.
And when the walls moved, like on a television game show, to reveal my reality, my world of visions that would not end, I found a new response to God.
I found that my head was made of iron and stone. That instead of lying in his lap and listening to how the universe is all his, is all good, I lowered my ramming head and turned to face him.
You’ll have to get past me with that vision in order to teach me anything.
As though I had any real capacity to understand anything on my own. To resist learning, knowing.
It was there, like the wind.
Go blow somewhere else, I would command.
As the trees bent over to touch their roots.
Youth, trying to grow up and be an adult.
Illusions offer such reassurance, but, in the end, provide no substance.
I got to learn as a young woman, growing into a mother, into an old woman, that I am always wrong.
The force that is God, leaning an elbow against a quasar, and whispering, “Julia, I’ve got this absolutely fabulous idea.”
But half a lifetime ago, I still had my head of iron and stone.
And I’d grown a heart that could rival any substance on Earth for hardness.
Love, he says, picking his teeth with a star beam. That’s your assignment.
But not just any love.
They were the words that brought me to my knees, soaking my core with tears, pleading for the inevitable humiliation and degradation to pass me by without any contact.
I went to India.
Remember to laugh, God said as I waited at the plane’s gate. Or you’ll die.
All my belongings were packed up and stored with a friend who had a string of houses that he was renovating. So he had the room for my furniture. My dishes. My towels.
I returned from India.
Dazed. Wondering where I was, really, and why people wore silk dresses and sat with space between them.
And there was my friend, picking me up at the airport.
We’re getting married, he told me.
After I had buckled my seatbelt.
I’ve told my mother.
Back in Maine?
We hadn’t even dated.
Talked about stuff from time-to-time.
He took me to his house. The one he was working on.
My beautiful curly maple bed had been set up in his bedroom.
It was the only bed available.
So, there I was.
Wondering why the universe was spinning around me.
It could have been God.
Julia, I’ve got this absolutely fabulous idea.
The next morning came. I was not really that rested, but certainly more conscious. Conscious enough to organize my belongings and find a room in a friend’s apartment to sleep in until I got on my feet again.
But, by then, by the morning after the latest great idea, I was pregnant with my son, Nathaniel.
Don’t everyone swoon at once.
Right. The romance of it all.
That’s about as romantic as my life has ever been.
So, Julia, about love….
Years of pleading. Years of silence.
Perhaps it has passed me by.
But then the you-say-tomato-I-say-fried-egg dialog reintroduced the matter, and there was the dripping of the lesson.
The lesson of love.
It was the only time in my life that I could remember actually wishing I could instead study evil. Which seemed to me to be more like a puzzle to be solved. The reach of the evil. The structure. The desperate search in the chaos.
But then I noticed that I, Of All People, began to pay attention to the lesson of love.
The finger that is my brain sometimes began to underline certain concepts and align them with love.
Spiritual warfare = love.
Healing = love.
Prayer = love.
Love isn’t breath.
But it sure seems to control it.
From discovery (you take my breath away) to loss (how do I breathe without you).
It balls its fist and pounds against the heart raising sighs that drill a well to drop the emotion into.
And then there are the periods of no breath.
No breathing at all.
Which can go on for months.
A fading of life.
A refurling of the fronds.
Then and there, while sitting at the bottom of a bottomless puddle of resignation, in a darkness that etches the outline of my aloneness, I caught the vision.
There was love.
Standing firm like a conquering hero.
And things began to drop away from my idea of love.
Clothes and money.
Anger and violence.
Desperation and grasping.
I saw that were I ever to tell someone, I love you, and that person said that he loved me, too, that I would be destroyed.
I even began to posit that that might very well be how one would know he was in love.
Are you completely annihilated? Is there nothing left of you?
Then you are in love.
It was fascinating to behold.
Complete loss of self.
Then and there, there in the center of the lesson, there was life.
In its purest form.
The formation and structuring of life.
The reaching out and touching.
The distinction that is lost, and is reformed as a whole.
A whole, new world.