Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Raking Leaves (a short short)

“Shouldn’t you be in church,” said the woman. She had stopped in the street. Right there in the middle of the road. Just past an intersection. Like no one would ever dare come by my house and move her along. On this public street. Through this neighborhood. The driver-side window slid down and she politely attempted to mend my ways, I guess. In the bright blue sky of a late Sunday morning, I could see big hair, sun glasses, triple chin and bosum that paralleled the window sill. I didn’t mind someone calling to me while I was in my yard or minding my own business. What could she do?

I rake my front yard by hand. The old fashioned way. I sweat and pause and rake some more and will feel the pain later in the day or by tomorrow. I like the sound of my rake on the leaves. I like the color of the leaves against the green grass underneath and on such a fine fall morning like this, I rejoice at the reds of the maples and greens of the oaks against the blue sky. This is no contest between me and the leaves. They’re part of the world and so am I. I don’t have to rake them. They’re welcome to lay in the yard and slowly (very slowly) dissolve. But I kind of like the green, or at least the spotty green. It’s healthy. For my body and my soul.

I am in church, I thought. I didn’t want to make light of her concern nor did I want to open a discussion. I could have just shrugged my shoulders and hoped she would drive off. But I said, “Thank you,” politely, sincerely like I do when the Mormons, the Baptists, or the Witnesses step up on to my stoop, up on my dias, on my pulpit, with their message for me. Appreciated but not likely to cause much action. But, I was in church! My front yard of my own home. Under a clear sky. With leaves of gold and red that tell me autumn is here, winter is near, but spring not 100 days away. (The years goes by much too quickly just when you begin to appreciate the seasons.) The air is warm and the sun is warmer on my face. What more could I ask for?

She failed to see the humor, the irony. Or her instrusion.

“Are you saved,” she asked.

“I hope,” I said. I smiled. Another stock answer to a stock question. I wanted to be innocent again, when people didn’t ask such hard questions and I didn’t have to demure.

How do I know if I was saved? Do I get a card in the mail? I can accept Jesus, that’s a start, in my heart. I can do all the right things say all the right words but they don’t guarantee salvation. I can get close but no cigar. I have heard all the conditions. I have watched all the comings (and goings) and frustrations and satifactions of belonging to the fraternity of saved souls and my natural mind asks questions of how someone who is despicable be saved by mere change of heart or someone who is adored and loved is cut down early without seeming justification. I found myself not wanting to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, not because of the finality, but the inhumanity, in un-naturalness of it.

“You should be in church,” she reiterated. The woman in the sunglasses, driving a mini-van, wasn’t going to give up. Easily.

“I am.” I held my ground, literally. We men like to stand boldly with our rake in the fashion of Leatherstocking and Killdeer. As one against the leaves. “Isn’t this God’s church? Outdoors with this beautiful fall day, colorful leaves, doing labor? How much closer can I get?”

I have read where religions sometimes took on the scope of the landscape. The Greeks had mountains and hills and streams and water so they populated their theology with many gods to match the terrain. Similarly, the Arabs, pretty much stuck with sand and sky, adopted a less populated approach. I wondered, for only a moment since a moment’s wondering was all she was worth, if we were still, not re-inventing, perhaps, rewriting God, to meet our current “terrain.” By race. By wealth. By lifestyle. By politics. If God (and Jesus) are for every person then would every person have their own personal God? Arthur C. Clarke, in 2001:A Space Odyssey, said something that has stayed with me all these years, that there are enough stars in the heavens for all the humans who has lived on earth to have their own private heaven. Or hell. Is there enough God to go around that I can create a checklist for my own personalized God, like my Amazon account?

Is it easier to do little and than to do much? Of course. Like raking leaves with a gas-powered blower instead of using a rake. Maybe our religion goes the same way. It’s easier to do little--let the chips fall where they may--than do to a lot. Unlike Thoreau who would, I think, admonish us for being gluttonous, we seek approval for being fancy and chic. For being lazy? (Despite the cry of “objection” to this claim.) How much difference is there between efficiency and laziness? Before the fall goeth pride? Our accomplishments, the Greeks told us, are in our labors. Our efforts. Our pulling and dragging. Our sweat.

“Jesus saves,” said Ms. Sunglasses-with-Big-Hair. “The weather is unpredictable.” As if she’d discovered a fortune cookie.

Hmph, I thought turning my back on her. So is God.

The tinted window whirled up and then she was gone. The car wheeled away so quietly I didn’t notice I was left with the leaves.


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