It’s 8/28 again, but this time there’s no cancer. Instead of imagining my face without eyebrows I am cuddling my fourth miracle, Nell Garden. We’re resting on wooden patio furniture under the big apple tree while her three siblings run naked through the sprinklers. Tomato fetuses run down their chins and chests, water splatters on the pumpkin leaves sending powdery mildew spores up into the sunlight, and bits of sod have begun to brown.
It’s perfect. Nothing missing, nothing needed—what I imagine Eden felt like, but with less serpents.
Four babies, in four years. All healthy. All here. How? What did I do right? I feel like I did so much wrong…
A voice gently rumbles from behind the trellised beans.
“No Sweetie, there is no such thing as right and wrong. Only what is.” The Lion saunters over.
“Hi!” I smile and scoot over. S/He opts for the grass because my patio furniture is janky.
“The metrics you silly kiddos use don’t apply to Me. I don’t need to see the NICU or the abuse, I don’t even see the glory of nudie sprinkler time. I just see Love, or the lack of Love. It is My first, second, and third language.
“Imagine a color wheel, or a spectrum. Each one of you is made up of certain ratios of those hues. Some people have more pink, others more blue. In the Garden, when I scooped up that mud and molded Adam, the exact amounts, identities, affinities, and aversions were barely visible. It was his inherent goodness that made me smile, not his skin color or stance on the death penalty.
“Now imagine each color represents a characteristic. Hitler probably had a lot more of several different colors than Mother Teresa had. RuPaul’s maybe looked a little more sparkly than Abe Lincoln’s. You’re all so different, and so perfect to Me.”
“But what about our behavior affecting Your Shalom,Your perfect peace? We may be perfect to You, but we also grieve You and make You cry.”
“Yes, that is true.” S/He repositions a hind leg. “When you act outside of Love I break and roar and curse.”
“Love seems so subjective. How can we know for sure what is loving and what isn’t? Especially when religious texts makes so many conflicting statements on right and wrong?”
“Well that’s why I’ve put a little piece of Me inside each of you. You don’t get to assume or judge another’s Next Loving Step. How could you intuit what I’ve done in another’s soul? Imagine what our world would resemble if each of you remembered your divinity, keeping a constant awareness of your own Next Loving Step?!”
I gaze down at Nell slurping her bottle.
“But what about murder, terrorism, molestation? Those are never loving steps. Can’t I condemn those people?”
“Nope. Wounded, not wicked. Remember? Unloving, not unloved.”
He can sense my agitation.
“You know I’ve seen your secrets, your ‘un-love.’ Was causing your son to stay in the NICU not an act of abuse? Did you not victimize your own flesh and blood? When you prayed for stage 4 colon cancer to root inside that one woman, do you think it translated any different from murder in My native tongue? You may never have slept with another man while married to David, but your heart and mind and cell phone betrayed him.
“I’ve felt the heat of your hot rage, it’s the same heat that I felt near King Nebuchadnezzar when he threw those boys into the fire. You may not have thrown people into fire, but you have devoured hearts with the shaming flames from your tongue.
“When you keep silent at the expense of your black and brown siblings all I see is KKK.
“And as for terrorism, causing others to feel intense amounts of fear. The other day, when you chased Lucy up the stairs with your red eyes and foaming mouth, she was as afraid in that moment as anybody who has been captured by the Taliban. I saw her heart, and I’ve seen the hearts of people strapped to chairs in dark, sandy rooms—identical, if only for a moment.
“You, my love, are a terrorist, too. You’ve victimized and abused and murdered with the best—or worst— of them. How many pieces of clothing have you purchased that were sewn by the tiny hands of little girls like your own? Are you any better than the slave traders of old? Every time you purchase furniture and food that was grown in a way that hurts my earth I could just call you Exxon-Mobile.
“Do you see what I am saying here, Sweetie?
“You’re all the same, just with different blends of colored clays & different types of wounds. I don’t care to see any of the glitter in RuPaul or the grays in Van Gogh. Personal preferences, politics, orientations, citizenships, pre-existing conditions, felonies, infidelities, report cards, years married, security clearances, religious affiliations—the colors—they don’t interest me as much as the Love does.”
“But I thought You knew the number of hairs on my head? I like believing that I matter to You.”
“I do know how many hairs your scalp contains, 102,271 as of five minutes ago. But I don’t care about that, unless it has something to do with Love, in which case it’d be impossible for me to ignore it. I am Love, rememeber? I cannot go against my nature. Here, I want you to see something. Look under My mane.”
I lay Nell on the big quilt and walk over to the Lion. His long shaggy hair feels like conditioned hay. Pulling & parting I begin to see names tattooed on the flesh of Love incarnate.
“Where am I?” As I move across His body I see all the names of every human ever, even Rumplestiltskin is there, just under that fluffy left ear.
Robert E. Lee.
“Here I am! Right next to Genghis Khan and Hugh Hefner. Okay, so we’re all here. But how do I know what is right and wrong?”
“Ah ah ah.” S/He walks over to the roses and takes a sniff.
“Sorry, what is loving and what is not. How do I know what my Next Loving Step is?”
“You know the answer to that, My love.”
“I know it involves getting quiet and calm. You reminded me earlier that I have a little Christ, a little God, a little Love installed somewhere in my hard drive, so I find that.”
You’re destroying my soil, that’s what else. Please get out of the herb garden!
“I stay sober, because when we ingest mind-altering chemicals it inhibits our ability to listen and hear clearly.
“I ask my people for input, because sometimes my Next Loving Step feels a little too hard to make on my own.
“I meditate and pray and strip away as much of my stiff layers as possible so my fresh, juicy true self can breathe for a minute without the strangling effects of ego.
“I read all Your love letters to humanity and ours to You. I read Rohr, Chodron, Herschel, and Macklemore, too.
“I go to Church, or rehab, or AA meetings, or mountains.”
Nell fusses so we take a walk to the green patch at the southwest corner of the yard. The piece of land that feeds my family, fills my vases, and heals my heart after a Goodhardgood day.
“I step out into my garden and remember. You are so pleased of Your Eden, and of Your treasured companions, humans and animals alike.”
The sun bakes the Lion’s back and I wonder if S/He is hot or feels panty like Winnie, the dog, in the blazing Denver afternoons. “I like the heat,” S/He mentions.
How could we have forgotten all of this perfection? Just over there, Adam bites into a juicy tomato and seeds splurt down his growing beard. Eve is watering the dahlia patch with the Still Waters of Psalm 23.
“You loved them so much. You love us all so much!”
S/He tears up. “So much.”
In art classes they showed us how to make the color of mud: combine all the pigments. In my garden, we stare up at the seventeen-foot sunflower towering above and I start to understand that I actually am all of humanity in one human; and God doesn’t hate that. On Tuesday morning I yelled at the kids, but by the afternoon I was as calm as Pope Francis. I am generous and greedy. I am all of it, and none of it. How could God love us based on our actions when we are all the actions wrapped into one bag of flesh and bones?
“So all You care about is whether or not I take each Next Loving Step?”
“What if I fuck it up and forget about love for moment, or for years? What about those who forgot about it for a lifetime?”
“First of all, you cannot fuck it up, you know this. As the Master Gardener, I am also a magician when it comes to compost—nothing is wasted. Second, it’s never too late to remember. Love’s power in you can redirect even the most stubborn trajectory, so just stop, breathe, and decide where the next bit of energy goes.
“And third, one day you can talk to the Buddha about what happens to those who spend lifetimes choosing un-love. Do you think I would remove free will postmortem after getting you all so acquainted to it in your earthy life?”
“Does that mean Hitler came back as a pediatric oncologist to make amends for all the shit he pulled?”
“Hitler got to choose where he wanted to go and he had three options. Eden, Seperation, or back here to help love win, to help unshatter Shalom. And with that, I will leave you to your hangry children.”
Okaayyyy…It’s going to take me years to unravel what God just said in my garden.
“A lifetime.” S/He replies.