Harper: In your experience of the world. How do people change?
Mormon Mother: Well it has something to do with God so it's not very nice. God splits the skin with a jagged thumbnail from throat to belly and then plunges a huge filthy hand in. He grabs hold of your bloody tubes, and they slip to evade his grasp but he squeezes hard. He insists. He pulls and pulls till all your innards are yanked out... and the pain! We can't even talk about that. And then he stuffs them back, dirty, tangled... torn. It's up to you to do the stitching.
Harper: And then up you get. And walk around.
Mormon Mother: Just mangled guts pretending.
Harper: Yeah. That's how people change.
In the above scene from Angels in America, Harper, the Valium-addicted wife to a closeted Republican Mormon lawyer, is sitting in the auditorium of the fictional Mormon's Visitor Center in New York City. Her mother in law (played by Meryl Streep), has just walked out in frustration after an argument. Harper, wearing an outfit that's two weeks past needing to be washed and surrounded by bags of potato chips, popcorn, and unhealthy necessities for coping with life's hard times, looks up at the full-size diorama on the stage and asks the pioneer wife statue for advice. Much to her surprise (but not ours), the statue comes to life and trades places with her. Harper starts off with some small talk, and the wife in true plains-person fashion says, "You ain't stupid so don't ask stupid. Ask somethin' for real." Painful as it is, Harper asks the question that truly haunts her. The response she receives, while painful, is honest.
Since getting back from Phoenix, I've had a hard time with things. Even now, sitting in the living room having spent the afternoon watching several episodes of The West Wing, I have a number of things on my mind, the most prevalent of which is the above dialogue.
I've changed. I feel split open, skin jagged and torn, bleeding, dirty. My guts are attached, but I can see them. Part of me is waiting to be turned completely inside-out, but I doubt my transformation would ever be so melodramatic, regardless of how much I might want it to be. As my day as gone on, I've grown more and more restless. I ran some errands this morning. I spent too long waiting at the bank to fill out a couple of pages needed to update our investment account. I've texted, instant messaged, and chatted with a number of friends. I thought about going to the movies, but couldn't decide which one I wanted to see, much less what time I wanted to go. What if someone wanted to hang out while I was away? I've had a lot of time alone the past couple of weeks, and I didn't want to run the risk of more. Alas, I've still spent the day alone.
Thinking that my usual habits and coping mechanisms for dealing with restlessness might work, I searched for a song, any song, with which I could sing along at full volume at the height of my range. Love Goes On by David Phelps was the song I chose. He has always been one of my favorite vocalists, mostly because Nanny loved him so much. The lyrics are as follows:
A shooting star tumbles down, Its flame cannot endure. A scarlet rose withers brown To lose its fragrant lure. The moon illuminates the night To vanish at the dawn. Oh, but love, love goes on.
Fortunes fail and disappear, Like castles in the sand. Power spoils and causes fear, But yields to stronger hands. Fame lasts for a moment, Then, in a moment, it is gone. Oh, but love, love goes on.
Beauty fades, and passion wanes, And faces show their years. Death steals a lover's touch away, But time dries up the tears. Tunes are soon forgotten, And singers lose their song, But love goes on.
A baby Boy, a starlit night, Kings on bended knee. Healing hands giving sight, Then tortured on a tree. A woman sings, rejoicing, "He is risen, He is gone!" Because love, love goes on. Oh, love goes on.
I remember the way I used to sing that song. I remember the passion it invoked within me. I remember tearing up between the chorus and the final verse, letting everything within me surface. I thought maybe today it would have the same impact. I was both disappointed and not, simultaneously. The tears came, but this time with a different emotion, a different revelation.
...I don't know if I believe this anymore...
I'm going into my sixth semester of seminary, and I don't have a fucking clue what I believe about Jesus anymore. I don't know that I can say with certainty that love, the kind we talk about in sermons and bible studies and Sunday school, is really infinite, boundless, unconditional. What if there's a place that love doesn't exist? I'm not talking about hell. I'm talking about here. I don't know that there is ever really anything that does not have both a beginning and an end. And if there is a place where love does not exist, is it because love naturally, ontologically cannot go there, or is it because we've kicked love out, because we've told it to fuck off!? If it's the former, then what do we do? How do we deal with knowing that love has limits? What does this say about us? And if it's the latter, then is there a way to get love to come back, to let love return, to ask love to forgive us?
My innards are on the outside, and I don't know how to take the next step. Do I walk forward with them hanging on the outside, or do I try to stitch myself before progressing? Can I do the stitching, or do I have to rely upon the God who ripped me open in the first place to perform surgery? What should I expect of those around me while I'm undergoing this change, while my guts collect dust and dirt? Do I tell them to keep walking—I'll catch up. Do I ask them to wait? Do I let them go altogether? I honestly and sincerely don't know.
This kind of change, these kinds of emotions cannot help but impact every aspect of one's life. It spreads quickly and without discrimination, touching every inch. I won't be arrogant enough to fully compare where I'm at to the experience of Job, but I'm damn near close. I feel like I'm back in time nearly two years ago at Nanny's funeral, staring down at her body in the coffin. I can't recognize it, and it doesn't make any sense. My world has been inexplicably changed by this one event, by the disappearance of this person, yet the evidence isn't fully trustworthy. That can't be her, I tell myself. That's about I feel about my life right now. This can't be me. Those aren't my words, my beliefs, my emotions, my guts. They can't be.
But they are my guts. They're right there in front of me, and I'm given no choice but to keep going. How can a man be whole when he's flayed open for all to see, when it seems as if vulnerability is a mandate rather than a choice? How do you approach God when God is standing there with a blade to his thumbnail, scraping away the blood that's gathered from having just split you open? How can you look at God in the face and still trust him?
And so I keep walking...