THE BIG G
My index finger recoils at the temperature of the rust colored bath water. It's way too hot. With staggered effort, suspended on wobbly arms, I ease my whole body into it anyway. There are only three pounds of Epsom salts in the tub and I wish it had thirty more. Every screaming muscle in my body is hushed by the heat. Tendons, frozen into sharp knots, start to melt. Steam moistens the stitches on my forehead and relaxes the brittle skin. The "Lost In Translation" soundtrack plays on the Hi-Fi and eases me along. The pounding in my head and the noise in my body slow to the beat of the drip of the leaky faucet. Heat heals. Slowly, I find peace, without pain. If the Big G were to reach down, right now, to lift me from my mortal coil, I would clasp that hand and graciously go.
LOOKING FOR THE BIG G
I am looking for my religion.
I don't have one.
These days, it seems like everybody does. Considering all the headlines...
I hate to feel left out.
My dad says religion provides discipline and structure. My mom says it offers security, well being and homemade baked goods. A spouse-hunting friend says it's a great way to meet dates. I dunno. With the weekly tithing and emphasis on morality, it seems kind of expensive, financially and otherwise.
I've been shopping around, trying to find a religion that fits. I'm not sure if I should buy one that wears like a comfy old sweater or one that steels like a finely tailored Kevlar vest.
There are so many to choose from.
...The Catholics get high points for their refined sense of showmanship. I like incense, tapestry and Mel Gibson movies. Historically, the Popes have done more for the fine arts than anyone has. That's worth something.
...The Jews may have started out as only a few wandering tribes, but they sure got around. They're always in the news. I can't find another religion which has a better understanding of the human condition, of life-it's-own-self. It justifies existence. Unfortunately, their holiday menus turn my stomach. Pickled or flavorless, it's a deal killer.
...Hinduism was never a consideration. A Hindu and I both agree that cows are sacred but we differ in the approach. I like mine medium-rare.
...Buddhism is smart, soulful and quite relaxing. Unfortunately, I am destined to fail. In the summer months when ants invade my kitchen, I'll reach for a can of Raid.
...Islam certainly is popular but I fear it demands too much time. Praying is good but five times a day seems like overkill. How can I find Mecca when I can't even find my own way home? Muslims seem like an excitable lot. The zealotry might be bad for my blood pressure.
...The Protestant sects have a wholesome, Mid-American appeal but if I'm gonna take a Sunday nap, I'd rather do it at home on a sofa than a hardwood pew.
...Wiccanism and Paganism have a primitive naturalness that appeals to me. Any kind of nudity is good. The preference for basic black can make a stylish wardrobe easy. Already I'm a fan of Marilyn Manson, Bauhaus and Souixie and The Banshees. There's just no way in Hell I'm gonna paint my nails.
...Of course, the modern religions have yet to stand the test of time. When the aliens land, I'll swing to Scientology. Mormon underwear may be rather restrictive for the libertine in me. And if I'm gonna go door-to-door to Witness for Jehovah, I'll also pitch it for Amway.
I was getting dizzy with all of the choices before me and no sign from above. Every religion has so many pros confounded by a daunting number of cons. Without a clear direction, I didn't know which to pick.
Then I passed a shaggy homeless guy, standing on the street. He held a crude cardboard sign, which read, "It will find you." This meant something. Surely, religious choice does not come from rational thought. Religion works best when it's forced upon you. The bearded stranger with the soulful eyes was right. My religion will find me. I felt bad when I clipped him with the bumper of my car. I was late for an appointment, so I just kept going. But he made a very valid point; I had to let the religion find me.
Recently, I felt obligated to attend a family birthday party in my honor. When I don't show, it gives my parents time to reflect upon the Hell they hath wrought; an appearance tends to assuage things. Besides, I was looking forward to seeing my sister; rent was due and I needed to borrow a few bucks. We were having a lovely and happy time. Then the ice cream cake melted fast. My little nephew Archie could no longer contain himself. He ran from the room to retrieve my gift. With bright, excited eyes, he presented me with a tropical flower growing out of a hunk of black lava rock. Dancing on his tiny feet, he was so thrilled. The gift made sense. It was thoughtful, for the day after next, I would be on a plane to Hawai'i for my first vacation in two years.
I did not realize it then, but little Archie was also giving me my religion.
I quickly threw down the lava rock as if it were still molten. Suddenly I felt nauseous. Not wanting to disappoint the toddler, I singsong'd a "Thank you Archie!" and pinched his pink cheek. If no one had been looking, I would have pinched his cheek into a bright red raspberry. Then I would have slapped him upside his head. I don't care if he's six years old; he should have known better. What was he thinking?!
Long before Jesus got lost in the desert or Mohammed wrote his own script, Madame Pele was laughing it up and holua racing. As far as Gods go, Hawai'ian Pele is a lively one. She has a penchant for extreme sports. She loves hard. She gets jealous easily. She isn't mean or spiteful. One just shouldn't get in her way. When you do, the Goddess of Lava can be rather fiery and explosive. One of the things she hates most is when some infidel takes lava rock off her Hawai'ian Island. I can't blame little Archie; he found it in a California supermarket. Unfortunately, the lava rock was now in my possession.
My vacation wasn't planned; it was an emergency. Two out of my three psychiatrists agreed that I needed to get out of town fast. Stress was high and hope was nowhere to be found. Hawai'i always works in a pinch. It's cheap, exotic and a low priority terrorist target.
Within fifty minutes after setting foot on Hawai'ian soil, I was sailing down Kala'kaua Avenue on a motorbike. Warm Tradewinds caressed my face. Clouds of the purest and most brilliant white dappled an endlessly blue sky. The sea beside me stretched forever in colors that my painter's palette could never capture. I was loving life once again and I was moving fast on two wheels.
The Goddess Pele must have sensed my appreciation and felt the unbounding joy that surged in my heart. She must have also noted that I had arrived in the islands empty-handed. It had slipped my silly mortal mind to return Archie's gift to its rightful place. This insensitivity to Pele must have made her blood boil. My inconsideration was blatant. My lack of respect was worthy of punishment.
So Pele slammed on the brakes of the SUV which I happened to be speeding behind.
Thus began a chain of events and a series of accidents of which I have yet to recover. The cantaloupe-sized contusion on my hip still blackens and blues. A femur, which had been diagnosed as 'broken', was downgraded to 'Let's keep an eye on it.' Ten stitches grace my forehead. My nose is missing a dozen freckles and a few layers skin. I have broken three teeth on three separate occasions, the assailant being a chicken salad, an omelet and asphalt. My knee is a perpetual scab. My lip is fat, bloody and un-kissable. My hands are bruised and my ribs ache with every breath I take.
Upon my return to the Mainland, I Federal Express'd the lava rock back to the Hawai'ian Volcano National Park in Hilo. There, the Park Service receives dozens of similar bad luck packages every day. My humble action has yet to appease Pele. I think she is withholding her forgiveness until the chunk of Hawai'ian asphalt, which is embedded deep in my left palm, makes its natural getaway.
Conviction is born with evidence. Should I see water turn to wine, I would become a Sunday Christian. If I see water turn to oak-aged tequila, call me devout. If the horn-blowing statue of Angel Moroni that stands atop a Mormon Temple starts to blow like Tommy Dorsey, I'll take three wives and join the club. The beauty of a sunrise, the miracles of nature and the physical genius of the human body all point to a higher being, a creator of all things. On the other hand, science and Darwin make a pretty convincing argument of their own. For me, Madame Pele has evidenced a near absolute proof that the Hawai'ian Gods are the true Gods. I can never be Hawai'ian but I sure can try.
To privately believe in a higher power demands a conviction and a calling. To freely practice those beliefs is another story. My landlord is threatening eviction unless I dismantle the heiau to Kane, Lono, Ku and Kanaloa. It has something to do with building permits and a notice from the City Inspector. While digging an imu to bake a pig, a fence collapsed and now the neighbors are threatening legal action. Last night, a small, aesthetically pleasing ritual for Pele was interrupted by the Fire Department when a small corner of the roof caught fire. I may have found my religion, but it's gonna be Hell keeping it.
GORDY GRUNDY is a Los Angeles based painter. His visual and literary work can be found at www.gordygrundy.com.