God’s Country

I’ve long been perturbed when people refer gushingly to places of expansive physical beauty as ‘God’s Country’. I always reflexively wonder what kind of God would favor Yosemite over Uganda? Does God not hang out in Los Banos? …Okay, maybe that’s a poor reference… but still.

This weekend I finally crashed under the weight of all my circumstances over the last eight months; lost career, lost leg, lost girl. The environment that had evolved by making my home so open to everyone had turned into a prison of sorts where I had nowhere to seek sanctuary. So I beat feet, jumped in my car and drove till I ran out of sunlight with a change of clothes, a credit card, three spiritual books and a pad of paper. Left behind was my lap top and the ever mischievous and increasingly conspiratorial FaceBook. I shut off my phone after letting a couple of people know that I was going to disappear for awhile and that I’d be back when my pen ran dry. I pulled into a shitty motel with a shitty diner attached to it and holed up.

I stood on the balcony that first night and exhaled a long draw from my cigar with a sense of wistful comfort. This flea bag joint was on the same stretch of road where 25 years ago I’d done business in my former lifetime running meth. Where I’d had to come running one summer night to find my partner spun out of his head, bent over the toilet in his chonies¬†with a half pound in his hand, swearing the cops were there. Only he was right – the poor bastard was being tortured hearing the radio of one of the town’s finest as a hooker worked out her bill in the next room.

Ah, good times.

Only now it was cold, the wind was blowing angrily and the rain was relentless. I sought refuge at the fine dining establishment next door and saddled up to the counter. I’m not sure who was a more firmly ensconced piece of the building, the server, his woman by the register, or the crusty old timers at their well worn thrones further up the table. There was an ease amongst all of them and they welcomed me to their laughter as they razzed a busboy in two languages as he repeatedly failed miserably at snatching a stuffed toy with a wretched crane claw through a garishly lit glass stand. Dessert was blended with an equally good natured back and forth between the denizens threatening to theatrically sermonize and arguing about which language the Bible should be in.

It thawed me and I remembered back 20 years to my last holiday with my father. On the road back from San Diego visiting my sister, we got stuck in a roadside joint by pea soup fog on Christmas night. We all came together laughing and singing. Ma, who was a professional clown, making balloon animals for everyone and a crown for a bald girl whose dad was bringing her back from chemo up north. Magic only happens when you arent expecting it. i was grateful these new kindred souls invited me in and just as grateful that I could still be happily surprised by the gregariousness of strangers.

The next three days were an ebb and flow of writing, praying to nothing, reading, random connections with others on their way somewhere or looking to not be found and pretty mediocre food. But what kept coming up over and over was the love and mutual respect, unspoken as it was, that people had for each other. That they readily accepted me as being a part of. No one was there by accident and I was enlisted to help people with their rooms, borrow a phone, engaged in all sort of small talk to yard nods to profound discussion as I stood in my doorway along with everyone else as it continued to rain. I was one among on my own terms.

During the afternoon in the lull before the place started its nightly buzz I stood again on the balcony and watched as a girl folded towels for tomorrow’s house cleaning duties. To my right was a working girl engaging her boss and making her way down the stairs, that bold, swaying strut clacking time with each step in her spikes like a supremely sexy metronome. I thought to myself that they were both working and who really paid the higher price? And as i finished my rhetorical question she swung into the laundry room and laughed with the maid. It was beautiful to behold.

My last dinner at Chez Greasy Spoon was spent at a booth by myself and I observed all the goings on around me. There were at least four different dialects being spoken, lots of animation amongst the clutches of people as they ate. I was content to watch the show when a couple caught my eye. A young black father and his 3 year old daughter were in the booth next to me. he faced me directly though he never looked me in the eye. This didnt surprise me as we werent of the same clan so to speak. I was completely taken however at how he was with his little girl. He was very gentle, calm and soft spoken and always engaged her. And quite the little chatterbox she was. I marveled at his doting love for her, though not smothering. He was as a Daddy is supposed to be – a strong stable loving guide. When she spilled the maple syrup intended for her blueberry pancakes he only got up and grabbed a wet cloth to clean everything up with, then went back to sharing their meals with her, much to her protestations at the sanctity of HER flapjacks being violated. I was suddenly possessed of an urge to break the rules and hurriedly finished up my chicken fried roadkill and slipped up to the register. The same cashier was there from the previous night and he looked at me quizzically when I asked him if I could pay that gentleman’s bill along with mine. “Sure” he said and as he slid both tabs up to me he asked if I knew him. “Nope.” And he lit up as i finished by saying that it was a thanks for being such an amazing father.

I have no idea how that scene played out 10 minutes later but I’d forgotten how absolutely amazing it made me feel to practice random and (mostly) anonymous acts of kindness. I slept well that night. The din of wind and chatter outside as good a lullaby as I’ve ever heard.

The inventory is written and I’m back home. Ready to go for a long trip with a good friend across the southern U.S. An old sponsor of mine used to take a week every year and just disappear, usually to the desert. His home was very much like mine is now; a busy place full of love and recovery. Though with mine there is the added spice of debauchery. (You havent lived till you’ve stood in a circle reciting the Lord’s Prayer with a roommate’s fuck noises in the background.) Now I get why he needed to leave every now and then, headed to God’s Country to get filled up again. To meditate and contemplate who he had become since last time. Those three days of lousy weather in a crappy motel choring down barely edible food restored me. It was a long weekend in the middle of the week in God’s Country. Because God is wherever I bother to look around me and see.