She stood staring at the night sky. Stars swallowed her, and she felt as if the expanse of it all would drown out her very existence. As the crisp air slapped her skin, and the ground grasped her feet, reminding her of her smallness, she bellowed with as loud a voice as she could muster, “What does it matter?”
Her query was answered with silence and the twinkle from far away blazing balls of gas and fire.
It was trickery, the universe. To stand under the expanse of a night sky and listen to the silence was a lie. In reality, all around her, the universe hummed and buzzed with explosions of life and death billions of light years away. This silent cloak of darkness pierced with glimmering, silent pinpricks of light was a peaceful cover to the violent universe beyond. A fitting allegory for her spirit within, she thought.
As she stood, immersed in the silent violence of the sky above her, the reality of her station became lucidly clear.
She was nothing. Just a tiny speck on a tiny planet, the inhabitants of which were determined to puff themselves up into self-important monuments to their own perceived greatness. Humans are so very proud of themselves – patting themselves on the back and touting their philosophies and accomplishments as if the Universe cared. It was ridiculous to think about them, placing rules and proprieties in neat little rows, declaring them to be required laws of behavior and observance.
She knew better. She understood that, in the expanse of time, and creation and this nebulous idea that they called “God,” that her tiny habitation, with all of its boxed religions and ideologies and self-perceived grandiose achievements, amounted to nothing.
She stared up again, breathing in a deep, cold breath, and letting it out in a sigh. “It doesn’t,” she answered herself in a mutter. “None of it matters.”
She lowered herself to the ground and sat with purpose on the cold earth. She was reminded of her infinitesimalness when the chill creeped up her spine. She pushed back that reminder by pulling her cardigan tighter around her shoulders. She hadn’t come to this rapidly. There’d been no pre-mapped course for her journey to this place under the stars where she’d placed her burden of propriety. It had been a long and difficult trek to get to this place.
“So this is a mid-life crisis,” she thought, and then immediately giggled as she wondered why women had mid-life crises that could be summed up as a search for meaning, whereas men’s were summed up with the search for women with younger and firmer breasts. “Perhaps cause for one is the cause for the other,” she mused.
It was the first time she’d smiled in a while.
Life had wearied her as of late, and that was a vast part of the reason she sat here now, gazing at an explosive, violent, vast universe disguised as a quiet and peaceful sky. She felt – no, she knew – that as she gazed overhead she was looking at more than what science had called the universe and religion had called the heavens, “firmament” if she remembered her Bible lessons correctly. Beyond the labels each pompous faction of human understanding had given it, what she gazed at now was the Truth. She knew she was beholding, if only in finite doses, the Creator. She also knew that if she’d said as much, that there’d be those who’d chastise her, insisting she’d gotten it all wrong. She was a religious nut or a heretic, depending on those doing the name-calling. Quite frankly she’d gotten rather tired of all those tiny little boxed labels, so she simply sat and silently searched for the face of the God she saw in the stars.
She shouted a second time, “What does it matter?”
The same twinkling, shimmering, deafening silence answered her with the same faithfulness it had before.
She closed her eyes and breathed in again the smell of the earth, and the sky and the silence. There was rain on the horizon – not that she could see it in the darkness, but her nose could smell the dampness in the air and the excited expectation of the dry soil under her feet. It was a mirror to her soul – parched, and waiting expectantly for the nourishment she knew must be coming on the horizon.
As she breathed out her thoughts, her breath formed a wisp in the cool air. There was a freedom here, sitting under the quiet blanket spread over the chaotic universe. Here, there were no expectations of proper etiquette, or rote memorization of “holy” texts, or any requirements for living. Here, it was just her, and the Truth, and the yoke of everything was lifted.
She didn’t know when the heavy burden of propriety and defined roles had begun to kill her – at least, not that she could pin down to a definite time. She’d always suspected there was more, even as a child, but had learned to stifle those questions for the sake of maintaining proper order. Sunday school teachers sputtered when she’d asked “why” with regard to the role of the sexes in all of Christendom. Relatives shook their heads disapprovingly when she’d countered their pre-determined rules of behavior for good Christian girls such as herself with inquiries as to why and where the rules began in the first place.
Perhaps that’s where it started. Perhaps, she’d learned early enough that questions were for the rebellious, and the wild hell-driven antics of rebellion surely meant her destruction. So, she learned to be quiet. She learned to do as she was told and accept things as they were, because the alternative was destruction.
But you can only swallow dogma and unanswered questions for so long, and then it begins to putrefy and grow bitter. And, as the years had passed on for her, that rank and putrid stew of unanswered and stifled questions in her belly began to make her sick. The sicker she grew, the more disquieted she became with the meaninglessness of it all.
She breathed in the crisp air again and let it tickle and tease her lungs.
She thought about the shackles she’d thrown off the last few months. She paused, wondering if she should mourn the ties she’d cut and the bridges she’d burned. “Perhaps,” she thought, “that’s what a ‘good girl’ would do. She’d mourn the loss of her well-defined pre-packaged life and faith, and the death of her god-in-a-box that she’d carried around for so long.”
She paused to look up again and whispered, “but I’m not that ‘good girl,’ and I will not mourn.”
Thunder echoed in the distance as if to answer her whispered confessions. She startled, whether from the thunder or the tinny sound of residual anger in her refusal to mourn. She’d be a liar if she’d declared she hadn’t been angry. There had been a time, during the burning of bridges, that anger had followed her like an inky black smoke. “Of the seven deadly sins, wrath is my favorite,” she’d often said, only half-joking.
There were days when she slammed washer lids shut, and threw dishes in the sink as she wondered aloud with angry overtures, “who decided that she who has the vagina is responsible to pick up after everyone else?” There were nights she stood in she shower and cried, wondering if her entire existence would be summed up in three words: maid, concubine, cook.
She was no more than a servant. Without worth or meaning.
She faced work days fraught with landmines of covert sexism and blantant disrespect, knowing that her gender made her opinions and contributions null and void.
She was nothing more and a woman in a man’s world. She was to simply shut up and make the office coffee.
She walked into churches with a hunger for unity and love. She was found hypocrisy, and the pharisees gave her tasks for the “betterment of the body,” without showing any concern as to her spiritual state. She heard the cacophonous insistence from all directions preaching different theologies as if each division was the only sector of Christendom that knew the “real” God – usually one, she’d found, they’d made in their own image instead of the other way around.
She was just another Proverbs 31 Woman, working for the Kingdom. Her spirit starved, but it wasn’t important so long as she followed proper religious protocol.
As she practiced her pre-ordained roles day in and day out, as she watched weddings and baby showers, her inner dialogue screamed, “What’s the point?” She rolled her eyes with every paraded practice of high society good manners and traditional pomp. It seemed silly to focus on something as mundane and finite as wedding colors when there was something as large as God and the meaning of life and touching the face of the Creator to be addressed. As those who called themselves people of faith began to bicker over nuance of scripture and political affiliations and minor doctrinal differences, she silently screamed, “There must be more than this!”
And as she sat under the stars, drinking in the fragrance of the silent air, she still screamed.
Years of reading the scriptures and going to college, and doing all of the frivolous, meaningless, SMALL things she’d been conditioned to do for all these decades seemed if they would only amount to a life spent worrying about redecorating the house, or grooming the dogs, or ascribing to the “right” theology. She’d gazed up at the stars and felt trapped. She was dying at the hand of all that was supposed to give her life.
She smiled at the irony again, and began to hum, “little boxes, on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky-tack… little boxes, all the same.”
The eastern sky brilliantly flashed an electric smile. Thunder cracked again, closer this time than the last. She pulled her knees up to her chest and closed her cardigan tighter as the wind picked up a little. She breathed deeply of the air, laden now with distant rains, and she peered at the stars above, now beginning to cover themselves with a blanket of thick clouds.
She thought about the anger, and the bridges.
There was a time, early on in her stuttered steps of desperation that, in the frustration and confusion of it all, she’d become angry. It was during those times that she tentatively took Wrath’s hand and walked by his side, simply because it was easier than the alternative. The alternative was taking a box-cutter to the preordained human-made boxes of propriety. But, box cutters weren’t part of the defined dogma she’d been handed. It wasn’t allowed. The alternative required questions and seeking. The alternative required courage she wasn’t ready to find, so Anger became her companion, partly out of ignorance, but mostly out of cowardice.
The days she married herself to Wrath were bitter days, but they were necessary. The angrier she’d grown the more she’d become desperate to move, change, breath… escape. Had her marriage to Wrath been absent from her narrative, she wouldn’t be here now, soaking in the God of all creation while absent-mindedly fingering the matches in her pocket – matches she’d used to burn bridges in effigy and sacrifice. The first of which had been Wrath.
She winced as the eastern sky lit up again with another flash of lightning. The trees around her shuttered with the cold wind that grazed her neck.
The bright lightning had brought her thoughts back to the fires. As sacrificial fires burn, destroying what needs to die, the bright blaze that reaches heavenward serves often times as a torchlight. It lights the pathway ahead. As she gazed at the path ahead of her, the torch fires of her first burning bridge had illuminated her next steps, the flames dancing eerily in celebration of death, and what would become rebirth.
She stood again, dusting off the remnants of the earth’s embrace on her pants. She pulled her sweater tighter and listened to the thunder roll, marching ever closer up the hill, relentless. She looked above one more time, and discovered the universe had covered itself in the comfort of the storm clouds.
She breathed in deeply. The cool, wet air cleansed her lungs. The chilled breath of the sky no longer made her feel cold, but enlivened her senses. She closed her eyes and listened. The leaves and grasses rustled as the breath of the earth grew heavier. The skies cracked and rumbled, all around her now. The tiny drops of rain from the sky began to wash her face, delicately, and with gentle care.
She whispered again, “What does it matter?”
And God answered, “It doesn’t.” And then He took her hand and walked her home.