Once this kid—my passenger—grabbed the steering wheel and jerked it hard over while I was driving. Not just a little tug, mind you, but a full-on we-gonna-die! yank. The kind that elicited a blood-curdling scream and a shouted sermon. A 19-year old preaching car safety to a 15-year-old. This kid was all charm and immortality and sass. The car fetched and yawed but it didn’t crash into a telephone pole. He thought my fear was funny.
At age nineteen I hadn’t become comfortable yelling at people. That’s why the moment sticks. Now I yell at people for a living. Pro bono. Homeschool mom.
It wasn’t a year after the steering wheel incident I found myself looking at a car, at a half-unwrapped McDonald’s egg McMuffin. The driver’s seat was crushed, crenulated like those paper fans we made in elementary school. The sandwich was in the foot well. He must have had it in his hand when he threw the wheel too hard over. Must’ve dropped between his feet as the car began its flip.
An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by another force.
This kid, he lay in a hospital bed on life support, monumentally acted upon. His hands were warm from the machines pumping his blood around. All the damage was on the inside where we couldn’t see. This is true for us, too.
Apparently, his brain was dead. I didn’t buy it. Too warm. Too much like sleep. Were I his mother, you’d have to pare me from that beautiful boy with a hacksaw. I’d cling like apple peel. I still do.
I still hold to him. Still yell at him. See him in my own 17-year-old son who drives like telephone poles don’t exist. He thinks my fear is funny too.
My friend began telling this post as if it really happened before remembering it was an entry for a flash fiction contest. I remember her waving it away and saying “…it didn’t really happen.” But it did. Not exactly as I told it, but it did happen, and it happens every day. For most people, getting in our cars is the most dangerous thing we do.
I credit several people with my tattoo. First Katae, who made the whole thing happen and gave me a forever birthday gift. Next my husband, who puts up with this manifestation of a midlife crisis. My daughter Tory, whose trip to the parlor (do they call it that anymore?) got us talking about matching tattoos. My son’s swim coach: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And finally, my dear friend who I never thought would get a tattoo, got one. I’m such a follower.
In college, Katae found her love of ink and piercings. When she and her roomies got bored, they wouldn’t go to a movie or play a violent game of spoons like my generation. Nooooo. The way to combat boredom in the new millennium is to whimsically get permanent marks scribbled onto your flesh.
What could be more special than mother-daughter matching tattoos? Our ink is in the same place and consists of the same words—each with our own flair. My “flair” caused the tattoo artist much consternation and at one point he sighed and said, “I’m just going to wing it.”
I be like THIS IS A PERMANENT THING, DUDE. NO WINGS. GET THE PROCESS SHEET, THE RECIPE, THE POINT-BY-POINT DIRECTIONS. HAVEN’T YOU EVER HEARD OF MEASURE TWICE, CUT ONCE? But I kept my mouth shut because I was already becoming one of those people. You know, the one who shows up empty-handed and empty-minded, without a printed copy of exactly what she wants, the one who has only a hazy idea and let’s-spend-all-day-figuring-out-how-to-pirate-this-obscure-font one. That one.
Now I know why, when I went searching for script tattoos that wrapped, I found one. One hit. Do you know how many pictures of body art populate cyberspace? Should have been a red flag. When the artist warned me he would be getting frustrated during the stenciling phase, I started to understand: this was not the usual order. Of course. I’m one of those people who never orders a dish as it’s described on the menu.
Our tattoos are from Isaiah 43: When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the LORD your God. – Isaiah
Every time I look at my tattoo, I’ll think of Katae. And I’ll remember God and how He remade my life.
Of all the people turned off by Christians, Gandhi is my favorite. Gandhi was perplexed that Jesus’ followers were little crazed antitheses of Him, buzzing about the world scattering judgement like pollen, condemning, wearing the cross and forgetting its dictates.
Though he was turned off by Christians, Gandhi didn’t discount the Man himself. Imitation is not an exact science: if it flatters, it also falters. We are works in progress untill the last breath. My imperfect attempts at being Jesus may be received with misunderstanding and, sometimes, offense. You’re taking this Jesus thing too far has been applied to me. Still, others would say I don’t take this Jesus thing nearly far enough.
Depends who you ask.
People are turned off by a pilgrim taking it too far because a zealot acts unpredictably, often perpetrating heinous acts against humanity: the least of which is discomfiting strangers by talking about God and the worst of which is bringing God’s judgment down upon them– literally, in the form of passenger plane bombs, explosives, etc.
I was taught a catechism of fear– not for God– but religion. Religion makes people weird at best. I learned this in social studies when we discussed Jim Jones (in early elementary school). I learned it analyzing The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter in middle school. I learned it from the nut cases dressed as Jesus, dragging huge crosses along city streets and chanting, “The end is near!”
What I learned was all true. I wasn’t told any lies. But– think Star Wars– I experienced only the dark side of the force and not the light. Half the truth is the best lie because it precludes skepticism. If my cultural experience impressed upon me a fear and loathing of impassioned religion, then did I not receive a broken bowl for a paradigm? Certainly it had the shape of usefulness, but not the essence. No wonder when I tried to pour my life experiences into it, everything leaked out and I was left holding air.
At age 27 I got desperate and decided, against the teaching of my youth, to take this Jesus thing too far. What did that look like? Did I have to renounce logic, sacrifice a chicken, or roll around the altar babbling unintelligible oaths? Hardly.
I picked up a Bible and began reading the book of John. I’d been church hopping, a spiritual Goldilocks searching for a fit. I sat through many a pep talk, incantations, scripted kneelings and standings, services full of buttoned up people whose goodwill didn’t even last into the parking lot. One day I met a man who genuinely, ardently loved his god. Here was a thing I’d never seen before: the other side of the religion equation. It goes without saying you can’t just walk into any church and experience true faith, but walk into enough, and you’ll eventually strike oil.
That is, if you really want to. I hope you do. Don’t let the imperfections of Christ’s followers dissuade you from seeking Him. For who is perfect at anything? I’ve gotten my Jesus step wrong enough times, and those are moments I’m stepping on toes. If I think it’s pollen I’m spreading, it’s my duty to double-check every now and again. The easiest error is thinking we help by spreading a loveless message of judgment. It’s not pollen when I forget to love. But in those moments I am definitely a B—-.
If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13:2.
Gandhi and I disagree on what the message should be, but on this we find harmony: My life is my message. As the year draws to a close and our minds are on gifts, it’s a great time to ask yourself if you’ve been the gift you want to get in this world.
Don’t believe the lie that says: If God is any more than a trapping, he’s a trap. Don’t believe religion should be used as the ancients did their spice: to cover the fact that the meat’s gone bad. Jesus made a lot of people uncomfortable when He said he should beconsumed. Jesus can’t be taken too far. He is meant to be the main course (John 6:54). Be a pilgrim. Take Jesus too far. That’s not what will actually happen though it may be said of you. If you merely hold out a hand, Jesus takes you too far. And it’s a lovely country.