Outside the Pearly Gates

Sunrise was misty blue and pink this morning, with the rain still wet on the cold frames in the garden, their coverings pulled back to the let the moisture in. Now that the summer heat has relented I’ve pulled back the drapes, taken down the towels I tacked up over the skylights. I can see the world again.

Snuggled on the couch this morning with my blanket, book and pen, I hope I know how lucky I am. I get to see my artist and writer friends I* and M* today. I is a poet, artist, and grandmother. Last spring when she had a stroke I was shocked to discover that none of us live forever. I’d forgotten. M is almost done with her graduate degree and then she’ll move away. I’m aware of this time with each of them, the incalculable gift of being together.

Outside, sun reaches the red leaves of the dogwood. To have this time to write and notice the world each day as it changes is heaven. Heaven. Working on a paper for school last night, I read about Saint Perpetua, a third-century martyr born in a world that believed that only martyrs went straight to heaven. Everyone else milled around in the waiting room, waiting for the receptionist to call their name. Perpetua, thrown to the lions, got a free pass for her suffering.

I called my sister in Iowa last night and was glad again for the way she re-connects me to that other world of belief inside me – the more traditional one with clear givens on heaven and hell, the forces at work against us and for us. I want to die before my sister so I can greet her at the pearly gates of her imagining and show her the space I’ve made outside that high wall of heaven, my blanket and book under a huge oak tree.

My sister’s friend C just found out that her 8-year-old son has cancer. He started chemo last week. My sister tells me she talked to God yesterday on the way to the Wal-Mart. She told Him: “Jesus, come back soon. I don’t like this world where children get cancer and babies die. Jesus, come back.”

My left eye started to twitch when I heard this. WAIT! I wanted to shout. I argued with my mother about this when I was nine years old. Mother was sure Jesus was going to come back any day. “Not yet!” I told my mother. “I want to grow up. I want to be a journalist in New York City. I want to travel, fall in love, have a baby, write a book.”

I want to see this world you are all done with – this world in which children get cancer and babies die without warning, this world with its poverty and pollution, war refugees and dementia. This world with the tar sands in Alberta and the protestors against the tar sands at the White House waiting to get arrested. This world where my sister’s surviving children learn to use the potty and pick their favorite books for bedtime. I grieve the death of my niece and I want to see my nephews grow into men. I am greedy and selfish. I want this world – this life – and everything in it. I don’t want to let go. Not yet. Not yet.

Maybe wanting the world  is what makes me work so hard for justice. I’m not ready to let it go. I have hope we can make it better, that white people can change the way we think and breathe and live. I believe that if white people make these changes, we can deny racism the oxygen it needs to live, the air of our superiority and privilege. We can help make heaven here, this world, for as long as we have it.



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One Comment

  1. YAY! Let’s hear it for this glorious world, and for the work ahead so ALL may have time to contemplate and enjoy it!!

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