Love in the Time of Bacteria

BacteriaLast week, I walked up Dale Street from the train station. It’s a perilous walk owing to the lack of shoulder and the speed at which people drive, a recklessness passed off to people living in poor neighborhoods. Shattered green glass, no trees to bar the bright spring sun, bits of fluttering paper garbage—anonymous love notes maybe—caught in the fence separating Interstate 94 from St. Paul’s steep hills. The Islamic Center sprawls in a field across from the freeway, looking nondescript and like a poorly advertised Walmart; sometimes you have to hide your love notes to live in peace.

In the past several years of walking almost everywhere I need to go, I’ve become accustomed to nearly being killed by drivers. Usually it’s mistake or distraction, but occasionally I see “Die, bitch” on someone’s face, and I’ve known what that looked like since I was a kid.

But, still, I take long ambling walks when I’m processing a project in which suffering from disease becomes apparent in the data.

People say you become what you study, but they rarely talk about falling in love with what you see, love from a habit acquired or a gradual taking in of information. Maybe it’s because we’re always deriding people for what they love, restricting love to direct object rather than pathway.

Someone recently told me it was terrible to love microbes when they cause so much suffering, but how can I study them or know anything about them without falling? [Read more…]

Praise Bands, Lipstick, and other Futilities of the Faith

By E.D.

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The drummer in the rock band at my church, bangs on his drum, living for the solo at the recessional where a small handful of fellow children of the sixties clap their hands and shake their hips in a way that seems, I don’t know, like everyone would rather be at the Whitesnake concert, but if that’s no longer possible or respectable, then maybe church will do, “For creation was made subject to futility…”

And the children of the seventies and eighties, lower their heads, intentionally somber at the recessional, walk out, crossing themselves to patiently await the death of church drumming. There are grumblings of course, on the way to the car, and once inside the car with the doors shut, my husband and I engage in a complete failure of charity about baby boomers and self-satisfied idiots who can never bear to surrender the stage. The sorrow is not just that the music is bad, it’s that there are so many people who think it’s great.

There will always be lectors in toupees and well-suited ushers with bad breath, and ladies who like pie better than Jesus (sometimes, I am she). And that’s just at church where everyone is supposed to be living life differently, set apart from the things of the world. Church sometimes feels like a smaller theater, the place where the lipstick on your teeth matters just a tiny bit more. What is this lipstick doing here anyway, when Monday through Saturday, it rests? [Read more…]

The Cave of My Imagination

By Jason K. Friedman

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Ma’arat Ha-machpelah, the alliterative name sounded as magical to me as the lives of the people buried there: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. I learned about the so-called Cave of the Patriarchs, Judaism’s most ancient site, in Hebrew day school, and I still remembered the Hebrew name when I went to Israel for the first time, four decades later.

Since my upbringing as a yeshiva boy in southeast Georgia, I’d moved north to college and stayed, experiencing my own secular enlightenment. I’d become a progressive and a Yom Kippur Jew. But all my religious learning and feeling was still in there, easily recalled when needed to say the prayers over the Chanukah candles or sing the Shabbat Kiddush.

My first brush with the reality that someone with this biography might not be welcomed with open arms to Israel came in Ben Gurion airport. A reedy young woman in uniform plucked me from among the blue-T-shirted young American Christians I’d flown over with, and escorted me toward baggage claim.

She asked me questions in Hebrew. “A-nee lo mayveen,” I replied. I don’t understand. In English she asked how I learned Hebrew. “B’beit sefer,” I said. In Hebrew school. “B’beit sefer,” she repeated. [Read more…]

The Wounds of Resurrection

Doubting ThomasAs my husband prepared for an Easter sermon a few weeks ago, our dinnertime conversations during Lent turned to Jesus’s appearance to the disciples after his resurrection, to the episode where poor Thomas is saddled with his unfortunate moniker. Carravaggio painted a terribly potent picture of Thomas probing Jesus’s wounds, his lord’s flesh curving over the doubter’s finger.

With its emphasis on suffering, broken bodies, deprivation, and wounds, Lent’s focus isn’t far from the realities since my father’s cancer diagnosis a year ago: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, the failure of his natural killer cells.

When you have a loved one with cancer, you enter the cloud of unknowing, or perhaps it’s a club of unknowing, a society of those wedged in the grief and emotional confusion that a non-linear illness brings to all who are involved. In this club you might become more familiar with the less famed side effects of chemo like neuropathy and a sensitivity to hot or cold, with the comments people make in an effort at sympathy, or with the ebb and flow of sadness, guilt, and normal life.

Lent puts us in mind of those wounds and scars, of bodies failing, of death. But when Easter comes, and we celebrate resurrection, it sometimes feels like those wounds are mended too quickly. Or perhaps they were never really healed. [Read more…]

Conference Envy: A Survival Guide

Sad Web SurfingYesterday I was running around the park in a T-shirt with a birthday party full of seven-year-olds. Today, I walked downtown through a flurry of hard, tiny pellets of snow that I couldn’t escape from. It was a little like the experience of going to bed a happy, underpaid writer and waking up the next day as a miserable, underpaid writer who is staying home while everyone else you know is traveling to a conference.

No matter where you look online, you’re getting smacked in the face with these niggling little reminders that you’re here dealing with laundry and kids and deadlines and your friends are off brown-nosing editors and eating dinner in absurdly large groups and developing inside jokes and memories that you’re going to be outside of the next time you get together.

You can complain to and commiserate with the three or four other people you know who aren’t at the conference, but you’re aware that it’s petty and fruitless, so you stop after a few hours and just try to avoid the Interwebs for a few days—which means that, no, you didn’t see that video of Trump as Lex Luthor or whatever it was. [Read more…]


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