Footsteps echo down the hall and a belt buckle jingles as a drawer closes and cigarette smoke wafts from somewhere outside and in a memory maybe, a goblin walking, a haunt, something.
Thomas, say the prayer.
I said say the prayer.
But I don’t usua….
That’s right, I do, but since you’re so perfect, you get to say it tonight.
My cheeks burned like I’d been smacked just sitting there…but then that had happened, too, during a prayer that he was saying, just reached over and hit me full in the mouth as he offered the blessing to his god and the god of our family…and my mom sat there on that Sunday afternoon much like she was sitting here on this one, whatever day it was…just sat there with her head bowed and her eyes closed, folded hands near her forehead, waiting…listening to her man…witness to the results of her betrayal, one that she wrought on some morning or afternoon after we had sat here at the same table, those two or three evenings ago as the house was quiet in sleep and we alone were awake, sharing moments of conversation and…shared trust…. I looked at the side of her face for a couple of seconds while my little sister looked across the table at me and wondered how I was suddenly so perfect…wondered why such sarcasm was brought to the dinner table when there had been no hint of anyone’s wrongdoing before we had all gathered there, me in my seat and all of them in theirs where they belonged…where we all belonged in someone else’s imagination of family and unity and the way things are or ought to be…beneath the decorated sign on the wall that said as for me and my house we will serve the lord.
I stumbled across prayed words said by rote, empty requests and thanks for whatever and bless the hands which prepared it, in jesus’s name, amen…and the words were there and the prayer said and dinner commenced and mouths moved only to eat and I looked through the back window at the gray concrete wall that separated our yard from the alley and the cemetery beyond with desert behind that and more…a slag heap of desiccated wreaths and green plastic covered stands all in a jumble as the ceremonies had passed and the tears had been shed…loved ones gone and buried and I wondered in my seat…cracks in the gray wall and mourning doves cooing beneath the young palo-verde…yellow feather-petals dropping lightly in the warm breeze, landing on the top of the wall and tumbling, scurrying away, floating to the yard below and remaining stuck in the un-watered grass, brown against the waning sun, forks scraping on plates, and water forming and glistening on the sides of glasses in the too warm air, becoming heavy with breath and rolling downward in a single droplet avalanche to pool on the polished wooden tabletop.
Kind of tuned-out there for a while, keeping my eyes forward, watching his hands and hearing him swallow, feeling the tightness of the tiny dining room, a nook really, feeling the desk and cabinets behind me, lightly pushing against the carpet beneath and the dog rang the bell at the back door to go out into the yard and do her business. I rose from the table and took those steps to the door and went out with her, stood there against the porch post and looked up at the dry-rotting wood of the overhang. No voices came through the door and I caught glimpses of arms moving in the window…I saw eyes behind their glasses behind the window watching me watching the little dog walk down the brick pathway towards the back gate, sniffing at the grass beneath the bottom edge, wondering at what might have recently passed down the alleyway.
My footsteps were loud in the dry brown grass as I crossed the yard walking toward the back wall, toward the tree stump that was my perch when I stood and gazed out into the alley and cemetery beyond, my haven and place where I didn’t need them anymore, where my heartbeat slowed and I learned not to care, to remove myself…they didn’t talk back out there, didn’t have glaring condemning eyes stuck in their empty faces…they were taking care of other things, being away…with echoes of a conversation ringing, bouncing in my head…why doesn’t he pray about it, ask god to help him stop…that’s what you guys say we should do…ask for his help…he’s done it since he was a kid and you don’t understand what it’s like…but it doesn’t seem like that should matter…isn’t he supposed to be stronger than our cravings…isn’t he supposed to help us overcome whatever it is that we need his help in overcoming…of course he is…then why doesn’t he…?
How do you know that you’re loved? What tangible something can you label as being a sign or indication that someone loves you? Or is it not tangible? It’s a feeling, right? Is it that knowing or sensing what the other feels for you? Is it the comprehending of their appreciation, your importance, their need for you, what you know in your homecoming, what you sense in your going-away, or their homecoming or their going away? Is it real? How enduring is it? What things or events or forgetting or betrayals can damage that love beyond all repair or healing? How temporal is it? How can one/we say it will last forever? Will it be the same in its enduring? How will it change with the passing of days and months and years? How will the love of today resemble the love that you/one had a decade or more ago? What trials actually make it stronger or weaker? What little ‘nothings’ or ‘somethings’ will make it stronger? How does it fade when there are no trials or challenges to it? How does it grow when there are no trials or challenges to it? How does it stay the same or remain constant when there are no trials or challenges to it? How do celebrations make it stronger? How does participating in others’ love make yours stronger? How does participating in a second love make your primary love stronger or weaker? How does loving your spouse make your love for your children stronger? How does your parents’ display of love make your own love stronger, both as a spouse and as a parent? Does an atheist sense and feel love the same way as someone who believes in God, or a god? Does an atheist sense or feel love more on a gut or human level and a believer more on a supernatural level? Does a Christian experience love the same was a Muslim does, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist, or a Jew, or a believer of any other religion or belief-system? If a Christian and an atheist fall in love with each other, does the Christian love the atheist more than the atheist loves the Christian? Does the love of a potential God make any and all of your loves stronger or weaker? Does the love of a potential God make any and all of your loves stronger or weaker than the loves that you would experience if God didn’t/doesn’t exist? How does the possibility of suffering in Hell make one’s love for God stronger? How do you actually ‘love’ a god who threatens you with an eternity of suffering in Hell if you choose not to believe in and ‘love’ him/her/it? How do we choose to believe or love? We can decide to be ‘committed’ to someone or something, but how do we decide to actually ‘love’ someone or something? Doesn’t love either happen or it doesn’t? If one has a poor relationship with one’s parents, or father in particular, how does that really affect one’s ability or willingness to accept and love a potential heavenly father? How do you know when your parents love you? How can you tell that your mother, mom, mommy, or ma loves you? How can you tell that your father, dad, daddy, papa, or pa loves you? And your siblings, how can you feel their love? If you’ve been estranged or moderately distant from your siblings for the majority or entirety of your adult life, do you really still love them? Do they really still love you? You don’t know each other, so how can you say that you ‘love’ each other? Does having a shared set of parents and childhood mean that you’re ‘supposed’ to love each other? What does it mean if you don’t ‘feel’ that love? Is the love you might/do feel from your siblings different than the love you might/do feel from your best friend? Is the love you feel from your siblings different than the love you feel from your best female or male friend, when you’re a male, or when you’re a female? Do you feel love differently when you’re a guy or a girl? Isn’t infatuation really the same as love? Can love grow out of infatuation if it’s not the same thing? Can love grow out of hate? Is there really, or actually a fine line between love and hate? Are they actually so closely related emotionally? Do you feel love differently when you’re a man or a woman? Do you feel your mom’s love greater when you’re a boy child or a girl child? Do you feel your father’s love greater when you’re a boy child or a girl child? Do you feel your mom’s love more than you feel your dad’s? When you’re an adult, do you still feel the love that you might have felt as a child from your parents as strongly as you did when you where younger? How do your adult experiences as a parent affect the love that you remember feeling for your parents when you were a child? How do your adult feelings of love for your parents affect the love that you have for your young or adult children? Do we dare love our in-laws in the same way or more than our own parents? Is it ever okay to identify more with them than with our own parents, or is that a betrayal? If we think we love our in-laws more than we love our own parents, does that say more about ourselves or about our parents? What if we can’t stand our spouse’s parents? What if we can’t imagine how they could possibly love their parents? How do you measure the love that your spouse says they have for their parents against the strength of love that they say they have for you? How do we claim to ‘love’ people when we don’t really like them? How can we say that we actually love someone when we don’t like them? How can we not like someone when we say that we actually love them? Is it even possible to love someone if we don’t like them? Is love like belief? Do we love the idea of love without actually loving the way some people believe in belief without actually believing? Is it possible to love someone without them knowing that we love them? Or, can we love them without letting them know? Is it possible to be loved or to feel loved without knowing who’s actually loving you? Rather, do we feel or know it if someone loves us but leaves no outward indication of that love? Does love leave a mark or a track somehow? Is there some type of electromagnetically-spiritually-staticky-kind-of-powersurge-kind-of-chemical-something-or-other that one can sense or know when in the presence of someone who loves them? When we ‘feel’ that someone loves us, what are we actually feeling? Is it love or desire or lust or infatuation or like or compassion or similarity or dependency or co-dependency or co-survivorship or co-spirituality or oneness? Is it possible to be co-spiritual or ‘one’ with someone and not love them or be loved by them? Can you share ‘soul-mate’ status with someone and not love them or be loved by them? If you love your same-gendered soul-mate does that mean
you’re gay? Do gay people love as intensely or as deeply as straight people? If you’re straight and come to love a person who is gay, does that make you gay, too? Isn’t it possible to want someone so strongly, or intensely, physically that we think we love them? Or isn’t it possible to be so intensely wanted by someone physically that we think they love us? If someone treats us like shit, how can we still love them? If someone kills, abuses, or treats our child or children poorly, how can we still love them? How can we even like them? Does a parent who leaves with their children to prevent/stop physical or emotional abuse of themselves and/or their children by their spouse/partner love their children more than the parent who doesn’t leave to prevent/stop the same abuse by their spouse/partner? Will the children of the parent who left with them love more strongly than the children of the parent who didn’t leave with their children? Will the children of the parent who left with them love their parent more strongly than do the children of the parent who didn’t leave with their children? If we were abused or neglected as children and missed-out on something like ‘true-parental-love,’ is our measure of any kind of love ever accurate following our childhoods, or will it only be experienced in the extremes? Do foster children love the same way biological children love? Does a foster child who gets adopted feel love the same way a biological child feels love? Does a foster child who ages-out (turns 18yo) of the system without having been adopted understand love the same way another foster child does who did get adopted? Will the love of the aged-out foster child be as strong or as enduring as it would have been if they had been adopted at some time? Do the adoptive parents love the adopted child the same way they love their biological children? Do adopted children love their adoptive parents more than their adoptive parents’ biological children love them? Do people who cannot reproduce biologically and adopt children love their adopted children the same way parents do who were able to biologically reproduce? Should parents admit, even to themselves, that they love one of their children more or less than they love another or the rest of their children? Should parents admit, even to themselves, that they like one of their children more or less than they like another or the rest of their children? If we had a crappy childhood, but had a dog or cat that we loved and felt loved by, will that pet-love be a reliable or appropriate measure to compare other non-pet loves to if and when they occur? If we had a relationship that started with both of us ‘loving’ the other and things went sour along the line somewhere and our love came to nothing or came to be something so far removed from what we had at first understood to be love, how does that tainted ‘love’ effect any subsequent loves that we might come to know? Will the subsequent love be more real or pure than the first one was, even though, at its inception, that other love was understood to be real and pure? Do we measure our friends’ love for us against what we know of love as a child or as a sibling? When there are social power differentials between the people in a relationship, does one actually love the other more? Does the lesser-powered person love the higher-powered person more than the reverse? Is this like a child-parent love, but twisted somehow into whatever it is? Does a preacher love his congregation more than the members of his congregation love him? Does a child love a teacher more than the teacher loves the child? Does a priest love God more than his God loves him? Does God love Satan and his fallen angels? Do Satan and his fallen angels actually love anybody? Can an evil person love other people? Can an evil person feel love from another person? Do the answers to these two questions depend on the definition of this particular ‘evil’ and the context in which it exists? Did Hitler actually love anybody? Did he sense Eva Braun’s love for him? Did she actually ‘love’ him? Did she know everything about him and still love him? Did the serial-killer ‘Son of Sam’ actually love someone? Did he sense anyone’s love for him? While a psychopath doesn’t or can’t empathize with others, are they capable of sensing love for themselves? Did Adam love Eve even though he didn’t get to choose her? Did Eve love Adam even though she was formed or brought to substance from one of his ribs…and didn’t get to choose him as her mate? Did Adam and Eve still love Cain after he killed his brother, Abel? Did Cain and Abel love their wives the same way Adam loved their mother, Eve? (Don’t ask me where Cain and Abel got their wives; that’s another essay.) Did Adam and Eve love God, even after he had them chased out of the Garden of Eden? When our babies look at us while they’re nursing or being fed a bottle, can we know their love for us when we’re looking into their eyes? Are they capable of loving us or knowing that we love them…or is this pre-verbal state or place where love actually begins and is undefined and is pure and has no measure? If Abraham really loved his son, how could he put him on the altar and be prepared to sacrifice him for God? Is it right to love God more than we love our children? Is it right to follow the rules that our church has established, to love our church, more than we love our children? If our church tells us to stop ‘fellowshipping’ with our child because they no longer believe the things that the church teaches, should we choose our church over our child? Does love allow us to dis-fellowship our children, or should this be a sign that we should dis-fellowship our church from ourselves because we love our children more? Would God’s love for Himself demand that we turn our backs on the children we love if they no longer love or believe in Him? Does God still love a person who was brought-up in the church and got ‘saved’ when he/she was a child, and then reaffirmed his/her love for God and rededicated himself/herself to God and his service when he/she was an adult and then slowly came to doubt and no longer believe in God and His word, but instead believes that the notion of God/god is a myth, does God, if He really does exist, still love that person? And does God, if He exists, love that person as much as He loves a person who never questioned or doubted His existence, but lived and ‘loved’ Him faithfully? Do Christian parents love their Christian children more or less or the same as they love their atheist children? If we perceive that we are loved by a certain person, but that person doesn’t actually love us, are we still loved because we perceive or feel that we are loved by them? And if someone actually does love us but we perceive that they don’t, are we still loved? Does a person who loves another person in spite of knowing the worst thing about them, which wasn’t horrible, love the person as much as someone else who loves another person in spite of knowing the worst thing about them, which was
horrible? Does a serial-killer’s mom love her serial-killer son as much as another mom loves her son who isn’t a serial killer? Should a serial-killer’s mom still love him? Should anybody still love him? Does he deserve love? Given that people often don’t get what they deserve and just as often get things that they don’t deserve, should the serial-killer be loved? Should/does Jesus still love the serial-killer? Should God forgive the serial-killer? Should/does Jesus still love people who murder their girlfriend’s children? Should God forgive that person who murdered his girlfriend’s children? Was Jesus’ blood shed to wash-away the sins of serial-killers and people who murder their girlfriend’s children? Really? Is that the ultimate in love, to be God/Jesus and have your blood shed, or to give your life to wash-away the sins of people who have done absolutely horrible and disgusting things and that if they believe in you and the cleansing power of your love, they will be forgiven and join you and the other believers in your eternal heaven or paradise? Really? Does the horrible sinner who has a lot to be forgiven love God more than the average sinner who has only an average amount of sin to be forgiven? And does that super-sinner then know or sense a greater love from God than the average sinner? Does God love the super-sinner more than He loves the average sinner, given that He’s forgiven/forgiving more of the super-sinner’s transgressions? Does God love the prodigal more than He loves the one who never left? If you fell in love with someone forty years ago and then split apart and married someone else, and that someone else died or left you somehow and you reconnected again with that first someone with whom you had fallen in love and fell in love again, would this second ‘being in love’ be as strong as it was those forty years ago? Would this second time really even be falling in love, or would it be falling in love with the totality of the memory of having earlier fallen in love? Does a soldier returning from a war in which he killed people, up close or from afar, experience a different intensity of love than he did before he went to war? Do the children of a soldier returning from a war in which he killed people, up close or from afar, love him/her as intensely as children love their soldier parent who didn’t go to war or aren’t soldiers? Do prostitutes love their children less than people who are not prostitutes love their children? Do prostitutes who later get married experience a different intensity of love than do people who were never prostitutes and get married? Does marrying someone mean that you love them more than if you didn’t marry them but lived with them for the rest of your life? Do parents of an only-child love their child more than parents who have multiple children? Does an only-child love his/her parents with a greater intensity than do children from multiple-child families? Does an only-child love his friends more or less intensely than do children from multiple-child families? Does an adult who was an only-child love his children any differently than a parent does who came from a multiple-child family? Do only-children feel cheated by their parents from experiencing sibling-love? Do single-sons feel cheated by their parents from experiencing true brotherly love, or do single-daughters feel cheated from experiencing true sisterly love? Is love the same to me as it is to you? Does my feeling of love feel the same as your feeling of love? Can I know love the same way that you can know love? Will or does the list of questions about love ever end?