You can find volumes of information
On how to die, but the materials are
All prepared by interns and trainees.
The true masters on the art of dying
Have all lost interest in our struggles
With mortality and how to be shed of it.
Still, we want as much information as
Possible, so we can be prepared when
The time comes. We hang eagerly on
The words of those who nearly died,
Just so maybe we can have a glimpse
Of what it might be like to cross over.
All this anxiety and all this preparation
Despite the fact that no one has ever
Failed on this particular mission.
Sure, some begin the process with
Different levels of equanimity, but
They all seem restful enough in the end.
A non-practicing Catholic, I guess, is someone born into the Catholic faith who no longer adheres to any of it’s prescribed behaviours or rituals, and I would suppose some people don’t feel they need to practice it once they know how to do it. Practicing Catholicism must be for newbies.
But Baptists are a different beast all together. Technically, if you follow the letter of Baptist convention, no one is born into the Baptist faith. No one, no matter the circumstances of birth, can become a Baptist without actively choosing to do so, though the age of consent for such a choice is surprisingly low. This is why you see so many Baptist preachers dunking little kids in the water—it shows those children have chosen of their own free will to live their lives for Jesus. And if you check the news of late, you’ll find some preachers seem a little confused about what other things children are or are not able to consent to, under the laws constructed by good old human beings.
Once your accepted in the fold, you are saved, and there’s not much you can do to get kicked out, and you don’t have to practice, either. If you don’t keep up your Godly work by staying clean and pure and avoiding all the temptations the earth has to offer, you’re only human and no one should throw stones at you (according to New Testament law).
If you’ve slipped a little, you’re officially a backslider. Baptists believe that a truly saved person can’t genuinely fall out of favor with God. If you actively reject God and all God’s work, you are not a backslider but a reprobate, and God will surely turn against you, because when you said you wanted to devote your life to Jesus when you were six, you must have been a lying little demon.
After a pretty much fruitless day of hunting that big trophy buck Johnny said he saw, the guys were just sitting around the fire doing all the things you’d expect a bunch of grown men to do around a fire: you know, drinking beer, pissing on the fire, throwing pennies in the fire to watch the flames change colors—the usual stuff. The only difference was that Ricky had one of those new Q-Beams, I think they were called. It’s like a flashlight, except it has the brightness of a thousand suns or a million candles or some other damned thing I can’t remember.
The idea was that you could shine this light around and see animals in the dark, especially if you happened to catch their eyes. So they were just shining it around, not expecting much of anything, especially with all the noise they were making, and sure enough they picked up some reflections.
They suddenly went all quiet and started shining it around more slowly to see if anything jumped out at them. They were all cool about it. They were like, “Hey, man, maybe it’s a bobcat. I’d like to have a bobcat to mount on my wall.” But they were getting a little more serious about their search for wildlife or game or whatever. They were aware, also, that a few black bears were moving back into the area, and it would be nice to get a glimpse of one.
“Just remember,” Jimmy said, “If it IS a black bear, you don’t want to run a way from it. If you run, it WILL chase you, and it WILL catch you. No, you want to stand up to it. Show it your ready to fight it—man on bear.” At that, they all laughed, “Don’t worry, Jimmy, we’ll punch it right in the nose if it tries to get you. There ain’t no black bears around here, anyway, though.” But Jimmy still thought they’d better take a minute to verify that fact.
So, anyway, they kept shining that light around and just looking for bears or bobcats or whatever. Hell, I guess they would’ve been excited to see a ‘possum or armadillo or anything really. And sure enough, they picked up another little glint of something. They kept shining until they could see a set of eyes just as clear as if it was the light of day.
And then they saw another set. And another. Pretty soon they saw seven or eight pairs of eyes, but they thought they saw much more than that, because their adrenaline production had picked up a bit, if you know what I mean, so they were convinced they were surrounded. And then they heard a little sound that was kind of like a dog but different enough for them to know they were surrounded by a vicious pack of wolves. At least that’s how it seemed to these drunk boys who’d been pissing on a fire all night.
They weren’t too worried, though, because they had guns and everything. They were on a hunting trip, after all. It was about that time that Ricky remembered they’d left the guns in the cab of his truck, and he thought it might be a good time to go get some of them out. So he walked slowly out to his truck as Bobby shown the Q-beam on it to light the way.
Once he opened the truck, Bobby started shining the light off at the trees to see if he could see any more animals. About that time they heard a bark or a howl and a crashing sound over by the truck. They were a little worried and Johnny called out, “You good, Ricky?” Ricky shouted back that he was and then came back to the fire without his gun and didn’t say anything.
After that, they all decided it was time to get some shuteye, so they all just got in their respective campers and went quiet. They next morning, when Ricky got up, Johnny was waiting for him. He said, “Looks like you had quite a night fighting them ol’ wolves, Ricky! The barrel of your gun is clogged with mud and the whole gun looks like you dropped it in slop. There’s also about 8 or 10 holes punched in the dirt by your truck.”
By this time, Johnny was laughing so hard I worried he might have a cardiac. They still give Ricky a good ribbing about that every time they go to the hunting lease.
After a night of tortured sleep,
I leave the others to walk
Along the coast, just above Highway 1.
Through the morning mist,
Two silhouettes come into focus.
Two cormorants, perhaps,
Engaged in a romantic display,
But human voices seem to carry
Through the fog, echoing against
The coastal cliff. I become convinced,
Against reason, that these are angels,
Perhaps sent with a message of enlightenment.
I’m giddy, and I try to make out the words
That might make an insufferable existence
Worthwhile after all, but the language fails me.
I can only tell the larger of the angels seems
To be shouting his desperation, or warning,
or even despair, but his words are swallowed
by the wind and fall with a thud on the coast.
The smaller angel seems locked in vertical climb,
Racing to heaven on wings that slowly dissipate.
Surely his ascension is at hand.
But in agonizing beauty, this wingless
Creature begins a rapid descent,
Followed by a forlorn father
Racing to the depths of a pacific
And welcoming sea.
The sun is now high above the horizon,
The mist is burned off, and the village
Welcomes a clear day with hopes
For a bountiful catch and an ignorant
Faith in its own unrevealed destiny.
At 12, I rode my first dirt bike.
Don’t go too far, he said as he
Helped me coordinate the clutch
And throttle and set me down
The beach. I could have turned.
In theory, it should have been easy
On a flat and empty beach,
But what does a boy with this
Kind of power for the first time
Know about turning back?
No one had explained this part,
And I just held on and kept
Twisting the throttle till
The sand seduced me,
And I helplessly sank under
A bike I had no chance of lifting.
And my angry Daedalus came stomping
Across the sand with furious reminders
That I had been warned. I had been
Told not to go too far.
And I imagine Icarus soaring higher
With no idea how to govern either
His speed or altitude—driven
By equal parts exhilaration and terror,
Waiting only for the comforting
Embrace of Poseidon,
The father who never
Lets us out of his grasp.
The father who can’t let go
And smothers us with love.