Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Texting God

"Text God," Maya blurted out the other day.

"What would you say?" I asked.

"Text God," she answered with an impish grin.

"But what message would you say to God?"

"1,2,3,4," she replied.

"What message?" I asked again. I was really curious. Not that Maya was ceding me much.

"1,1,1,1," she said. "That's God's numbers." She obviously has a firm understanding of the nature of monotheism, God's oneness.

"But you can use words to talk to God," I suggested.

"Give me a present," she said.

"Isn't that what Santa does?" I asked.


"What does Santa do?" I wondered.

"I don't know," Maya said.

"I don't either," I agreed.

Maya had the final word on this topic: "God brings out the stars."

My daughter, the budding philosopher, clearly primed to take Heschel's leap of faith into the sublime. Maybe she's already jumped. What also fascinated me was the notion of texting God. I know people leave crumpled notes to God in the cracks and crevices of Jerusalem's Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, but texting God is so 21st century.

I don't text anyone. I am not a neo-Luddite, but the idea of punching tiny buttons to send messages to someone seems silly. What's wrong with using another completely modern invention, my cell phone? Then again, talking in public or the car with a radiation-emitting device balanced between shoulder and ear is hilarious.

I know, I know, eventually I will have to join the human race and succumb to the world of texting. As Miguel inches towards being a teenager, the only mode of communication available to us as parent and child might be texting.

But, still, I resist. I am usually quite late to technological innovations or improvements. When I was a sportswriter for the college newspaper in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I wrote out all my articles in long-hand and then punched them out on a metal typewriter, a wildly ineffecient use of my time and energy.

After my editor forced me to type an article inside the newspaper's office, one the filled the entire back page of the Columbia Daily Spectator, I was hooked on the value of the typewriter, which lasted until it also went the way of the dinosaur as computers entered our world.

Now I can't imagine ever using anything but a computer and the ease it provides to create articles, blog entries, and other assorted documents. I mean, what would I ever do without cut and paste and spell-check?

Texting, I feel, is part of today's generation. I had one student two years ago tell me that she sent out (or received) 15,000 mesages in one month. AT&T informed me today that the average teenager sends out about 3500 per 30-day period. I have resisted this form of communication that I see as highly impersonal (what's wrong with cell phones or writing letters?), but I also know I am a hypocrite because I occasionally use Facebook's IM.

I also know the day is fast approaching when I am going to need to reach Miguel at school or a friend's, and texting will be the simplest way to communicate. He'll ignore my calls, but easily tap in a few words to say that he is OK, will wear his skateboard helmet, and no, is not drinking Pepsi or Coke.

Miguel, like just about everyone else under 30, is completely enamored with the technology of cell phones and iPods. He actually said, when informed that iPods and cell phones are relatively new technologies and were not part of my childhood, "How could you have lived back then? It must been really boring."

You can't miss what you never had or knew about. Hey, we had Pong.

Maya just wants to be like her big brother. She owns three or four toy Disney cellphones, and hears him and me talking about texting, or in my case fighting off Miguel's pleas for a texting plan on my phone. So her desire to text is normal.

But texting God? Where did that come from? Maybe she is onto something. Reinvent an impersonal but convenient technology by connecting to the Divine. Call it prayer for the generation[s] on the go, go, go. A possible direct line to an obviously over-worked Deity? I wonder if this kind of thing is covered by the unlimited texting package?

Monday, November 8, 2010

I Am Missing You

"I ain't missing you since you've been gone away
I ain't missing you at all
No matter what my heart might say."
~John Waite

"What's up honey?" I said into my cell phone last night as I joked with our neighbor who was expecting Maya and me for dinner. Miguel was already at their home.

"Was that Mommy?" asked Maya who was finishing up her first dinner with other neighbors. She thought if I said 'honey' it must be Verna.

"No, that was Corinna, wondering where we are," I answered. "But that'd be really cool if we could talk to heaven. But we can't."

Miguel, Maya, and I know Verna is gone from this Earth forever, but that doesn't make the reality any easier to swallow. And I know our devastating sense of loss will eventually evaporate and be replaced by a constant ache in our hearts. For now, though, the sadness and pain I feel is heavy and weighs down everything I do.

Not that I'd want it any other way, but everything seems to remind me of Verna. On Saturday afternoon, as I walked to the neighborhood park, where Maya was waiting for me with yet another neighbor and his two kids, I passed Matt, who was pulling apart the rollers on the bottom of his vacuum cleaner.

"Well, the reason it got stuck, honey," he said to me in mock anger directed at his wife, "is because of your hair."

His comments immediately reminded me how strands of Verna's hair, which was waist long before her initial cancer diagnosis, clogged our vacuum and spilled onto the sink, toilet bowl, and floor of our bathroom.

I wanted to say to him, "At least your wife is still alive so she can shed." But I didn't. Nor should I have gone that far over the edge to hurt a neighbor and friend.

Then late last night, as I was walking our epileptic miniature poodle, another neighbor walked by with tears in his eyes.

"Hey, what's up?" I asked.

"Oh, it's J----," his wife, "she's missing. She and I fought pretty hard a few days ago. She just left tonight, went somewhere without her wallet or driver's license."

He'd repeatedly phoned her cell, but she wasn't answering. He'd also called her first cousin and close friend, but he wasn't picking up either.

Frankly, while I certainly felt sorry for him alone with four kids, ages 5-20, I couldn't really handle the personal drama, nor muster up enough emotional energy to share his pain and truly empathize. I wanted to say, "At least your wife is still alive to run away." But I didn't because even in pain I am not that cruel.

Verna is gone but memories of her are everywhere. When I cross the Golden Gate Bridge, I think of how we biked across it in 1990 when we'd been dating for a couple of weeks. We left San Francisco, Verna on her mountain bike, me on a freebie I'd inherited from a friend whose husband probably should've donated it to a scrap yard.

We breezed into Marin County on a 40-mile bike ride (OK, Verna breezed while I chugged) that Saturday afternoon more than 20 years ago, looped around Paradise Drive and into Tiburon before our ascent through Sausalito and back over the bridge, urban pioneers, exercising our hearts and bodies on two wheels amid the freshness of our nascent relationship.

On Saturday afternoon, I stopped off at the video store for Miguel and me and ran into the director of Miguel's preschool. Just seeing her flooded me with memories. She mentioned how Verna was the best treasurer the school had ever had.

"She was so organized and efficient and dedicated," she said.

"That was Verna," I said, a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

The thing is, I don't want the memories to fade or stop; I just want to feel better and have this deep, dark sense of emotional emptiness, which I know is raw grief, to subside. I happily summon Verna's memories. It's just that I miss her so much, and therefore the memories are also laced with sadness.

But I still punish myself by confronting those memories and testing my ability to handle them. On Saturday night, after Maya and Miguel went to bed, I watched When Harry Met Sally, a movie we'd enjoyed and was in Verna's instant DVD NetFlix queue.

Of course, as I watched Harry and Sally's animosity for one another grow into love, fondness, and deep friendship, as Meg Ryan brought herself to fake orgasm in a diner, and as Rob Reiner featured actual married couples waxing romantic over their long-term unions, I kept thinking, "All of them get a happily ever after except Verna and me."

Not fair. Not fair at all.

Well, tonight I channeled Verna with memories meant to honor her (and sustain our children). I made her pasta with spinach cream sauce, a dish she and the kids renamed green pasta. Miguel and Maya have been asking me to make the recipe for weeks.

It was probably the healthiest dish Verna made, culled from an issue of Vegetarian Times. You prepare the pasta of your choice and top it with a sauce made from cottage cheese, garlic, broccoli, spinach, and milk. You swirl the ingredients in a food processor. I never liked the dish because the broccoli and garlic gave it a overpoweringly pungent aroma. A former boss of mine banned the dish when I brought it in for leftovers. She said the smell permeating the funeral home was not good for the customers.

I was nervous as I poured the broccoli-spinach sauce onto the pasta and began to stir. Would this dish hold up to the high culinary standards established by Verna, who always adored food and cooking?

It certainly was green, and looked just liked Verna's. "How is it?" I asked.

"Good," said Miguel with a smile. He liked it. Miguel liked it.

"Good," said Maya. "Just like Mommy's."

I almost reached over and smeared her face with a garlic green broccoli spinach kiss. But I stopped and just gazed at her smile. It reminded me of Verna.