The other day, while sitting in the dentist's chair, I had a vision of God. Of course, the nitrous oxide had something to do with it, accompanied by the CD headphones playing beatific piano music. And so did the stress I was experiencing. It's no fun to have your teeth drilled, and I was looking for some way out of - or through - my pain.  Just for the record: God lives in a small, ranch-style brick house in the sky. When you enter his front door, you see sunlight streaming in through the windows and if you turn right, you'll see God, sitting in his Barcalounger, feet up, watching television with a remote in his right hand. He's just like the typical pictures of my youth. Flowing white robes, long hair, Rip Van Winkle-scale beard. And if you want he"ll let you sit on his lap. I didn't spy the television to see what God watches. I just assumed He has 6 or 7 billion channels, with multiscreen capability.  At that point, I started crying in the dentist's chair, tears pouring from the corners of my eyes, flowing into my ears. My dentist must see this all the time. Pain, coupled with nitrous oxide and beautiful music, must often compel her patients into a transcendent state. I'm not making up this lucid vision of God. I would never allow my brain to conjure up something as cliched as the aforementioned encounter. I'd make Him a She, place Her in some kind of bucolic, earth-bound setting, or visualize something on a molecular level ... No, this was a true sighting.  This morning, while I was writing this, I discovered an eviscerated bird on the back porch, courtesy of one of our cats. It lies there, barely resembling its former self, reminding me of a painting by Heronymous Bosch. Or maybe I mean Frida Kahlo. Birds are messengers of something deeper. They bring messages of change, especially when they lay there in their own state of ultimate transition. The message, in this case, was to remind me of a patient I knew, back when I worked in a nursing home as an orderly. Death and decay and infirmity were the norm. Suffering was the everyday vocabulary of their lives. Some got out of the nursing institution and returned home. Most, however, died - either quickly or over a protracted period of time. But the patient in question was one of those lives plucked too soon. He had been a professor at IU, and now had a tumor in his brain, and no manner of intervention could resolve the problem. By the time he came to the nursing home, all hope was extinguished. He was bald from the radiation, yet still sported a burly beard. He was burly all 'round, as I remember, a big man with a deep, resonant voice, and I would watch as his wife and young children came in, tentatively, fearful, to try and give him some comfort. He wasn't having it. There was no comforting this despair, this rage.  One afternoon they walked in, shellshocked as usual, and he experienced a sudden paroxysm of vomit that flew, literally, all the way across the room, splattering against the wall. The family had to leave during the clean-up procedure. I was no stranger then to projectile vomit, to blood and shit and bedsores you could fit a light bulb into. I cleaned up the vomit. The family did not return.  Later that night, I tried to talk to him, give him some comfort of my own. He wasn't having any from me, either. At one point, he interrupted my supposedly comforting monologue with one succinct phrase. "I'm doomed." His deep voice, his bottomless anguish, added innumerable O's to the word. Was God watching our professor from his lounge chair in the sky? Was he one of God's multibillion channels?  I came in for my shift not too many days after the vomit-episode, and his bed was empty. I was relieved, really, not just for him and his family, but for myself. It was just too difficult; he was impenetrable in his sadness. There was nothing I could say or do. A few hours later, another person occupied the bed, another life, another story, another person doomed.  Why is the lesson about the fragility of life so hard to integrate? The dead bird speaks to me, the patients in the nursing home, the instances in my own life, my family and friends' lives, it all reminds me over and over again: The Great Cat can pluck any of us out of the breathing world at any moment.  "I'm doooooooooomed," the professor cried. This phrase goes on forever in my mind. Sometimes, it's the clarion call of my own existence, of everyone's existence. We're all doomed. That's why the idea of God popped up in the first place, I suppose, some succor for humanity's pernicious, pervasive loss. Or, maybe not. Maybe it was the necessity of trying to provide context for this world's beauty or joy. Sunrise; sunset. Birdsongs. Or, perhaps religion is ultimately the creation of systems that can provide a unified field theory for it all: the heart-breaking beauty, the pain of loss, the mystery.  In my dentist chair stupor, I reached out and found a spot to sit and be comforted. I don't believe for a moment that I'll end up there in the brick, ranch-style home in the sky, but at least, in the meantime, I have a lap I can curl up into. I promise not to touch the remote.

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