During that first druggy summer at the commune, 1970,
when I was eighteen, there was absolutely no reason, no foreshadowing whatsoever,
for my building the crucifix. I had virtually no church, no religion, in
my background. As I was growing up, ours had been a secular household.
But for who-knows-what reason I chose piece after piece of weathered, scrap
barn-wood from a pile by the barn and tacked it together. After several
days I had built a gray-brown sculpture five and a half foot wide by six
and a half foot tall, something I didn't have a use for. It certainly
didn't earn me any brownie points with the rest of the crew--What the
hell are you doing with that thing?
As if I knew.
Eventually, the following summer, I fixed it to the east wall of the milkhouse where I had a garden, to let pole beans climb up it. And there it stayed for some time, until the spring of 1977 to be exact. After I had gotten religion in a big way and had become a Bible-reading, regular-church-going kind of guy, Father Dan said, "I'd like to have an unfinished wood cross for the altar at Easter."
I said, "I know where one is."
In the course of seven nearly-Canadian, New York winters, two or three pieces had fallen to the ground. I tacked them back on before pulling the thing from the milkhouse wall and lashing it to the top of our car. Dan, and the church in general, was overwhelmed; it would be false modesty on my part to say differently. The crucifix didn't stay just for Easter; it became the logo of Christ Church, Morristown. It remains there on the wall by the altar. And I still see it in my mind: the drooping hands, the slumping torso, the feet--and I remember there's one distinctive piece where the heart would be.
But it's not something I've thought about in ages. So sitting in church yesterday--I go about half the time for who-knows-what reason--I was doing mental calisthenics during the sermon. At some point I was studying a fresh flower arrangement by the altar: five white blooms in a row across, set off by a vertical row of crimson blooms above and below the center white one. Those flowers jogged my memory. I leaned and whispered to Marcia, "Remind me to tell you about a dream." I was laughing to myself, thinking I don't believe it; it's too much.
In the fragment of dream I'd remembered from the night before--that I would not have remembered but for the altar flowers--I had been standing before the wood sculpture with a white lily in my hand. And as I passed the lily close to the heart-piece, it turned crimson. Draw it away, white; pass it back, crimson. And I was saying to someone, "Look, it really works."
It seemed so ridiculous in daylight, and I was laughing when I told Marcia later. She said something about maybe it's a sign, and I said, "You'd better be kidding." But she was looking the other way so I don't know. I was thinking more about the humor quotient--It's time to call The National Inquirer.
Last night at work, in the quiet between one a.m.
and six, I either began to wonder or got tired and flaky. What do you do
with this stuff? Only a fool would discount it entirely.
Saul Bellow said, in a 1984 interview, that he had turned away from a "suffocating orthodoxy. . . . But the religious feeling was very strong in me when I was young and it has persisted. . . . Just say that I am a religious man in a retarded condition, and I write to square myself." I like that. Who knows what might be valid and what's not, once you get past the cumbersome orthodoxy?
Back to my home page