Rice Rolls

I am making rice-paper rolls. You soften two rounds of incredibly thin rice paper, overlap them on a cutting board, and put on them cooked rice vermicelli, cucumber, mint, and (in my house) flakes of ersatz crab. Then you roll the rice paper up into a neat bundle, tucking in the sides as you go. You eat the rolls cold with spicy peanut sauce. Very good, very refreshing.

But mostly I am making the rolls because I need something to do with my hands, because my head isn't working and hasn't been since Tuesday morning. It's better at least to create something than it is to watch, over and over again, the same unbelievable, sickening images or to stare at the computer, wanting desperately to connect with someone, anyone--to get away from the sense of helplessness and foreboding. Creating is a small raspberry blown in the face of wanton destruction. And since I don't knit, I'm teaching myself rice-paper rolling. So it sounds nuts. The world, right now, is nuts.

At least, thank God, I know these reactions aren't completely wonky. I feel fortunate to know the country I'm walking through now, from previous trips: this country of blankness, of frozen tears, of spaciness and a weird sense of waiting for something --nobody knows what: the other shoe dropping? I know the experience of emotional shock, how you can't either take it all in or get away from it; how you stand on the sidelines, unable to move or to think straight and kicking yourself: "what on earth is wrong with me?"

I know too, from previous experience, that in a little while, this will wear off, and then the real weirdnesses will kick in: outbursts of crying over the silliest things, a panicky need to hang onto the banister rail while walking downstairs; peculiar ghostly images wafting across the mind's eye; odd dreams. The desperate need to muckle onto someone and just *talk*. Associative thinking that takes you off in some very strange directions; suddenly you're back in the summer of '89, or in southern Wales, or in your grandmother's attic. I know, from the past, to watch out for dissociation: that sense of being "otherwhere", in a tunnel of bent light or floating up by the northeast corner of the bedroom ceiling. Dissociation is not good. Dissociation is the emotional equivalent of a drop in blood pressure when you're in physical shock. You need to get out of it quick, before it becomes a bad habit.

I find it best to concentrate strongly on the living, breathing world around me: a world of early-fall trees and school lunches, and of learning to make rice-paper rolls, which take real concentration during the rolling-up phase. Maybe this is one of the many reasons why incarnation is so important: in the desert of the heart, you do have to take particular care to stay grounded. You have to find ways, however impossible it looks in the shock of the now, to find small absurd moments of delight. You need to take a little more care to notice a flock of blackbirds bursting up, or the curve of a child's cheek, or the sideways light at sunset. Meanwhile, somehow you have to stick with the tragedy, staying in heart with those who are injured and those who mourn and the rescue workers. And somehow you have to do this in spite of the fact that your own emotions are shocked into silence. No wonder I can't remember where I put anything....

I think, while my hands are busy, of Allah. I have been talking at Allah quite a lot lately, although Allah isn't talking back (which may be just as well). I tell Allah that I believe that he is God--that he and my Christian God are really the same infinite, unknowable Self; that what stands between my God and Allah is only our human limitations and failings. We, not AllahGod, are responsible for our divisions and ancient hates. I believe that AllahGod is just and merciful, compassionate and caring, that he hates cruelty and the sort of uncaring that makes people treat other people as though they were Lego minifigs instead of warm flesh-and-blood beings, beloved of AllahGod and of infinite value. I believe that AllahGod is grieved and angered by what has been done in his name, and that he stands with and cares for the widows, the orphans, the people who are risking their own lives in trying to rescue the living and the dead. This AllahGod--this is someone a person could believe in. In future, I will simply call him God and be done with it. As for the differences in our beliefs, maybe we need to look at those with kindness, and to regard each other with greater respect and less need to convert.

But if (as someone may accuse me) I am ignorant of Allah, and Allah is a god who rejoices in the slaughter of the infidel and takes pleasure in holy war--if Allah is a cruelly "righteous" god who laughed and cheered when the planes struck and fire leaped and the two towers slid gracefully into rubble--then Allah is only a god, not God, and a real piece of nastiness to boot. The people who follow this god aren't serving God any more than Jim Jones or David Koresh or Fred Phelps--Christianity too has its vindictive nut cases, after all. I cannot respect a god who assigns guilt by association; that's a human trait, and a loathsome one. A just God would hear both sides, would weigh the hearts and minds with insight and honesty. I do believe that we get the gods we choose. If someone wants to choose that sort of god, then that person can live with his or her choice. Perhaps rage and vindictiveness are more enjoyable than the painful choice of love, but that's not where my soul wants to go. Not even for a moment. And I refuse to believe that my Moslem brothers and sisters worship that bitter, vengeful god.

I do trust God to give justice as well as healing, although I have learned to believe that both may come in God's good time, which may not be the time I want. God has all eternity to confront and heal, to console the brokenhearted and to give the evildoers the gift of inner self-knowledge, that inner conviction that's so much better justice than any retribution we could ever imagine. True, we don't get the immediate childish pleasure of hitting back; but look at where that's taken humankind in the past. Do we really want to go there again?

These thoughts form and dissolve again in a swirl of hazy think-feel that will, I know, eventually crystallize into grief. For now, I try to spend some soul-time with the people leaning out of the top floor windows above the fire, before the tower slouched into rubble. I try to spend soul-time with those watching and waiting, not knowing whether to hope or get on with the terrible business of grieving. I try to spend soul-time with those passing chunk after chunk of concrete, tense against the possibility of the rubble shifting lethally overhead or underfoot. I try to stay with them. It's really all I can do.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

Copyright © 2001 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 15 Sep 2001
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