July 3, 2009

The last time I saw god, god must have seen me first, saw me pacing and frantic, felt the aching of my heart, the shortness of my breath, the lump in my throat, and my utter helplessness and need for reassurance. My little brother was dying (one year younger than me, my only sibling), my best friend and the only other person in the world who understood the crazy life we had led and the unique childhood experiences that had shaped us. We had a forever secret BFF club of two. He and I were so close, he was like my alter-ego, a part of me, of who I am. He was in a motorcycle accident just days before, he had been burned and had broken some bones, but his head injury was what eventually killed him. He was an incredible guy, full of seeming contradictions, of weakness and strength, tenderness
and cold calculation, supporting and critical. What I was thinking about, when god intercepted me, was my brother’s tattoos, and how he had been burned. He had recently gotten new tattoos on his left arm, they were stunning works of art, like something Michelangelo would have done if he ever did tattoos. The problem with the new tattoos was the subject matter, they were of religious figures, including the Virgin Mary, doing things such as partaking of drugs and alcohol and leading little children astray. One of his friends told me that when he first saw them he jokingly told my brother, “your going to burn!” Irreverent was how I would describe them, an ironic social statement with the kind of shock value my brother savored, but the nurse who treated him used the word “satanic,” he wasn’t sure what to make of them. My brother’s friends, his girlfriend, andBill Martin “Ascension” I all knew they were not a religious statement on his part, yet he had been burned the worst where he had his new tattoos, and he would have lost them all had he survived. In the backs of our minds we were all thinking what a weird coincidence it was, and wondering despite ourselves if maybe god hadn’t spanked him or something. So there I was, pacing through a neighborhood near the hospital, the knowledge that he was gone (brain-dead) just sinking in, the whole tattoo thing weighing heavily on my mind, not knowing quite what to do with myself, hoping for some kind of sign, wondering what I would tell my parents when they finally arrived, when a little calico cat came darting out of the bushes in front of me. The cat interrupted my forward motion by rubbing up against my legs and demanding attention the way friendly cats often do to strangers on the sidewalk. So I sat down and started petting her, and just hearing and feeling her purr made me feel better. As I sat there stroking her and talking to her, her owner peeked out the front door, smiled, and said, “her name is Magdalen.” I was floored! At that moment I knew I didn’t need to worry anymore, a little cat named after the other Mary, the saint who embodies forgiveness of sins and was the first witness of Christ’s resurrection had stopped me dead in my tracks to give me comfort when I needed it the most. Later I e-mailed this story to some of my brother’s friends, and his best friend wrote back immediately. He said that it was very strange, because he had just been talking to one of his friends about the whole tattoo/burn coincidence and wondering about it himself, but at the same time he had caught himself thinking, for no apparent reason, what a lovely name “Magdalena” was. Shortly after their conversation he got my e-mail, and he too was floored! So there you have it, god can be a little fluffy purring calico cat, the kind that loves everyone and doesn’t think anyone is a stranger.

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