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pay it forward.

I woke up yesterday to bronchitis and Church bells. The bronchitis I was half-expecting, because in preparing not to smoke I had been smoking like a tobacco farmer, but the bells were new. Maybe they’ve been broken or maybe I’ve just been too mentally unstable to hear them, but while laying in bed coughing up half a lung - the latest setback in the shit storm that has been my life the last few weeks - I asked God why he had forsaken me and that’s when the bells started.

Church bells are lovely. I like them. They’re pretty on Italian hillsides and they’re pretty here. They are a call to the community to gather peacefully, share food, and trade useful tips on how to make it through the next week with some grace. That’s what they’re supposed to mean, anyway. That’s what they used to mean but I don’t think that’s what they mean to the church anymore. As I lay there, I imagined a priest pulling on the bell rope with one hand while clutching a fistful of deposit slips in the other. I hate to be cynical (I really, really do) but I know the Catholic Church, intimately, and I know they don’t care about the community half as much as they care about money. To them, these bells are just a big, one-way ATM.

Last week, the Pope, his ridiculous hat, and his clown posse headed over to Great Britain for a weekend getaway and were their normal, horrible selves. They took their silly car out for a ride along the Thames, offered a lame ass apology for their should-be-in-jail deviance, and "blessed" people, stadium style. It was religion as rock concert. The “free” event cost 25 Euro, per person, and you couldn’t even tailgate. BBQ’s, gazebos and metal cutlery were all no-no’s as they “posed a threat” to the rest of the flock. Torches, however, were fine. It was the only detail about the trip that made sense to me. Of course the Vatican would say that torches were “acceptable.” Antiquated lighting meet antiquated thinking.

A few weeks before the Pope arrived, the Vatican made it clear they expected the taxpayers to foot the 12 million Euro price tag. God, I hope that included meals. The taxpayers, in response, said hell no. Well, 78% said hell no, even the Irish, which is astounding cause that country is Catholic from hell to hip. In the end, the Vatican expected 200,000 but only 50,000 showed. Now, that's progress.

I really wanted to stand up and be counted, too. I wanted to NOT show, as well, but they weren’t asking Americans, so I did the only thing I could think of, I drove over to Vons and gave $10 to the lady from Planned Parenthood who always has a card table set up in front. Now, $10 doesn’t even cover the Percoset bill from my first abortion but it felt good to do something the Pope would disapprove of. Make that two things he would disapprove of. No, three. Oh, forget it - I'm totes going to hell.
It’s hard to get an exact number of how much the Vatican is worth because, like all organized crime syndicates, they aren’t very transparent, but it’s somewhere in the $5 billion area. Shouldn’t they be able to pay for their own trips? Maybe their sequin and satin shoe budget is crushing them and they really need the help financially, but all the Drag Queens I know can pay for their ensembles, quite handily, without taking donations. 

To the drag queens out there, please accept my apology for even lumping you in with these idiots, but we must all agree at this point that there is an awful lot of cross dressing going on over there and, other than pasta, I can’t really see where else the money is going. Surely, not to the people who need it. That I know for sure. So, it must be the tassels and glitter cause their dresses are fabulous!

I think you know where I stand on Jesus as leading man but I am also a huge fan of Jesus as all-around peacemaker and visionary. I believe he was here. I believe he had some totally radical thoughts about loving kindness, a la Dr. King, Ghandi, Mother Theresa, etc. I believe he intimidated the powerful people who killed him because his mere presence in the room reminded them of what assholes they were. I believe that remembering people like Jesus and trying to emulate their take on things is a good idea but the church has gone so far off message that I don’t know how they can look at themselves in the mirror. I think the Vatican is thrilled to bits that their CEO is on permanent leave cause if Jesus were here today, he’d be livid and they know it.

What would Jesus do? After a three-week bender, he’d kick their ass.

I spent a lot of time talking to my parents about this last week. Their “fresh horses” arrived in the form of a couple of Clydesdales with a score to settle. They got this 100-year old House and garden into shape and, in the process, got my 42-year old ass in gear.
They fixed showerheads and built a terraced vegetable garden. They hauled cement blocks and made walkways. They pulled up weeds and filled three sidewalk garbage cans with junk. They paid for, and planted, flowers and trees. They built Dash a Clubhouse – an honest to God tepee made from lumber - and made a sign that said Chief Dashiell. They washed the dishes and cut roses for my bedside table. They cleaned important windows and fixed anything that was broken. They oiled stuck drawers and filled the big tree with Christmas lights. They swept the drive and created a work shed. The list goes on and on. Dash, not used to seeing productivity at this level, especially from people who are supposed to be in their 60's, just stared and marveled at their energy. I smiled a lot and cried sometimes. Every job, big or small, was a love letter to me and to Dash and after feeling so alone for so long, I was reminded that feelings are not facts. I am never, really, alone.

When my mom and I cut a huge swath of anise that was threatening to take over the backyard, we created a path between my house and my neighbor to the left, Rich, who said how happy he was to see the property being loved up. He’s a community organizer from way back, probably in his 80’s, and still very active in the neighborhood. He was wearing a NO on Prop 8 t-shirt and said it was nice to hear children laughing in the house again.

Pop had a calamity while starting the clubhouse and swore out loud. A moment later, he heard a voice ask, “Do you need some help?” It was another neighbor, Jackson, who just moved in to the house behind mine. He’s from Boston, a recent ex-smoker, and an architect. Before we knew it, he jumped the fence, brought over some sawhorses and tools and they finished the clubhouse, chatting like old friends. I brought them Gatorade.

The neighbors to the right, Dean and Karen, brought us tomatoes from their garden and more tools. They walked around and admired the work. They’ve lived here for 36 years and helped turn our block from a gangland to a safe place for families and are two of the nicest people I have ever met. I asked them if they liked wine or cookies cause I wanted to do something nice for them. Dean said, “Don’t you dare. It would make me unhappy."
I was confused. When someone does something nice for you, aren’t you supposed to repay them in some way? Dean said no. “You have to learn to accept kindness for kindness sake. No one here wants anything back. We’re happy to help.” I nodded but was still unclear on the concept of receiving without having first to give.

I looked at my parents realigning the sprinklers. I looked at Dash painting in his clubhouse. I looked at Rich smiling over the fence. I looked at Jackson putting his tools back in his shed. I looked at the garden, the vegetables and flowers taking root and bending their leaves towards the sun. I looked back at Dean and smiled. I tried to talk but I was crying too. There are some days that catch in my throat and render me speechless and I knew I would never forget this one.
We are, all of us, tucked away in this little corner, growing something beautiful.

How do you thank your parents for loving you? How do you thank your neighbors for their kindness? I asked Dean. He said, "Pay it forward," and went back into his house, smiling. I thought about how I might go about it and decided that my next challenge will be volunteering. That is church. That is Jesus. Let the bells ring.

This post first appeared on The Early Girl., please read the originial post: here

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