The weather has turned warm, and what can one do in the face of such weather, but cook rice with dill and dried barberries, and some steamed trout? Nothing. There is nothing else one can do. So I went down to Sainsers to equip myself with the only missing element: the dill, which I had run out of. You can’t use dried dill – might as well be sprinkling shredded newspaper into your meal. It has to be fresh. My method is to buy as much of it as I can, bring it home, instantly chop it up, put it into a large freezer bag, all spread out so it doesn’t form a single dill-flavoured ice-cube, and freeze it.
It was with my head full of such fragrant thoughts that I paused in the exit doorway of the bus before my stop, where I found myself hailed by a venerable gent.
“Pray!” he called.
“What?” I said, pulling Chopin out of my ears.
“Pray!” he repeated. The two ladies sitting around him, but clearly not with him, recoiled from him, slightly, but good-naturedly.
“I … uh … I don’t want to,” I countered, cautiously. He had a stick with him. I’m averse to being beaten for the heathen I am, by elders with sticks.
“Pray tonight,” he urged me. “Do you believe in god?”
Now, this is a tricky one. Since I’m ill equipped to lie, I made a French face at him and said “Not … exactly.”
“PHWHAT!” he ejaculated. “Why not? You don’t believe in god! You do!”
“Wellll … sort of. But not … look, it’s hard to explain,” I said.
The truth is, technically, I sort of do. But I absolutely positively do not believe in the god he was talking about. The one that created everything and then set out a bunch of rules that run contrary to the natures of the things created. I’m not buying that. I’m about as vehemently anti organised religion as it is possible for a person to be. As far as I can see, what we call “morality” is inherent to all social species, as it is deeply involved in the survival of those animals. Much of human “morality” seems to concern itself with who is allowed to access whose vagina, when, and for what purpose. Call me new-fashioned if you will, but I view the business of who accesses my vagina, when, and for what purpose, as a matter for me to decide on a case-by-case basis.
So do I think that there is a god with laws? Yes. But the laws of my god are electro-magnetism, strong interaction, weak interaction and gravitation. They operate at a sub-atomic level. There are other laws, lesser laws, governing things like the tendency for DNA to replicate itself in infinite variety and so forth. And the spiritual presence of god, which we feel as the soar and lift of being alive, it is not manifest any more in the person of Jesus Christ than it is in the person of my cat. Everything living is holy, is a manifestation of the sacred. The substrate upon which we live is holy. The sun is holy, and the laws governing the spin of our galaxy are as holy as those governing the soul. But you can’t blurt that out in the final hundred yards before your stop comes up. And if you do, what generally happens is, you get beaten for the heathen you are with the old man’s stick.
There’s a lot of historical precedent for that sort of thing.
“You do believe in god!” he insisted.
“No. I really … I don’t, really,” I said, not-quite-truthfully.
“The world is drawing to an end!” he cried.
It is for you, pal, I thought. For me: not yet. But I didn’t say that, because that would have constituted youthful gloating in this context, which is ungraceful. “Perhaps it is,” I said.
“Have you ever prayed?”
“Where do you live?” he demanded, suddenly full of fire. His hand tightened on the stick. I braced myself, and not just against the wallow of the cornering bus.
“Er… here. Ish,” I waved a hand vaguely over my back at the passing houses.
“I will come and speak to your husband!” he railed. “He will make you pray!”
“I don’t have a husband,” I said. And a smirk overwhelmed me. “That’s probably why I don’t need to pray.”
The women either side of him dissolved into secret laughter and I stepped off the bus.
I feel a bit bad for making them laugh at him. But also: not.