The Matchbook Diaries

Beginning, Ending, and Re-Beginning

Going public about faith I feel how it must feel for someone else who comes “out of the closet” about something they are.  I think this is how it must be to admit something you know will be judged, misinterpreted, flung back, or rejected.  Most public pronouncements of faith are loaded with righteous pretense and preening.  The way most people who claim to know God talk about God is just, wow.  That “religious” branding is drenched in hate, violence, promises of wealth and right-ness, and insipid platitudes.

I’m an evangelist, no question, but ew, I though, just- no, just not that, anything but that job please.  I’d rather not be this, but an evangelist is who I am.  There are people who drape themselves in a God who hates, who divides, who judges, who controls.  I know with utter certainty that any message connected to God that has any of those bits is not accurate.  It’s torture to watch, so I don’t.  We are, every single last one of us humans, immaculately, if not spectacularly made by God.  God did not make us to condemn us.  We condemn ourselves.

After 6 years of rigorous grief over my true childhood I reached a moment in 2020 when I was no longer interested in getting up.  I was wiped out after years of wild, terrorized grief.  I asked God for months that I not wake in the following morning.  Right before sleep I’d say, Please let this be the last day of me.

The death site of Bunny Hollow at Maple Haven.

The year had been hard.  A lifelong spiritual mentor pronounced her condemnation of me that December and permanently cast me out telling me in all of her 50 years of counseling she’d only condemned one other person.  My best friend of 55 years, experiencing grief of her own, ended her friendship with me at the exact same time.

Mornings became a dread.  I believed that my pain was bottomless; my faith was in jeopardy.  The acute agony I experienced was not diminishing and six years of the reckoning I endured was something about which I wanted the authority to say, “Too much.” I wanted to say, “Stop.”  The pain did not stop; it accelerated.

All the while I knew – I’m expensive.  This suffering is not the price of what my mother did to me, but rather the price of my own liberty, my own redemption.  To whine about my own cross is obscene.  But I had the audacity; I managed.  I went through the motions, day after day, of ritual, of praying and worshipping.  There was no light in me.

2020 was the first year that I was not called upon to mentor art students, or any students.  It was the first year that I was not engaged with people from around the world asking me questions about faith.  My emails dried up.

In November of that year I’d looked online for off-grid real estate in Maine.  I’d always dabbled in that arena, sort of touching on it, lured by the promise of privacy and liberty.

The first and only place I ever saw online that morning was a little cabin on 95 acres in Maine.  Three days later we bought it for cash.  I clung to the images of that little handmade cabin throughout the most miserable spring of my life.  Eventually I flew to the US with my son to move all of our personal history and possessions from storage in our farmhouse in Georgia.  I drove the moving van and towed our Prius to Maine.  My son and I loaded 400 boxes into that cabin.  At the end of a quarter long mile driveway, off of a dirt road, the cabin was essentially two large rooms attached to an enormous workshop buried deep in the woods.  Not another home was in sight or hearing.  Nights were utter dark and silent.  My husband named the place Maple Haven.  Our farm in Georgia is called Beech Haven, and has been called that for a 100 years.  Our family house there is called Happy Hollow.  I named our new home in Maine Bunny Hollow as we had a tame and persistent little bunny who lived under us there.

Into that house went hundreds of thousands of dollars of fine art I’d inherited from my mother.  There were very fine old sea trunks from the 1700’s that had come from Europe with my mother’s wealthy Jewish family, Chinese heirlooms, silver, 200 year old china, and all of the antique paper goods I use for my business.  For 8 weeks we poured ourselves into that tiny, savage place, huddling at night in front of the fire, using flashlights and candles for light.  My son and husband flew home to Tanzania but I remained behind to await a shipment of my work from Hong Kong.

In truth, though, I waited behind to finally do what I longed to do, hang myself.  Fpr years I’d planned, focused on finally detaching from my mother, from the pain.  I secretly felt that once the two men I loved were away and I was utterly alone in that cabin, in a place where I would not be found, and where my family would never have to see, I could finally end my life.  I dropped them at the Boston airport, spent one night there in a hotel, and then drove back to our new home in 3 hours and a half.  Anyone who has ever driven to northern Maine from Boston knows the tremendous, suicidal speed at which I was driving to have done what I did.  Getting back to silent solitude, I had about 6 weeks to get myself killed.

There were interruptions.  My friend, having recovered sufficiently from her own grief, reached out to me, suddenly, apologized in humility, and returned to our intimacy briefly.  My husband – sensing, maybe, sent me hundreds and hundreds of fine, long stemmed pink roses from South America.  One day neighbor man drove all the way down our driveway, crazed grief in his face, and asked if I’d seen his German shepherd.  I had not.  But I said I would pray for the dog to find its way home.  The following morning that total stranger was back on my doorsteps, his MAGA hat literally in his hand, telling me that his dog returned home directly after I had prayed.  It wasn’t a witness to him; it was a witness to me.

I love German shepherds.  I’ve been a runner all of my life. In one season I ran daily on a long country road past a farmhouse that always had a humungous German shepherd asleep on the porch.  One day I saw the shepherd get up suddenly and very deliberately run straight towards me.  I thought, Shit, shit, shit, he’s going to kill me.  There was no escape.  I just plunged ahead towards the huge dog, who, upon reaching me, picked up speed and hurled himself into the predator, an equally large chow who was following silently behind me to attack.  I named my hero The Good Shepherd.  So I had prayed for that other Good Shepherd and he’d come home.

Alone in Maine I finally got to the tipping point.  I knew that I would do it that night.  The rope was suspended in the workshop and I was ready.  At like 1:30 am my time my cell phone rang as I was literally heading to hang myself.  I answered reluctantly, incredulously.  My husband said, “I suddenly thought I needed to call you and tell you I love you.”  God damn it.  God help me.

My dearest cousin, who lives in Boston, contacted me the very net morning saying he suddenly felt the need to see me that very same weekend.  Mark drove 7 hours up to spend that final weekend in Maine with me prior to my own scheduled departure from the US.  My suicide had failed in a way I knew was permanent and irrevocable.

I was irritated.  I’d engaged in suicidal ideation for years and this was to be my culminating effort.  The relief I wanted was not permitted.  I wanted the pain to stop.  I told God to fuck off, to get the fuck out of my heart, to get away.  God kept replying, I will not leave you.  You may leave me.  I will not leave you.  God damn you, I said to God.  God damn you God.

The word hollow, the word we used for both our homes, it meant something different to me in that tipping point of my life.

Then, resigned, exhausted, humiliated, there I was on a plane returning to my family not because I was strong, but because I was too weak to die.  There was no triumph in my return, after 5 months away, to my home in Tanzania.  It wasn’t life I wanted, but death.

On a Saturday afternoon two weeks after my return to Tanzania the man who manages our property in Maine called.  He’d gone there at our request to meet a Danish man who was purchasing our mill to use in his wooden boat-building business in Bar Harbor.  Our home and our car had both burnt to the ground.  The fire had raged unsuppressed and undetected until it had gone cold.  Our property manager is actually a retired fire chief so he knew exactly how to proceed.  Maine takes fires seriously as wood is a huge source of income.  Our home was embedded in 95 acres of wood.  Not a single tree burned.   Not one tree died.  Only my home, my car, and every single thing I had that attached me to my mother.  The first words out of my mouth were, “Well, that’s the end of Dody.”  (My mother.)  Texting my friend in the US, moments after, her instant reply was, “Well, that’s the end of Rosemary.”  (My mother’s legal name.)

They investigated.  An Act of God, they said.

I walked outside that Saturday.  My son evaporated to his room.  My husband sat inside.  I sat down and looked up.  I’ve believed in God since I was 13 years old.  I know, with certainty, that God does not deal in spectacular behavior because such acts would ruin any chance humanity has of acting freely towards God.  Such undeniable acts would override free will.  And yet.

Less than 10 days later the insurance company dumped into 200% of the cash I’d just spent buying that property into our bank account.  And whilst the home was destroyed, the real value of that purchase was in the 95 acres, all of which are perfectly intact.  Once again, in stupefied wonder, and still in the initial stages of shock, I typed one sentence into a search engine.  Houses on the beach in Maine (where if they’re on fucking fire, someone will notice!).  I cannot afford a house on the beach anywhere, and certainly not on the northeastern coast of the US.  One house came up.  Only one.  I don’t know why.  It had a turret.  All my life I’ve wanted a turret.  I called the agent.  The house was again in a bidding war as it was 50% less than the lowest priced house, on an island, off the coast of Maine.  Two days later, we’d once again beaten the other bidders by offering all cash.  Only afterwards did I know that the name of the place we’ve purchased is the Abbey.  Only afterwards did I know that they’d deliberately photoshopped the top of the turret to destroy the cross that actually sits there.  Only afterwards did I know that this 200 year old property had been built as a sanctuary for monastics.

Grief doesn’t end when I want it to.  I cannot be what I am without having endured what I have endured – the structure of the woundedness within me is exactly why I have been driven without caution and without restraint into my lifelong love affair with God.  But I’m not allowed to kill myself.

This act of God felt like a blessing and an admonishment.  I am stronger, now, than I have ever been, empowered, profoundly, by the staggering weight of God’s attention, of God’s contempt for human pain, of God’s insistent, consistent, intimacy with someone like me.  I am a ball of hate, of judgement, of pettiness, of weakness.  Yet this gift was given to me, conferring, imposing value upon my life and my intentions.  I know what I wanted to know.  God will, God can, God does undo, even something like what happened to me.  I’m not chosen, not more or less special than anyone else.  God lives.  God loves me, and you.  God loves all those we hate and all those we love and all those we feel nothing for.  Moreover, God acts, daily, towards each of us.  We can pretend not to see, not to know, but this pretense is a paper sword against the infinite flaming blade of the love of God.  We don’t get to choose life; we are not supposed to choose death either.