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Gift Bag

I am late to a dinner party. This is normal even as much as I strove to be on time, but at least it’s not my fault: Safeway is to blame. The bag of Clementine oranges confuses the checker, requires a supervisor who waves a handwritten note in front of the woman. “Just do what it says,” the supervisor says, and the chubby, thick-glassed woman laughs and continues scanning and smacking the brittle chicklet IBM keys. Several minutes and their combined efforts at last reduce the bag from $18 to $3.99 and I am free to go.

Worrying about the time when headed to a communal vegan dinner seems inappropriate, and I am able to focus on how much more pleasant the warm parking lot asphalt is than the store’s glass-smooth and refrigerated floors, hustling to the car. Sun is everywhere, streaming sunset lances, and I hear the woman before I see her: a tiny dark-haired Asian woman running at a lope. There is something in her hand.

The driver’s door is open and the woman run-hops around to thrust out a small, white gift bag. She says: Jesus loves you. She run-skips away, furious work to move so slowly out of sight.

Free of any markings, the bag is perfect, straight and clean. It weighs as much as its contents, which are these:

  • a moderate-quality blue and white click pen. God loves you! is silkscreened on the barrel
  • a 1 oz. bag of Doritos, regular nacho cheese
  • a pack of Orbit gum, sweet mint flavor
  • a Happy Promise Choco Pie [sic]
  • a postcard-sized piece of blue paper, with the following:

You are God’s LOVE

You are God’s JOY

When Jesus died on the cross, He was saying “I love you”. But God’s love didn’t stop there. He listens to your prayers as if you were the only person in the world. He brings good things into your life, even out of seemingly impossible situations. God’s love for you will not end. And your awareness of that love will grow deeper as you grow closer to Him

In the television science fiction of my childhood, the standard means to defeat a malevolent robot or computer was to ask it a few non-sequitirs or challenge its denial of deep-down emotions. Consumed in a paroxysm of sparks and pathetic gibbering, the lights would go out and our heroes would be free to underplay their cleverness. Does not compute indeed! (laughs with heroic understatement).

When presented in adult reality with a token of freely given but incomprehensible charity, the real adult is not puzzled or furious or throwing off sparks but only quiet and a little confused. The bag is inventoried and the giver’s character is instantaneously categorized by the lower centers of the triune brain: Christian, innocent, childlike, mama-san. The bag has nothing to do with Safeway or vegans in communes or clock time. The bag is white and without stain, dissimilar from the one holding it, for whom assigning some degree of stain is necessary for understanding.

I go to the dinner, which is very good and where I am only slightly uncomfortable. Driving home, the bag is still in the car, unraptured. In the past it would have repulsed me, a physical manifestation of that uniquely Western schizophrenic motif of love, death, pain and redemption. Now I am not sure what to think. The note’s text now no longer evokes an incandescent adolescent rage; it is vaguely unsettling and evokes something like pity. I realize I am powerless to change the great edifice behind it. The woman meant well and meant to give me a strength she does not realize emasculates her and makes love a suicide pact with an unpleaseable distant father in the sky. I am not quite sure what the woman meant to give in the little white bag, but I cannot deny that it works for a lot of people.

I recieved the bag on Friday and it is on the kitchen table I share. None of the items have been used. I think I wanted to record them here first before I did, or gave them to someone else.

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3 comments on “Gift Bag

  1. I love this story! There’s something so pitiful about “God’s love” being shown with Doritos and a cheap pen. Personally, I think we deserve a bit more for our obsequious devotion.

    In fact, we get more every day but it comes through the hearts of those around us and all of life. I believe in a higher power but not one that demands repentance or rule-following.

    This morning, I saw this bit of a poem by Hafiz, an old skool Persian poet. It matches much more closely my definition of devotion:

    “Throw away all your begging bowls at God’s door,
    Fore I have heard the Beloved prefers sweet, threatening shouts,
    Something on the order of:
    “Hey, Beloved, my heart is a raging volcano of love for you!”
    You better start kissing me–or else!” ~Hafiz

    I love your writing, D, and I love watching you unfold. Truly.

  2. I bookmarked this page (because Kymberlee had posted it to facebook, and she generally has good taste) and went to go answer the door. Out in the heat, in full sun, were two boys in white shirts and ties (and who knows how much underwear), offering me the message of Jesus Christ. I looked at them a second, at their earnestness, and my heart melted a bit. I commented that it looked like “they” were melting and then offered to get them some ice water after stating, with a smile, that we simply do not “do” religion. What a surprise then, to come back to the laptop to read your story. I felt everything that was going through your mind and heart here, well done. The paradox of plastic religion versus earnest charity, the bafflement. The realization that the raging adolescent had had his day and was replaced by an observer with a half-broken heart. I caught a glimpse of bafflement in the eyes of those poor boys on my front porch as I handed them cups of ice water and wonder if I was confusing their mind-imbedded robots with non-sequiturs. (Awesome metaphor!) I really enjoyed this. Thank you!

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