“Hand to God”

A couple Sundays ago Kirsten took me to see a play, “Hand to God.” It was set mostly in a church rec room, and had five characters. Seven if you count the puppets. Three were teenagers – Jason, Jessica and Timothy, – one was the pastor of the church, the other was Margery, Jason’s newly-widowed mom, who was supposed to be teaching the kids puppetry. Jason was there because Mom insisted, Timothy was there while his Mom went to twelve step meetings, and Jessica was there because, well, she was “more into Balinese shadow puppetry,” but she’ll take what she can get.

But the real star of the show was Tyrone, Jason’s evil demon hand puppet. Jason steadily loses control over him – Tyrone even shows up in Jason’s bed after he takes him off one night. “He’s making me do bad things,” Jason tells Margery. Jason is a shy, troubled kid, and Tyrone becomes his mouthpiece. If Jason’s thinking it, Tyrone’s saying it. And if you’re thinking anything with a puppet or two is silly, it’s not so funny when Tyrone bites a bloody chunk of Timothy’s ear off. Or when, in desperation to be rid of him, Jason starts hacking Tyrone – in other words, his hand – with a hammer, and accidentally smashes his mother’s while he’s at it.

To paraphrase Tyrone – “self-hatred’s a bitch.”

Anger and lust drive the play. The pastor wants to sleep with Margery, who rebuffs him. Timothy also wants to sleep with Margery, who doesn’t rebuff him. Jason is smitten with Jessica, and Tyrone lets her know in his vulgar way. And before the show is over, Jessica’s puppet will have dirty puppet sex with Tyrone.

Two weeks later I’m still thinking about that play. That’s what happens with art, when you see yourself in it. Jason’s overwhelmed by his rage at Margery for being a shitty wife and mother. I’ve lived overwhelmed by rage, and my version of hammer-smashing my hand was drinking, vomiting and refusing to take care of myself, some of which I talked about here and here.

 There’s so many levels of disturbing in “Hand to God” that it’s hard to parse – not the least being the tragic hilarity of it all. Everyone – with the possible exception of Jessica – was unhappy and none of them knew what to do about it. And when the play was over, there wasn’t any resolution. Margery and Jason can bond over their mutually bloodied hands, but that won’t fix the history between them. And in spite of his viciousness, I felt like I lost something when Tryone was killed off before the end of the play, when there was nothing but the “real” characters left. But after the lights went out and the players disappeared, a spotlight shone above the stage, and there was Tyrone. Miss me? he asked; C’mon. You know you did.

What’s up with that? I couldn’t be the only one glad to see him. Tyrone the Terrorist was seductive and exciting. He was the best thing in a play filled with terrific. But I want to know why. I want to know why I’m so drawn to the dark side. “I don’t think I liked the play so much,” Kirsten said. “I really didn’t like what Jason did to his hand.” It bothered her – she has a limit to how far down she’ll go. Where’s my limit? What am I looking for in that dark? I believe that’s where I’ll find something real. Something raw and primal and so far down I can scream until I exhaust myself numb.

“You have to learn to like the light,” Philip tells me. He doesn’t say “love” – that’s too much right now. I’m drawn to gray days, to rain and thunder, to storms which don’t happen often enough. Melanie told me there’s a word for that – pluviophile. Lover of rain. I don’t think there’s anything to learn from lightness. I’ve been watching a lot of TV series, a lot of movies, and it’s making the way I experience life clearer. Entertainment is either a black or light image to me. When I hear “chick flick,” I think Waste of Time. When I hear drama, I’m seduced. I want the treachery – give me “Pulp Fiction,” “American History X,” “True Detective,” “Requiem For A Dream.” Let something besides my own morbid thoughts bring me to that darkness because if I see it outside of me I won’t be so alone with it – and maybe somewhere in that depravity I can figure out how to live with grief and death.

In “True Detective,” Rust says that with humans, “nature made a tragic misstep in evolution.” I thought about why someone would say that. And what I thought was how hard it is to be here, even if you get through without a major tragedy. First off, we live knowing we’re going to die, and since we don’t know what happens when we do, it’s terrifying. And it’s not only our own death we have to deal with. People we love will die, which can be a worse thing to suffer than any nightmare we might have had about dying ourselves. Then there’s the fact that we need each other, yet it’s so hard to get along. Especially when we’re wanting to be right more than we’re wanting to be loved. The world’s like a big refracting mirror. Our personal arguments are reflected in larger social arguments, which are reflected in even larger political arguments, which often culminate in the most massive, monstrous argument of all – war. If we take a look at what’s going on around us, it’s clear that as a species, we’re insane.

We deal with our tragedies in the context of the way we live, which means crisis brings out the past. So when Rust says we are mistakes of nature, that’s what his life has brought him to. What do I bring to my suffering? Philip’s death is my Sisyphus. The shock of it hurled me back to some personal, primitive beginning that I thought was long gone. But that’s the thing – life isn’t linear. It’s now, it’s all happening now. I brought the grief of a lifetime to Philip’s death. I’m torn and twisted and it’s hard to untangle the grief from the drama. When Philip said, “Don’t make my death into something it isn’t,” he meant don’t bring the past into this. And much as I’m talking about the void I’m attracted to, Philip’s in a light so profound I can only pray to have a glimpse of it. That’s the light that burns the past out of us, the light that leads to the Divine. And burning “the past out of us” has nothing to do with forgetting. I’m talking about a psychic past where we react based on the self we’ve created and so stay stuck in our stories. To burn the past out is to bring a freshness and wonder to whatever is now, including death and grief. And that doesn’t mean happy – it means clarity.

So on the one hand, I say I need the dark to understand death. On the other, I say it’s light that leads to transcendence. Do I even know what the hell I believe?

There’s so much I don’t understand. There are people who, after their child has died, reach a point where they find life more precious than ever. Is it because they loved life before, and so now appreciate its brevity the more? When I was a kid, I loved music. My parents gave me a transistor radio in a brown leather case that went wherever I did. When my mom would get mad at me, she’d take my radio away. She took a piece of me with it. “Didn’t you want music even more, when your radio was gone?” my therapist asked. So loss of something makes you want it more. But how’s that supposed to translate? Philip’s death has made me want his life more, not mine.

More, next…

© 2014 Denise Smyth


17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jmgoyder
    Apr 12, 2014 @ 21:33:13

    There is much to think about here.


  2. Denise
    Apr 12, 2014 @ 21:36:24

    You’re so right – and I’m not done.

    Julie, thank you for reading, for being there. I’m just so attached to you. I hope all is well with you – and say hi to Ming, please. ;o)


  3. edcol52
    Apr 12, 2014 @ 21:53:06

    Very profound. There is much about this world we don’t understand, and it has been said that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I think that might also be true for our psychic history, our ‘previous lifetimes’. We keep getting the message until we ‘get’ the message. Some of us get it sooner than others, some of us have to come back multiple times until we figure it out. Thank you for your insights, I will have to re-read this a couple of times.


    • Denise
      Apr 13, 2014 @ 15:38:50

      I like the way you put that – we keep getting the message until we “get” the message. On what I’ll call a “higher” level, my relationship with Philip is about working through the grief I’ve lived with long before he was born. He keeps asking me to do the work now so I don’t have to keep doing it over and over. “I’m here to show you what death isn’t,” he tells me.

      But then there’s the flesh and bones of it, that’s he’s not here for me to touch and see. It’s the work of our lives, isn’t it?


  4. behindthemask
    Apr 13, 2014 @ 06:52:33

    lots of love. xo


  5. kmlagatree
    Apr 13, 2014 @ 09:26:45

    This is rich and deep and profound. So much to ponder. I got more out of your post than I did the play.


  6. Denise Hisey
    Apr 13, 2014 @ 17:20:34

    The play sounds very deep and thought-provoking.
    I think we’re drawn to what’s familiar, for some it’s the light, and for others it’s the dark. I also think what we’re drawn to shifts as we change internally.


  7. lensgirl53
    Apr 13, 2014 @ 19:20:54

    I think that it is the state of our minds that leads us to dark or light. It is when life is the darkest that I crave the light. I want to always be in the Light where I know my son is right now. I have had several dreams about the Light that is an affirmation to me that that is where Love resides. There is hope in that Light….so embrace it and you will not be disappointed. xoxo


    • Denise
      Apr 16, 2014 @ 08:06:14

      One of the things I want to write about is that never I have felt so loved since Philip died. That’s one of his gifts to me. And while I believe you – that love resides in light – there’s something about physical light – here, on earth – that feels hard. So I try to breathe, relax, let it in.


  8. Anne Whitaker
    Apr 16, 2014 @ 07:21:48

    Dear Denise

    I’m leaving a post for you to read which is a meditation on the question of the creative power of darkness, culminating in an extract from a very fine Scottish poet, Christopher Whyte. I think you might find the post relevant….


    • Denise
      Apr 18, 2014 @ 12:54:30

      Anne, thank you for this – I love it. I don’t know much about astrology, but it fascinates me (and I know you know I don’t mean the “Daily Horoscope” version). October is my favorite month; to me, that’s what feels like a “beginning.” Interesting that I’m born in April, so near to the beginning of spring, my least favorite season. It’s the rich, layered light of October I yearn for, not the more translucent we’re experiencing now. But with Philip’s urging, I’m trying to pay attention to that light, to breathe it in, to see what’s so upsetting.

      I so appreciate your depth and kindness.


  9. Book Peeps
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 12:32:29

    So much to think about here. Thoughts about death or grieving the death of a loved one send us down to the bowels of the earth. I so relate to when you ask yourself, “Do I even know what the hell I believe?” I’ve asked myself that same question again recently. Maybe like the seed, we have to keep pushing up through the darkness before we see the light. It doesn’t just happen one time though and then we’re done. We finally get to bask in the light for a while and then, it seems, we are suddenly driven back down to begin again. I wonder if it is because we get too attached to any person, idea or belief…but then again, holding on to any thought may be the culprit. Another amazing post, Denise.


  10. Denise
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 13:04:30

    The bowels of the earth – just like with Demeter, as she mourns Persephone. And you just made me see something – I mean, I know it’s never “once.” We don’t just “get” there. We keep doing the work. But you mentioned a seed pushing up through the earth, and that’s it – our own spiritual growth is a cycle, like anything else. I used to think there was a place I was trying to get to. No. There’s now, and sometimes it feels worse than other times. It’s so much about freeing ourselves from attachments.

    Last night, I went out to dinner. This morning, I couldn’t find my pocketbook. Credit cards, bank cards, license – all of it. In the middle of my freak out, I thought, No. No way. I’m not doing this – most likely, the restaurant had it. But they don’t open til noon, so I wouldn’t know for hours. Instead of driving myself nuts, I made a plan for what I’d do if they didn’t have it. What would all the angst and upset do for me? It wouldn’t make my bag appear, it’d just make it all harder. It’s all part of practicing; breathe, release, breathe, release.

    (And the happy ending is they did, in fact, have it ;o)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: