THE BURN RATE OF BUTTER
Holy Mess. I just had a “come to Jesus” in my head. Student, front row, today.
Ah, sukie sukie now. I think I just got my groove back. It’s been a while, I reckon, but nothing like an educated Southern chile in the front row to bring you on back home.
The book was a witchy favorite, Like Water for Chocolate, and we had just gone over the intriguing manner in which Hispanic culture does not fragment the human experience. Food and sex and nurturance and spirituality all dance, naked, to the beat of boiling water and fire, sunsets and god. The issue during World Literature II seemed to be that a) magical realism did not apologize for itself and b) all the characters seemed to be religious. (I know, I know. Hold it in, ya’ll.) So, at some point, I ask the the mostly Christian, mostly Southern room: Are magic and Christianity antithetical to each other? You would be surprised. At least eighty percent of those babies are Christian. At least seventy-five percent said no. Well now.
The young lady in front of me had been grappling with this concept for about forty minutes and the class was winding down. She turned her face to the window, sun sliding in a bit early since Daylight Savings, and announced her little revelation. It meant everything. She could love her god, be a good girl, and accept her gay friend next to her. She could go to church, enjoy unmarried sex with a partner she meant forever with and refuse fragmentation as a whole human. We talked about the word “holistic” today. A whole life. A refusal to shatter oneself in order to fit neatly into geometric boxes, and there the little angel sat, hollerin’ out Holy Mess. My answer to her was one word: exactly. (Like the Grinch, my heart grew a whole “mess” bigger today.)
Class ended. I walked the city block back to the car, taking in the 64 degree November afternoon and recollecting on when I, myownself, became comfortable in this skin. As a soul. Here’s what I found: that moment, that crystallized, unrelenting moment, happened the day that I finally took in the fact that I’m going to die. Now, I believe (as most of us Pagans do) that reincarnation is eminent, or at least a decent ghosthood, but there was sincere grief at the loss of this flesh that I have spent a lifetime criticizing, these family members I have spent a lifetime trying to understand, and these friends and children I have spent a heart loving. Suddenly, my size eight feet were the most lovely I have ever seen planted in Alabama clay. At the drop of a hat, my elf ears were spectacular and the weak electric spark of a heart, irregular at best, was the sweetest thing I had ever heard. I think I fell in love with me. Not in a Virginia Woolf sort of way, but more in the way that a baby touches its toes and delights at its own smile in a mirror. In a soul, physical, real, spiritual and holistic way. Like that. The story of me. Holy Mess.
Let me tell you a hard story, one that I probably shouldn’t reveal on an open space but feel compelled to do so, anyway. Let me tell you about falling in love with a friend. See, I believe that we fall in love all the time: with our momma, our baby, our funny little dog, and the postman. I’m a fan of this sort of loving. Now, I had been celebate (to be discussed at a much later date) for nine years. Had moved off to Georgia with my babies and run back due to my ache for my momma and my birthright–although Georgia is a cousin of mine and has the best sunsets. My daughter was about 22 and had gotten it into her head that her momma should get LAID. (Let me defend myself here: I had spent that last nine years getting a doctoral degree and raising babies. I was a might busy.) But in some fashion, I expect she was onto something.
Flash forward to my new porch, back in Alabama, all the pots and pans still in cardboard boxes and bottles of wine scattered across the porch. My daughter shows up with seven, yes, seven young men that I assume are just her friends. Being the polite Southerner I am, I was friendly: we drank and laughed and I wondered at their, um, posturing toward me. (Still, didn’t know her plan, the little devil.) At some juncture, I begin to consider the possibility of clearing the porch and going on to bed, so I move my little ass to the planter in front of this fella with a mohawk and more tattoed skin than not. Readying myself to go in, I mention to Mohawk Man that, if I was going to make brown butter pancakes in the morning for my sons, I’d better get on. “Butter” was the word that halted the world on its axis that night of 2008. Ten o’clock turned into two in the morning, and when we looked back around, everyone had left like so many strange testosterone specters in the night. Turned out, Mowhawk Man knew a thing or two about living, could go long-winded on the burn rate of butter, understood the deep-bone feeling of picking up a wooden spoon and whipping up a little life-giving sustance. Turned out, he was to be a best friend. Nobody got laid that night, that I know of anyway. But damn, if my heart didn’t crack a bit letting that boy in.
I realize there’s a joke here. I plan to leave it alone.
I also realize that I’m working on several analogies here at once, but if you have learned anything about being Southern, then you know that we are the American version of Plato. Be still.
Let’s skim the cream off of some of this and see what we get. If I had considered that young woman in class today of being incapable of getting the phantasmatic nature of magic, I would have missed her Holy Mess Moment. If I had only thought of getting laid that night with Mohawk, I would have missed the last four years of a deep and abiding friendship. Not quite done yet, but there you have a bit of a clue of the path we’re walking together, yes?
Finally, the juice: I’ve been lucky enough to foresee my own impending death. Blah, blah, I hear ya, but I mean it. I know my own limited day. Sucks sometimes to be a soothsayer. And I have made use of it.
You see, I have finally comprehended the burn rate of a human body. As far as I am concerned, it is necessary. I consider death to be a “gassing up the car” moment. Jump right back in and you have another righteous roadtrip. Hopefully for around eighty years. But . . . what if this moment we have, as Pagans, critical to our next trip? What if the folks we have danced with don’t show back up at the same party? Have we enjoyed the ride? Did we leave anything of worth on their plates?
Did we remember to fall in love with our fucked-up, beautiful, fleshy selves?
Paula Deen, aka Butter Queen of the South, has this to say about this thing we call living:
“You know, I am so sick of cuttin’ on my television and everyone on it is obsessed with livin’ forever. Well, I have a news flash: Ain’t none of us gettin’ out of her alive.”
Put it to yourself like this: butter holds its flavor, even better than olive oil. Butter burns up fast and flashy, but if you hold that last moment–slow and painfully–right as it begins to brown, that’s the sweetest, nuttiest flavor on the tongue. One second before, it’s alright. One second after, bitter. But in that brief moment . . .
May we savor it.
One last thing: holistic means just what it sounds like: whole. As to the whole getting laid thing, damn straight that was a good idea. But we’ll talk about how I met my husband at another juncture.