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‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean,
neither more nor less.’ Lewis Carroll; ‘Through the Looking-Glass’.
And I agree with that, so when I say that I believe there to be as many kinds of drugs to abuse as there are religions to wallow in then you’ll need to understand what I mean by the words ‘abuse’ and ‘wallow’. By ‘abuse’ I mean ‘abuse’ but when I use the word ‘wallow’ I mean it in a kindly way because there’s nothing wrong with ‘wallowing’ is there? As long as you don’t em.. over indulge, in em... wallowing.
I have two close friends; Eddy and Lyn. They’ve never met. I sometimes wonder whom I feel most close to, my friend Eddy who abuses marijuana, tobacco and alcohol and holds down a responsible job as a Senior Nurse, or my friend Lyn, who drifts from job to job and helps on Saturday nights distributing food with some group called the Simon Community. Lyn wants only a modest home and an equally modest husband to supply her with two potentially modest children. She’s twenty three and rather attractive so she’ll have no problems on that front. And Lyn worships Jesus. I know that because she tells me so every time we meet. Eddy apparently worships nothing and lives for pleasure, I deduce that from the way he speaks and behaves.
Most times I find it more comfortable to be with Eddy. Not because of his hedonism and his relaxed wit but because he never tries to sell me anything, except that time he offered me some Moroccan Black, which I accepted, to be sociable. I think he makes a small profit selling it but he’s a nurse, modest pay. It’s odd, he’s not a hippy or anything like that in fact he can wield his tongue like a razor when someone upsets him and everyone says that he can spot a ‘phoney’ a mile off.
Lyn tells me she reads a lot. Eddy discusses literature. Lyn tells me that her life is meaningful. Eddy asks what ‘meaningful’ means. Lyn votes Lib Dem whilst Eddy makes a point of defacing his ballot paper at every election; he crosses out all the candidates’ names and writes in; “Bobby Sands M.P.” followed by a very large cross. I warn him that the Special Branch will be given the defaced ballot papers and that they can trace them through his poll-registration number. And do you know what he says to that? “I know.” that’s what he says, and then he smiles one of those odd smiles and adds; “so much for secret ballots.”
I have no idea about things like ‘faith’ at all. I confess that it’s all a mystery to me. But I enjoy being with Lyn when the mood is on me. Lyn accepts a glass of cider in my company and when she’s had several of these I try to ease her out of her apparently introverted world. Like last Friday. I asked her where Jesus lives, now that they’ve discovered he’s not up there beyond the clouds.
“Within us,” she replied enigmatically.
I remember looking within me and all I could see was Eddy. He was trying to hide a smile.
“So when I die I’ll go; ‘within myself’? Is that it?” I asked.
I thought that I saw anger in her eyes for a brief second but she merely assured me that if I had faith I wouldn’t be asking such silly questions. She’s not stupid you know. And there was no anger. I’d misread that. So I tried another approach and asked her why Jesus never gave me this faith. But she told me, quick as a flash, that I never looked for it. If I did then I’d find it.
I didn’t come back on this but I recalled all those afternoons spent at Sunday school or sitting in wet clothing at evensong with my mother on one side of me and Aunt Edie, who smelt of balsam and mints, on the other. I had sat, squashed in the middle, trying hard to concentrate on what the man in the strange clothing was saying. Something about Charity usually and he always ended by saying “The Plate will now pass amongst you.” As though ‘The Plate’ was a mysterious and Holy poltergeist with a Heavenly engine.
Lyn still talks on even when I’m not listening and so I dragged myself away from my thoughts, I was wondering what happened to all those ship hapennies we had to collect for Jesus. Do you remember them?
“I wish you could discover Jesus.” She said meaningfully. And I nodded absently until I realised that this was really a question.
“So do I.” I replied. And this was the honest side of me speaking. Who wouldn’t prefer eternal life and a mansion in Heaven when you think of the alternative? But then when I’d sipped at my whiskey and thought about it a little more I begin to find small flaws. Even in the mere thought of Heaven.
“I wonder what they do up there?” I asked. Trying all the while to appear intense and searching. I mean from what I’d read when you die and go to Heaven you turn into some sort of Norman St. John-Stevas clone and spend the rest of eternity kissing the Deity’s Arse. But of course I never said that to Lyn. Well I never phrased it like that anyway although I must have used the word ‘arse’ because Lyn did get annoyed. Sadly only at my use of ‘language’. I apologised and re stated the proposition leaving out the offending word but she began to adopt her slightly aloof stance and so I gave up on that tack. I sat back and listened to her rather pleasant, if somewhat characterless, home-county’s accent, explaining to me that Heaven ‘surpasseth all understanding’. ‘Surpasseth’, yes, that’s the actual word she used and she reproaches me for ‘language’.
Eddy told me once about the comment by Karl Marx, you know, that one about religion being the opium of the people? Well apparently it’s widely abused. No, that’s the wrong word to use, not ‘abused’, but there’s more to the quote than that. According to Eddy what Marx actually says is; ‘Religion is the heart in the heartless world, the opium of the people.’ It makes you think doesn’t it? I thought of it then and had a sudden image of Lyn dishing out soup and rolls to the homeless in Manchester’s Moss-side and I became more benevolent, she has a heart. I reached over and poured her another glass of cider.
‘The heart of a heartless world.’ All people ever remember is the bit about the ‘opium of the people’. I wonder why that is? I think the emphasis nowadays is on drugs you see and it’s the ‘opium’ bit that attracts more than the ‘religion’. And who wants to admit that it’s a ‘heartless world’ anyway? Because it’s not. There are many people like Lyn in it. But I can tell you that even Lyn has a dark side and by this time she was on her fourth glass.
“Some people,” and she paused, because she really doesn’t mean, not consciously anyway, to inflict pain on others, “and I don’t mean, y o u” she added, drawing out and illuminating the word ‘y o u’ as though it was an accusation, “but some people, writers and people like that,” She knows I write, it’s only a hobby not a vice. “have no experience, not of real life.”
She managed to make the word ‘real’ sound as though it was written in italics.
My first instinct was to take the bait. I know that I’m capable of turning things round, my brain is sharp despite the whiskey. I can deflect the malice back at the protagonist you see, it’s a gift, it’s like writing ‘Return to Sender’ on an envelope when you know it’s something you don’t want to read. But whiskey is my drug and although everyone tells me different I think that whiskey mellows me so I refrained from asking her what ‘real’ life is. I mean is there any other kind of life? Unless you’re in love with Jesus? But that’s the point, that’s what she meant really and so I had to do something to steer her clear of the rock on which she’d surely perish.
“Unlike y o u” I said. And I allowed myself to say ‘you’ with meaningful sincerity and I leant forward for effect and nodded my head as the words sank in. She flashed that look at me again but obviously she felt more confident within herself by this time.
“The homeless,” she said, and it was as if she was proclaiming all of her faith in those two words, “people have no idea.” she was looking as if she could actually see them, her eyes were swimming and somehow magnified, her mood had changed again, she seemed so, so far away, so frail.
And all of a sudden I felt guilty. Just like that. I always end up hurting her don’t I? I overstep the mark! I put my glass down and held her hand in both of mine but almost instantly I regretted it.
“You’re my best friend,” She said. I felt anxiety rising inside me because I’d a premonition of what was coming. “I want to help you find Jesus” she said, “will you, will you pray with me?”
Well, talk about embarrassed. And I was annoyed too. I mean I’d held back hadn’t I? I immediately regretted not twisting the knife when I had the upper hand. And then something intervened, after what seemed like long minutes of her gazing sincerely at me with those sad, brown eyes, the telephone rang. I slipped one hand free and immediately she brought her other hand across to seize my one hand in both of hers. I picked the telephone up hoping above hope...
“Yes, yes, by all means come round,” I said and for some reason I lowered my voice and tried to turn away from Lyn who was looking at me, intensely, expectantly. “I’ve a friend here Eddy, I know you’d just love to meet her.”