Eavesdropping on God

Lane_1Quite soon after moving to thisCastle (but before the invocation of coyote [with no regrets]) there was a visitation-of-sorts. It started down the lane with a ruckus that woke me out deep sleep at 2 am: a street person moaning and caterwauling in a not-so-good way. I lay there hoping that she would stop, or go away, or anything, but she did not. After a while I dragged myself out of bed, looked out the window and saw her, directly below the next utility pole along the lane, lying at 30 degrees to the centre line of the lane, arms and legs fully extended, face down, chest in puddle, head bobbing up and falling back down with the rhythm of her caterwauling in the yellowish light under the utility pole. Here is one (of several) true things about my neighbourhood: all of the utility poles are actually built as archways and on the cross braces are mounted high intensity sodium vapour spotlights which bathe the lanes in circles of yellowish light. This woman was lying directly in one of the circles of light.

I shouted down the lane asking the woman if she needed me to call 911 for her, but wasn’t heard; she continued to moan and caterwaul. The whole scene was ethereal and other-worldly, the vague hint of mist or fog, the yellowish light, the moaning and caterwauling, the time of day, and then I heard the voice, the well tempered voice.

“Stop that,” the voice said.

In my neighbourhood another thing is true: a well-tempered, unaccented voice is a rarity. Many voices exist in the Downtown Eastside, many affected by conditions – alcohol, smoke, crack, junk, living rough; many heavily accented; many shrill with anger and frustration. In my neighbourhood, you hear plenty crows and seagulls, innumerable crows and seagulls, but not many songbirds. This voice was the voice of a songbird.

In my particular part of the Downtown Eastside, the local population might not be characterized as altruistic: I live in thisCastle, across the street from thisCastle is FOB Chinese social housing, across the lane is the Chinese school, across the street from the Chinese school is the brick and almost windowless condo village that appears to be designed to emulate gun towers or bunkers, next to thisCastle is a parking lot, next to that a Chinese Sausage factory, next to that an SRO hotel. Next to the school across the lane is a house from which wafts the sounds of Mah Jong (in the summer), and next to the Mah Jong house is a house, one of the oldest in Vancouver, that has been renovated and expanded and restored and serves as a home for who knows whom. Beside that is another couple of vacant lots. Not many places for altruists to hide around here.

I was at least 75 feet away from the woman lying in the lane, and clearly this well-tempered voice was not shouting, and I could hear it perfectly, so I thought that it was talking to me. I looked around, but as I pointed out earlier, in my neighbourhood, there are not many places for the well-meaning to hide.

At first I assumed that only I could hear this beautiful well-tempered voice as I heard again “Stop that,” and “Why are you doing this?” I had already stopped shouting, and it was pretty clear why I had been shouting, so I began to suspect that this voice was not speaking to me.

The woman, face down in the lane had stopped her wailing and she was holding her head up off of the asphalt. “Who’s that talking to me?” she asked.

“Why are you doing this?” the voice said, “Stop it.”

There was something about the mist and the yellowish light shining down on the woman in the lane, and the tone and the character of the disembodied sourceless voice that spoke to me of angels or gods, beings that neither have nor need bodies (though they may have desire), and I began to understand that I was eavesdropping on a private conversation between an angel or a god and someone who was accustomed to hearing only demons.

The two of them continued to talk, but I had begun to feel my weariness, I just couldn’t stay awake any longer. I could see that the woman in the lane was in better hands than I could ever provide for her, and so I fell back into my bed where I slept soundly for the rest of the night. Dreaming that there could be enough angels to address each of the demonized in the Downtown Eastside at least once in a while.

~ by thiscassandra on Friday 7 March 2008.

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