We stopped at a diner for pancakes before hitting the road. The restless night, with all its twisted events, together with my meddling this morning, left me in a more charitable frame of mind than I was yesterday. Natalie, for her part, seemed to share my attitude and didn’t say a word about our fight, as if it never happened. She seemed to share a characteristic often found in decent, but self defeating, people, the elephant in the living room syndrome: a preference to avoid conflict whenever she can, even to the extent of pretending that it doesn’t exist. As it was, there were about a dozen elephants eating pancakes with us in the diner and not one of them asked us to pass the syrup. If she wasn’t going to bring them up, certainly I wasn’t going to re-hash our disputes over religion, politics, and our mutual neglect of each other. I also wasn’t going to confess that I had just impersonated her and written on her ex-fiancé’s wall.
The problem was that, unless we talked about our conflicts, we really didn’t have much to talk about. I pulled out a map and we planned our route to Colorado Springs. We decided to forsake the highway and light out to Dodge City, in part because I wanted to see the dusty burg that figured in so many of my fantasies as a child. She was too young to have watched many westerns, but went along with it because she really didn’t have any other plan.
With this bit of negotiation behind us, we again fell into that silence that I had noted earlier. I could hear our pancakes sizzling on the grill in the kitchen and the short order cook scraping them up and calling the waitress. Natalie gave me the eye when I asked for extra butter, but abstained from nagging. I considered asking her about her ex-fiancé as a way of providing cover for my nefarious activities, but decided against it, knowing that it was a delicate topic.
For some reason, perhaps because I could no longer tolerate the silence, I started to tell her about my former client, the forty-sixer. At first, she seemed to pay little attention to my account, more intent on covering her pancakes evenly with syrup and the little bit of butter she permitted herself, until I came to the part where he hears God tell him to kill his son.
“He wouldn’t do that,” she shot in. “God wouldn’t tell him to kill his son. God doesn’t do that.”
“How can you be so sure?” I said. “Apparently He ordered Abraham to kill Isaac; and you were telling me yesterday that he sent his own Son to die. He seems to have a thing for killing children.”
“That was then, this is now. No one needs to do that to prove anything to Him anymore.”
We went on in this vein for some time. She wouldn’t budge from her position on the kindness of God, even though there was plenty of evidence to the contrary. I wasn’t too interested in arguing that point with her because my main contention was that it was impossible to know anything about God, good or bad, and that, whenever we began to talk about God, we were really talking about ourselves.
“What would you do if you heard a voice you thought was God telling you to kill someone?”
“I’d go see someone like you, ‘cause I’d be crazy. God doesn’t do that.”
“Was Abraham crazy, then?”
I noticed that our thoughts on this subject were just like the way we each ate our pancakes. She stacked them up plumb and carefully prepared the dish in its entirety before eating it, while I let the cakes remain where they were and preferred to syrup and butter as I went. She segregated her egg and sausage and ate them each alone. I dipped each fork load of pancake in my egg yolk and speared a piece of sausage at the end.
“Humanly speaking, I guess it seems that way,” she pronounced, “but nothing is as it seems with God.”
I was taken aback by this insightful bit of wisdom and wondered if she had heard it somewhere and was spitting it out to me, undigested.
“Here’s what gets to me about this story,” I said, encouraged that she might be able to follow the fine points of my argument. “Abraham hears this voice, commanding him to kill. He might have responded in a number of ways. He could’ve said, oh, I guess God isn’t as good as I thought he was; I won’t follow him anymore. But Abraham’s really open-minded. If he were alive today, he might conclude that he had Schizophrenia and, instead of climbing Mt Moriah with his son, he’d go find a doctor and take medication.”
“Or, he might say that the command to kill his son really came from the Devil,” she added. “That’s what I would say.”
“Yeah, the thing that gets me is that what Abraham does is not so much justified by God’s command, because he can always doubt that it came from God. Rather, God’s command is authorized by Abraham’s decision to interpret it a certain way. It’s Abraham who was in the driver’s seat.”
“The whole thing was a test,” she said.
“Yeah, but what was the test? Was the test what Abraham would do with the command? Or was the test how he would interpret the command?”
“Who do you say I am,” she quoted and took a bite of pancakes, as if to stop herself from saying more.
I waited for her to finish.
“So,” she asked through her chewing, “what happened with the guy in your Emergency Room? What did he do?”