I think of the children who will never know, intuitively, that a flower is a plant’s way of making love, or what silence sounds like, or that trees breathe out what we breathe in.
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When we learned that contributor Pat Schneider had died this past August at the age of eighty-six, we went back to our archives to reread the first piece she published with us: “If I Were God,” from our February 1997 issue. The essay seems as relevant today as when it was written, and we’ve decided to reprint it for this month’s Dog-Eared Page.
If I were God, I would make a world exactly like this one. I love its inconsistencies, its contradictions. I love it that this river flows around stones and finds its own way. I love it that people are free, even to be selfish and to think they own beaches and mountaintops and have the right to keep the poor off them. I love it that things change, that the boundaries of nations and the fences of the rich get torn down sometimes. I love it that some people think we have many lifetimes while others think we have only this one. I especially love it that no one knows for certain, even if they think they do.
I love it that there are little clovers here in the grass beside me as I write, the same kind I have known all my life, and that this morning there was a bewildered-looking moose that I have not known at all standing in the mist at the edge of this river.
I love it that I am sixty years old and my hair is gray and my hand against this white paper is showing age spots and I am sitting on a wedge of land between a river and a stream on a Monday afternoon in July. I love it that I don’t know exactly where I am, because it helps me to remember that I don’t know exactly where Earth is in this galaxy, or where this galaxy is in this universe, or whether I have only this lifetime or many lifetimes. I love supposing this one is the only one, because it keeps me mindful of how precious everything is.
There is sweet dock mixed in with the clover at my feet. My mother told me that sweet dock makes good greens. My family knew things that poor people had to know, like what wild greens you can eat. Right now I am learning things only rich people get to know, like how it is to take a canoe trip led by a brilliant wilderness guide. Enid and I have left behind all the students in the writing workshops we lead for low-income women: Corinna and Diane and Maryann and Evelyn and Robin and Teresa and Lynn and a dozen more who can’t be here because they are poor in money. Kate has money, but she can’t be here because she is poor in health. And yet, if I were God, I would make a world just like this one, where everyone comes raw and naked and dependent into it; where everyone enters bloody between the legs or through the cut belly of a woman; where nothing is for certain and there is so much to learn. I would make the world unfair as this world is unfair, because only in a world like this one is it possible that maybe the rich will take down their fences; maybe the poor will get together and break the fences down; maybe those who know how to read will teach those who don’t. Maybe the fed will feed the hungry. Maybe the lion will lie down by the lamb.
Maybe none of this will happen, but if I were making a world, I’d want it to be complicated and unfair, a place where everything needs everything else, where if someone kills off all the wolves then the moose will get sick and die slow deaths because nothing eats them anymore. I don’t understand it, but I want to be here on this wedge of land, on this canoe trip, trusting myself to a woman who knows what I don’t about rivers and weather and human bodies. I love how she told me last year that she can read the river. She knows by the ripples on its surface what lies beneath and where to take her canoe. I love it that this year she is teaching me where to take a canoe, and how. I love it that she is teaching me to brush mosquitoes away gently, instead of sending them to the next life — which I’m not at all sure they will have. I love being in this body, in this world, in this time and place. It took me sixty years to get here, sixty years to like my body well enough to walk bare into a river in full sight of other women without shame, sixty years to trust my body enough to believe I can paddle for six hours and still lead a writing workshop when I get home.
I want to be fully here. Tonight I will sleep between two streams of water, under stars that move from I don’t know where to I don’t know where. Right now, two dragonflies on my thigh are giving me a demonstration of the proper mating technique when you are shaped like a small stick with wings.
Copyright © 1997 by Pat Schneider. Reprinted by permission of the author’s family.