For a non-religious agnostic, I write about spiritual matters a lot. As I’ve said before, I pray about 47 times a day, and always the same prayer, “Thank you, God.” This prayer is uttered, internally or externally, with no concern about whether there is any receiver for the message. Expressing gratitude seems to make my life more content, more serene and happier, so I do it with the same attitude I eat bananas—they do me no harm and seem to prevent leg cramps. Could it be prayer as a form of spiritual sustenance is a not fully explored avenue? Perhaps some religious nutritionist would like to explore this and include me in the acknowledgements portion of her journal article.
Despite my agnosticism, I do find holiness in some objects in my life. Without knowing much about animism, I have the sense some items in my daily life have a significance well beyond their physical existence. For a few reasons, I drink coffee throughout the day in the Tiny White Box, as much as a pot a day while here, far more than I ever drank before or suspect I will ever drink again. First, my choices here are either water or coffee. I know this is an artificial choice, for I could buy V-8, pomegranate juice or Diet Coke, three liquids I’ve regularly drunk before, but I’ve chosen not to buy a refrigerator, so those liquids would either be room temperature or solid depending on whether I stored them inside the Tiny White Box or left them to the elements. Still, I drink a pot of coffee a day, and drink it from a dead man’s cup.
(That last paragraph ended too portentously, I think, sounding perhaps like I had a corpse in the corner—which sounds like a fun game for kids. Instead of “Red Rover” or “Mother, May I?” children would love a rousing game of “Corpse in the Corner.” Perhaps the child playing the Corpse would lean against a tree or wall, eyes closed, while the other players tried to sneak up on him and “tag the stiff,” who would have had a chance to reach out a hand and grab the wrist of the tagger, dragging him or her down into the bowels of hell. Please write me if you’d like to workshop this game and begin a Kickstarter campaign.)
When I say “dead man’s cup,” the term is a bit misleading. The cup never belonged to Chuck—he never used it—but it is the brownish handmade pottery cup I bought at the Sunapee Crafts Festival specifically to spread Chuck’s ashes around the backyard of Liberty House, where I’d worked, he’d lived, and we’d become friends. I’d like to say I think of Chuck with every sip I take. I don’t. But I think about him often enough to feel some of his spirit may have seeped into the spirit of the cup. Oddly, I found Chuck’s dead body in his one-room apartment a little less than a year ago, and ended up spending about 20 minutes alone with him while I waited for the ambulance to arrive and declare him dead. During that time, I noticed the smells of feces and urine, for he’d been dead a couple days, the eerie silence, the slackness of his flesh as I checked his pulse and rolled him over. I didn’t feel any spiritual connection with Chuck the man, just the physical sensations connected to his corpse. His soul seemed to have flown the coop, a fact that surprised me. Today, my explanation is that the spiritual part of Chuck was repulsed by his abandoned soul-holder, the body that was already breaking down into its chemical components. That soul, having little else to do, skittered off in search of potter’s field, where the indigent are buried. Instead, it ended up in a potter’s shed, and was trapped and transformed into the cup from which I drink coffee.
I know this explanation is silly, but no sillier than any orthodox theology, and it fully explains why my cup reeks of holiness in a way no Sunday sermon can.