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It Rains When I Talk To God by Emma McCoy

Content warning: mention of suicide

The world is beautiful when it rains. I love watching it fall and run off, how it coats everything, making things a shade the slightest step to the left of blue.

In Bluets, Maggie Nelson writes “I have been trying, for some time now, to find dignity in my loneliness. I have been finding this hard to do.”

I, too, have been finding this hard to do.

I’ve read that rain falls with an acceleration of 9.8m/s. That kind of force bends leaves, hits the ocean, and convinces me someone is tapping on my shoulder.

Yes, I chose to move away from home. No, I am not making friends. Yes, I am lonely. No, I will not elaborate. A clam prised open knows dying is guaranteed.

My mother’s mother died fourteen years before I was born. Her name was Ann Jackson. I suppose lung cancer can catch anyone by surprise. Cancer is never, but always, personal. I was born knowing I would never smoke, not give my body even the slightest chance to betray itself.

If you go onto the US Health Department’s website, it says that social isolation can cause as much damage as 15 cigarettes a day.

That night I went to bed with the taste of smoke in my mouth.

I think lonely people often go looking for God because when you reach the end of yourself, there aren’t other ways to turn. This can imply that looking for God is passive, the last option in a long series of last-ditch attempts to feel something. Although I’ve tried to feel lots of things, nothing could be further from the truth. Searching for God is rarely passive and never free from anger–it’s why I’ve got a shovel and one hell of an attitude.

Genesis 2:18 “It is not good for man to be alone.”

For three months, I had to drive over an hour on I-5 twice a week in heavy traffic to make all my physical therapy appointments in Chula Vista. It was just me listening to the highway, then rotator cuff exercises, then driving back to an empty room. The hum of the highway saying alone alone alone. There wasn’t a drive where I didn’t cry.

The CDC says social isolation is associated with about a 50% percent increased risk of dementia, 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke. It also says, word for word, that “social isolation significantly increases a person’s risk of premature death from all causes” and though I doubt that loneliness can increase your risk of death via car crash, crazier things have happened.

Elijah was a prophet. I like Elijah, because he heard God’s voice and did what had to be done to get Israel to listen (Israel means “wrestles with God''). He got up on top of the mountain and set up God’s altar where everyone could see. That’s not to say Elijah never failed but he did kill 800 false prophets and, while horrific and obscene, it appeals to my sense of grief-inspired violence.

I still hate the section of I-5 between San Diego and Chula Vista.

“The thing that makes you exceptional is inevitably that which makes you lonely.” I don’t think Lorraine Hansberry fully thought that through. Has she ever been truly lonely? Shouldn’t we be loved entirely, without the condition of mutilation? If I am exceptional, I don’t want my future to always be lonely. I don’t want to cut that part of myself off to survive, like the mouse in a glue trap that gnaws through his own leg to get to safety. I would if I had to, but what person would willingly walk into that? Only the people who have never been lonely would choose brilliance over love.

I should say it’s not that I wasn’t loved, or that I’ve always been lonely. I would just like to say it is hard to find the dignity in always eating alone.

When my mother hit that point in her 40’s when she’d officially outlived her own mother, she spent the year tracing her family tree and cried easily.

Lamentations 2:11 “I am in torment within; my heart is poured out on the ground.”

I became frustrated with my own brain. It happens sometimes when you have no one else to talk to. I sat down and made a declaration to God: if you won’t help me feel something real, then I’ll read your Bible cover to cover and find out who you are for myself. A literature major knows nothing if not how to read. A book can be an excellent shovel. Side effects include forgetting to eat or sleep.

Sometimes when I’m tired of reading, I go digging for clams, just to ask them if they’ve seen God recently.

Simon van Booy said “For lonely people, rain is a chance to be touched.” That explains a lot.

Being alone and being lonely are two different things separated by a desperate crevice. If I am alone, I enjoy my thoughts. If I am lonely, I want nothing more than to never think again.

Anne Sexton described her journey as an awful rowing toward God. I am not rowing (awful as that would be) because I rather like the water. Instead, I am digging. Digging in the foothills of the Old Testament like a grave robber looking for the bones of a God came to earth. I am sweaty, dirty, wondering what’s the use of a rowboat in the desert.

Deuteronomy 30:4- “Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back”

Elijah didn’t need a rowboat. Rain came pouring onto the whole country after years of drought, flooding God’s altar and washing away the blood of the false prophets he killed. Elijah ran into the mountains, afraid of what Queen Jezebel would do to him. He begged God to kill him, but God gave him food and put him to sleep. When I start yelling at God, I find a snack and take a nap.

Crouching on the beach with sand in my hands, I ask the clams if God knows my name, am I allowed to know God’s name? “Those are questions for later” is their reply.

Clams know a lot, but are rarely helpful.

I was driving on a section of I-5 up north when rain came out of nowhere. I couldn’t see out of my windshield, couldn’t see the car in front of me. I hydroplaned on a turn and wondered if I would crash. Would I flip into a ditch? A median? Hit the car in front? The next lane over? Right as I hit the rumble strips, the tires caught traction. I drove the rest of the way in silence, remembering long stretches of road with no one to talk to.

One time I asked my mother how she knew she would marry my father. Her answer? “He knew how to dream.” I wish I could learn to dream again. I think I used to, but when I try to become a child again, I get stuck somewhere around grade six. I’m too scared to ask her about God. The words get stuck. Am I doing this right? I now understand what it means when people say that food can turn to ashes in your mouth.

Did God create man because He was lonely?

When digging for clams, speed is essential because if clams feel the shift of the shovel in the sand, they’ll dig even faster underground and you’ll never catch them. Thankfully, I am much slower than a clam and I’m already at bedrock with nowhere to go.

From my journal entries, aged 11, “Today I could not be more lonely.”

Paul Simon wrote that “the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls.” I think Elijah would write on subway walls. I’d be some years older on the way to work when I’d hear the hiss of spray paint. I’d turn and he’d be there, spraying the word of God in neon pink and orange. Paint dripping to the sound of high heels and dress shoes clicking on the subway floor. Elijah, I would ask, how did you bear being lonely in the wilderness? Three years of drought? 

“When I set up God’s altar, I found the matar” would be his clam-like reply.

I would have to look up the ancient Hebrew later, but maybe my mind would be filled with visions of rain.

James 5:17-18 “Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”

Kids are great at internalizing things. When I was eleven, all the girls decided to ignore me. It was like a game, except I didn’t know the rules. It almost would have been better if they had yelled at me, made faces, or called me names. At least I would’ve had something to react to.

Deuteronomy 30:19 “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life.”

Anne Sexton killed herself by sitting in her car, turning on the engine, and closing the garage door. Perhaps her rowing toward God wasn’t successful in the end, or perhaps it was–it can’t be known. Either way, it’s not uncommon to find the desperately lonely in their garages with the car on. I have never been lonely enough to close the garage, although I do cough and exhale smoke and jam the door open with a rusty shovel that still holds the dirt of the desert.

Did man create God because he was lonely?

I’ve read that babies cue off their mothers so instinctively that if the mom doesn’t give an emotional reaction at all, the baby becomes distraught. It isn’t the happy, sad, or angry faces that  make a baby respond violently, it’s the lack of any emotion at all. They start to cry, wave their arms, and wail to get any reaction out of mom. 

Tonight I make clam chowder, stirring as I make faces at God.

I offer Elijah a bowl, and we sip in silence as it grows dark outside. “How’s your Hebrew research going?” Well, I’m getting around to it. Today was occupied by clam chowder and the gathering rain clouds outside my kitchen window.

In the movie Holes, a woman with rattlesnake venom fingernails runs a youth detention camp. The juvies have to dig holes six feet deep in this wasteland in order to “build character” or some other nonsense that adults tell teenagers. Eventually, we find out there was buried treasure on the land, and this woman was using desert-digging teens to find it. The digging wasn’t quite so pointless after all.

Sometime in the late summer I found myself on the beach before anyone else had woken up. My tent was behind me, the ocean in front, with a huge swath of fog rolling down the hill and spilling out across the beach. It started raining, warm and thick and I couldn’t bring myself to find shelter. It’s easier to find God when it’s raining because it’s impossible to be desperately lonely when someone is tapping on your shoulder. Besides, I’ve never been the type to clam up when someone asks how I’m doing. 

Matar, מָטַר (Hebrew) noun- rain, the blessing of God in the presence of rain.

“We are all at times unconscious prophets,” said Charles Spurgeon. When I read that, I frowned. “What is it?” says Elijah from the breakfast table. I look over orange juice and wheat toast, the newspaper he’s holding that has the future foretold. Could your work be anything less than deliberate? I ask. A pause. “Would God create anything less than enough?”

Lorraine Hansberry ought to stand, alone, in a glue trap, and see if she still feels exceptional.

My mother and I lay on a big bed with blue sheets. A borrowed bed, in a borrowed vacation house that we visit in winter. It’s about to rain, but I’ve always loved watching the rain hit the  ocean surface. 

We’re in a blue sheeted bed up high in a room like a bird’s nest, windows facing outward. In my mind I am on the beach digging for clams like I would as a kid, bright colored buckets and plastic shovels. In my body I am in a bed with my mother and I tell her I am looking for God. I’m worried I’m not doing it right.

She looks at me with a face like a revelation and says, “You will always be more than enough.”

Do I believe her?

Deuteronomy 31:6 “Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Do I believe Him?

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It Rains When I Talk To God: Text

Emma McCoy is a poet and essayist with love for the old stories. She is the assistant editor for Whale Road Review, a co-editor of Driftwood, and a poetry reader for the Minison project. She's the author of "In Case I Live Forever" (2022) and honestly, just wants to write poems so beautiful that people have to go outside and sit in the rain for a little bit. Catch her on Twitter @poetrybyemma

It Rains When I Talk To God: Text
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