I grew up in a suburban neighborhood in Sacramento, California. I was always fascinated to go next door to our neighbor's, an older couple, who had the exact same house as us, but everything in their house looked neat, newly bought, sturdy, and white. Our living room, instead of the neat white couches and matching end tables of our neighbor's, was a yoga room. One brown couch by the window allowed it to be a kind of living room, sometimes. My parents were former hippies who had embraced a Sikh lifestyle. They were angling towards a normal American life with my dad's 9 to 5 job and our little house. But we were anything but normal. I wore my hair up in a bun with a little doily and my parents both wore turbans. We didn't cut our hair, and with his long brown beard my dad would often turn heads when we were out and about. My parents would rise early each morning and practice yoga and meditation. My parents, both musicians, would often play Sikh traditional music, and we blessed our food before each meal with a special chant. We often talked about God, in an easy comfortable manner, like other people might talk about baseball. And this brings me to my story.
I can still feel the sensation of being on my blue banana seat bike, and rolling over the curved curbs, up and down. I was on my way to Sandy's house. She lived just around the corner, in one of the only two story houses in the whole neighborhood. Not only did her house break out of the normal mold of the neighborhood houses, but our friendship cracked open a world I would have never known without it. When I arrived we usually went straight upstairs to her room and listened to "Stayin Alive" by the Bee Gee's. I can still remember Sandy teaching me John Travolta's dance moves from "Saturday Night Fever." We would sing and dance for hours in front of the mirror, perfecting our high octane performances. When it was snack time, we often raced down the staircase, and sat at the kitchen bar to eat cheese, crackers, and fruit, all of which I was sure did not come from the health food co-op that my parents frequented. While Sandy's mother served us, I remember studying her, seeing the mascara, her curly hair, painted nails, and smelling her perfume, all things that my mother did not have - at all.
I was seven.
One day after snack, we went outside to play in the backyard. There was a section that was just dirt, by some tall green leafy bushes that separated Sandy's house from the neighbor's. The coolness of the earth and the shade was a welcome reprieve from that hot summer day.
"Let's make mud pies!" Sandy said.
With a little bucket of water, we sat down in the dirt, and began to make our pies, mixing water and dirt to make a thick mud. We shaped our dough, and placed our patties in a little sun spot to dry. With a full operation system under way we dove into our work, and instead of talking, the sound of hands on wet earth, and the deep dark smell of the oozy mess took us into our inner worlds. At some moment the sun sparkled through the leaves of the bush towering over us, creating a ray of light from the heavens, and Sandy broke the silence.
"God lives up in heaven and has a white beard." she said in a very matter of fact way, pointing her muddy finger upwards.
"God lives everywhere!" I replied.
"No," she said, and then pointing her muddy finger towards one white puffy cloud in the summer sky, replied with all the confidence,
"He sits on a cloud and waits for us there."
"He doesn't just sit up there, he is in everything! He is in you and me, in these leaves, and in this mud. He is in these pies!" I replied, emphatically holding up my latest creation of blueberry pie.
"Well then eat it." Sandy dared.
I looked at my pie, a little 2 inch circle of mud on my palm and was about to refuse. But as the sun shone through the leaves rustling in the wind, creating dancing leaf silhouettes across my face, something called me, and I decided to do it. I took a small bite, and as I chewed I felt the grittiness in my teeth along with the unforgettable taste of dark earth. It didn't taste all that good, terrible in fact. But it was my God, and so I swallowed it.