I drove home breathing in the stench of cooking viscera.
I had swerved to miss it, but wouldn’t you know it, the cute, probably terrified little critter turned around and ran in the opposite direction. So I swerved again, leaving black skid marks down the highway.
But, for some reason, it turned around again, running in its original direction and now, right into my left front wheel, splattering itself along the underside of my old, rusty Honda Civic.
I stopped to find the body, but never did locate it in the dark. It must have bounced far enough into the corn field that I just couldn’t find it. But judging from the extent to which it had painted my undercarriage, there was no way it had survived. I sure as hell hoped not.
Weirdly, just moments before the raccoon meandered out of the darkness into the lights of my Death Machine, I had been practically high with ecstasy. Not the drug kind, the spiritual kind.
I had spent the day visiting a lifelong friend, someone who I hadn’t seen in a decade. We had exchanged letters for many years, sharing the anguish and uncertainty, the joys and adventure of two people in their 20s, living different lives, sometimes on different sides of the world. And this was the day we got to see each other again, for the first time since we were teenagers.
It was a lovely day. The delicious awkwardness of talking in-person with someone you knew mainly as written words on a page. It was like, “Uh….hi….so…..what do you wanna do?” We ended up spending a good chunk of the day sitting in her and her husband’s livingroom, and she introduced me to Rumi. This was more than 20 years ago, before Rumi had become such a household name, from snippets of his poetry being splattered throughout the communal mind we’ve come to know as “social media”.
I was introduced to notions of oneness that day. Universal peace. The ecstasy of surrender and the liberation that comes with the annihilation of the self into God.
Then while blasting down a dark highway faster than the top speed of a cheetah, I slammed my huge hunk of metal, rubber, and rust into the soft tissues of an animal body, not too different from my own. The ecstasy of oneness and the profundity of surrendering to God seemed to vanish so quickly in the wet stench of heated blood that bathed my senses as we drove back to my home.
That raccoon-shaped piece of God taught me an important lesson about the wisdom of the “Perennial Philosophy” that is the beating spiritual heart inside the world’s religions. Without that raccoon, I think I would have been lost for far longer in a kind of modern perversion of spirituality, a positivity-infused delusion known as spiritual bypassing whereby so many people talk about wisdom as though it was practically synonymous with happiness, and happiness with “success” and living a life of passion and adventure, a North American-ized, mega-church, business and self-esteem-friendly Disneyworld version of Wisdom that is easy to translate into motivational sayings for people to hang on the walls of their yoga studios.
No, “God” is not about happiness, disconnected from anguish, or success disconnected from fear and suffering, or oneness disconnected from hatred and tribalism. If “God” means anything, then it means everything. The whole ball of wax. The whole nine yards.
If that’s not the case, then what theologians have long referred to as “the problem of Evil” is going to, at some point, either kick your “spiritual” ass and induce a deep crisis of faith, or else you are going to succumb to the sneakiest and saddest trick of Evil, which is to masquerade as wisdom and lull people into the complacency of assuming that they already know the truth and follow The Path.
When I woke up the next morning, I walked to school. Everything was incredibly vivid, from the swaying trees and rustling leaves, to the diesel fumes and mechanized growling of the dump trucks that passed me on their way to a construction site, from the kindness I saw in people’s eyes to the deceit, fear and arrogance I saw in those same eyes.
Everything hit me.
Thanks, Raccoon, for teaching me that Life is Death, Time is Eternity, everything I am is also everything that I am not, and God is a dump truck, a flower, my heart and some guts smeared on a rusty car.
I don’t always, or even often, sustain this awareness in my daily habits. But I know those seeds were planted, and watered with blood. And however my consciousness is now, I know for sure it is more sensitive than it had been before.