The Elder

by Andy Balaam

I imagine going to see a wise elder from the TV show Northern Exposure, and I say to him "My stomach hurts, and my poos don't work and I'm taking some stuff but it really doesn't help, and it makes me feel ill." He looks at me with a searching stillness, so I say "I went to the dentist and he says I'm wearing away my teeth with clenching, they're worn like an 80-year-old's, so I got a thing to put in my mouth while I sleep, but I feel myself doing it while I'm awake, and my teeth still hurt." He is motionless, and I fill the silence "I often can't sleep so I read a book about trying not to worry about sleeping and I really don't too much, I really don't - I like my quiet night time with no pressure on me." He nods, and waits, and I spill more beans "I'm very nervous all the time about smallish things - always something - so I spoke to someone and they told me I have to work on my thoughts and I kind of tried: I lay out the arguments, and the facts are there, but nothing connects, and the jury shakes their heads." The camera settles on him for a time, and he just looks, and I, I... "...I have this god you might have heard of and I know that he is supposed to love me, that's what everyone says, even the fiercest believers, but I sometimes I think I must hate myself, and it hurts to pray, it hurts to pray." I cry and he waits, and he nods and the nod seems to say You Don't Have A Stomach Problem. Or A Teeth Problem. Or A Sleep Problem. Or An Anxiety Problem. And There Is Nothing Wrong With Your God. and in words he says, "your heart is broken," but he doesn't mean in a romantic way. And like Joel from the TV show I am confused and a little annoyed and I go away. But the next day an encounter with a deer, or maybe a bear, makes me think, and I understand what he meant and things become a little clearer, and my heart begins to mend in time for the credits to roll