Holy Mackerel

For Easter, I got these little discs with dolphins on one side and words on the other. They came in a baby blue box whose side says, “102 words of counsel and affirmation on round cards. Draw one card a day, or whenever you feel the need for guidance and inspiration.” The round card I've pulled out twice today says this:

“Holy Mackerel.”

This intrigues me on many levels:

One: I pulled it out twice. My time in statistics and probability class taught me that any time I perceive a percentage, I have to lessen that number by a gross amount to obtain my true odds. In this case, where I would think my odds of pulling “holy mackerel” twice are 1/102, which would be .009 or .9%, I am probably missing a step, and really, my odds are .0009% or something way smaller than what I had assumed. I always wonder, when the lottery woman in a skirt suit is pulling those little ping pong balls out of the rotisserie: doesn't my ball have just as good of a chance of getting pulled as any ball in there, no matter how many were purchased by one person? If only one ball gets plucked from the bunch, my ball has as good a chance as any. If this is true, aren't there more exceptions than there are rules? I've always hoped so.

Two: I like to picture the person who thinks “holy mackerel” can guide them through their day.

Three: I am interested in the mackerel because I have tried many fish, but not it. “Mackerel” is also used to describe vertical stripes. A “mackerel sky” is one filled with fast-moving altocumulus clouds (which are often mistaken for UFOs and tend to disturb those whom they approach).  A mackerel is also a type of Tabby cat. A Tabby cat is the kind who comes in the office door when I purposely leave it open, who brushes past my ankles and puts me to sleep a little bit. Cats, clouds, fish. There is something very sneaky about all of this. Same thing with holiness, but I'll get to that in a minute.

Four: “Holy mackerel” does a better job at punctuating moments of extreme surprise or glory than its cousins “holy cow,” “holy smokes,” and “holy Toledo.” “Holy mackerel” is musical and unexpected. I don't know about it giving any affirmation, and I don't think I've ever meditated, but maybe that's what this is.

Five: Another reason I keep thinking about (and taped above my desk) my “Holy Mackerel” counsel card is because the phrase has quotation marks around it and none of the other discs do.  I looked through them.  I found: Synchronicity, The Pod, Magic, Timing, Entering Higher Dimensions, Unconditional Love, and Caution! Nets Ahead. (Caution! Nets Ahead appears on one pog). Although these have not so much garnered me any guidance, I was pleased that on my today-disc, the punctuation is at least correct. “Holy Mackerel” is a phrase people use, so the card must be suggesting that I am inspired to think about the colloquialism, not about a fish that is, in actuality, holy.

Six: In actuality, I am thinking about neither fish nor phrase, but about holiness. That's a tough one. Today, most people use the word to describe men, but it used to apply to what is not man; in Hebrew, it meant “total otherness.” This is where I felt it:

One time, in grade school, I spent a week at a monastery outside of Aspen and the whole place buzzed with this hushed sense of search. I was there with a friend whose father was supplying the monks with big curved pots of red sauce and pasta. Some hallways in the monastery were forbidden to women. I accidentally walked down one and this tall spindly monk with a mustache and a pink bald spot leaned over low and said right in my ear, teasingly like he was telling me an inside joke, “No Women Allowed.” This was the first time I had been separated by the moniker “woman” and it felt ill-fitting and special at the same time, which made me want to stay right there and think about mysteries.

Instead I slunk outside to the cold stone steps in the shade of the chapel where my other little female friend was waiting. Revisiting this moment, I don't think I was inside accidentally at all; I wanted to push against the idea of separate sexes within holy places. Maybe I still do. I still don't understand why priests can't be married or why holiness connotes aloneness. If holiness really does mean otherness, then it would make more sense for our task as humans to be one of togetherness.

It was at the monastery that I drank my first cup of coffee: strong, black, reflective like a lake at night. The bitterness and quiet were un-American, otherly. I feared the silence of the place and the sweeping rush of long-robes ushering from the cave-like church.  Fear was there, but I wanted to keep listening to it. It wasn't a person, it was an absence of everything I'd spent every day around. It was whispers, whisps of emotions, the simple sounds of shoes and potato-sack fabric on polished granite. Holiness, was it? Who knows. Abstractions are a little uncomfortable for me. I prefer them when modifying equally slippery things like fish.