The universe stands in the doorway, looking rather distracted. It's not the way the universe normally looks - it's usual swagger and candour have gone and it's standing there, shoulders slumped, eyes not meeting my gaze, shuffling it's feet and looking a little the worse for wear. Funny how bullies look like this when they know they've been sprung. There's some remorse in the universe's demeanour - just as there's a "so-why-should-I-give-a-toss" angst about it's sloping gait.
The universe shrugs it's shoulders, comes inside the room and takes a seat in front of me, not bothering to meet my eye. "You got a problem?" it asks.
"Yep. Why are you being such a shit at the moment?"
I'm not sure if the universe is used to be being spoken to in such a way.
"I'm allowed. That's my job. I work in mysterious ways."
"Doesn't mean that you're allowed to treat all my friends like absolute crap."
And so the stand-off begins.
Calling the universe into account for its actions of the last few days became necessary after three uncomfortable communications were received in a day. A text, a phone call and an email conversation. All three correspondences left me a little shaken, but in different ways.
I stare at the universe.
"You're being a prick, you know?" I say.
"I well I gave you a couple of nice days so you could walk to work, what more do you want?" it mumbles.
"Yeah, and you also gave me the second head cold in three weeks."
"You discovered the Neti Pot! What's your problem - you've learned something." The universe challenges me back.
"And I also wanted to go for a nice long run and go see Tessa and her baby this weekend. Neither of which I can do with a head cold."
"Oh boo hoo. Wasn't meant to be. Deal with it. You've rearranged your bedroom and got your ironing done."
The universe can be a recalcitrant turd at times.
Indeed, I have a head cold - which under the circumstances is not the greatest of tragedies, but I am sick of the snot - it's been around for three weeks. I have indeed discovered the Neti Pot - or a funky way of flushing out your sinuses. It's not at all pretty, but it does seem to be able to get the crap out of your head. That, and a chat with the naturopath, who's got me on large doses of brown horse pills as well ask keeping Coles in business from the purchase of tissues, Ease-a-Cold and butter menthols, I'm not doing too bad really. In the scheme of things, I can't complain.
"Okay, well explain about Lachlan?"
"That's his stuff to deal with."
"And it's your stuff to deal how you deal with the situation."
"Ah. Hey, you're turning this around."
"Chats are a two way street."
"So, what have you learned from Lachlan being bedridden."
"It's not mine to care for, but to be concerned about."
"You you're not going to put yourself on the next plane to Hemel Hempstead? Go to his rescue."
"Don't be daft. I can be a friend - but I can't heal the world."
Lachlan finally called yesterday, and at a reasonable hour. He's finally having a long standing back issue dealt with, but will be in hospital for around six weeks - most of that time will be spent in traction. I knew about the back issues. How do I feel about this? Glad he told me, but that's it. My lesson in all this - it's mine to be concerned - but not to care for. I can't heal the world. He has people there for him. All I can do is be a friend.
"You're learning." Dead-panned the universe.
"And what about you? When are you going to learn to be compassionate?"
"You're confusing me with Jesus. Since when have I been a compassionate entity?"
"You know I don't believe in Jesus. I'm responsible for my own life and my own mistakes."
"But as a training ground for the soul, you can be a complete arsewipe sometimes."
The universe is a hard task master. This is a fact.
"Well then, what about Mick and Deb? A miscarriage! Seriously. What did they do to you?"
"You know the answer to this," it replies.
"Nothing. It's theirs to do what they have to, as horrible as it is."
"I see. And I suppose it's my role to be there for them."
"Probably." smirked the universe.
Over the years, I've seen enough friends go through the consequences of miscarriages and infertility. It is terribly, terribly sad to see people so dreadfully tormented by the actions and inactions of nature. All I could say to Mick, when he told me about what had gone down today was, "Look at the love in your life - that and the wonderful child you have together. I'm so sorry." There is no solace, yet Mick, though rocked, seems to be okay.
Me, I can't relate to this, not having children or ever really wanting children of my own, the lack of a partner taking that want away - but I've got used just being there to listen. You can't say anything useful. It's horrible.
I take the conversation to a slightly less troubling subject, not wanting to press the seemingly vengeful universe further.
"And what about the phone call at lunch time?"
The universe sniggers.
"What did that poor woman do to you?" I asked.
The universe sniggers again.
"What sort of compassionate God allows a nice person to have a heap of rotting fish to be dumped in their yard."
Once again, the universe had a chuckle, but meets my gaze.
This call came just before Mick got in contact. Kara, almost raving, distraught. She's not had a good time since she emigrated to Australia a year ago - it's been a tough run for her. The last straw happened this morning when somebody dumped a heap of rotting fish in her front yard. She has no discernible enemies. She's a quiet, law abiding citizen. What sort of sick, twisted wanker would offload a heap of rotting fish into her garden?
"Well, how do you explain this?" I challenged the universe.
"And how do you explain it?"
"I asked you first."
"Call it a challenge."
"I see. But what did Kara do you?"
"I could ask, what hasn't Kara done for herself?"
I nodded at the universe.
"And what are my two universal tenets?"
"Take responsibility and learn from the situation - whatever you throw at us."
"Somewhat better that "The Lord will provide"."
"But you do provide! You provide pain and heartache and torture and acrimony."
"And I also provide lessons. And love. And fun. And friendship. Some of these things you could take part in young lady, but you choose not to."
"Piffle. I'm forty-four in two weeks. I'm too old for some of that rubbish."
"It's never to late to partake. It's never too late to learn."
The universe stood up on this point, turned on its heel, winked at me and left the room.
It's hard watching friends go through trials and torment. The universe was right in that this world is a proving ground - a place that we learn and grow, not just through our experiences, but through the experiences of others.
I keep in mind the serenity prayer: (Insert your Deity here), grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can't, and the wisdom to know the difference.
And I leave you with the ministrations of Nick Cave. When things get tough, I often thing about this.
Taking the universe in for a chat probably wasn't the most sane of things to do, but I feel better for it.
After all, if you can't shout at the universe, or howl at the moon, or just generally ask the universal,"Why?" what are we here for?