A World Without End

You may be surprised by the things I have to tell you. I will try to keep it short, but bear with me, as there are many details that should be shared, if you are to properly understand how it is that I came to the very brink of immortality.

It sounds impossible, doesn’t it? But you must know that research into this had been ongoing for a long time. Billions of dollars had been poured into genetic manipulations, hormone therapies, stem-cell utilizations, not to mention untold resources devoted to the means of hybridizing humans and robots—and merging artificial intelligence with human, to extend the life, indefinitely, of human beings. All of these had been undertaken with the goal of stopping the aging process, or reversing it, or if all else failed, creating ourselves anew—using better parts which could be replenished, recharged, or replaced, over and over again, forever without end. So that we would not know death.

The greatest minds and the deepest pockets of our age—and of generations prior to ours—had devoted themselves to this noble goal. So that none of us would ever have to say goodbye to our loved ones again. Imagine, how wonderful to live forever with those you love, loving them deeply, being together, never again to be separated by disease or death.

Thanks to men and women, like myself, this was no longer a mere dream, nor was it simply wistful thinking, but it had become the reality. Certainly, we had been near this pinnacle of human achievement for some time; and inevitably, we had now reached the very top.

You may be thinking to yourself, there must be a catch. Immortality, here and now is just too good to be true. You’re thinking that something was bound to go wrong. But what if there wasn’t a catch, and it isn’t too good to be true, and it didn’t go wrong? What if man had finally found the fountain of youth? And with a few simple tricks of nature manipulated by us—a little nudge here and there, a little snip-snip, and a few sacrifices along the way—eternity opened its doors.

I will admit there had been unexpected deaths along the way. We made mistakes and some compromises were made, which we all wished could have been avoided, but remember—the ends justify the means! Especially when it comes to attaining eternal life—the goal is the most important thing! Don’t trouble yourself too much about how we got there.

Death never made much sense to me. How could we exist one moment and then be gone the next? No. It always struck me as one huge mistake, the worst mistake of all. So we set about to remedy that mistake, and do what God (if there was one) couldn’t, or wouldn’t; we made man immortal. And life was finally blessed; and we found it good—very good indeed—at the beginning.

For those of us who could make use of this new technology we enjoyed bodies which no longer suffered disease. Our muscles didn’t atrophy, our skin stayed soft and supple, our organs didn’t malfunction, and our minds never fell into decline. Those who couldn’t enjoy these benefits—for a variety of reasons—experienced no worse than what man always had: a traditional aging process and then an appointment with death. This outdated arrangement was to be pitied, but what could be done about it? We were working on it, but it seemed that immortality just wasn’t going to be for everyone. There had to be winners and losers—not exactly based on merit—but a fair system overall, I think; and it worked. The right people enjoyed the benefits of forever, while the others still enjoyed their life, even if it only lasted a few short decades. No harm was done.

One silver lining—we eliminated the death penalty. We determined it was more punitive to incarcerate someone for eternity than to simply put them to death. It used to be ridiculous when someone who could only live 80 or 90 years at the most, was given 450 years in prison. But now, if they got that term, they served every last minute of it; it was a useful deterrent. Another silver lining—the abortion rate dropped. I can’t speak for everyone, and what I heard about this is only anecdotal, but many women apparently found that carrying a baby for nine months didn’t seem so bad, now that they could live forever—just a drop in the time bucket. And if they chose not to allow their baby the technology—then they’d be gone in a century or even less. And the mothers would have an eternity of youth still to enjoy, after their children had passed away.

I know some of this sounds crass. I’m sorry. But one thing all of us learned from the lesson of immorality is that we didn’t have time to worry about “sounding good”. It is, what it is, as they say. Morality can be tedious, and honestly, sometimes it can get in the way. But here is where the whole experiment got interesting. While we could make ourselves biologically superior, thanks to science and human ingenuity, we weren’t able to use the same tricks to make us better people. In fact, perhaps the opposite occurred. Without the threat of death looming over us, many of us unshackled ourselves from good manners altogether.

With an over-abundance of time, we applied ourselves to the things we did best, and the things we wanted the most, but not necessarily the things that were best for us, or what we needed. Let me explain. With no limit on our time, we could perfect our natural talents. Good businesspeople could get even better, and risk everything, and become rich beyond imagining. They had nothing to lose with so much time at their disposal. Powerful leaders could consolidate their power, destroy their enemies, and eventually rule with an iron-fist. Strong athletes or talented artists could become world famous and leverage this fame for whatever they pleased. Did the immortals prey upon the mortals? Of course. Did they take advantage, and manipulate, and cheat to get ahead? Yes, they did. Perhaps a few didn’t, but I never met any of those.

And what do you think happened when the powerful and the immortal confronted one another—when neither could die—did they make peace? Rarely. They feuded indefinitely and they fell into deep depravity. With no limits upon their time or their desires; they fell into literal bottomless pits of debauchery. We grew evil, hateful, bored and numb to life, and to each other. You would think life should have grown more interesting and more wonderful, with all the time in the world to enjoy it; but it became less so, and it became terrible. Life dragged on and on, like an interminable disease. Many of us desired death but couldn’t find it.

Back in the time when we could die, death had imbued with significance the things that would otherwise seem insignificant, and the possibility of loss intensified the value of what we possessed. For us, immortality devalued life itself. One day I had been walking in the woods. I passed a fern, and on it was a shiny black beetle. It brought to mind a memory of my boyhood, and I stood a moment watching the little creature as it walked along the margins of the leaves. It meant nothing to me and I cared nothing for the insect; but I remembered the wonder I had once known as a boy, watching a similar little creature so many years ago, and before death had become an impossibility for me. The contrast between that childhood joy, and the indifference I now felt, horrified me. And I thought to crush the little thing, but envy held me back; no, if I couldn’t die, then neither shall it.

But this experience made me shudder, and I considered the possibility of God for the first time in my life. Could there be a God—or had there been, at one time—who made this world and my life? And, if so, had he circumscribed my life within limits, for a reason? I mean, for instance, had he given us death, limiting our time on this earth, for a good reason?

Up until then I had simply done what came easy. I followed my instincts and fulfilled my desires. I made use of this life as best I could, and tried to make the best of things. I hadn’t tried to uplift myself in any way, since I was content with myself. But the interminable pain of a never-ending life on this earth finally stimulated me to think above myself, and to hope in something beyond. My scientific training had taught me to observe and theorize, to test my assumptions and conclusions, to observe again, recalibrate, and to learn and grow, ever building upon this process. Yet I had always limited my observations, intentionally or unintentionally, excluding a preponderance of observable phenomena from my field of vision. I allowed science to open my eyes to the things I desired to see, but also to blind me to the things I didn’t wish to consider. The possibility of a new world was then opening up to me, and it impressed upon me that I needed new eyes to see it, and new ears to hear it.

Our immortality promised perfected relationships, ones that could be enjoyed forever and never lost to the separation of death; but what it delivered was isolation and loneliness. Time pressed upon us in new and unforeseen ways. Or rather the lack of that pressure caused us to float about like molecules in a vacuum, drifting further and further apart, each becoming a world unto themselves, devoid of connection and unable to love. We had lost the urgency of life, and thereafter, surprisingly, lost interest in life itself, and in each other. It was as if in seeking after paradise we had accidentally fallen into hell.

I had no idea how to extricate myself from this unexpected predicament. But my mind reflected again and again upon that shiny black beetle, and for whatever reason the creature spoke to me, in a figurative sense. It offered me a new way of living, something more humble, less ambitious, more hopeful and less grasping; that little insect showed me in its strange way, how to lose myself in this world, and find myself again deep within my heart. Somehow, I learned from it, that the way to free myself from this interminable world would be by emptying myself of all I had ever desired, and then accepting my life, not on my own terms, but on terms given by one greater than me. Whoever had given me this life—God I suppose—had to be reckoned with. I could no longer take his place in my own life. I had to relinquish control, abandon all hope in the world I created, and step out in faith into the world created by him—the only real world that ever could exist. The world of our imagining was not a real world after all.

Had we really created immortality for ourselves? It is impossible to say for certain. We were able to extend our lives for hundreds of years—that much we knew. But this came at a tremendous price and depended upon enormous resources, without which we couldn’t sustain our lives. Could we have maintained this feat forever? It seems impossible that we could have, without a break in the supply chain, or a shortage of some vital genetic material, or hormone, or some other medical or scientific advancement upon which the whole house of cards we had created depended.

For myself, I began to listen and to look for other possibilities. A very narrow range of light is visible to the natural eye, and a very narrow range of sound is audible to the human ear, and yet infinities of light and sound exist beyond these narrow ranges. What possibilities there must be then, in our vast universe, for the eyes and the ears of our soul; and what truths must exist beyond the limits of any science predicated only upon our narrow perceptions? Certainly The Bard is correct that there are many more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies.

So I began emptying myself of these philosophies, while seeking truths deeper within my soul. And out of the silence, eventually, I began to see things that caused me to believe. How can I describe these things to you now? They are not easily portrayed in words. I pray that you can believe me, even though I am unskilled at putting flesh to spirit, or conjuring words to explain the inexplicable. But the loneliness I felt, that we all felt in our world without end, began to fall away as I felt a new presence of someone else within my heart. The cold emptiness of space which had filled my heart for hundreds of years, was repopulating with a warmth that promised renewed connections—old loves made new again.

I came to believe that immortality was indeed our birthright, as human beings, but just not in the way we had gone about it. It wasn’t to be had through manipulation and trickery, or by violence. Rather it was to be a gift, a grace, or a blessing if you will—an act of love from the Creator towards his creation. I cannot say how I came to understand this, other than to say that as my heart warmed and was filled, I could now clearly see what had never been previously possible to see, nor had I ever conceived.

And death, what of that? We believed we could outwit it, applying our powers to evade it eternally. But we couldn’t avoid death in our own power. Eventually, I understood this as well—death is unavoidable in this world, and death claims everyone. And yet, if one has eyes to see and ears to hear, one can penetrate into the mystery of death. It too has been circumscribed, just as we have been. There is a limit to death. Death will not live eternally; and yet, by a beautiful irony, we will.

Death has been destroyed by the Creator who gave us life. Although, in the way that time unfolds, we unfortunately cannot clearly see this as of yet. But this too is wisdom. Otherwise, wouldn’t we make the same mistakes all over again? If we clearly understood that death has no sting, if we laughed in the face of death, I fear we would try yet again to live our immortality in this world alone—with the same disastrous results.

Death cannot destroy us, but we all still must die. And through our deaths, we are born anew into eternal life, through the love of God who conquered death two millennia ago. Is it strange for a man of science to state such a thing? No, there is ample evidence in support of these claims to tantalize a scientific mind, if it is unclouded by prejudice. Yet, also room enough to allow an avowed skeptic to freely stretch his unbelieving limbs, if he desires.

But there remains a deeper science of which I am speaking—a science of the heart and of the spirit, which speaks to the mind and teaches the soul matters of faith. This is the science that assures and comforts us; and it reveals glimpses of eternity, even from the vantage point of this world, to those who have sought and been given the eyes to see it.

Immortality was something we tried to take by force—motivated by pride, ambition and fear. Yet, all along eternal life was a gift freely offered to us, if we would only accept it in a spirit of humility, innocence and love.

~FS

I Could Use a Good Joke Today

It is difficult to tell a good punch-line, when we’re preoccupied with pulling our punches.

I’m all for you protecting my feelings, but I’m feeling it’s time for some good jokes.

Nothing breaks the ice better than a good laugh at oneself, won’t someone please tell me some good micro-aggressions? The kind that tear the veneer off our false proprieties, and let us enjoy a good belly laugh, a chortle, or a chuckle together.

I’m Irish, so make fun of the Irish. I’m white, so tell me an off-color joke. Offend me, please!

Just let me know were alive still, were free still, and we can enjoy a little fun at each other’s expense still! These things can be told without malice; jabs can be taken in a spirit of friendship. But it’s hard to be friends when we’re always pulling our punches. Someone, please tell me a good punch-line!

~FS

Confessions On A Lenten Billboard

I came into this world, as a sinner. I’m sorry, I know you don’t like that word. Nobody does. Though made in the image and likeness of God; I came into this world, as a sinner. It was already in my flesh, a foreshadowing of bad things to come, and a flashback to evils committed before my time. If I am being honest, really honest…well, is that possible? Knowing you’ll be reading this; assuming you do read it (but let’s pretend you won’t be reading this), then maybe I wouldn’t spill out all of my shame—suicidal, and cathartic. Suicidal, as it is the death of everything I pretend to be; cathartic, as it is the peace of salvation when I’m laid to rest.

The cacophony of our worldly pursuits is a bewildering assault upon the senses; I am shell-shocked in the midst of our wars, our competing ambitions. ‘Man for sale’, in the hopes of a slice of immortality, but this hope is turned to infamy—though this fact hides unrecognized, by the branded multitudes that ply themselves incessantly upon our digital marketplaces. ‘Oh, to be an influencer!’ The ravings of a meaningless existence; but for the fact that we are made in the image and likeness of God. But does even this fact matter? (If I fell in the forest would anyone hear me fall; and if nobody heard me, did I fall?!) Is an unknown pilgrim of any value? We cry out, ‘I must be known! Or what am I?’

I have studied theology, but I know carnality. I can recite verse, but I can live vice. Love inspires me to yearn, but in the moment of truth I only love myself. I have been given time, and so far I’ve mainly squandered it. How did this come to be? A babe with such potential, squirming in my mother’s arms. ‘Why, he could be anything he puts his mind to be!’ And yet, look! ‘Behold, the man!’ If I could be but a portion of the man who was beheld when those words were first spoken, so famously. Time is ticking, my friends, is it really so profitable to make our profit?

On a lonely road, in the middle of nowhere, they’ve erected a billboard, and only you and God will ever see it. You are free to market whatever you wish; this life of yours will be painted there to promote yourself as you will it. What are you selling now? Think wisely, time is ticking; come up with a good slogan that God will like. Can we trick him into buying us too? Even monks in the desert are selling themselves. Lord have mercy! Ambition is warring even in the lonely places, and in the solitude.

Lord have mercy on me, a sinner. Take me in your arms. Free us from the ragings of our minds. Soften the indignation that arises at the mention of our sin. Let us be honest with ourselves, if not each other, but hopefully with each other too; and especially let us be honest, with you! Our hope is in you…

~FS

Rebirth

For those of us who love the well-worn paths,

Who congregate under the familiar light.

Let’s make haste into a starless night~

Take flight! Fear not!

We’ll tread across the wild places,

Thrilling our soles with new sensations,

We’ll find our souls within us;

As we blaze the new-found trails.

Discoveries array before us;

For we who do cross the veil.

~FS

In A Loving State

I’m not certain how it is that you became my mother and my father. (I’ve had those already.)

Or when it was you adopted me. (I didn’t ask you to.)

Or why you took me under your dark wing.

Should I thank you for your protection?

What do you get from this?

Your wide embrace, has gathered us to you like little chicks;

and you hold us closely.

So tightly.

So thank you,

but your concern for me is killing me.

I’d rather not. 

I am admonished.

You have chastised my wanton freedoms~

To wander, to breathe,

to cherish my loves,

as one in love with life,

and with my fellow chicks!

But you’ve set my brothers against me.

What a cruel mother hen you are,

in your love for us. 

But are we your children, or your pets?

How do you see us?

Truly?

“Stay! Wear this muzzle! Don’t go there, bad dogs!

I’m doing this for your safety, trust me.

Do this for your safety!

I love you.”

Well,

thank you, oh so much.

But please, release me from your smothering love.

Exercise your tender mercies,

on some other poor creatures.

Or better, towards yourself alone.

And let me live now, freely, until I die. 

~FS

Reminiscences on Childhood in the Valley of the Moon:

(The Elementary Years)

VI.

While growing up in the Valley of the Moon could certainly be described as bucolic and in some ways paradisiacal, it was also a real life. So with the peace also came the tragedy; there was joy but there was also pain. Alongside our moments of discovery and growth, came times of sorrow and loss.

The neighborhoods where we lived, nestled at the base of those glorious golden rolling hills, were like an extended home for us. Dotted all across these neighborhoods lived our friends and their families. As kids, we biked or walked from house to house, entering as if they were our own, and we came to know each other’s parents and siblings almost as well as our own.  

I could name so many of the familiar faces on just my own street alone; and even more on the cross streets up the hill, and down the block from where my own house sat; not to mention the myriad more people who comprised our extended network of ‘family’ who lived on surrounding streets further afield. And folks didn’t move so often back then, so when a family settled into a home, they generally stayed there.

As a child, I grew accustomed to who lived where, and I suspected they had always lived there, and I came to expect that they would continue to live there forever. And apart from the occasional family who did in fact move away, my expectations were mostly satisfied, and I lived and grew up contentedly within this matrix of consistency and dependability.

But as we all know, nothing stays the same forever; and unfortunately, our extended neighborhood family was about to lose a vital and irreplaceable member.

It had been a warm day which was just drawing to a close, and twilight had begun to settle, as crickets chirped their signal that night was replacing the day. I had just gone to bed and was enjoying the soothing sound of the fan which I had in my room for use on warm evenings; and I snuggled down into my sheets, as the fan blew cool air across me.

I was in fifth, maybe sixth grade at the time; I think it was summer, so perhaps I was between the grades. It was a typical evening, apart from the sirens that we had heard earlier just down the street, and coming up Calistoga Road from the north and from the south. But even sirens weren’t all that unusual, so we didn’t think much about them. But it was strange when I heard a knock on the front-door downstairs at about 8:40 that evening, after I had just gone to bed. And I heard my mom answer the door, and I recognized male voices, but couldn’t discern who it was speaking at our door.

They spoke in hushed tones, and I couldn’t make out anything that was being said until their short visit came to a close; and as they left, they said more loudly, “We just thought you should know.” I recognized their voices now: it was Mr. Hedges and Mr. Zellmer from up the street. They were both family friends. But why would they come to tell us ‘something we should know’? What should we know that couldn’t wait, I wondered? So I got up from bed and went downstairs to find out what this strange visit was all about.

My mom was visibly rattled and emotional as I came down the stairs, which made my heart race uncomfortably. She looked sorrowfully at me and said, “Sam died…he was hit on his motorcycle.”

Sam Ray?! It didn’t seem possible. No, it couldn’t be possible. We hoped it hadn’t happened, but it had.

Sam was the third child of four, in the Ray family, our good friends who lived in the yellow stucco house, in the cul-de-sac just down the street. He was about nineteen years old, tall, good-looking, athletic, and good-natured. For kids my age, he was just about the greatest guy you could imagine. He was exactly the kind of person you’d want to be when you grew up; because everyone liked him, and he made a real difference when he was around.

He often played Frisbee-golf, with Greg Zellmer, and I remember when my friends and I would see them coming up the street, tossing their Frisbees at street-lights, car tires and whatever else they deemed the next ‘hole’, we all grew excited in anticipation of their arrival. It was like a celebrity sighting for us. They were cool, and they could throw those Frisbees so dang far. They were awesome!

But what was even better was Sam would actually play with us. He was already out of high-school, but he still gave us little kids his time; and he kicked a ball around with us, or he tossed the football, or whatever we wanted to do. One afternoon my good friend Scott Eitelgeorge and I had been playing badminton in my backyard and Sam stopped by. We challenged him to a game, and he played several games with us. As he left, we challenged him to a rematch, and he showed up again the next week and played with us again. That meant so much, he was just like a big brother to us.

Sam wasn’t just good with kids; I know everyone’s parents also liked him. He had a great sense of humor and loved to tease people. When he’d knock on your front door, you’d go to open the door and couldn’t, because Sam would be on the outside chuckling and holding the doorknob, and pulling outward against your efforts. He was the only person I ever knew who did that, and it became a trademark of his. Everyone knew that if someone came knocking, and if you couldn’t open the door, then it must be Sam on the other side, laughing and grinning.

What would our neighborhood be without him? It was difficult to imagine playing football on the street now, knowing we’d never see him tossing the Frisbee, or making his way up the street towards us again. And no more badminton rematches, and nobody to hold the door when we answered it. And so many other things too, that his absence would leave as holes in our hearts.

I saw him one last time at the funeral home. It was an open casket, and as I entered his room I saw him laying peacefully. It was a confusing moment because he didn’t look like Sam, but I knew it was him. I searched his face for some detail I could relate with; and there were familiar features, though they were transformed now. His sandy-blond hair was as I had known it, and I was glad for that. But the most comforting detail, for me, were his fingernails, as odd as that may sound. He was a good mechanic, often working on his motorbike and other things like that, so when I noticed some grease still under a nail or two, that is when I felt I was still seeing the Sam I had known. It made me happy to see that grease, though I was heartbroken; and it was reassuring in a small way.

Months later, or perhaps it was a year, his mother let me into his bedroom to pick out a baseball hat. I picked out a red and white one and was glad to have something of his. I remember the inside band of the hat was stained with Sam’s sweat, and it struck me that this was really a part of him. Again, this may seem strange, but it was important to have a memento like that; it allowed me to feel closer to him, now that he was gone.

Often, as the years passed by, I wondered where Sam was exactly, and wondered if he could see me from heaven, or what he was thinking. I treated him like a guardian angel, communicating with him in my thoughts, though not spoken out loud. The thought that Sam might be watching me also made me consider, and reconsider, my actions when nobody was looking. So I’d have to say that Sam helped me to be a better person, even years after his passing.

~FS 

Reminiscences on Childhood in the Valley of the Moon: High School Years (Part 2)

When I look back on those years, growing up in the Valley of the Moon, I remember an undeniable sense of freedom. Our youthful explorations and adventures—as each of us reached out to discover ourselves within the context of our neighborhood, our school, and interpersonally within the society of our schoolmates—always seemed to be undergirded by a culture of acceptance. So that we were always safe, or it at least felt that way, as we expressed ourselves, and encountered one another. And our teachers and parents formed a benevolent backdrop that gave us quiet assurance that all would be okay, even when we faced our inevitable challenges and difficulties.  

Those were years of unfeigned generosity, as I remember them. Goodness was practiced with less self-consciousness than it is today, and ‘doing the right thing’ towards one another was simply woven into the fabric of our lives, and not something added later as an afterthought, or forgotten altogether. And differences of opinion back then might be met merely with a shrug of exasperation, a shaking of the head, and maybe a chuckle or two.

I think back to that time and wonder at the motives each of us had, and I also marvel at the wide range of purposes and desires, as we began to formulate our adult personalities. One of my friends from that time, Heidi Moore, had a deep sense of empathy for others and believed the best way to address the wrongs in our world was through the ballot box. For me, as a senior high student, the deepest I thought to wade into politics was running for office in student government, but this was done mainly for fun, for vanity, and for getting out of class. And even when I ventured out into the greater world beyond my school life, it was still for the same reasons. I travelled to South Africa in 1986, when the news about apartheid was at a fever-pitch around the world. And while I did genuinely care about the plight of the people there, and did honestly want to learn more about it first-hand, still, my main reasons for going there were for fun (adventure), for vanity (to be admired), and for getting out of class (I missed the first week of school).

Heidi introduced me to Doug Bosco one afternoon. It was in the foyer of the high-school auditorium during a large gathering. Doug was our local Congressman at the time and I believe he was running for re-election. I was blown away that she actually knew a Congressman, and I was completely gobsmacked that she was on a first name basis with him. How does a high-school student become close friends with a Congressman? I had no idea, but I was amazed at her. She actually was involved in something real and I admired that.

Later, she took me along to a celebration party at the Veteran’s Memorial to cheer Barbara Boxer, who had just been elected, or re-elected to Congress. I knew nothing about her, but liked the signs everyone was holding, which had the ‘x’ of her last name placed inside a box, as if it was a vote cast in her name—very clever I thought to myself. Even if I couldn’t get behind her politics and policies, I could at least cheer on her good sense in political marketing. So I cheered and had a good time, along with Heidi and the crowd that gathered to hear Barbara speak. But inside, I felt like a fish out of water. I truly admired Heidi and enjoyed sharing this with her, but I learned that I wasn’t made the same way. I discovered that for me, politics was fine as a way of getting out of class, but beyond that purpose, it was beyond me, and not really very interesting.

So while my friend Heidi was taking her first steps into the wider adult world, I plotted my next high-school prank. It was a good one. It wouldn’t get me out of class, since it would have to be done at night, but it was filled with adventure, and would be audacious enough to pleasantly feed my ego. It involved scaling the high school with ladders, avoiding the police while hiding on the school roof, then hanging an enormous banner over the central entrance to the school, tied off with our shoelaces (this detail wasn’t planned), and announcing to the world the eternal and solemn friendship of my closest friends. Here is how it all went down:

The idea was conceived as a tribute to friendship, to my closest friends, many of whom I had known since grade-school, as early as Kindergarten is some cases. I envisioned making a large banner (it turned out to be about 8′ high x 26′ long) by sewing bedsheets together, which I did one evening under the tutelage of my mother, and then painting boldly the name that we had dubbed our little clan (The Dreamers); and around this name I painted the nicknames of everyone in our group (although unfortunately I think I left a few out, some friend I turned out to be). Anticipating that the wind might blow the banner around once it was installed from the roof, I weighted the bottom of the banner by filling the fold in the sheets with rocks and sand.

But it was clear I couldn’t do this project alone; getting the banner up to the roof would be a difficult task. So I enlisted the help of Rob Coombs, one of The Dreamers; but our hope was to surprise the rest of the group when they came to school the following Monday morning, so for the moment it was a little secret between the two of us. Fortunately, my mother recognized that we might break our necks doing this alone, so she asked Gary to help us, and watch over us. Gary rented a room in our house while he attended the Junior College in town. He was also an avid and experienced mountain climber. He reconnoitered the buildings and developed the best plan to get us up on top.

Our high school is a beautiful structure built in the Collegiate Gothic style; with a prominent and grand entrance that I estimate is around 40 feet high, more or less. The night of our assault on the building, I felt a great deal of excitement and anticipation. Would we be able to pull it off? Could we get all the way up there, with the banner, then hang it, and get back down again? And if so, would it stay in place and surprise our friends, and the entire student body the next morning?

We pulled up at about 11pm and Gary parked his truck in a nearby parking lot, under the cover of massive Eucalyptus trees. We pulled a long extension ladder off the roof, and Gary put on a large backpack with the banner stuffed into it. Rob had the twine and rope (supposedly), or did I? Who knows, we didn’t think to ask each other.

At the northern end of the main building there is a covered breezeway that connects to the gymnasium. From the ground this little roof is only about 15′ high. We leaned the ladder against the side and quickly scaled up to our first perch. Gary pulled the ladder up behind us and we extended it as far as it could go. We then lifted it up against the main building towering above us, and realized we were in trouble. The top rung was easily 4′-5′ below the top edge of the building.

Keystone cops. That’s what we felt like. Or clowns in a circus. What could we do now? Gary decided the answer was to climb the ladder to its uppermost rung, and then slide his body up the brick façade. His plan was to hold onto the upper edge of the building with his arms, and stabilize the top of the ladder with his feet, then Rob and I could climb up the ladder, and scurry up his back, and over his shoulders and onto the roof. We all agreed this seemed like a great plan. In hindsight it now seems like a foolish plan; however, it worked!

I remember thinking to myself how crazy this was as I grabbed at Gary’s jacket and pulled myself up and over his shoulders and landed safely on the roof. Rob came up and over his shoulders next, and finally Gary let go of the ladder with his feet and pulled himself onto the roof. This was the moment of breathlessness, for as he pushed off from the ladder the force lifted it away from the wall, and for a second which seemed like an hour, we watched as the ladder hovered undecidedly in mid-air; shall it fall away to the ground, or return to the wall where we needed it? To our relief it came back and landed safely against the wall and stayed put. This was cause for celebration, and we congratulated one another as we made our way to the center of the building where we planned to install the banner.  

We made a pretty good team. We had made it onto the roof without too much trouble, we were now unfurling the banner and had it laid out in position, ready to tie to the building and then drape over the side. Everything was going well, until we were ready for the twine and rope. Didn’t you bring it?! I thought you did! I didn’t bring it, you were supposed to! I don’t have it, don’t you?! No! Crap!

Before we could think of a solution we heard cars coming down the circular driveway leading to the front of the school. I wonder who that is? We peered over the edge of the roof and saw two police cars stop in front of the main steps. Several officers got out and walked across the front of the building, shining flashlights into the shrubs. One made his way up to the north breezeway and shined his light through the colonnade, but not up onto the roof. We watched from above and breathed a sigh of relief when he returned to his car, having not seen our ladder further up the side of the building. They drove off and we congratulated one another yet again!

We agreed not to go back to the truck for the twine, so we decided to pull our shoelaces out and use those instead. Between us, we had six long laces, just enough to tie off the ends of the banner around the column ends that protruded up from the building façade beyond the roofline. Fortunately I had attached some twine to the banner at increments across its top when I had constructed it back at home, so these we also were able to use in some places. Once this was done we dropped the banner over the side and it unfurled perfectly. It was a beautiful sight to behold! The Dreamers now had a proper tribute and a great Monday morning surprise in store for them.

Before descending I discovered two large steel covers that were hatches leading down into the building. In order to delay any meddling custodian, who might ruin our surprise by coming up early and taking the banner down, I slid several nails through the clasps of these hatch covers, to lock them from above. This done, we returned to our ladder. I must say that going down is more difficult than coming up. Gary was able to drop himself over the side and we watched his feet, and helped navigate him safely to the top of the ladder. But once this was done, neither Rob nor I were overly eager to climb out over Gary and down his back to the ladder below. But it had to be done, so we did it.

We made it down without another incident, and returned home gleefully. Mission accomplished! And the next morning didn’t disappoint. Our glorious banner declared the existence of The Dreamers to the world, and was a fitting tribute to the friends who I admired and loved.

~FS

Ruach HaKodesh

Sometimes, when I lay upon my bed, and it is night, as the dark enfolds me, I sense the cold approach of death, and I panic. Suddenly, my bed is far too small, my sheets too heavy, and it seems as though the walls of my room bear down upon me. The ceiling looms above, then collapses, like a dead weight upon my chest, and I sit up to catch my breath; but I cannot breathe. I yawn, in a desperate attempt to expand my lungs, but I cannot draw anything into them. They are like withered sacks, dusty and shrunken, and useless.

I pace the room, to shake loose the thoughts that scare me, so as to gather my wits, and put death far from me. But it is always there. Still. Waiting, and watching. Counting my breaths greedily and smiling menacingly (it seems), lurking somewhere in the shadows.  

“Death is natural,” I tell myself futilely. “Death is a transition, to a better place,” I argue. But I’ll have none of it. My arguments are hollow, unconvincing, and miss the point. “I don’t want to die!” And there it is—the foolishness of it is almost embarrassing. We all will die; so who am I to complain?!

In the silence of this darkness, where no one else is there—I am alone. And what is in there to meet me, but myself? And who is in there to greet me, but my future? And my moments tick on by, the moments of a far too short existence—far, too far along now—leading to an ending that is certain. But I am not alone, my friends. We are not…alone; though the darkness may be silent, and very quiet, as if there is nobody here but us.

The Breath of Life. In times like these, I call to the Holy Spirit. In my fear I pray for Life. And the Spirit of Life blows through me and comforts me, soothes my panic, and calms my labored breathing. Peace descends upon me. And gratefully, I can sleep without fear. Though death still watches over me, and I feel its presence as I always do, I no longer care. I have no new, rational answers for my fears, but instead, another’s presence fills me: Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit, my love and my hope—my source and my breath—my life, and my eternal life.

One such night, after fear had split me, and then the Spirit had repaired me, I lay in a deep sleep. (And here, now, I only write what I saw, making no claims upon veracity.) Perhaps it is best to consider the following as a fiction, and to enjoy it as a possibility, or a simple fantasy:

I saw my body as if it had cracked wide open, although it hadn’t, and I saw another body within my body—and yet it was somehow still my same body—and this other body was made of light and not of matter. It emerged, or rather lifted, perhaps floating, though not precisely that, and it was shaped as I have always been shaped, and so I recognized it as myself. The world too, our Earth, was as though cracked open, and blazing with heat and light, as if on fire, yet not consumed.

Rings of light, like rays and waves flowed outward, emanating from a center, and they pulsed. And I found my new body shimmering as it lifted through these rings of light. And there was light upon light—reddish, and blue, golden and white. And I saw other bodies, a few at first, but then more, as my body was raised up through the rings. Great multitudes of beings dwelling together, and greater multitudes still, as I passed even higher.

I saw thoughts, like lightning, carry beings along. Thoughts which we generally consider as loving, moved faster than light, connecting persons together in fountains of joy, and creating ripples like laughter among them. Unloving thoughts, such as accusations and negativity moved more slowly, though still with incredible speed here, and they seemed to dull the beings who had them, turning their light into an insipid reddish-brown, and isolating them.

The rings of light, when viewed another way, appeared as enormous plates of glass, stretching off beyond sight in all directions. And their surfaces rose and fell pleasantly, and people rode upon these plates like surfers. Everything had form but not as I had known before, not like matter. It was a world of diamond—seemingly, as though our carbon world had ignited and compressed, and then expanded, and all bonds were now made of light and crystal.

I met a person there, whom I felt I knew, though I couldn’t recognize. And my heart burned with love and gratitude in his presence. A warm breeze encircled us as we spoke together, and my thoughts became pure and noble. With the wind, came great power, and I felt it strengthen me, with an ecstatic joy, and I felt my being expand immensely. All things were present and all things were now, as if everything that had ever been I could touch; and pure thought connected me to all things, and noble love connected me to all times.

And love was not a feeling, or an action, but a being. And my being was this love. Yes, all of our beings were simply love. But this love was not what we had previously known love to be, for here there was no absence of it anymore. How does one describe something, if it is everything? All light and life and substance—all were Love.

~FS

A Guy Named Spillane (St Patrick’s Day Limerick)

This guy named Spillane is uncouth,

though he claims to be telling the truth,

he writes lots of words

haven’t you heard

few of which offer up sooth.

Then there’s this other guy also Spillane,

who’s generally always to blame,

he thinks he’s so funny

but he can be a dummy

that’s what his wife sometimes claims.

Lastly, a guy named Spillane lives in town,

you’ve probably seen him around,

he could be a sage

but he’s prob’ly a knave

and most certainly simply a clown.

~FS

Save The Humans

Who of us hasn’t wept at the loss of a life? We shed tears when someone dies, as we realize that we will not see them anymore, in this life. We will never know them again, as we had once known them, and this makes us dreadfully sad. I have cried these tears for my mother, and my father, and my brother, and my step-father, and for several friends, and even for some people I never knew personally but whose lives impacted me nevertheless. I suspect you are the same; having cried for those you know, as well as those you didn’t.

Jesus wept. Even he was sad at the death of his dear friend Lazarus. Death is horrible, even if you are God himself. And while we strive to make peace with death—somehow—convincing ourselves (possibly) of the naturalness of it, or appreciating it as the end of suffering, and the hope of rest and peace from pain, still, if we are honest with ourselves, and aren’t trying to convince anyone that we are doing okay, we likely will admit that we hate death. There is no detente between the living and their death; and no lasting peace-deals in this world between death and those we love. It is our mortal enemy, it always has been and always will be, forevermore. Most of us would agree that this is true, if we are honest about it, I think.

However, there is one who makes a claim that turns the power of death on its head. This same Jesus—the Christ or messiah—the savior who came to mankind, came to us all as The Life. This is his claim: he says he is the way, the truth and the life. He is life itself! He came to destroy death and to give us life eternal. Well, if so, where is this life? And why is there still death all around us?! I don’t see this life, and death continues to torment us.

But isn’t it so that the truest things, the realist things in life, often don’t start out visibly, but are rather, like an invisible seed, germinating below the ground, and out of sight? These things are hidden for a time, until the time is right, and then they spring upon us almost as if by magic! Every living thing starts out this way. In fact, there is no grain, or fruit that we can eat, that didn’t begin invisibly; and yet our material lives depend upon these. Seemingly non-existent at their beginning and yet, in due time, they are the very bread of life, without which we cannot sustain ourselves.

The Life waits to burst forth! Growing and growing within us and within this fallen world, the Life exists in all His truth, glory and reality. And He has brought with him the Kingdom of Life—still only barely perceptible, even for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, but just waiting for the moment when the time will be ripe, when Life will finally triumph completely over death.

And then, what use for these tears we shed? Then, there will be no more tears. But for now, we still shed them, when death asserts its terrible power. Today, I cried, which I haven’t done in some time. Death is always terrible, but willful death—murder—is more terrible still. Someone spoke the word—infanticide—to me today. Abortion—and even after birth—of a person, a human person, for certain reasons. And aside from all the arguments about ‘rights’, and all the nuances that confound us, and the extenuating circumstances that perplex and paralyze us, and the euphemisms that obscure the simplicity of the act; my body wanted to cry. Before I let myself think, or consider the reasons, I just felt the sadness of the death of a living creature, a human being even, so small and tender—invisible really, so that we hardly believe it is real, or that he/she really exists. But he/she is alive, they are all, each of them, a life that is real. And since it is better to feel the pain of the truth, than it is to hide the truth and numb ourselves from it—I let myself cry for a while.

Like so many other things in this life that start out invisibly—like the food we base our own lives upon—these humans start out so small, unseen and unheard, and yet, in time they become forces to be reckoned with! They become human beings, each one of them, made in the image and likeness of God Himself. We weep at the death of our loved ones who we cannot save. Death overtakes us all, until Jesus Christ finally puts an end to death. But do we have to keep crying also for the deaths of those who could be saved, even now?!

Can’t we put an end to the murder of invisible humans who are just waiting for a little more time to burst forth into view?!

~FS