I arrived in St. Louis in mid-July and had moved into The Cambridge by the first week of August [see Part 1]. A week after that, I began my courier rounds. Summer passed on to Indian Summer and I found myself in the midst of almost neutral, golden days on which the sun shines brightly but without heat.
The plunge into winter weather comes early in December. I wake one morning to an inch of snow. The Cambridge looks like a fresh white maze, nearly unrecognizable. Going out on its byzantine walkways and fire escapes to empty the trash, my eyes open to purity, peace and silence. The world seems to have been freshly saved.
My loneliness continues, however, punctuated by a few more wondrous snowstorms and a few memorable books on my car’s tape player: Cry the Beloved Country, which I’d read but not read when it was assigned in high school; Salinger’s Franny and Zooey; and some masterful short stories by William Faulkner.
My 50th birthday, in early February, draws near. My parents, back to being my biggest fans, ask if they may take me to lunch. My birthday is a workday, but arranging to sign off at noon is no problem. I stash the radio, antenna and company logo in the trunk and drive to their condo. When Mom had asked where wanted to go, I’d mentioned a new Brazilian place I’ve passed on deliveries. It’s way down on the south side near the river, where the city always smells like hops from the Budweiser brewery.
The restaurant turns out to be closed on Mondays, and we drive up to the new Planet Hollywood in the cobblestone Laclede’s Landing area, wedged between downtown and the river. Sitting with my parents in the huge, tacky dining room, I start feeling sorry for myself. Even at 50, I’m still some kind of “boy-man” with no life outside the people who brought me into the world. Still, I’m thankful for their company. Without it, I’d be completely alone.
After lunch, they present me with my birthday gift, my first personal computer. Until now, I’ve only had occasional contact with the World Wide Web. A friend in Myrtle Beach had shown me his setup once, and I’d been impressed, although it had been hard for me to understand what I was seeing on something called AOL. Then, just before leaving town, I’d shown one of my taxi passengers some greeting cards that the art gallery had made from my paintings. “Wow, I could set you up on the Web, and people all over the world would buy them!” the young man had said. I’d given him a set of cards and my phone number and waited expectantly. But no call had come in the next few days, and then I was gone.
After lunch, I drop the folks off at their place with hugs and thanks, and drive back to The Cambridge. In two trips, I carry the PC, monitor, and accoutrements up to my room. Still a little tipsy from a beer at the restaurant, I flop into bed for a nap. When I wake, it’s getting dark. I take a walk up to the pizza-slice place on Euclid Avenue, then come back and begin puzzling out, manual in hand, how to set up the computer.
A mere hour later, thrilled to see the words “Welcome” appear on the sky-blue screen, I begin unpacking the various programs, starting with Outlook Express, the email application. I send my first email to my cousin Shari, the only person whose address I have, greeting her and thanking her for picking out my computer in a two-for-one sale at a store near her home. Its twin went to her mother.
Eager to discover the sites on which a person can put art cards up for sale, and to join “Baba-Talk,” the Meher Baba-related discussion group my Myrtle Beach friend had showed me that one day, I search around unsuccessfully for another hour before deciding to call it a night. There’ll be another whole day to look before my delivery gig resumes on Wednesday.
Finding the way
It takes two more days to locate and get on “Baba-Talk,” because for some reason, searches tend to bring up old lists of topics or people, rather than the actual “How to Join” instructions. In that time, I’ve become a member of an online poetry group and a dream interpretation group. Anything you can think of seems to be out there! I’ve sent photos of my paintings, via the scanner that’s part of the “3-in-1” printer I picked up at Office Max, to a website that indeed sounds eager to market them. My cousin has recommended that I enroll in a general PC-know-how course at the community college, as well as a computer graphics course she’s taken, and I’ve done all that, too.
On “Baba-Talk,” I finally reunite with old friends and begin making new ones. It’s good to have a kind of extended spiritual family. Soon I begin posting anecdotes from work, book and movie reviews, jokes, and, as the muse has recently begun to stir once more, an occasional poem. I take part in the discussions, and in doing so, learn some of the downsides of the Internet. One person can hog the attention of a group, and a friendly discussion can quickly turn volatile because people are so strongly attached to their views.
I now have an additional project to pursue on days off. The art card website’s owners have stipulated that before they’ll give me space on their site, I need to have an inventory: 50 cards of each of a dozen images. They have to be in shrink-wrapped sets that include envelopes, and ready to mail. I begin canvassing small digital print shops, and soon find one to do the job.
The new poems are what excite me most. Life is becoming unpredictable again—that means I’m living in the present! The muse who had fallen asleep is now insisting on being heard from time to time, and her voice, as often as not, is a zany one!
I sign a petition one morning on the Clayton Post Office steps, the aim of which is to ban cockfighting in Missouri. Walking away afterward, I pull out a notebook and write down a rant that turns into a poem I call “My Noble Act.” The local NPR station had recently aired an interview with a farmer who raises fighting cocks for a living. “Ah loves mah birds,” he’d said. My poem is about lifestyles made obsolete by new technology or changing public mores. It goes on to ask, “Are poems my cocks? / I raise ‘em, / send ‘em out / to fight (for recognition) / ‘Ah loves mah poems,’ I say.”
By the time I finish, I’m giggling out loud.
Nine months have passed since my return. The spring rains have begun. The feelings of intimate nurture that they engender are deeply precious to me.
One Saturday morning, sitting in the Starbucks a few blocks from The Cambridge as it pours outside, I flip through the pages of the Riverfront Times, the local alternative weekly. A spontaneous question arises in my mind: How much would it cost to live in a luxury high-rise? There are several of them in the Central West End, averaging 20 stories or so. To live up high has long been a dream of mine, although a minor one. “Just for fun,” as Dad would say, I find the Classified section and begin checking. “LIVE IN THE CLOUDS: Executive House, 19th floor studio, 4419 West Pine” catches my eye. At the bottom of the ad, it says: $40,000.
Forty thousand? Is that a typo? To own the place? This little dream is not necessarily an idle one, I realize. My parents are people of some means. They’ve earned and invested steadily all their lives, and both drive Jaguars. In New York or California, such a place would run $100,000 or more. Here in the Midwest, my parents can easily afford it as an investment and I, while living in town, can be the caretaker! Plus, I know Mother is a bit ashamed that her 50-year-old son lives in a “shabby rooming house.”
Visiting for breakfast the next morning, I show them the ad. That’s all it takes! Good motives, bad motives—$40,000 is not even serious money in these years of unprecedented economic boom.
A pretty blonde agent shows us the unit a few days later. It’s beautiful and immaculate, with a parquet floor. Although it’s a studio, someone has separated off a tiny bedroom area with a makeshift wall. There’s a living room, a dining alcove and a kitchen. Everything about the place is right. Dad writes a lump sum cheque on the spot.
For furnishings, my mother takes me to an upscale consignment store. We find an exquisite abstract-expressionist carpet, a comfortable sofa and a glass dining room table. While the condo deal goes through, there’ll be an unavoidable week or two of waiting. Soon, though, when I arrive at my place of residence, a uniformed doorman will let me in and I’ll ride the rest of the way up to my home in an elevator.
A rainy spring night
On a rainy Monday night after dinner, I decide to walk over to the Executive House. It’s a pleasant walk, with my umbrella over my head in the spring shower. Leaving the creaky Cambridge, I stroll up to the corner of Euclid and McPherson and then down Euclid, the main drag of the Central West End. The first block is brightly lit with shops, restaurants and pubs. After that, the street goes dark, and I know I’m passing the walled-off backyards of stately homes on several exclusive private blocks, including one where the poet T.S. Eliot was born. After two blocks, the street brightens again with more shops, pubs and restaurants.
There isn’t really a rational reason for this walk, except that anticipation of the move has me a little jazzed, and I love walking in the rain. I splosh in little puddles on the sidewalk as my thoughts—the endless meditation—go on: a person is always the meat in a sandwich, I muse. You can’t see the piece of bread ahead of you, the future. The one behind, however, the past, is visible as memory. In spite of recent efforts and improvements, my memories still leave me feeling lost. Is there something wrong with my wiring, my judgment? I’ve had new starts in life, slates wiped clean more than once by great spiritual beings and forces. I’m more fortunate in this respect than most. But from one perspective, life is very long, as my fellow St. Louisan Eliot wrote. Within a year or several, even new, fresh pages seem to become submerged in tangles of karma and imperfect responses to challenges.
I quickly go over the past six years. Ever since my first visit, I’ve identified the Baba Center as a real-life Rivendell, the Elven citadel in The Lord of the Rings—a spiritual fortress in a fallen world. During one stay, I looked out over Long Lake and could see Meher Baba’s face in every lily pad. That hadn’t been my doing, of course, but pure and simple Grace. However, that Grace had seemed natural at the Center. It made sense that if a being of infinite consciousness had walked its paths and sat in its cabins a mere couple of decades ago, then indeed, anything could happen there.
Now, having tangled Rivendell up in the apron strings of my own shortcomings, I’ve “left God to find God.” However, I have to keep believing that—as has been concretely demonstrated in my life many times, I keep reminding myself—all things are made new and possible eternally and everywhere by the God-Man. If I continue to put one foot ahead of the other in faith, this wilderness, too, will surely yield to a connection once more with something or someone that knows my name.
Surely Baba appreciates my recent efforts to face reality—“Take a step toward God, and He takes ten steps toward you.” But more steps lie ahead. I don’t really think of the move to a new living space up in the sky as a step. It’s more of a horizontal motion. Yet, in its own way, it too will bring a new life.
I cross Maryland Avenue and walk toward Lindell, the city’s major east-west boulevard, lined with luxury apartment buildings. I turn left there and right again a block farther east at Taylor. As I continue south on Taylor toward the next street, West Pine, the brightly spotlighted upper floors of the Executive House come into view. By the time I reach Taylor and West Pine, I can see the entire structure rising like a 22-storey cake, lit with numerous candles! The thought that I’ll be living there in two weeks boggles my mind.
I continue down West Pine until I stand directly across the street from the illumined edifice. There’s no point in crossing the street and going closer still. I’m already face-to-face with my future—with a part, at least, of “the other slice of bread.”
In Myrtle Beach, a house had not made the difference, and it’s not likely to here, either. Material circumstances don’t determine the quality of life. That depends on being in harmony with the One behind the many, and this, in turn, depends on choices made in the face of karma, which, according to Baba, persists from past lives.
I stand there, umbrella propped up under an arm, and fold my hands to my heart. “Beloved Baba,” I murmur. “Help me to do better. Help me to live Your Life and Love all the time. All things are possible by Your Grace.” I recite the three main prayers Meher Baba gave to the world: the “Master’s Prayer,” the “Prayer of Repentance,” and the short one known as the “Beloved God Prayer.”
After that, I turn around and walk back up to the corner of McPherson and West Pine, stopping briefly to gaze for one more moment at the glowing building and its lovely reflection on the wet pavement. I turn again and this time, in the still refreshing rain, continue back to The Cambridge without stopping.
Naturally, in my new digs, it’s a thrill to wake to the sun rising over the downtown buildings to the east, the park-like suburbs to the west, and even a little sliver of the river if you look way to the south. The fun of being up here is like a little kid’s fun. This thing of fulfilling wishes, there’s nothing wrong with it—you have to live somewhere.
But there’s still no relief from loneliness. In the neighbourhood post office one afternoon, I notice a particularly attractive woman in tight jeans and a denim jacket, and even “relieving the tension” at home doesn’t get her out of my mind. A few days later, pulling into the gated parking lot at the Executive House after work, another realization arrives: I need therapy. Recalling that I’ve heard Catholic Family Services provides psychotherapy on a sliding scale, I phone them. No more fortune-charging, parentally hired psychiatrists. I’m an adult and I’ll manage things my own way.
The very next day I drive out to a pretty, gold-domed building on a wooded piece of land in a quiet suburban area. The place is a seminary for priests, but the Archdiocese has apparently decided it’s also a good place for CFS. I sit in the office and fill out the required form. Turning it in, I get out a book. Before long, a short, bald and bespectacled man comes out and calls my name. I raise a hand and wave in response, then put the book back in my shoulder bag and follow him down a corridor.
“It’s nice to meet you, Martin,” the man says when we’re seated in his office. “My name is Jerry. What led you to phone us?” He has a caring voice. I spend the session telling him how and why I’ve returned to St. Louis, what I’ve done for myself here, and in which areas I continue to feel stuck.
As we begin the next session, he asks about my history. I take him back to what I think of as “the fall” in my life, which occurred when I was about seven years old. I describe the glance I received from Mother as I tried on a new pair of blue jeans she’d left in my room. I try to convey to Jerry the desire I’d seen in her eyes as she spied on me from the hall through the cracked doorway. I’d only been able to see her because, as I admired myself in the full-length mirror on the door that led to my parents’ room, the other door behind me had creaked slightly. That led me to notice her eyes in the mirror.
The whole thing had only lasted a few seconds. She probably just looked in the door, which didn’t shut properly because its metal tongue was broken, to see if I was done, and then briefly got caught up in what she saw. Afterward, though, I felt as if I’d been burned up. I was too ashamed to even go downstairs to dinner later, until Dad came and got me. How would I ever be able to live in my body for the rest of my life?
Twenty more years passed in shame before my prayers for someone to trust enough to tell all my secrets to were answered. On the day that someone appeared, the gate of my dungeon, which I’d believed was locked forever, had swung open. My imprisonment, begun during childhood, had continued all the way through adolescence and into young adulthood, behind the masks I’d learned to wear for much of my daily life.
Jerry is quietly supportive. He seems to empathize as I describe, in our next few sessions, a pattern of being strongly attracted to a woman while feeling the stakes too high to risk rejection by reaching out. I share how this emotional paralysis has woven me in knots on several occasions, and once led me, at least indirectly, to kick a policeman in the shin and spend some time in jail—though fortunately, and again, I believe, by some kind of grace, I was saved from getting a criminal record.
Jerry wears a rapt, serious expression on his face as I speak. When I finish recounting, he says, “Well, Martin, it sounds to me as if you’re suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Do you know what that is?”
“I’ve heard of it, and read an article or two,” I say. PTSS, also known as PTSD, is just coming into the common vernacular. “After I got out of jail, that time I kicked the policeman,” I continue, “I stayed in bed all day, with my eyes closed, for over a year. My doctor said I was like a concentration camp survivor who’d been released but had never recovered.”
“Some may be left over from your childhood, too,” Jerry says. “Even though you were able to share your secrets, having spent your formative years holding them in is likely still affecting you. We’ll go easy, one little step at a time.” He continues, “I think you could use the Personal Ads to find dates. I think it’s important for you, and I think you’re ready now. The people who place Personals, many of them, are a lot like you. Do you think you might want to give it a try?”
An ocean of women
I dive into Personal Ads dating, which does, indeed, seem to be made for me. You’re not so on-the-spot as with picking up the phone and calling someone cold. You have your ad out there doing the initial work for you, telling others what you’re like, and you can peruse the ads of a seemingly unlimited number of available companions.
My first date is an attractive, vivacious 45-year-old who likes the outdoors. I pick her up and we drive over to Cahokia, a World Heritage Site across the Mississippi River. The Indian burial mound’s flat, grassy top offers a panoramic view of downtown St. Louis. To reach it, you have to climb a steep flight of 120 wooden steps. The state-of-the-art museum across the road has beautiful sculpted metal doors. Tamara, my date, has lovely orange curls that shine in the sun.
The next week, we get together at her house to sing Frank Sinatra songs. “Old Blue Eyes” has died recently. I’d mentioned in my ad that I’ve bought the Frank Sinatra Songbook and would love to sing the songs with someone. I have a good time, and she tells me she does, too, but after that, “it” happens: Tamara becomes impossible to reach. I leave voicemails and she doesn’t call back. My weight had gone up during my self-pitying early days back in the Midwest, and I imagine her disappearance may have something to do with that. I’d known from the start that it would be a dating liability.
But I, too, become scarce for some people who want to see me. Once, I arrive early at a restaurant and wait outside for my date. A little later, a beautiful woman who matches her physical description comes to the door. “Are you Doris?” I ask, but she shakes her head no. Still later, my actual date arrives, matching the same description but overweight (like me) and not attractive to me at all.
My family starts getting into the act. Dad’s boss’s wife has a single niece named Wendy, one of my favourite names. It makes me think of a wind blowing through branches. Imagining what this Wendy might be like, I call and ask to take her to dinner. She turns out to be very unlike my wispy imaginings; attractive enough, but very worldly and definitely not my type.
My second cousin Sandy tells my Mom about a friend of hers with whom I might have things in common. This actually turns out to be true. Dining at a European-style restaurant, our conversation flows from the evening’s start until its finish. We see each other several more times, but there’s an unspoken caveat: she lives with a man—“a biker,” Sandy says—who’s away at drug rehab for a few months. It isn’t clear that my new friend is really available. Furthermore, when I pick her up one day, she takes me on a tour of their ranch house. It has nice flowerbeds out in front, but indoors, it’s a different story. She and her partner own a large Airedale, and every room in the house smells strongly of dog or dog poop. I come away wondering how my friend can live that way!
Over the next several months I see blondes, redheads and brunettes—fat, thin, old and not-so-old women. It’s a dating marathon, but nothing really sticks. It begins to appear that the ocean is not really so full of my species of fish, after all. The women I connect with more than superficially are few. Many of the people who use the Personals are indeed wishers who haven’t been able to sustain relationships in their lives and using the ads is their way of dreaming. On the other hand, I feel my own dreams in this realm beginning to run dry, as the same descriptions appear week after week. The devilish pattern continues: “The ones you like don’t like you, and the ones you’re not interested in are chasing you.” I start to feel like it’ll go on and on, and I’ll get old without ever finding anyone.
In other areas of my life, however, there continue to be hopeful signs. A certain momentum has developed: working at the job, seeing Jerry, and exploring online. I’ve added a once-a-week dance class that meets in a room at the library branch near the Executive House. It’s taught by an inspiring student of Katherine Dunham, the modern dance pioneer who lives and works across the river in East St. Louis. My Tuesday and Thursday creativity days are never idle anymore. The dance class meets on Tuesday, and I also work on my art cards, which now need only to be shrink-wrapped in sets and sent to the website people.
The new poems keep coming! The most exciting one, “The Doormen,” has been prompted by my conscience as it reacts to the institutionalized racism I note every evening as I’m buzzed into my new home by a uniformed person of colour.
One morning, while delivering a package to an auto parts store in the city, I pen the beginning of a short story expressing both my loneliness and my hope. Noticing that the entire wooden counter where I sit waiting for a clerk to sign is carved with graffiti, I begin scrawling in my notebook, imagining a character returning to a godless city after a spiritual pilgrimage in the East, to a place like Meher Baba’s tomb. The pilgrim brings a holy name back with him and repeats it silently as a mantra. One day, on an impulse, while waiting at a counter like the one I’m sitting at, he carves the name into the wood. From then on he engages, unbeknownst to anyone else, in a “guerrilla mission” to carve and write the name, and keep repeating it silently, wherever he goes. In the months and years that follow, the whole city slowly starts to blossom in transformation.
God’s name—according to great Masters, the most powerful spiritual force there is. I have “all my bets” on this. I remember reading in the Ramayana, the Indian epic, how Hanuman, the monkey god known as “the breath of Ram,” is able to cross over from India to Sri Lanka on a bridge made of leaves with only the name of Ram inscribed on them. When Hanuman himself is shown this miracle, the power of the simple name is too much for him, and both he and the leaf he is standing on sink into the water.
One Friday in early October, I take time off from my courier job. Someone has posted a notice on “Baba-Talk” about an Ozark Sahavas gathering, near Fayetteville in northern Arkansas. Baba used the word Sahavas to mean “intimate companionship with the Master.” Nowadays, of course, the companionship with Baba is spiritual, not physical. Such yearly gatherings have sprung up in America since the ‘70s, and I’ve attended them in California, the Northeast, the Southeast, and near Chicago. This is the first one so “down home” for a St. Louisan, and I feel inspired to go.
It takes most of the day, driving southwest on I-44, to get there. After 250 miles (about 400 km) I stop for lunch in Springfield, Missouri. Back in the car, I carefully follow the directions for leaving the interstate and picking my way through the fields and mountains across the Arkansas line. I’ve scarcely been to a gathering of Baba-lovers since leaving Myrtle Beach a year and three months before. Although a small group in St. Louis meets informally most months, I’ve rarely felt up to going.
I pass the “Welcome” banner on a dirt road halfway up the side of a mountain. After parking in the long narrow clearing which is the designated lot, I carry my things up to the main cluster of tents. People are eating dinner at outdoor tables. I grab a plate and go through the line. Carrying my full plate towards the diners, I’m greeted by several old friends, who invite me to join them. This kind of thing happens often at Sahavas gatherings. You never know who will show up. I agree to share a tent with Paul, an old apartment-mate from one of my early sojourns in Myrtle Beach.
Though the mountains are lovely and the Baba-lovers enthused, on Saturday I begin to feel a growing sense of separateness. I sing two songs at the campfire that night, but find myself envying several popular performers there. It begins to be clear, clearer than it’s been lately in St. Louis, that I remain prone to depression.
I’m not able to do much more than go through the motions of participation on Sunday morning. Leaving for the drive home after the closing session, I feel that the bottom I’ve been slowly and painstakingly weaving in the basket of my world has fallen out. A stop at the small but excellent Springfield Art Museum on the way back, in a city that seems to have no downtown and an endless anti-abortion march going on along the closest thing to a main street, is the highlight of the return trip. In fact, I have to admit to myself that the museum’s collection of 19th-century American paintings is the highlight of the whole weekend! As I drive for the next five hours under grey skies, I wonder, painfully, whether there’s been any point to all my effort of the past year.
I get to St. Louis after dark and carry my things to the elevator, then up to the condo, in two trips. I set my computer, which I’d taken along to make the gathering “the first online Sahavas,” on the table, and my duffel bag and guitar case on the living room floor. Then I remove my clothes and climb straight into bed. Baba had said that deep sleep is a return to immersion in God’s original oceanic bliss. That’s definitely what I need right now.
I wake to sunshine, early enough to have breakfast and unpack before starting the day’s deliveries. I reconnect the computer and monitor, an operation of surprisingly few and simple steps, and make coffee while waiting for the machine to boot up. In a couple of minutes, I click the email icon. I see the “Baba-Talk” digest that comes every morning, and the companion one called “Baba,” which features mostly quotes. There’s the weather report and the Writer’s Almanac, plus a poem that arrives daily and a few “spam” ads, which lately have been getting epidemic.
Then I notice a subject heading I’d missed. It says, “Martin, you are a treasure.” My mind does a sort of double-take. Is it another ad, designed to get special attention? Who would write something like that? And why?
I click to open this one, as I had not done with the others, and read:
Jai Baba, Martin!
Do you remember me? We corresponded briefly mid-August re a mutual friend’s health, after word appeared on the Listserv that he was in the hospital.
Well, I’m not popping on your screen to talk about him tonight. I want to talk about Martin. (God I’m being bold! Not like the polite intermediary who wrote you previously. Must be all the Wasabi I schmeared on my sushi tonight.)
Here’s the deal: it all started… when? Friday?… when the newest installment of The Whim made its debut. When I got to the article, “Name-Dropping in the Baba Community,” I began smiling, then wondering, then suspecting, then finally howling out loud by my open window around midnight. Your article definitely got my highest vote on The Whim‘s laugh meter! And so, what started out as a simple wish to write you and thank you for your wonderful humour became….
—The Martin Odyssey—
I said to myself, “Before you can write Martin, you must refresh your memory about his many talents. Get a snapshot of who this character really is.” You know, like getting a corporate profile before calling the CEO. Except that I have nothing to sell.
So, what more exciting adventure could one have on a Friday night than to hunker down with the Listserv Archives and check out Martin!
You know, the next time you’re depressed (if that sort of thing ever happens to you), check yourself out. It’s quite a read!
The Odyssey began when I clicked on SEARCH. What was originally intended as a spot check to read a few posts soon became a tidal wave of laughter, fascination, curiosity… spilling over from Friday night into Saturday, and oozing into Sunday. I was hooked. Damn! Another addiction.
Did you know that you’ve posted 540 times since January 1st? And that’s just on Baba-Talk! Let’s see… 540 posts divided by 278 days… that’s 1.94 posts per day. I know the frequency of your posts was sometimes sporadic. Nothing for a few days. Then one of your hysterical off-the-wall observational comments we all think but only you express. And written as if everyone on the List had just been talking about it.
As if what you were saying were somehow “normal.” Or a movie review, written in the middle of the night, that no one ever acknowledged. Or a funny sign you saw from your car. The local weatherman who “caused” the weather. Karen Finley. Death. Always the first to offer a prayer and personal condolence. Hippo meat. Augustine of Hippo. Timing. Cyber-parades. Jokes. Screaming out in the cyber wilderness. Poetry. A publicly broadcast private giggle about what happened to strike you when you awoke. Or fell asleep. Storyteller extraordinaire. Canada. Tao. Book of the Dead. Sufi dancing. Family. Doubt. Fear. Highs. Lows. Unabashed self-disclosure. Talking-book inspirational message of the day. Lust. Obedience. More poetry. Empathy. Killer wit. Master of the unexpected. An irreverent tease. Quirky. Out there. Real.
(Jeez, are these the newest 101 names of God?) STOP!
but NEVER… dialectics, criticism, negativity.
Martin, I suppose if I followed each person’s thread through the Archives, I’d get a well-rounded idea of everyone. Yet I doubt any has contributed so fully from the heart and funny-bone as you have. You have been so generous with yourself. And I just want to say how much I appreciate what you’ve given.
A while back, Emmett S. told me with great pleasure that your poems were now on the HeartMind poetry page, so of course I went there immediately. Re-read it tonight. Why didn’t he announce you? I don’t ever remember seeing anything about it. Did I miss something? There were some poems from the first half of the year (sorry I only got to early July… had to return to work today after the weekend odyssey) I thought would also be neat to have on HeartMind. You know, maybe with a touch of editing. Gems can get lost in the Archives, and people often rummage through the daily postings at breakneck speed. It’s wonderful to take the time to stroll through and savour what’s out there.
And of course I visited your home page. Read your stories. Hey, maybe I’ll even order a cassette! And looked at your artwork. You’ve been busy!
I guess why I’m writing is because I feel I can identify with so much of your stuff. You’ve been like the Listserv’s Everyman. You write reviews the way I speak about them to my friends. I have a girlfriend who told me years ago she’d rather hear me tell her about a movie than see it herself, because whenever she did go see it, she was always disappointed! I share your quirky sense of humour. And your whimsical observations: you take the smallest incident and automatically find relevance and current growth in it. Much pathos. And humour. Always humour.
No, Martin, this is not your memorial service, but your living appreciation service! I often regret that I never really learn about some friends until they’re gone and their qualities and accomplishments are celebrated at their memorial. I always find myself thinking, “I wish I had known that about them while they were alive. What a full life they lived!” Consequently, I’m a real fan of sharing the goodies now. And letting folks know how appreciated they are.
Well, all this from someone who’s never once posted on the Listserv. 😉 That’s just how I am. A one-to-one kind of person. Bold, yet private.
I send this to you now, so that the next time you’re the only one awake and posting at 4 a.m., and no one’s responded to your last 10 brilliant emails, and well, you’re just bursting with frustrated creativity… you’ll maybe remember that there is at least one silent one out there who appreciates your many gifts. And your willingness to share them.
You’re okay Martin.
Effects of positive radiation
I sit, stunned, at my computer. I’ve long hoped that Baba has approved of my online communications. They are, in their way, attempts to connect not only with many, but with the One behind the many. If Baba has actually enjoyed them and decided to apprise me of his approval, the letter might be just like this one! It almost feels as if he wrote it through her.
Who is this person? I do recall an impersonal correspondence about a friend’s condition, after I had publicly solicited information.
Am I a “treasure”? Well, all of us are treasures, I think. We are the Treasure; the Soul. I smile, feeling the letter still warming me inside.
How does someone respond to a letter like this? Quickly, for one thing, I realize, for I have to get to work. I write a short note of appreciation, promising more later, and click “Send.” After putting on my jacket, I head out the door.
Snippets of the letter come to mind all morning. At lunchtime, I stop at a library on my route, read it again, and print out a copy. After work, I write Bonnie another short note. I realize my words have to be sincere, but also a bit cautious. Hers was not a romantic letter, and I can’t just fling open all the doors of my being, throw my defenses overboard, and express all my feelings, which include fond hopes.
I jokingly propose marriage, seeing humour as a good way to defuse pressure. Then I ask where she lives. The next morning, a new email from her says, “I’m a 30-year Sufi living in California.” This leads to a bit of confusion at first—a 30-year-old? Twenty years younger than I? I feel, well, flattered, until the matter is cleared up by my asking whether she’s the daughter of a long-ago acquaintance of mine with the same last name. She replies that he’s a former husband. “Thirty-year Sufi” means she’s been a member of Sufism Reoriented, the Sufi group Meher Baba chartered, for 30 years. The two of us are contemporaries.
We settle into a friendly correspondence—not every day, and not on any particular schedule, but steadily writing to one another about mutual acquaintances, people being obstinate on the list-serv, world events—anything. Life goes on, and remains difficult, with the single addition of this friendship.
Occasionally, I disappear for a day or two with no explanation. This happens when I’m going through one of my “depletion-and-recovery” periods and am too embarrassed to explain. Once, before Thanksgiving, I abscond for longer than usual. On the third day, Bonnie emails a request for me to call her, and appends a phone number.
I oblige, although with misgivings that turn out to be accurate. In my still-depleted state, I’m tongue-tied during the call. Afterward, I worry that this might have injured or even destroyed our friendship. The next day, I take a deep breath and write her the real reason for my absences.
Good morning, new skin
One morning, shortly after Thanksgiving, which I celebrate with my parents at cousin Sandy’s, something is different from the moment my head comes up off the pillow. I can’t put a finger on what it is, and puzzle about it while getting dressed.
Walking outside to the parking lot under a clear December sky, to drive to the bagel place before starting work, it hits me: for the first time in several years, I feel genuinely glad to be alive—I’m happy! I’m not dragging myself around in a “fake it ‘til you make it” mode. Every cell of my body feels at home, in effortless poise.
The change takes me quietly aback. At what time, during the previous night, did it happen? Driving to my first delivery pick-up, I celebrate while half-listening to Morning Edition, and some understanding begins to dawn. Bonnie has been pouring unconditional love and support into me steadily for a month and a half. It’s taken this long for the love to dissolve my shell of depression. If I’ve had a tough day at work, or a contentious response or no response at all on the list-serv, she’s been there every time with kind, consoling words.
I’ve had my own personal angel watering the roots of my being! Over the years I’ve affirmed to myself many times, “I am never alone,” but overcoming the prodigious contrary evidence of my senses has been impossible—until now! Now I know I’m really not alone, not an isolated grain of sand in a great urban desert. I have a friend, a partner.
I drive on, out to Dorsett Road, which is a commercial boulevard in the county, for that first pick-up. The sky has clouded over by the time I get there. There’s dirty snow, the last remnant of a storm a week ago, in the gutters. Telephone wires stretch above the road, between the world and the sky’s grey. The buildings I see are concrete warehouses or haphazard small shops and box stores—what someone would ordinarily describe as ugly. Yet, all I see is glorious beauty! The collage of ugly-duckling elements now also includes the eyes of Love that have been newly re-awakened within me, enabling me to see that it is all God’s original Light arriving and renewing Creation every second.
I still have Bonnie’s phone number in my wallet. I have to tell her–to share the good news! I pull my car into the White Castle parking lot coming up on the right, and drive to the phone booth. Parking, I go in to get a cup of coffee, come back out, and dial her number.
“It’s Martin!” I say, hearing the click. “I woke up happy today! I don’t even know how to say how happy! The world is my little ball of silly putty! I’m in love with everything! And it’s all because of you!”
The banks of old snow that have been plowed from the lot glisten in the sun. The silver and black of the phone booth shine like a vision, and the cup of steaming White Castle coffee I take a sip of is a Divine Communion. No longer is Time the lord of the world. God, infinite God—that Love that first revealed itself to me nearly 30 years ago, and with whom I’ve played hide-and-seek for so long—is here, naked, no longer eclipsed by grotesque shadows!
Here in the lot, lifting the cup to my lips again, connected with my beloved’s spirit through the receiver as I can feel her heart responding to my words of gratitude, I drink once more to our new life.[box]By Max Reif. Max is also the author of a recently published book of poems, Journey from here to HERE, which can be ordered online. He is currently working on a book of his writings which have appeared in The Mindful Word. To view more of Max’s writing, plus his artwork, visit his website.[/box]