Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Details

            Luther Hough considered himself a righteous man. From an early age, he had always felt a nearness, a closeness with the God of his experience. Indoctrinated by his parents, he was a born-again Christian to the core. His father had been a Pentecostal preacher, with a small congregation in a small county church just outside Kapuskasing, in the northern part of Ontario, Canada. His mother was a good wife, the kind who knew her place and stayed there. When he was 12 years old, they were both killed in a fiery car crash. Struck down in their BMW by a drunk driver and his trusty pickup truck, they died instantly.  Luther was sent to live with his paternal grandmother in Richmond Hill, a suburb located just north of the city of Toronto. Agnes Hough was a fire and brimstone Believer.  Her approach at raising the boy was militant. For her, it was not enough to simply read God's word, one must live it through submission. She was a mainstay in her flourishing Christian community, and this exposure only furthered the young boy's growing obsession with serving his Lord. Agnes trained Luther well. The prayer meetings, the service 3 times a week, the intense Bible study launched him into ministry. By the age of 18, he was preaching every other Sunday.

            When Agnes Hough passed away, she left a healthy fortune to Luther. At 20, he decided to invest some of his inheritance to further God's will. He knew he was required to spread the Truth, life had shaped him to this end. God had moulded him for pure evangelization. With some of his windfall he bought an abandoned building in the tiny town of Bright, Ontario and transformed the small town chapel into a thriving temple for his God. When The Church of Redemption Through Christ first opened, the congregation consisted of a few locals and a handful of parishioners who followed him from his grandmother's place of worship. By the age of 25, over 400 souls bowed and prayed there several times a week. Additions to the original church were commonplace, as the ministry grew and grew. Conveniently located just west of Toronto, Luther made it his commission to journey once a week into the big city in order to save souls for Jesus. Come Saturday morning, chances are you would pass him on Yonge Street as he handed out salvation, all thanks to the folks at Staples. Every Wednesday, Friday and twice on Sunday evening, his voice would cry out from his pulpit, beseeching the Lord for Divine intervention. The Word demanded he gather the sinner, preparing one and all for the End of Days when Divine retribution would set mankind on the right course. His mission was so successful, so vibrant, that people came from great distance just to hear him preach. Years of watching his father, and other Evangelical preachers, had groomed him for this purpose. People clung to his words, followed him faithfully and claimed him a prophet and messenger sent from God.
            Whether he cared to admit it or not, Luther Hough was a sexy beast. Just as God seemed to ooze from his being, so too his appearance, coupled with his charisma, allowed him to use attraction to further God's purpose for his life. He stood tall as a man of God. At 6 foot 2 inches, he was a monument to perfection. His smile, his physique, every part of him screamed of God's favour. Women floated in his deep blue eyes. Children trusted in his gentle touch. People were drawn to him and he didn't even have to speak a word. His dark brown hair was chiselled, his beard over-groomed. His body was tight, lean and reeked of vanity. The glasses he wore during his performances were only cosmetic in their nature. Not one for casual appearance, his expensive suits and well-shined shoes only added to the overall sculpture. He was hot and he knew it. He had never really had an interest in marriage or sexual gratification. Any urges he did have were passed off as the consequence of original sin. When he was overcome by his carnal nature, he simply prayed to be made worthy and rebuked his mortal flesh. He chose not to give in. He never had. Despite his success, he felt like he had not achieved his true calling. It was one thing to be a preacher, but Luther wanted so much more. In the silence of the morning, he could often be found praying at the alter he had created, begging God for direction. It was not that he felt underused or taken for granted. He wanted to make a greater difference for Jesus, to help prepare a way for His kingdom.

God works in mysterious ways.

            Yonge and Wellesley Streets cross near the center of Toronto's downtown core. The streets are well travelled either by day or by night. People bustle about shops and pizzerias, chatting on cell phones and walking on garbage. Luther's regular corner was at the heart of this section of the concrete jungle. To the north just off Yonge sits Yorkville, a snazzy district aimed at the financial elite. Luther always purchased his suits from a tailor just beyond the main thoroughfare. To the south a few blocks sits Dundas Square. This Canadian version of Times Square in New York is so bright that it lights up the daytime. To the west of his weekly spot, young male prostitutes trade their wares at the side of a McDonald's restaurant right across the street. In his mind, he would pray for each boy as they sold their Happy Meal in some nameless old man's car and then sped away together. It was a drive thru. To the east, just by one city block, Wellesley crosses Church Street, deep in the center of hell itself. On the outskirts of the gay village, Luther practiced his wares. Around 8 AM, on the sixth day of the week, Luther would set up a meagre stand on which to place his papers and a large leather-bound copy of the King James Bible. Weather permitting, he always wore a tee shirt. It was always brightly coloured, tight to the skin and completely flattering in the most revealing way.  He wore his denim jeans in exactly the same titillating manner. They left nothing to the imagination. Whenever he felt convicted about his appearance, he would tell himself, "You get more flies with honey!"
            Around 9 AM, without fail, Luther would find himself immersed in Sodom. Once the crowds rolled in, he was quite often overwhelmed. It wasn't only the homosexuals that made him uncomfortable. An onslaught of Asians, Muslims and even orthodox Jews, wandered past him. He thought of this place as a cesspool, a gehenna, a vile respite in an ocean of sin. He could almost hear all the weeping and gnashing of teeth. Amidst this ocean of heathen, Luther found some purpose. As he handed out paper after paper, he kept telling himself, "Even if you only save one." The pamphlets were simple. On each white page of paper was a message in large bold font. It never changed and he felt no need to change it. With one hand he would pull his target in using his appeal and with the other he would place in their hands the truth, captured on a sheet of paper. After all, he was not here to gain parishioners but to be a catalyst in the saving of soul. His attire was more than appropriate, at least in his own mind. Since early on in his ministry he had found that the better he looked, the more willing each sinner was to listen, to stop and give him a moment or two. Not surprisingly, it worked like a charm.  He knew if he could just get them to read his pamphlet, then he had planted a seed towards their salvation. From such a handsome man came such bitter and ugly words.

"For the wages of sin is death
but the gift of God is eternal life
in Christ Jesus, our Lord."
Romans 6:23
God will punish you for your sins
but can find forgiveness through Jesus
An abomination will always be an abomination
His Kingdom is at hand
The Church of Redemption Through Jesus Christ
Bright, Ontario

             Luther noticed him almost immediately. On a hot August morning, his attire stood out like a sore thumb. From head to toe he was covered in darkness. A pitch black Fedora, midnight pants and a black shirt and tie, all seemed so out of place. The oversized ebony leather trench coat he wore looked stifling as daintily clad passersby didn't even seem to see him standing there. The stranger would smoke a cigarette, then flick it onto the pavement below only to light another in the very same gesture. From a distance, he looked taller than Luther. His frame seemed swallowed up in that sea of black. From what Luther could tell, he was just another aging eccentric, lost out on a sea of sin and immorality. He appeared to be around 60 years of age. He had appeared across the street at the same time Luther had set up his hospice earlier that morning. Since then, all the man had done was stand and watch him. The pastor could feel the man's eyes following him as he darted out into the flow of people, handing his message to anyone who would  take it. Just as he was ready to confront him, he disappeared while Luther turned to organize his station. Reverend Hough went on with his business.
            The young man spotted Luther from way down the street. He quickened his pace with a sense of urgency. Luther noticed him as he approached. Greetings were exchanged and as Luther reached back for a pamphlet, the attractive fellow gave it his best shot. His suggestions were vulgar and completely to the point. When Luther handed him a pamphlet, all the guy had to say was, "You've got to be fucking kidding me." He then walked away, shaking his head the entire time. Just out of reach, the disappointed stalker yelled, "Nice outfit, preacher."
            Luther stood frozen, the combination of shock and shame and embarrassment was almost more than he could stand. Anger grew from inside of him when he realized he had been stirred by this abomination's vulgarity. He had to position himself behind his meagre pulpit to block a clear view of his oversized reaction. Luther closed his eyes and he began to pray. He seethed over the situation in which he had been placed. He was furious with that creature who had dared to incite him. Like a bolt of lightning it hit him. He finally knew. All the years of standing in one spot, hoping to save just one, he would now leave behind. God had given him a calling, a specific center for his ministry. He packed up his collection and left this den of iniquity. He would never return.

From the across the street, the man in black stood, smiling softly.

            When the television cameras came in, Luther went from Pastor Hough to Reverend Tough. His sanctuary out in the country became a haven for anyone who stood strong against the homosexual agenda. Luther had always felt it was his mission to speak to this foolish horde of sinners, but after his experience on the street corner in Toronto, he went from appealing with love (if you can call it that) to demanding with hellfire and scripture and condemnation. He used his own inheritance to payroll his own agenda. Every Saturday morning, he broadcast from his pulpit on a national Christian television station. Across the country, people tuned in to see the spectacle. Some saw wisdom in this approach. Others condemned him for casting the first stone. He beseeched anyone involved with the LGBT community to join him and save themselves. He was diligent in his own authority, proclaiming (like a bad cliché) that God hated homosexuality, and without the Blood of Jesus, anyone partaking of this "lifestyle" or helping to promote it would be sentenced to the pit of hell. He would scream God's orders, vacillating between God's anger and God's wrath. Most of all, it was the curse he placed upon all those who had not seen the light or refused to follow his, which defined him.

"If your life is miserable and you are always unhappy, God is punishing you.
If life seems unfair and your days are full of pain and sorrow, God is punishing you.
You have no one else to blame for your lot in life other than yourself.
God is punishing you for what you have done.
God will punish you even more. Get used to it.
You are being prepared for your place in hell where your punishment will sit forever.

Repent or get what you deserve"

            Luther fully believed that those who do not submit to the will of his Lord will be penalized for their treachery. God will strike and chastise each one now, not just in the afterlife. He never backed down from this position. Luther may have been controversial, but the camera loved him. His television program, Redeemed with Luther Hough, was a bonafide success. He used social media to gather the faithful and crowd control to help picket at LGBT events. He made appearances on local radio and his growing ministry became somewhat of a focus for both conservative and more left wing media sources. He was a regular on the national newscasts and even the Americans caught wind of him. His ministry spread throughout North America and his popularity among conservative Christians seemed impenetrable. Suddenly, Luther Hough found himself quite the celebrity. Any money he used to finance his projects was easily recouped and then some. Once a fledgling pastor, he was now The Pastor. Despite his tyrannical approach to salvation, audiences paid to see him. Each interview and each news feature he allowed was simply another line from his agendum. In a world where homosexuality was considered normal, and mostly accepted as such, Luther was a voice in the wilderness. When questioned, Reverend Tough would lay it on the line. It was God, after all, not him who made the rules. Don't shoot the messenger.
            As Luther sat waiting to address the masses that had gathered for an outdoor Sunday service at his church, he spotted the man in black. He was standing in the far back, near the information kiosk which was housed inside a blue tent. Midnight stood out against this azure sky. You couldn't miss him. Throughout the entire event the stranger lingered, watching Luther. The minister had to ask himself, "How did this man get all the way out to the country?"
            He wondered why he was here and what he wanted. After a fiery sermon, as the brimstone settled all around, Luther looked to him and waited for a reaction. Slowly, subtly, they seemed to make eye contract, even from across the sea of people. The man nodded, tipped his Fedora and lit a cigarette. By the time Luther had alerted security to a man smoking on the property, the dark figure had disappeared.

"The devil," Luther proclaimed somewhere inside his head.

            There was nothing more refreshing, more rejuvenating for Luther than to take an evening drive to clear his head. Life had become very complicated for the successful hatemonger. It was this time alone, free from the press and the patrons, that Luther felt a communion with his God. The sense of speed he experienced on his drives was cathartic. The race was exhilarating. Luther was happiest during moments like this. His white, 2007 Porsche 911 GT3 Coupe convertible with Bi-Xenon headlamps didn't hurt his sense of  pleasure. County road 88 was perfect for his indulgence. In the shadows, he would fly through open air. The back roads of southern Ontario offered little hindrance once the sun had set. Luther took this time to think, to analyze and to bask in the glory of the Holy Spirit and the rush at 120 kilometres down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. He felt  free for the first time, every time. He didn't have to be the perfect example. He didn't have to wear a mask. For brief seconds, he would close his eyes and imagine he was flying up to heaven, with angels as tour guides welcoming him home. He found a brief moment of bliss in the darkness, a surrender to his God.
            Luther slammed on the brakes the moment he saw him. His eyes had only been closed for a moment of heaven when out of nowhere the man in black appeared. Standing in the middle of the road, mingling with the darkness, the stranger did not flinch, even slightly, as the car sped towards him. He lit a cigarette as it quickly approached. Luther swerved to avoid him, further engaging the brakes in a futile attempt to slow down. The car skidded, flipped onto its side and then rolled over several times more, recklessly spinning out of control. With no seatbelt on, Luther was thrown like a toy ball in some game of chance. The high speed which accompanied his race propelled the Porsche into pieces and Luther into thin air. Debris flew everywhere as Luther soared across the road, rebounding off the edge of the asphalt, then bounced like that toy ball down into the gully at the side of the road.  He landed hard onto his back. The car rolled into the ditch, then ricocheted twenty feet beyond the pastor and rested in a cornfield. There was no explosion, no boom or thunder beyond what the accident itself conveyed. The night swallowed up Luther and the devastating fortuity. He laid conscious, fully aware, staring up at the clear night sky. He was not counting stars.    
            There was no music to score the scene. One would find it hard to hear any sound at all once the chaos had settled. It was a kind of hush. All the silence met the darkness and the darkness took any light. At first, Luther thought he was dead. He soon realized this was not the case. As he slowly became aware of the tragedy around him, he started watching for angels, praying to God for help and assurance. He resolved himself to heaven. Once the fog had cleared from his brain, he tried to get up. He tried to move his arms. He tried to move his legs. He tried to move at all but he could not. There was no pain, there was nothing but numb. He quickly realized he was paralyzed, that he had probably broken his back. Any cry for help was muffled by his very own weight. In his mind he called out to his God, "Have you forsaken me, Jesus?"
            The flame from the lighter broke the blackness. Standing just to his right side, dressed in the night like a monster, the stranger who had caused all this stood and lit a cigarette.

"Luther," he said. "You've been a bad boy."

             Luther looked up at the entity with great fear and trepidation. He knew he was broken, frozen into this place. He barely found it within himself to pray but pray he did. He rebuked the demon over and over in his head, calling on Jesus to take this from him. Before extinguishing his flame, the creature snapped his fingers and the headlights from the demolished automobile shone down into the pit with both men.
            "Help me," Luther whispered.
            "Help you," he replied. "Why would anyone help you? This is the punishment you deserve for your sins."
            Luther tried to gasp, he tried to scream.
            "Devil," was all he could utter.

"The devil?" the man asked. "The devil is in the details, Luther."

            The man then reached inside his coat and pulled out one of the pamphlets that Luther had once handed out so cavalierly. Luther laid staring up into the halo the headlights had formed around the demon's head. For a moment, he seemed angelic. Stars and blackness coated the background and Luther started to fade into the dimming. As the man in black read from the page, pieces of the life he had lived flashed before his eyes. All the condemnation, all the judgment, all his secret sins rushed throughout his body and permeated his mind, but he could not find any peace with it. The being let the page drift slowly to the ground and began to walk away from the broken man of God.
            "When you get the chance, you should read it," the ghoul laughed.
            "Rebuke you," whispered Luther.
            "Don't shoot the messenger, Luther," the stranger teased.
            "Satan!" Luther accused softly.

"Satan," the stranger scoffed. "Who said anything about Satan?"

            It seemed like days that Luther remained in that ditch, placed carefully at the side of the road like a shattered work of art. Each moment lasted longer than the first. Every second brought torment and hopelessness and much suffering to his mind. Luther Hough had found his hell. In fact, it was less than an hour before the ambulance and the police arrived on the scene. The waling of a fire truck seemed to wake Luther from his delirium. When the ambulance drove away, blaring like a banshee into the night, Luther believed that he had left any previous life he once led at the edge of that strip, in that gully, at the side of County Road 88. Come the morning, two policemen watched as a tow truck flipped the Porsche onto its wheels and hauled it onto a flatbed. It pulled away with little fanfare and no media to report on this fate. As the officers scoured the area for evidence, that plain white piece of paper fell under one's foot. He bent down and thought to himself that it must have flown out of the preacher's car during the accident. He read it quickly, then placed it in a plastic evidence bag. He thought to himself, "How ironic."

"Do not judge
For you too will be judged
For in the same way you judge others
You will be judged
And with the measure you use
It will be measured to you."
Matthew 7:1-2"




Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ivy After

            Since her husband Malcolm's death seven months before, Edwina Talbot made it a priority to visit his grave once a week. When the stone went up marking his place, she  groomed the garden around it, shaping it into a quaint refuge for beetles and small rodents and toads. Like clockwork, every Saturday morning you could find her kneeling before it, clippers in hand, all the while trimming and moulding the very last thing she was able to do for him. After forty-eight years of marriage, this was all that was left. The blank space reserved for her name on the headstone was nothing but a reminder of her hoped for reunion. As if caring for a child, her commitment was without fail. She planted the Boston ivy at the granite base, hoping to cover the unsightly thing. Every week she pruned it, not allowing it to overgrow. This became her passion, her testimony to the love she had lost. Tucked into line, sitting with row after row, she trimmed the space where she would one day herself reside. She found solace in this waiting.
            She was not a frail woman. She was unaffected by the age which had brought with it few challenges. She was thin but in a healthy way. Her long gray hair was forever pulled back, tied with a bobby pin just above her neckline. Her attire was always conservative, based in earth tones and delicate patterns. She never wore slacks. Each morning before her visitation, she would lay out her dress very carefully, pressing any wrinkles from it. She put on makeup, teased her appearance, always wanting to look good for her husband. With her tools in her satchel, she would take the city bus to the gates of the enormous cemetery. Slowly, she paced herself while climbing the formidable hill just inside the entrance. She walked from one end of the huge graveyard to the other, seeking a glimpse of that stone as she drew nearer. Exhausted from the distance travelled, she would plop a towel down onto the grass just in front of her testament. Once a week or so, she would almost always pause to rest before taking to the task at hand.
            She always started with the ivy, desperately trying to form it around the support base of the marker. She moved onto the flowers and the ground covers, trimming each in a soft pose. The rock border that entwined the garden sprung grass and weeds, each blade, each invader, plucked from a crevice with precision and dismissal. Each cut was carefully placed in a plastic shopping bag, for easy disposal on her way back out. Seven months turned into seven more but she never missed a date. Through all the proverbial rain and snow, she made her way without fail. In the winter, she struggled through drift after drift just to clear his nameplate. Come spring and the transformation began. As time passed, the garden became full and dense. Old flowers were replaced with new flowers and the ivy was pruned like a rose bush should be. Her time spent here had tricked her. She had convinced herself that there was no other way. Her friends implored her to just let go, or at least to let them drive her on her weekly quest. She knew there would be no reprieve from this journey, not for her. She didn't want one anyway. During the week she sat, still waiting, as the world passed her by. She lived only for those moments with him.

In a way, he was almost alive with her there.

            She concluded her pilgrimage one weekend morning, after walking all that way. She had almost reached him. Today had been a struggle for her to make it. She was not a bunch of ivy growing stronger with time. Finally, she thought to herself, it is almost done. The years of constant mourning had revealed themselves on her face. As she spotted the peak of his headstone poking just above the others, she had to stop and catch her breath. From the road to Malcolm was a good hundred feet. As she paced herself among the other stones, she noticed immediately that something was different. Somehow in only seven short days, the ivy had grown with such vigour that it covered the entire area where her name would go. This could not be possible. She had trimmed it just last week. She double-checked to make sure she was in the right place. Angrily, she pulled the new growth back with one yank. She clipped it off at its base, determined to stop it in its tracks. There remained her Malcolm, carved into black slate, always beside the empty space she longed to fill. Soon, she thought, soon.  
            She sat down flat, resting fully on the grass for the first time in her history here. To her right, she eyed a rather tall gentleman kneeling before a headstone. As she rested, she watched him work his magic. It seemed to her that he also cared for the ground as she did. He noticed her noticing him, and nodded in the most friendly way. As Edwina began to clean up her making, he wandered over and bid her a good morning. As they parted, she thought to herself that Frank Reed was a faithful husband to care for his loved one's garden in such a manner. She crossed the grassy knoll with ease compared to the time before. From her distance, she could see. Again, ivy had grown all over the right half of the gravestone, covering the blank area and up towards the top. The increase had inconveniently doubled compared to her last encounter. She removed it all immediately, squashing it with one thrust into her plastic bag.  Once again, as she passed the other monuments, she could see. The ivy was so overgrown that it had begun to swallow the back of the marker. Unable to remove it with her hands, she used shears to keep the beast at bay. Determined to vanquish the pest, she pruned it all away, right down to the root. She cursed it as she tucked it away in the garbage.
            She crossed the path which she always took. Just before Malcolm, she noticed a bouquet of dead flowers, laying in the center of her way. With a swift gesture, she whipped right down and picked them up, squishing them into her faithful plastic bag. It only distracted her for a minute. She could see it and she was stunned. Since her last visit, the vine had fully grown back and then some. She tugged at it, snipping each growth like it was her enemy. She crammed the entire thing down in the plastic bag along with the flowers. She crossed the grassy knoll. As she approached Malcolm's final resting place, she spied a bouquet of flowers, exactly in the same spot she had discovered some the time before. When she picked them up, she could barely comprehend. The wilted flowers were exactly the same flowers, the colourful purple wrap was exactly the same purple wrap. She dropped them when she noticed the stone. From the base, over the top and down behind, the entire monument was covered in ivy.

She could not believe her eyes.

            The vine was tough and hard to release from the granite. It had wrapped itself around the rock so that she could not see her Malcolm waiting in stone. She stopped and looked about herself, something felt so different, so out of place. As the final layer of the stubborn tracheophyte fell to the ground, her world stopped turning. She felt frozen, disabled for some reason. She rubbed her eyes in further disbelief. She put on her glasses for a better look. Chiseled in the stone, right there beside him, was her name carved into history. She was flabbergasted and more than a little confused. As she rose, the sun beamed right into her eyes. It had not moved since her arrival that day. It was the same sun in the very same place it had been at the start. She looked upon herself, then realized she was wearing the very same dress she had worn the week before. In flashes, she recalled every week that she walked from the roadway, past the other headstones until she rested with her love. Always the same dress, the same shoes, the same everything but that ivy. Then she remembered the stranger and how nice he had been to her. She turned and walked towards the grave he had tended. In fact, his wife was buried here but his name was also on the marker. She almost fainted when she noticed the date. This man had died two years before her Malcolm.
            Edwina was a pretty bride when she married Malcolm all those years ago.  Their wedding was the beginning of a wonderful dance, a dance which now cascaded before her tearstained eyes. She saw her husband, her children, her life move past in a constant flow. She saw the roadside, and the day she could not catch her breath. She saw the ambulance, the paramedics working on her, and them covering her face in defeat. She witnessed her granddaughter placing a bouquet of pretty flowers, all wrapped up in purple, at the front of the grave. The sky began to darken. Clouds churned in the air. She looked over towards her husband's place and saw what appeared to be a newer grave there. It did not strike her as a place of rest, rather like an unplanted bed of sunken soil and gravel. It had aged, there was no question. It seemed like furrow, from a rotated field on her father's farm. There was growth on it, patches of grass and a few stray weeds sprung from the soil and the rocks. It looked like a garden made of stone. There were flowers, slowly dying, left in front of their place. She walked back to Malcolm, pushed the flowers aside and drifted softly onto the ground and against the headstone. In her fear, she sought solace by hugging it and she began to weep at the truth.

From a distance, she thought she could hear his voice.

            She turned towards the sound of him, pushing herself up with none of the discomfort which had greeted her on other visits. She noticed her hand, it was not the familiar appendage she had grown accustomed to over the years of her aging. It was youthful, the skin was tight and the brown spots which had covered it had disappeared like the stiffness in her joints. She rose, her printed dress replaced with the white gown she had worn on her wedding day. It hung about her and she trembled at the thought of it. Like anyone would, she carefully twisted to the sound of her name. He stood there, smiling, holding out his hand for her. This was not the Malcolm she had laid to rest but the husband she had married so many years before. He was tall and oh so handsome. His hair was no longer gray but the deep black it had been for so long. His double breasted wool suit matched the one he wore on the day they wed. It was dark and fit him to a tee. It was like he had not changed at all.

"Edwina," he whispered.

             Frank Reed walked over the grassy knoll like he did every sojourn. The sun hung high in the sky, just like it did every other morning when he would come to see her. As he approached, he could see it. From the base of their monument, up the right hand side, the ivy remained grown over the stone, just as he left it. He thought it was pretty. Out of love he had, once again, come to care for her garden. He missed her as much on this day as he did on any other. He longed to see her face again. He silently prayed for someday soon. He tended the garden as he always did. First, the roses met his favour. He pruned them in a delicate way. Any weed or blade of grass that protruded from the ground was snatched from its spot and discarded into the metal bucket he brought with him. When he was done, and order had returned to the area, he kissed her stone goodbye and whispered an endearment. He knew he would be back. Again, like every time he came to see her, he refused to clear the ivy from his future nameplate. Like before, he left it to grow.

"I'm going to have to get to you the next time I visit,"  he said to the vine.





Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Mind's Eye

"Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things that escape those who dream only at night." (Edgar Allan Poe, American author)

I have always had a place to escape to, a place outside of time and the reality I have existed within. I can hide there in an alternate state of being. Deep inside, it is waiting to be opened. It is not some destination or a tactile thing. It is not a portal. It is not a door. It is a refuge and a safe harbour locked up in my head for only me. Since I was a young boy,  I have used it as a tool to withstand the world in which I live. Above everything else, it has been a means to elude when this realm becomes too much to handle. Without it, I could not have survived God.
             As a writer, I have been fortunate enough to possess a rather vivid and enthusiastic imagination.  From my onset, it was already part of me. This other side was simply inside, a constant since my first recollection. I didn't really find the thing, it was just there, as far back as I can remember. I imagined it a box and within it placed all my creations. The strange worlds that I have seen. The people I have murdered. Trips to heaven and to hell all meet me when I reach inside its frame. It will not open for anyone else as only I am the key. When it reveals its contents, there is little clutter. Each concept is lined up and in order. All I have to do is find it, sitting in my head. If nothing else, my imagination is well organized.
            Much of my work tends to be academic or biographical in its nature. While I use my skills as a journalist/writer to convey details and lessons from the world around me, it is storytelling that I favour above all other forms of expression. Being able to shape and scrutinize character, plot and setting is one of my greatest pleasures. It may say a lot about me as a person but I love to have complete control, even if from somewhere inside a twilight zone. It is easy to instill depth and grant persona onto those things from your life that have actually happened, but I much prefer to open that box full of fiction and let my imagination run free. Therein lies a different place, a blend of realism and fantasy and otherworldly ways. There are tales stored within it. There are people and places and events that quite often have a life of their own. In the corner of my mind's eye it rests, always waiting to be opened so that each one may live again. 

"Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were.
But without it we go nowhere." (Carl Sagan, American author)

            Every time I acquired a new comic book, I would store it for safekeeping in cardboard boxes my parents had brought home from the Dominion grocery store just down the street. When time allowed, during the day, I could sit for hours reading and rereading my treasures. At night, lying in bed, I would play out superhero battles from those books in my head. In my mind's eye, they were as real to me as anything I could touch or see or hear. I stored each one. Eventually, I started to make up my own teams and adventures, created from nothing but justice for all. These as well went into that keeper, a place for sanctuary should I need them one day. Night after night, up until the time I was 10, this nameless storage unit kept heroes and villains and superpowers sorted by no special means. As my imagination flourished, I discovered the need for a better box. Not wanting to abandon a faithful friend, I reformed the crate somewhere in my brain until it stood able. Walls of wood replaced cardboard, paper flaps became a fashioned lid, with a large iron cast lock for good measure. I knew it was sturdy. It would do me quite well. In late 1975, I decided to give this other place a fitting name. After all, every alternate universe has to have a unique and defining title to it. Oddly enough, it was a different form of escapism that finally managed to reveal a tag that would stick.  
            One early winter afternoon my Father and I sat down together to watch a movie. As he laid out on the living room floor, I made myself comfortable on the couch behind him. From the moment I saw the film title, I was captivated. The Odessa File, a 1974 thriller, kept me glued to the television set. I was so enthralled I didn't even get up to pee. As my Dad snored in his place, I was taken into a world of secret files, Nazis and Jon Voight (soon to be Angelina Jolie's father). When the film ended, I deserted dear old Dad to his coma and went hunting for more information on the term Odessa. Before the internet and easier access to information, the only way to discover new facts at home was to read an actual book. Back in my day, an encyclopaedia and reference volumes suited my quest just fine. Odessa, Ukraine is located on the northwest shore of the Black Sea. Odessa, Texas is located in the western section of the state. I even discovered Odessa, or Odessa County, right in my own backyard. Found in eastern Ontario, the Rural Route is a tourist destination and houses both the Odessa Cemetery and the Odessa library.

            Such a catchy word, even its association with the Nazis and their post-World War II survival could not deter me from making it my own. Odessa was a secret organization for former SS members that was "founded in 1944 with the express purpose of helping Nazi members flee Europe and escape justice." Although I had not yet fully recovered from my run-in with Adolf Hitler some time before, and the resulting grade I got on his biography, the affiliation could not dissuade me from dubbing my own little world The Odessa Box. Not unlike The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery or Alfred Hitchcock Presents, each journey was part of an anthology rather than simply an individual event. By the time I was 12 years old, I had created an entire television network in my mind, with a full schedule, individual programs and unique casts. Throughout my teen years, I used my imagination to flee from my world and myself. I literally escaped into the creation of new shows and characters. It was like I wrote them in my head. I am positive I would not have survived the chaos of my life then had I not had a place to run away to, a place where I could be anyone or anything without limits and without prejudice. Every fable, every story, every character I introduced became a part of the alternate universe known as The Odessa Box. My imagination was my saviour and I didn't even know it at the time.

"Think left and think right and think low and think high.
Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!"
(Dr. Seuss, American writer/cartoonist)

            There is a power one has when using imagination. When we are children we may use it quite naturally, as an expression of the blossoming personality we are developing. It can shape us, helping to transform us into the very thing we have imagined we could be. What we create inwardly might very well change our reality. It can allow us hope and grant us peace, and help us to cope with the cold hard truth we observe while living. Although the world I created so many years ago still exists in the back of my mind, I do not need it as much as I used to. Instead of the constant cacophony I once relied on to escape, I now merely visit on occasion. They are old friends I created over the last 40 years or so, and they remain even if I barely see them. Mostly, at night, I find them wandering about in my head. As I lay me down to sleep, they come and want to play with me. Most times I do not even have to call for them. I drift off into sleep rather quickly these days, caressed by a world that still brings me much comfort.

“What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.”
(Plutarch, Greek historian 45-120 CE)

            Often I find parallels within my professional writing and my personal imagination. All those years of creating have granted me a tool of both expression and structure. It is easy to relay a story if you have already written it in your head years before. I simply open the box and words are flowing. I suppose some may think me silly to talk of dreamscape and illusion in this manner. The reality is, for a time, the world I imagined was as real to me as anything else. I often wonder whether dreams and our imagination are not somehow a little glimpse into the unknown. Perhaps the imagination actually takes us to another place, a dimension we can exist within thanks to our minds. Maybe heaven is nothing but a giant unending library of a billion possibilities which we can selectively tap into when we free ourselves from the world of matter. Perhaps when my time here has ended and I am transported to the other side, I will discover that I have journeyed into that place many times before. Maybe, just maybe, I will rest there in some form of heaven even though the possibility exists that it may well be hell.  
            Some may call it nonsense but every thought we have is some form of energy or another. It appears that even the Omniverse itself is but one underlying consciousness. I have even considered that mankind and this reality is nothing more than God entertaining Himself through His own imagination. Since God seems to be very human, at least from our mortal point of view, perhaps fantasy is as necessary an ingredient for Him as it is for human beings. It has even been suggested that our imagination is a way of "looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope" (Seuss), enabling us to defy our reality. Without men having reached beyond themselves, without seeing things first in the mind's eye, there would be no great inventors, no great thinkers and no great possibilities. The very fabric of imagination, it would appear, has evolved right along with us. When it comes right down to it, imagination is required if you are going to survive.

"Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake."
(Henry David Thoreau, American author)

            I have opened it for you so that you might have a peek. I present 10 tall tales I have stored inside it, never before revealed. It is true, one can write about anything in life if one has the conviction to do it. It is the imagination that allows the writer to improvise, to create. These stories are born of that other place. A place without limit, without  the confines of time and space. They are not from here but from there, reaching just inside its frame but for all the world to see.
Welcome to The Odessa Box.










Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Odessa Box

Chapter Nine


“Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.”
(A Midsummer Night's Dream, William Shakespeare 1590-1596)








Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Coming Soon ...

Chapter Nine
The Odessa Box
Tuesday May 12th 2015



"There is a fifth dimension,
Beyond that which is known to man.
It is a dimension as vast as space
And as timeless as infinity.
It is the middle ground between light and shadow,
Between science and superstition,
And it lies between the pit of man's fears
And the summit of his knowledge.
This is the dimension of imagination.
It is an area which we call
The Twilight Zone."


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Planet Heaven

"I tend to be busier than I should be
And I tend to think that time is gonna wait for me
Sometimes I forget
And take for granted
That it's a beautiful life
We live
I don't wanna miss
The moments like this
This is a beautiful life
You give"
            I would never have imagined that one day I would have the relationship I have with my Father. It's not that we didn't have a good rapport before, but it was primarily paternal in its makeup. We got along, we even talked on occasion, but it was strictly a Father and son thing. Up until the death of my Mother, I just assumed the way things had been would remain as the status quo. When I made an investment towards making things different, as I had with my Mother, the entire dynamic changed. It is a complete joy for me to know him as a person. Almost daily I learn something new about him or my family, something I recognize would not have come to light if our relationship had been as it was before. I understand what he is going through. He knows I know. There is a camaraderie where there was little before. Considering his age, and current state of health, I cannot conceive that he will live another 10 or 20 years.  I most certainly am not going to let a moment pass by without considering this reality. What we have evolved into together remains one of the best parts of my life thus far. When he has gone and reunited with my Mother, I will reaffirm that I could not have asked for more.

"You're the reason for
Every good thing
Every heartbeat
Every day we get to breathe
You're the reason for
Anything that lasts
Every second chance
Every laugh
Life is so sweet
You're the reason for
Every good thing"

            It was your standard August day for Ontario, Canada. The high temperature and UV index only added to the extreme heat and humidity. As we climbed the sand dunes, I kept sliding and slipping on my sandals. Taking them off to finish the way was like frying eggs on a sun-baked rooftop. As with most pain, I just got used to it. At the peak, you could see the beauty of Lake Erie stretch out beyond what the eye could see. The water was darker blue, shades of autumn and the changes to come. I sat down on a hillside (there were many to choose from), made myself comfortable, while Ben sojourned into the water. Concentrated in a cove, the dunes act like a net or catch basin, trapping all kinds of vile things from the lake. I will never forget the smell of that day. I will never forget the multi-coloured foam that floated wherever it pleased. I can still see that rank and rather bloated fish swimming like a dead man. Just beyond the tide, out into someplace deeper, he swam up to his shoulders, cooling in the lagoon. I watched him as the sun reflected off his shaven head. He splashed around like a 10 year old. The heat was intense but I had seen enough. There would be no swimming for me this day. We sat in that sun until he was bone dry, and as red as a ripe tomato would be. In the silence, we sat there together. I don't know if I could have asked for more.

"There will be days that give me more than I can take
But I know that You always make
Beauty from my heartache
Don't wanna forget
Or take for granted
That it's a beautiful life
We live
I'm not gonna miss
The moments like this
This is a beautiful life
You give"
            I don't like being Diabetic. I can handle it for the most part, but when my sugars get low, I feel like I could pass out. My least favourite place for this to happen is while I am driving. I pulled over just to be safe. When I got back from the variety store across the street, I settled in for a good 15 minutes until it was safe for me to drive again. Leading from the lot I had parked in was a pathway, heading deep into a wooded area. With only time to waste, I chugged my Coke and locked things up tight. Across the pavement and down the way, the path was ever so friendly. Ivy dangled heavy off a wooden fence. You could tell it had been there for quite some time.  A meagre patch of grassy green met me on the other side. A single line of dirt and wear told tales of those who had passed before me. It was a no man's land. The space before the space. Suddenly, dense and yet shadowy, a forest of pine and spruce and fir stood up in proclamation. Down on my level, billions of fine brown needles covered the forest floor. It looked like some strong wind had blustered and blown the first 5 feet of prickles on those trees straight to hell. There was a beauty in all that litter, a sense of peace in all that decay. I just stood there, a few feet inside but surrounded nonetheless. I could smell life all around me. I could feel the trees and the whispers of earth in the air. For a moment, I was immersed in the depth of it. I felt so alive I could barely breathe or think. I thought I heard Him whisper. It was just a moment, as simple as a silly woods on the side of the road, but I could not have asked for more.       

"You're the reason for
Every good thing
Every heartbeat
Every day we get to breathe
You're the reason for
Anything that lasts
Every second chance
Every laugh
Life is so sweet
You're the reason for
Every good thing"
            I've spent most of my life either whining or complaining about all the crap that has happened to me. Regardless of whether it was true or not, it always seemed to me that God was punishing me or chastising me for something I had or had not done. Welcome to Christianity. I never felt good enough so I was simply receiving my just reward. This was an easy deduction for me to make considering I rarely stopped to look at my own actions and any resulting consequences. Along the way, I ceased torturing myself. I started learning rather than kvetching. I paid attention. I had never noticed how truly rich and wonderful my life was. I never stopped to appreciate anything, let alone to smell some roses. While I now understand that it was life that was so tough on me, I also have come to realize that the good things of this life were right there with me all along, just like God. Every good thing is God. These "rewards" are not handed out like assignments in class, but rather are sewn into the very fabric of the life we lead. With every good thing will come bad things and with every bad will come some good. It really is all in how you view this world around you that will determine what you get from it. There aren't answered wishes, or gifts from above, only possibilities. It is up to us whether we make our time here a heaven or a hell.
            You make the choice inside your head, inside of your soul. Do you pay attention to all the negative that comes with life or do you focus on the positives already in your life? If you can find even one thing to be happy about then you have much to be happy about. If God dwells in everything, then when we actually find some semblance of what we hope for, it is not fate or chance, I believe it is God acting within us. Happiness isn't about getting what you want whenever you want it. Happiness comes when we recognize what we already have and are grateful for it. This is the greatest milestone of all. Start counting your blessings and to hell with all the sheep. If those blessings are a reflection of God's love for us, then I could not ask for more.

"It's our family
It's our friends
It's the feeling that I get when I see ... children smile
You're the reason for this life
Everything we love
It's You
Alive in us
You're alive in us"
(Every Good Thing, The Afters 2013)



Romans 8:31
"If God is for us, who can be against us?"


End of Chapter Eight


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

At Last

"This is the moment I’ve waited for all my life
To open my heart and show you I’ve nothing to hide
You see the best in me and I owe it all to you
Take a look at me now
Living out my dreams now
Sure as I am standing here tonight
Make this last forever
You and me together
Living all my dreams out loud tonight"
(Living Out My Dreams, Roch Voisine 2014)
            It seems pious when people claim to be enlightened. Although I know what the term implies, I find it difficult to claim it as my own. If somehow I have achieved it along my way, no one bothered to tell me. Outside the academic definition, I question what this state means for me and my life. I cannot be sure that those who arrogate the term to their persona aren't just indulging, somehow pseudo in the nature of the experience. I suppose that faithful cliché applies. If you have to say it, then you're not. True enlightenment is a cognitive form of "Intellectual evolution" (Tesla), a sense of awareness and learning that results in both personal understanding and the distribution of knowledge. It is often characterized as the extinction of one's desire, separation from one's suffering and a progression away from individual consciousness. The modern distinction derives from an 18th century movement which advocated the use of reason when examining social establishments and recognized ideas of that time. Rather than a status symbol, or an acquired sense, the term refers to internal dialogue and development, allowing for a continual exposure and absorption "of new and greater prospects" (Tesla).
            Enlightenment is a subjective experience leading to an objective awareness. Once maintained, through it we are supposed to become cognizant of our limitations. It is this understanding and our relationship with clarity that allows us to find some form of personal insight. We may become aware of others and gain wisdom and knowledge, but when we know ourselves, we have purportedly gained enlightenment. This is a paradox. The more we think we know, the more we recognize we do not know. In our awareness, there is ignorance. My experience has not only been tactile and intellectual, but also uniquely spiritual in its revelation. Any true awareness I have achieved was initially abstruse in its nature. Recognizing that this "absolute sense" (Tesla) of something must be achieved little by little, only cemented my own restrictions in my mind. Any other way would have overwhelmed me in my seeking. It took time and application, study and contemplation, for me to even discover the first steps in freeing who I was. Embarking on a course of self-discovery, intellectual emancipation and, primarily, spiritual validation was somewhat out of my hands. Every benchmark has a catalyst.
            Despite my sins, I had always tried to be a good and proper Christian. The lessons and examples of Love and Grace which once held me, I have brought with me into my new way of thinking and being. There was a time in my life when I wanted nothing more than to serve and please Jesus. Any problem I had with Christianity did not only come from what I felt God demanded of me but also the lack of consistency with those same expectations on the part of the entity I worshipped. I have always maintained that if God requires something from us then we should expect the very same things from God. To chastise and punish someone for murder is one thing, but when the very same expectation is not met by the object of our devotion (does God kill?), you have to ask yourself if that is really something the true God would do or say or enforce. I was so afraid to question, ashamed to doubt that when I did just that, I was only flagellating myself. Religion convinced me that I had no right to inquire, no need to have anything but what I had been told to expect from my Faith. This lowly and undeserving sinner merited forgiveness but only if I towed the line and met the criteria. Salvation comes but at the expense of free will. Eventually, the price became more than I was willing to pay.

"Faith is a continuum, and we each fall on that line where we may. By attempting to rigidly classify ethereal concepts like faith, we end up debating semantics to the point where we entirely miss the obvious - that is, that we are all trying to decipher life's big mysteries, and we're each following our own paths of enlightenment."
(Dan Brown, American author)

            It was a hard rain of observation and analysis to pass through the storm of condemnation and conditioning that came with letting go. I had to find a new path and I had to be deprogrammed. While I have a good idea where I am going now, I realize I am not there yet. I can only assume that enlightenment may never come, considering all of my flaws as a human being. This does not deter me from trying, from looking, from listening and from thinking for myself.  As a Christian, I didn't have to think. I was trained, read to, and told how to be. The first step away was not even something I had planned. It just happened and all the dominos fell into my face. The voice of one woman changed my entire life. I will never meet her, I will never speak to her again, but her example opened my eyes. If she only knew. Rather than saving me for her Lord, she sent me further from Him than at any point in my life.
            I had called the Christian help line because I needed someone to talk to. All the questions running in my head were coupled with the grief I still battled over great loss. I was confused, contrite and rather void at the time. I barely got out a full sentence. Instead of talking to her, I listened as she coined off one formula after another. I should have hung up. It was her responsibility to dictate what was required of me. When she touched on salvation, she hit a nerve. Informing me that only born-again Christians, no one else, could receive the kingdom of Heaven was like smacking me in the face with my own assurance.  Every Catholic, Muslim, every Jew, every Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, every unbaptized child, anyone who completes suicide, all separated not for what they do but what they believe. Without Jesus, all hope is lost. I knew it like the back of my hand but I never really took the time to consider this sweeping generalization made in God's name.
            As a human being, I recognized quickly just how wrong she was. The claims were not new to me but they never shook me to the core before. Perhaps it was the grief, perhaps I was just ready, but her warped display of divine love snapped me out of it. One moment of Christian ignorance led to complete apostasy. As the years passed by, I essentially took the best parts of my birth faith and left the rest to the bigots, racists and those closed minded. If the truth be told, that woman was correct, at least from her point of view. Scripturally, you are either with Jesus or against him. I just could no longer accept that the God I knew was like that. All the terrible, hypocritical actions taken by the Abrahamic god had proven my mistake in it all. I made an exemption when it came to my own Faith. I believed it was right because I was told it was right. It was clear to me that this was not the case. No longer manifesting these delusions was a huge step towards any level of enlightenment that I might one day achieve.
            It was almost expected of me to return to the Shepherd like a lost black lamb. Then came the anticipation of finding a new Faith to adhere to. Although I wanted to believe in something, I no longer saw God the same way.  As I evolved, so did my understanding. It became rather clear to me that almost all religions are basically the same. They may express themselves culturally, they may seem savage and unnecessary, but their messages are essentially identical. I began to recognize them as the tools rather than the carpenter. It was okay to use the essence of a religious teaching without the anthropomorphic and projected biases of mankind. I could engage with ideas more freely, I had to refine myself, escape the coercive persuasion and  retrain my belief into something else, if anything at all. Once I could breathe in and sense that I was alive, really feel alive, then I knew I was going in the right direction. An entirely new world appeared before my eyes. As I changed, so did my thinking. So did my God.

"Quantum physics tells us that the world is composed of one underlying field of intelligence that manifests as the infinite diversity of the universe. The field of intelligence experienced objectively is the world of material objects. Mind and matter are not separate entities; mind and matter are essentially the same. Our essential being, stripped of the superficial layers of the mind and body, is neither mind nor matter but the source of both. In other words, the human body is the human mind at the same time. We are actually a body-mind; we can't really separate the two. Nor can we confine the mind to the brain or even to the body, because the mind extends beyond our body into the whole universe."
(Deepak Chopra, Indian-American New-Age advocate)

            Human beings are deeply flawed. We believe that enlightenment will make us better, more rational, even reasonable, but this is not true. Most of the time, people are none of those things. Being aware of how rotten I really am does little to encourage me. True enlightenment is not something one gains or accomplishes. It is not something you achieve. Enlightenment is "the absence of something" (Beck). What we push for and reach for, always wanting, striving, holding to, these are the things we must let go. Since we cannot possibly know anything, not really, then God becomes unknowable. Just because something cannot be known does not mean it is not there. In striving for enlightenment, I gained freedom. I will not be tricked. To expect that any level of greater awareness will change the essential me is foolishness. This thing we reach for will open your eyes, but it is you that must see.  To find the possibilities, despite yourself, this is to attain Nirvana. To understand that you are part of the love, part of the order and the chaos that is "underneath the pain, is freedom, salvation, enlightenment" (Tolle).
            I may not know but I most certainly believe, even if the idea of a God, the very notion, can seem quite laughable at the best of times. To recognize the limitations "men" face when trying to relay His message seems to be the biggest problem. If God is unknowable, then most if not all that has been reported about Him filters through blindness. It should be okay to move yourself away from something when you discover it just isn't true. After all, the truth is relative. I do know that for me, letting go of god became the catalyst to finding God. I see Him in the flowers and in the night sky. I can hear Him in the wind and through my Father speaking. If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can feel Him all around me. I can breathe for the first time. Somehow all the trying to get somewhere got me nowhere but here. All I have is now. I may not be some enlightened creature, but I 'm finally starting to see.   

"At last
My love has come along
My lonely days are over
And life is like a song"
(At Last, Etta James 1960)