My name is David Lewis. I am a writer. After many years, over thirty thousand radio and television commercials, hundreds of short stories, and nineteen novels, I have been coerced into telling the truth. Perhaps I should fudge a bit at this point on “the truth” and say “My Truth.” The truth is a malleable commodity and can be different from one person to the next or one group to the next or one religion to the next. I do not pretend to know your truth, only mine, but I promise that, at least from my point of view, I will do my best in telling it.
In this volume I will, from time to time, use the term God. I’m not totally comfortable with that word because its definition is so nebulous, so I will dispense it in a very broad sense of the term: God, Vishnu, Brahman, Pangu, Allah, Wakantanka, The-Spirit-Which-Lives-In-All-Things, The Power that created the Universe, The Force, Oprah. You get the drift. It is not my intent to use the term in any secular connotation. Organized groups lean toward jealousy in the definition of their Almighty, and I find that limiting. Because I believe that God puts no limits on us, it seems unfair for me to put limits on God.
I have a belief system that has come to me over a period of many years. As I evolve, it does too. As I learn and change, it also changes. It is mine. You cannot have it. You must get your own. While I may become a bit evangelistic from time to time, I am not an evangelist in any shape or form. Nor am I pompous enough to think my system of belief would be perfect for you if you would only allow me to lead you to the truth and the light. Nonsense. While I have no intent or desire to carry the good news to the heathen non-believers, I am reasonably sure they might have some information I could use.
If I have not put you completely off at this point, I invite you to continue. Perhaps you might find a tidbit or two you can use. If so, it’s yours. If not, that’s fine too. I claim no truths but my own. Coming up are some events that seem nearly preposterous. Others are strange or funny or sad or almost unbelievable--just like life.
I have been called a healer, a reader, a witch, a reverend, a Satanist, a Pagan, a Metaphysician, a Baptist, a charlatan, and a minister. I’ve always been partial to Imperial Poobah myself, but that seems a bit over-the-top.
Before we get started, I’d like to share few quotes.
“Why is it when we talk to God we’re praying, but when God talks to us, we’re schizophrenic?”
“I find it no more amazing to have lived a thousand times, than to have lived only once.”
“There is no metaphysics. There is only physics we have yet to understand.”
“In the beginning there was nothing. Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was still nothing. But you could see it.”
“And then came the Big Bang. Everyone stood well back.”
“Ride my seesaw.”
-The Moody Blues-
In the beginning . . .
I was raised by my grandparents in a “Mayberryesque” farming community in the American heartland. It was a small mid-western town of only a thousand people in the days when a shrimp was somebody little, global warming and Al Gore had yet to come on the scene, and soccer was something you did to a girl if she wouldn’t leave you alone. My grandmother was a determined churchgoer who was frightened of God and swung Jesus like a club. From my earliest memory, she dragged me to an hour of Sunday school and another hour of church every Sunday morning, as well as to Thursday night services and Wednesday night choir practice. By the time I was in my early teens, I had a collection of perfect attendance pins longer than Marlon Brando’s belt. The weight of that jewelry nearly gave me curvature of the spine.
Her God, at least the one she attempted to foist on me, was a voyeur with power. A window peeper with an arsenal. A suspicious God who, with the assistance of his son, watched me every minute of every day, keeping score on the events of my life, ever ready to drop the hammer if I went too far. In spite of the fact he was not fat and did not wear a red suit, he saw me when I was sleeping and knew when I was awake. He was a looming intrusive presence that spied on me wherever I went and took notice of whatever I did. She and God allowed no privacy and little peace.
I grew up with an oft-repeated children’s prayer that contains the line, “If I should die before I wake...”
“Hey Johnny, how old are you now? Four? Wow! What a big boy. You feel okay do ya? That’s good. Don’t forget your prayers. You could die tonight you know. Sleep well. God loves you. I sure hope he doesn’t take you from us. You better be ready just in case. See ya in the morning. Maybe.”
That prayer ended with the line “I pray the Lord my soul to take.” I always added “and keep” to the end, afraid that God might take my soul, but not like it enough to hang onto it. That possibility and Terry Pike’s dog, Tippy, were the biggest fears in my four-year-old-life.
As time has gone on and I have learned more about her background, I can find a certain amount of understanding as to why my grandmother was the way she was. I know more of how horribly she was treated by her father. Now, I have a better grasp of the physical and emotional damage that came from that twisted man, and why she could not free herself from it. Instead, she passed portions of it to her daughter. When I was less than two-years-old and abandoned into my grandmother’s permanent care, the rest came to me.
The physical abuse was easier to handle than the emotional and religious battering. Once the physical was over, there was nearly immediate relief. But the constant inspection by both her and her God was much harder to escape. A small child has a tendency to believe what his caregiver tells him. Therefore, God was not love and Jesus was not redemption. They were specters of punishment, both poised to pounce the instant I screwed up. The biggest kid in the universe was looking over my shoulder all the time. That is a helluva cross to bear.
Now, I realize she used religion as what she thought was control. It was more weight for the thumb she attempted to keep me under. She didn’t fully depend just on God and his son, however. When I entered first grade, she took a job at the school to keep an ever-watchful eye on me. When I joined Cub Scouts, she became my Den Mother! And then, of course, there was Wednesday night, Thursday night, and Sundays at the church.
She was a frightened, grasping, nervous woman of the low plains. A paragon of what she considered virtue, my grandmother was a determined and domineering specter in support hose, sensible shoes, and a rayon housedress, who was partial to doilies, tightly curled hair, smudged glasses, and memories of the Great Depression.
Even my grandfather, her second husband, could not stand in her way. A wonderful man born in 1895, he had respect for everyone he knew, even her, and he got respect from everyone, save her. He was of the old school. If three nails were enough, use four. If you had a “job of work,” then be the first one to get there and the last one to leave. A lie was a hateful thing and hard on the memory, and there was little more beautiful than a bird dog loping across corn stubble, cutting through his own white breath on a cold November morning. He saved me.
He and I went to church together once a year when I was very young, for the annual Father and Son Banquet, a feast of Swiss steak and mashed potatoes whipped up by Mildred Hyde, Effie Gossard, and three or four other sweaty women in the church basement. He and my minister liked each other a lot and went fishing together from time to time; but, to my knowledge, he never attended a service. He was my rock when I was young, and that was fine with him. He loved and enjoyed children above all else. I was with him when he passed, and I think of him every day. If there was ever proof of the hand of God in my young life, it was he.
I attended a Baptist Church. American Baptist. Not Northern or Southern, but American Baptist. I was never quite sure of the difference except, of course, American was better. Most certainly better than the suspect Methodists on the other side of town, a group of religious misfits I envied from time to time because the Methodist kids were released from Sunday religious bondage a half-hour earlier than we Baptist young’uns.
I spent a great deal of my early life occupied with that Baptist church and my cronies who were also incarcerated there, and I can honestly say I enjoyed very little of it except caroling at Christmas. Crunching around in the snow and wheezing out holiday ditties allowed me to feel both righteous and pious, a dangerous condition in a pack of eight-year-olds; frightening in the hands of over-zealous adults. As I got older and realized there were significant differences between me and girls other than just hair length, the annual Baptist Youth Fellowship hayride became a point of near feverish interest. That event never seemed to live up to my uninformed imagination.
The ultimate religious insult came at the end of the school year in the form of Vacation Bible School. No sooner were we set loose from the academic chains of nine months of drudgery in regular school, we were condemned to do two more weeks of service from eight ‘til noon, Monday through Friday, thoroughly bored and frustrated in the church basement while a bunch of well-meaning ladies wasted their time in a vain attempt to save us from ourselves. Midway through the morning ordeal, we each received a tiny Dixie cup of orange Kool-Aid and two vanilla wafer cookies, adding further insult to injury. But, like it or not, I was bound to that little church by the frantic will of my fearful grandmother who was much more interested in my control than my salvation.
When I was ten, Camille Peters came forward at the end of church service to give herself to Jesus and sign up for baptism. What? Camille was not only my contemporary; she was a girl! Such a maneuver could not go unchallenged. The very next Sunday, I came forward to give myself to Jesus and get baptized. Ha! Take that, Camille. I was congratulated by several of the big people, and my grandmother beamed at me for the rest of the day before returning to her usual suspicious condition. Time went on and the big day came for me, Camille, and a few other worthies to be baptized. I had heard that the suspect Methodists baptized their newest flock members by just sprinkling them with a bit of water. Not us. We Baptists did the deed with total immersion. No halfway measures in my church! We had a tank.
The baptistery was behind the pulpit, a hip-deep vessel of six or seven hundred gallon capacity, with steps leading down into each end, a glass front, and a scene of what I was told was the River Jordan on the rear wall, complete with a painting of rapids and whitewater. I recall wondering why it was called the River Jordan, and not the Jordan River. After all, it was not the River Mississippi, and I didn’t go fishing with my granddad in the River Sangamon. At any rate, I was third in line to get immersed, right behind Camille. When the Reverend covered her mouth with a cloth, leaned her over backwards, and pushed her under, Camille came up struggling and coughing. I, on the other hand, held my breath, took my dunking, and kept my dignity. After the event, I retired to the customary room, dried off, put on fresh clothing, and waited for the result of being a baptized member of the congregation. I expected at least a small amount of some sort of divine fulfillment or religious realization to swoop down and initiate a change of some sort in me. Nope. I still felt like David, only with a damp head and wet socks, because I’d forgotten to bring a dry pair. My feet and my wingtips suffered.
Later that day, after everyone had paid the proper homage to those of us who had taken the plunge, Camille and I talked the whole thing over. She didn’t feel any different either. Even though both of us had just given ourselves to the Master and gotten soaked to the skin, nothing of any import seemed to have happened at all. Camille became depressed for several days, feeling she had somehow failed and was not worthy of something or other. I, on the other hand, became suspicious. I’d held up my end of the deal, but there didn’t seem to be any payback. Even though I had done the deed primarily because of Camille, I had done the deed. I was still young enough to visualize God as an old man in robes, sitting in a big chair surrounded by car batteries and lots of levers he pushed and pulled to make the rest of us do what he wanted. I had done what I was told he wanted. Now where was the payoff?
It was at that point that I began to suspect that I might have missed something in my religious education or been given some suspect information. I’d read a great deal of the Bible, even though it was not very entertaining and packed full of people with motivations I didn’t understand, behaviors I couldn’t grasp, and names I couldn’t pronounce. In spite of all that, I had never missed Sunday school. Never. But learning at that level of boredom was nearly impossible. From what I’d heard of him, I was reasonably sure that God wasn’t lying to me. He was God, for God’s sake! The term “fake it ‘til you make it” had yet to be coined I believe, but that’s what I did. I didn’t become totally righteous and pious. There was a limit to my theatrics. But I did play the role a little. It got my grandmother off my back to a degree, and I gained a certain amount of favor from some of the adults who bought into my shallow charade. I didn’t believe I fooled God nor was that my intent. But I owed him one over that baptism thing. I figured we were even.
Just a note here: A few years after Camille and I had unsuccessfully attempted to give ourselves to God, we nearly attempted to give ourselves to each other. That also was unsuccessful.
Another note: I’m afraid I might be giving the impression that I am against religion. I am not. I have, however, little use for those who turn religion or patriotism into methods to serve their own small grandeur. Both of those methods are mostly based on fear and the need to surround ourselves with others of like minds so a bunch of us can get together and be right. The easiest way to be right is to help somebody else be wrong. Flying airplanes into skyscrapers or picketing funerals should not be blamed on religion, but upon those who will use any means necessary, including religion, to advance their personal agenda. It is well to remember, however, that wherever two or more of us are gathered in His name, political struggles cannot be far behind.
Over the next few years of my youth, I got more involved in that little Baptist church. When I turned twelve I became the janitor and caretaker of the place, sweeping, cleaning, ringing the immense bell at the appropriate times, and generally making myself of use to the building and congregation. It paid twelve bucks a week, twice what my pal Red Phillips made on his paper route. In those days, when an open-face roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and two other veggies could be had for sixty-five cents, it was significant income to a small-town rake such as I. Opie got along fine in Mayberry on much less.
As time passed, I did my job so well that on several occasions I was conscripted to fill in for our minister when he was ill or had to be gone on any given Sunday. There is a feeling of power at the pulpit, especially if the throng is comprised of the same people who have kept track of you for as long as you can remember and know your personal history nearly as well as you do. I liked it. There was even some talk of sending me away to a special university when I got free of high school, so that I might return and take the place of our minister, who was aging and approaching retirement.
Several members of the church tried to impress on me that free schooling and waiting employment was a pretty good deal; but, as time went on, their reasoning was defeated by a natural force beyond my control. Righteousness and piety were not nearly as effective in luring young lovelies as a motorcycle. Even though I stayed in the church and maintained my duties there until I finished high school, the plan to send me away and bring me back fizzled out. I suspect they saw through me. I was relieved. While I had not exactly traded God for a Ducati, I not only strayed from the fold; I fled from it with the help of a five-speed transmission.
In retrospect, I now know that I didn’t run from the church but rather from the grasping control of my grandmother. She was so frightened by her concept of God that she had spent my lifetime attempting to crush me into the mold she had built for herself...as if by doing so, she would be in a better position when the role was called up yonder. I have a clearer understanding of her now, but then I was still a victim of our personal history. I ran. Religion came after me.
After time passed I, as some young men do, became enamored of a young woman. We spent time together. Church and religion was not a subject we discussed a great deal. She was pretty, bright, seemed to care for me, and we married. A week or so after we settled into a duplex in a city near my small hometown, she announced that we were not only going to attend church but that she had found the very church we were going to attend. She had also decided what I should wear to the services and what path we should take to better ingratiate ourselves into the congregation and build points with God. Good grief! I had married my grandmother.
Old habits die hard. I was so used to being pushed around by a religious female, I didn’t resist. The next Sunday we drove to the church. It was a towering edifice to the glory of excess, brand new with an immense parking lot filled with large and expensive automobiles. The sanctuary soared to a height that nearly developed its own weather. Almost three thousand people crammed the pews for the second service of the morning, all dressed to the nines, and we had to go through a procession of three or four assistant ministers discussing the business of church from the pulpit before the head guy showed up to deliver the sermon. I could see his teeth shine from fifty yards away, but their majesty was nearly eclipsed by the glow from his blue pinstriped suit.
This place was so far from my little church in the wildwood that I was nearly dizzy. I not only didn’t fit in, I didn’t want to fit in. I had played my role, and I was a piker compared to the denizens of that edifice to religious pomposity. It was not a place of comfort and joy, but a monument to wardrobe and wannabe. After the service was over, we were approached by a deacon of some type who gave me a questionnaire to fill out while the lady with him controlled my wife through polite conversation. I gave the required information, address, age, time in the community, employment and such. I balked, however, at the spaces for income and tithe, grabbed my bride, and made my getaway. She was full of enthusiasm, noting how lovely the place was, how well dressed were the supplicants, and how handsome the minister looked. I was numb and drove home as rapidly as I could to eat and get ready for work on the three to eleven shift. At the time, I was a cop.
Two days later, at around eleven in the morning, there was a knock on my door. Looking out the window I could see a large black Cadillac in the drive and at the door stood the minister from the church. I recognized his teeth. He was wearing a gray suit that glistened in the sunlight. I recall wondering if he waxed and polished the suit himself or sent it out to his dentist. He was terribly glad to see me, personally enriched that my wife and I would consider becoming members of his congregation, but a bit perplexed as to why I had not filled out the financial portion of the questionnaire. I told him that I was pretty sure that my income was of little interest to God. He responded with an inquiry as to how much offering the church could depend on receiving from me every month to aid in its financial development. When I asked him why he didn’t just sell tickets for admission, he mentioned that his congregation was of a certain class and that he wasn’t sure if his church was right for me. I mentioned that I wasn’t sure if he was right for my porch and that it would be in his best interest to vacate the area.
When my bride came home, I advised her of the encounter and told her that she could attend services wherever she cared to. I was done with it. Within two years we were divorced. As it turned out, she so liked associating with both God and the right people at that church, our relationship began to interfere with her social schedule. We were married for two years, three months, and two days. While I don’t believe for a moment that God got me into that mess, I am grateful that God got me out of it.
It is said that a marriage is a relationship in which there is a woman hoping a man will change and a man hoping a woman won’t. I believe both our hopes were dashed; but hope, as you know, springs eternal.
“A Northern Baptist says, ‘They ain’t no hell.’ A Southern Baptist says, ‘The hell they ain’t!’”
-Brother Dave Gardner-
You can run, but you can’t hide.
Now, as age has caught up with me, I find I no longer have the need to understand much. In my youth, however, the why of life was very important to me. I was a cop at a very difficult time to be a cop. People tried to kill me. They threw rocks and bottles at me; they shot at me; they called me names; they spit on me. They did a whole bunch of things that I didn’t feel I deserved. To the best of my memory, I had never done any of those things to them. Terms like Black Panthers, SDS, and Weathermen flooded the television and newspapers, and thousands upon thousands of normally reasonable young people, many of them my age, took it upon themselves to right a mountain of perceived wrongs and take my life and the lives of my compatriots, simply because of the clothing we wore and the cars we drove while at work. All of that was compounded by various gangs who didn’t shoot at each other a lot but shot at us on a regular basis. During those days, many of my friends were dispatched to a postage-sized piece of real estate in Southeast Asia never to return or to come back physically and emotionally maimed. It was a confusing time during a period of my life when I was already confused. Then, in 1970, came some shelter from the storm. Laura.
From the first moment I saw her, I still remember vividly the clothes she wore and how she did her hair. I’m not sure “love at first sight” is the correct term, but I knew. She did too, I guess, because we moved in together at the end of our first date. In spite of the fact that we have never attended church, it still seems to be working out.
A couple of years after we married, Laura noticed an anomaly on the left sleeve of my uniform shirt one night. Bullet holes in the bicep area, two of entry and two of exit, dead center, outside to inside. My arm was fine. Not a scratch.
“Rough shift?” she asked.
A couple of hours before, my partner and I had taken some automatic weapons fire through our squad car, not a totally rare occurrence. There were thirteen holes of entry in the vehicle and none in either of us. Now, at home, Laura had noticed four more holes. Holes that should have resulted in me with two wounds through my arm, and two slugs embedded in my ribcage or lung. By all logic and reasoning, I should have been badly wounded or dead. I had seen any number of bullet wounds on various individuals. If there was a hole in the clothing there was customarily a hole in the person. I took off the shirt and aligned the holes. There was simply no way I couldn’t have been shot. No way I could have possibly avoided injury. And yet, I had. That scared the hell out of me. I was much more frightened by the fact that I wasn’t hit than the prospect that I might have been. Laura accepted the happening much more comfortably than I did.
I thought the event over a lot during the next few days and could arrive at no logical conclusion to explain it. I liked logical conclusions. I trusted logical conclusions. I wanted to be a Vulcan when I got big. Occam’s razor suggests, among other things, that when all possible conclusions to a situation have been exhausted save one, that one, no matter how illogical, is probably correct. In spite of my better judgment, I turned my thoughts to God.
I didn’t want to. God and I did not have the best of relationships. My confusion began when I was around twelve and examined the claim that He had created us in his own image. I believed Marcia Beasley looked like an angel, but I was pretty sure she didn’t look like some old guy in a long white beard. Sometime later, I began to have trouble with the notion that God was a “he.” That indicated gender. Our Father...the big guy...the man upstairs. If God was our father, who was our mother? God and my father did have one thing in common. I never really knew either one of them.
Another question came to the surface. If God was all-powerful and all knowing, why was he messing around with us anyway? He knew what we were going to do. He knew how things were going to turn out. I got an aquarium when I was ten. If I knew what was going to happen to all my fish, if the outcome of what went on in that tank was predetermined and already known by me, why look at it, clean it, and maintain it? Pick your favorite movie. Think about all the times you’ve watched it. Did it ever turn out differently? Did the ending ever change? Why continue to watch it from time to time? Entertainment, you say. Even at a young age I wasn’t sure I liked the prospect of spending my life as nothing more than entertainment for the Big Kid.
As I got a little older, I began to question why some all-powerful being who knew all and was all, who had been around for eternity, a really long time, would only give me seventy years or so to figure it out. Not only that, but He demanded that I worship Him or I’d get to spend the rest of eternity in the middle of a bunch of burning Christmas trees. Seemed unfair. Seemed unreasonable. Seemed unlikely. Why would this immense God need puny little me to validate Him? If I was really an eternal soul that went on forever and ever, and David Lewis was only a fleeting manifestation of the physical, why were my thoughts and deeds that originated in this tiny place during this tiny time so important to Him? Especially those thoughts and deeds that some might have considered to be “Bad.” That takes us back to Marcia Beasley again. No doubt about it, I was carrying around a lot of crap from my kidhood.
It seemed that things concerning God were just too complicated and that those complications didn’t come from God, but from us. It came to me that the vengeful God, the wrathful God, the God that would kill off entire cities that displeased Him, had not created us. It seemed that we had created him as a way to explain things we needed to explain, to feel good about our own “rightness,” and to have someone to blame while we continued to seek salvation. I’d been angry with God for years, and for what? My mistakes? That makes no more sense than getting pissed off at a tree I accidentally backed into.
Some years ago I did a reading (yes, a reading with cards) for a very nice lady. After it was all over, she mentioned that her father had recently died and left behind a shotgun he’d had for many years. She was in a quandary as to which of his brothers should have the gun and confessed she’d been praying about it every day for some time, but had not received an answer from God.
“God is busy,” I told her. “He’s lining up a putt on the thirteenth green and doesn’t need to be bothered by something as trivial as a shotgun. He gave you a brain. Use it.”
She blinked at me for a moment.
“It goes to Uncle Charlie,” she said. “Thank you so much.”
She gave me a hug and went on her way.
I don’t know how God ever got along without me.
A few years after the bullet holes in the shirtsleeve incident, Laura and I moved to a semi-rural area to make us less available to the bad guys. They found me, and therefore her. After our house had been hit by gunfire in the middle of the night, I quit my job; and she and I headed for parts unknown. I was paid to risk my life. There was no adequate compensation for risking hers.
Time went by. I got into radio, both as an on-air personality as well as a copywriter and production director. A couple of years later, the FCC changed its mind on a bunch of stuff, and forty percent of radio people lost their jobs. I was without employment. My life wasn’t working out the way I wanted, and I fell into a depression. Laura tried to help for an extended period and then did the only reasonable thing she could do. She left to save herself and me. I now realize that her leaving was the best possible thing she could have done for both of us. At the time, though, it certainly did not feel that way. Woe was me.
I stomped around neck deep in self-pity for a while. Finally, after weeks of badgering from a friend, I allowed him to fix me up with a blind date. I felt foolish even considering the company of any other woman. At the time, Laura and I had been together for twelve years.
Things out there in the “real” world had changed dramatically in the dating scene. The woman, I’ll call her Cathy, was nice, pretty, divorced, about my age, and a mother. After we’d kept company for awhile, she told me of a group of women who met once a week to discuss alternate philosophies and metaphysics at a place I’ll call Hillcrest. She suggested I come with her for a meeting the next night.
What? Oh my. Metaphysics? Like fortune telling and Ouija Boards and astrology or some kind of nonsense like that? Oh, no. Not me. I’d left God behind years before, and I sure wasn’t gonna fall for any of that kind of superstitious crap. She was sitting across the room, ten feet away from me during my protests, and waited until I settled down. After I did, she extended her hand toward me, palm forward, and I felt warmth in the center of my chest as if her hand was resting there. It was a strange sensation, alarming and reassuring at the same time. As I breathed around it, I felt my body relax.
“You sure you don’t wanna come with me?” she asked.
“I don’t have anything else to do, I guess,” I told her.
She laughed and stood up. “I’ll be by around six-thirty,” she said, and left.
I don’t think I moved a muscle for a half-hour or more.
“The religious idea of God cannot do full duty for the metaphysical infinity.”
Make no judgments, make no comparisons,
Delete the need to understand.
As the following day wore on, I became a little nervous. The upcoming journey to the Hillcrest group was the unknown, and I hadn’t been doing overly well with the known lately. I was going to a meeting of a group of women. That alone intimidated me a bit. If I was in the middle of two women, I was outnumbered five to one. Cathy arrived at the appointed time, and I made it to her car without becoming incontinent. Small victories are sometimes quite liberating.
During a twenty mile drive into the country, I stopped myself from asking several hundred questions and tried to maintain a state of acceptance. Either that or I was too freaked out to open my mouth. Anyway, it was a quiet drive. After covering the last few miles on a rutted and pot holed road christened “Leapin’ Lizard,” we drove up a short hill to a driveway populated by at least ten cars and went into a house perched on a rise above the road. Going through the door into a quietly lit room containing around a dozen women in chairs around the perimeter, Cathy and I were approached by an elderly lady. She was tall and plain of features with a slightly bent posture and a marvelous crooked smile. I’ll call her Nettie. Cathy introduced us, and Nettie took both my hands.
“You’ve finally come,” she said.
“Finally?” I asked.
She nodded. “Oh yes. We’ve been expecting you for some time. Welcome. Coffee?”
I followed her into the kitchen.
The house was old and wearily comfortable. It was relatively roomy, but cluttered with stacks of books, artwork, and memorabilia. Nettie poured my coffee and I accepted it from her as three or four of the ladies drifted in to look me over. I felt no hostility from anyone, but the new man who had accompanied Cathy to the gathering was definitely being inspected. They were a protective bunch. We all went back to the living room, and I was introduced to the group. None of the women wore pointy black hats or wrung their hands while cackling. There was no large iron pot bubbling on a fire. They appeared to be just a gaggle of females, ranging in age from thirty to sixty, checking out a man none of them had ever seen before who was in the company of one of their own.
I was invited to sit in one of the three remaining chairs in the room, and I chose an old and weathered rocker, devoid of pillows or any additions for comfort. I took a seat, and the tenor of the entire room shifted a bit as if everyone was waiting for something rather specific to happen. One of the ladies returned to a story about her daughter she had been telling, and the conversation in the room continued. I must admit that I found it rather mundane. I’m not sure what I had been expecting, but casual chatter was not it. Furtive glances were directed my way from time to time, and Cathy, who was sitting on the floor near me, was wearing a grin that threatened her ears. Finally she looked up at me and chuckled.
“What?” I said.
The entire room gave in to easy laughter.
“We’ve been waiting for that chair to throw you out,” she said.
“Huh?” I replied. I am a sparkling conversationalist.
Nettie spoke up. “My grandfather built that chair you’re sitting in,” she said. “He used it most of his life. I took it after he died. It’s been in this room for nearly thirty years. You are the first person he has ever allowed to sit in it.”
Laughter came up again, and several of the women recounted tales of people who’d tried the chair but had not been able to remain in the thing for more than a few minutes, some even taking to the floor to escape it’s influence, one or two leaving the entire gathering.
“Feels fine to me,” I said.
Nettie smiled at me. “Of course it does,” she said. “It would, wouldn’t it?”
The timbre of the room shifted again, and I was accepted. I felt the change and began to relax.
NOTE: Over the next few years when I knew someone was coming to visit the group who had no knowledge of the chair, I would sit someplace else when the person arrived. I watched at least two-dozen people try the rocker. Not one lasted more than a couple of minutes.
During the course of the next two or three hours, I listened to story after story of the week’s happenings. How a particular crystal had eased someone’s insomnia, a dream visit from a deceased relative had delivered necessary information, repetitive affirmations had achieved the desired outcome, some herbal therapy had worked wonders, on and on. About midway through the evening, Nettie’s daughter, an astrologist, got some information from me and worked up a chart. I had no idea what she was doing, but I didn’t want to offend her, so I played along. After she finished, she studied the thing for a while, then told me what she saw.
During the next fifteen minutes, time and again she told me information about myself, my background, and my upbringing she had no possible way of knowing; personal information that I had never mentioned to Cathy or anyone else connected to the group, even down to the fact that I had suffered from a common childhood knee ailment when I was thirteen. I was amazed and slightly taken aback by how accurate she was. It was an entirely new experience for me and a little frightening. After it was over, I went into the kitchen to breathe and refresh my cold coffee. I encountered a cat, an ancient Siamese so old and decrepit that she could barely walk.
Near the end of the evening, Nettie called for a healing circle and everyone arranged themselves on the floor. A crystal was passed around with instruction for each of us to hold it for a moment and think of love. I joined in. What could it possibly hurt? After the crystal was passed, it was placed in the center of the circle while everyone joined hands and directed thoughts of healing at it. I had no idea what I was doing but tried to do as I was asked.
The crystal was nearly the size of a baseball, with two or three sharp points thrusting upward from its mass. As we sat and looked at it, the poor old cat slowly limped in from the kitchen, crossed into the circle, and laid down on the thing in spite of the sharp spikes pushing into her abdomen. She remained, in what I imagined to be a terribly uncomfortable position, for several minutes, then got up, stretched luxuriously, and trotted away. The group chuckled and Nettie offered everyone her thanks. Clearly there were things going on in that house beyond my usual experience. Clearly I needed to know more.
When the gathering broke up, Cathy and I lingered a bit. As we were leaving, I thanked Nettie for her hospitality and acceptance. She smiled and gave me a brief hug, advising me that I was always welcome, and laughed when she reminded me that the chair would be expecting my return. I screwed up enough courage to ask her what she meant when she said that she’d been expecting me.
“Chula told me,” she said.
“Chula?” I asked
She nodded. “Chula is one of my guides. He told me of your coming in a channeling over two years ago. Called you by name. I have it on tape somewhere. If I can find it, I’ll play it for you. Good night, dears. Drive carefully.”
I didn’t have much to say on the ride home. Cathy smiled most of the way but stayed silent as I mulled the evening over in my tiny mind. When we parted company and kissed goodnight, she looked at me intently.
“You should call your wife,” she said. “She needs to know what’s happened. She’s part of this, too.”
“The world is, of course, nothing but our conception of it.”
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