Recovered from the Wayback Machine.
Today’s anti-war rally held at the U City Loop in St. Louis unfortunately lived down to my expectations. The demonstration was poorly organized, and instead of focusing on a possible war with Iraq, those participating spoke out against everything from the treatment of Native Americans in this country, slavery, to our friendship with China and it’s policy with Tibet. Two of the speakers didn’t even mention Iraq if I remember correctly.
I was especially put off by one speaker who belongs to an organization that believes in using violence to meet the group’s objectives, as long the violence “…didn’t exceed the violence committed by the US”. What was the group’s objectives? Much of the talk had to do with neo-liberalism and overcoming imperialism, and he mentioned a whole list of countries and “freedom fighters”, most of whom I’ve never heard of. He also spent a considerable amount of time talking about how to get on the group’s listserver, but to use caution, they’re being watched, and to connect from the library so the connection couldn’t be traced (but you have to give your email address — anyone else see a disconnect here?). No web sites with this group — think I should send them an email, tell them about Blogger?
(I also found his interpretation of why the Vietnam war ended to be interesting. It was because the true freedom loving Vietnamese drove the evil transgressing US soldiers from their land.)
The speakers that saved the day came at the end. In particular, a woman with a baby brought up what I considered to be valid points. That invading Iraq will most likely increase terrorism rather than decrease it. That we can’t afford this fight. That we haven’t been truly successful in Afghanistan, and will be less so in Iraq. That we have serious problems at home we should be focusing on. She was followed by another woman calling herself Queen Zinia, who talked about her grandkids and her worries for their future if we continue a campaign of aggression. Queen Zinia equated the US actions with the actions of a school yard bully, and that someday, even the smallest, weakest country is going to get tired of being pushed around, and will fight back.
Following the two women (who, in my opinion, stole the show) was a quiet, older black man who asked the audience if they remembered Vietnam. There were only a few of us who could nod. He then talked about how he has fought against war since that time, and he’ll continue to fight against wars we can’t hope to win. He talked about how he’s tired of sending our people to other countries to die, and for no good reason. His quiet dignity spoke louder than all of the slogan filled hyperbole of most of the other speakers.
(I wonder what he thought of the kid that advocated violence and celebrated all of those soldiers getting killed in Vietnam?)
The Green Party candidate, Daniel Romano was there, and talked about the debate last week, which he seemed to think he won. He was definitely more in place and outspoken in this venue, but as with so many of the other speakers, his focus was all over the board — anti-imperialism, bombs in Afghanistan, divesture in Israel, down with all forms of capitalism, and so on. I am extremely curious, now, as to what other Green Party candidates are like.
What I particularly disliked about the rally is that I felt most of the speakers could really care less about the Iraqi people. Or the American people for that matter. Each was caught up in a cause. And while I believe that most people who attended the rally did so because they are genuinely concerned about the war, too many of the organizers had too many other agendas to push.
The issue of a war with Iraq was diffused and confused and ultimately lost.
I ended up coming away, cold and saddened. I expected at the very least a group hug to warm me, and all I got was hot air instead.
I felt odd when I woke, and had a hard time concentrating on my surroundings. Everything around me had a surreal quality to it, unlike anything I’d experienced before when waking. Not even that time I’d fallen off the ladder and knocked myself out.
Looking around, I could see that I was in a long, narrow room, with white walls, no windows, and a wooden floor. The room was full of beds, stacked along either side, with a person in a white coat at the end of the room. It looked like he was reading some kind of newspaper, and I couldn’t see his face. There were other people in the room, some sleeping, others sitting up or wondering slowly around the room. Everyone wore white nightgowns, and they were of all ages, all races, and both sexes. That one stopped me a bit. Since when did hospitals house people of differing sexes in the same room?
Of course, that’s it! I was in some kind of hospital. Question number 1 answered, now how about questions 2 through a 100, beginning with “Which hospital” and ending with “How did I get here”.
I patted my body but could feel no bandages, no cuts, no bruises. Aside from that odd feeling, I felt perfectly fine. Did I have a concussion? Is that why I’m here? Is that why everything seems a little out of synch?
I sat up, slowly. I tried to remember how I got here, what had happened. I recalled that I had been with Sally and the girls, and that we’d been on our way to Canon Beach for a day of fun. The weather was a bit blustery and we almost changed our minds about going, but the girls would have been disappointed. The last thought I had before waking was driving over the mountain that separated Portland from the beach, enjoying the view.
I panicked at that point. Where was Sally?! Where were the girls?!
I jumped to my feet and immediately fell back again. I had the hardest time feeling my feet, almost as if I tried to stand on cotton rather than flesh and blood. Not painful, just strange. I tried again, this time a little more slowly, and once I was safely on my feet I walked towards the desk. The attendant would know where I was and what happened. More importantly, he would know where my family was.
Sometimes a person just doesn’t know when to let well enough alone. When I got closer to the attendant he moved his paper aside and looked up. I’m using “he” in the generic sense, because this…this…thing, was not human!
“He” had two eyes, but they were positioned lower than where our eyes are, and were milky looking, with no pupils. He had slits instead of nostrils, and wavy little spiky things coming out of his head. “His” skin had a metallic quality that almost looked like copper. Rusted copper. Big ears, too. Probably could hear an insect fart from 20 feet.
He smiled at me and I thought to myself, “That’s it. It can get worse”. The guy had a nasty set of choppers. If flat teeth are the marks of vegetarians, this thing’s people never touched anything green and leafy.
“Ohmigod!”, I though. “I’ve been captured by aliens, and this is their lab!” All sorts of visions ran through my head at that moment, most unpleasant. My thoughts must have showed on my face because the alien stopped smiling and looked alarmed, if I could read his face correctly. Maybe it was hunger, instead. I stepped back a bit.
“Please, Mr. Anderson.” He said. He actually had a pleasant voice. Too bad it sounded like it was coming from the back of his head, and his mouth wasn’t moving. If there is a God, please keep that thing from turning around.
“Don’t be alarmed by my appearance. Surely you must have known that your species is not the only one in the Universe.” He continued. “If you’ll just return to your bed, this will all be over with shortly.”
Whatever he was, he must have been used to humans because he was pretty good about reading my face. He surprised me then by chuckling. Yep, the sound was definitely coming from the back of the head.
“Mr. Anderson, I can promise you that you won’t be harmed in anyway. You haven’t been kidnapped, and you are not going to be undergoing any nasty evil experiments”. He shuddered and said, “Really, you people have incredible imaginations. And this infantile obsession with horror. It truly boggles the mind of rational creatures such as myself.”
I tried to talk and croaked out a sound. I tried again.
“Okay, if you haven’t kidnapped me, then why am I here?” I managed to ask. “How did I get here? Where am I? Who are you? What are you!” I was getting more frantic with each question. I finally leaned over the desk and grabbed his lapels.
“Where is my family! I want to know what happened to my family!”
He looked at me, at least his eyes seemed pointed in the direction of my face. He folded the, newspaper was it? Metal, strange writing. He looked at my hands, so close to his mouth. That mouth. The mouth. I dropped my hands.
I noticed that other patients/prisoners/kidnapees were standing behind me. It gave me comfort. I was not alone, and the alien was outnumbered. He looked around at the people behind me, then me again, and gave what sounded like a sigh.
“Normally, it’s not my job to tell you what’s happened to you. Someone from your own species usually handles this. ” A bit annoyed, he continued. “However, since Charlie is late today I had to fill in, and have no choice but to tell you myself”. Hands folded, head raised, he looked at all of us.
“You are all dead.”
About half a dozen people hit the ground with that one. A couple of the kids started crying. Most were like me. We just stood there and looked at him.
“Oh, yes, you are all dead. You all died anywhere from a couple of seconds ago to almost 60 minutes for some of you. Mr. Anderson, you died about 59 minutes ago.”. He actually sounded a bit cheerful at that. Buck up, sweetie, you’re dead. No more worries.
I finally managed to whisper out “Is this the afterlife?” I asked a little stronger, “Is this Heaven?”
“Oh, no, not in the sense that you know ‘Heaven’.” He looked at a …timepiece, is it? And continued. “Well, look you have a few seconds left. I’ll try and explain.”
“All beings in the Universe contain the essence of what we are when we are alive. You would probably call it your “Spirit” or perhaps “Soul”. When we die, we leave one plain of existence and enter another. You live in this new existence for a time, and then go on from here. What happens after this existence we don’t know.” He seemed a little sad about that. “But I’m sure we all have as lovely a time there as we do here.”
“You see, it’s all about balance. The Universe is based on balance. You can’t truly cease to exist because your leaving would cause a gap, an imbalance. Non conservation of matter/energy, that sort of thing. Instead, you just enter another state.”
“You Mr. Anderson died very close to an hour ago in a car accident.” He noticed my start and hastened to add, “No, no, your family survived the car crash, though I’m sure they will miss you.”.
He beamed at me. All explained now, and all was right with the world. World?
My head was spinning and I wasn’t sure of what to say or do or even feel. The people behind me were muttering about loved ones lost, jobs left behind, kids, and friends. I felt myself sort of fading a bit, and noticed that a few of the people around me had disappeared. I grasped onto the only fact I could understand.
“Why an hour?”
The alien looked annoyed, not at the question but at the reason. “Well, as I said, the Universe abhors an imbalance, and there is a peculiar occurrence in your world that created just such an imbalance when you died. To correct this you exist here, in this room, not truly dead, but not truly alive, for one hour”
I continued to fade. Most of the room was transparent and the alien was about the only thing I could see.
He took a breath and continued, “Mr. Anderson, you died during Daylight Savings Time.”
“The Universe owed you an hour”.
Not far from Babble Meadow is another Magic place: Deer Mountain. However, unlike the Meadow where People are not allowed, you and I can tread the Mountain — but the Mountain has to invite you, first. You can pout and you can bring money and you can show your card that says you’re an Important Person, but it’s the Mountain that decides if you enter, or not…
How do you find Deer Mountain? If you go straight that away from the Meadows and drive and drive for a bit until you see a small sign and turn in you’ll be at Deer Mountain. However, you won’t be at the Mountain itself unless you go at the exact right time of 10 minutes before Twilight. A minute north or south and you’ll miss it and all you’ll see is plants and trees and squirrels and you’ll have a nice hike, and your thighs will be trimmer. But you won’t see Magic.
Tonight, when I walked across the bridge from here to there, I knew between one step on the bridge and one step off that I was there at exactly 10 minutes of Twilight, and that the residents didn’t find me wanting — even though I only had pocket change and had no card that said I was an Important Person. I was on Deer Mountain. I knew as soon as I stepped off the bridge, and was met by the gatekeepers of the Mountain: two bucks, standing tall, proud, and unafraid.
(But then, they would be unafraid, wouldn’t they? They’re Magic and I’m mere mortal.)
I stopped and held my breath and watched the bucks as they slowly walked along, nibbling on grass and leaf, occasionally glancing at me with little concern. Finally though, one of them, the one with the more important set of antlers, told me, “Well, lady. Get on with ye now. The light’s fading.” He didn’t say this out loud, of course. Don’t be silly: deer can’t speak. He told me with his eyes.
(Deer on Deer Mountain are very fluent with their eyes. They can converse in English, Russian, Spanish, Japanese, French, German, and even Swahili, though they speak Swahili with an accent — an ever so slight eyelid flutter.)
I walked along the trail that I knew but didn’t know because Magic misted the air around me. Crickets sounded in the shadows, and tiny scurrying things rustled the dry leaves. Cardinals would fly here and there, crossing the trail, scarlet red fading to gray as they receded into the distance.
I was walking down a steep hill when I heard a tremendous crash in the bushes next to the path. From them a doe burst out, both of us startled by each other’s presence. She gathered herself to run, and I called out to her, “No, don’t go. Please don’t go. I won’t hurt you.” Why did I call? It was the Magic, of course.
And she stopped. No more than my body length (me on the ground of course, stretched a bit, hair fluffed) away she stopped. And looked at me. How does the song go?
I looked at her and she looked at me and that’s the way I knew it would be…
I think both of us were equally surprised at her stopping. I fell silent and she started to run again, so I spoke again. “It’s all right. I won’t hurt you. Don’t go.” And again, she paused, uncertain. For a timeless moment we stood staring at each other, until she carefully turned away, crossing the trail and vanished into the bushes on the other side.
The night was fast approaching, impatient at the sun’s tenacious grip on the day. (Leggo! Leggo!) As I walked I could hear the deer in the trees all around me. When I reached the creek I looked up the hill and there were several deer—soft gray movement against darker gray hillside, silhouetted against the light. They looked at me, briefly, as one looks up at someone noisy entering a restaurant and you’re in the midst of your dinner.
Do you mind?
As I stood and watched, entranced, a woman came running along the trail, plastic workout pants swish swish with each move. Swish, swish. She looked neither right at the creek nor left at the deer. Swish, swish. Nor at me, if truth be told. Arms pumping, feet rapidly stepping, caught in an unbroken pace, vision determinedly inward. (No doubt she was imagining calories popping off her body like fleas jump off a dog in water. Swish, swish. Ten calories. Swish, swish. Twenty calories. Swish, swish. Bite of candy bar).
Both the deer and I looked at her as she ran past but she didn’t see us.
The night was winning its battle and I knew I had to move on. All around me the sounds of the forest were changing into those of the night rhythms. No one else was about and since I had no light it was becoming increasingly difficult to see anything other than the path in front of me. I increased my pace, even up hills thought the effort left me puffing. I felt that my time with the deer was over because I could no longer hear them around me or sense their presence in the bush next to the path. However, I was to discover why when I reached a fork in the trail.
Surrounding a small pond—really nothing more than a watering hole pretending to be important—there were deer and deer and deer. Deer drinking the water. Deer lazily pulling at the weeds. Deer nudging each other, sniffing the air, scratching their necks with back feet. All looking at me. Looking at me.
The dirt around the water was almost white, and I could see the deer as smudges of smoke against its lightness, with pale rings of white around eyes, slashes of white on tails. I couldn’t count the number because the light was being tricky, turning shadow into real and real into shadow. But they — shadows and deer — were everywhere.
The moment was priceless and I had my camera and itched, veritably itched, to take a photo. There was too little light and the only way the picture would take is if I used my flash. But I knew that my flash would be a harsh report in the night, startling the deer, driving them away. I would get my photo, but the Magic would be ruined. Gone.
I weighed the decision in my mind — the desire to share the experience with you, and the need to keep the Magic. In the end Magic won because at that moment, it was more real than you.
A few steps more and I was nearing the end of the path. The darkening forest gently but firmly pushed me towards the bridge, as a host would lead a guest who has overstayed their welcome to the door. It’s been lovely to see you, do drop by again sometime. Get out now.
And as I drove home, lost in wonder, I topped a hill and in the sky, huge and golden, the harvest moon looked down on me.