Last week young Esther asked me back to the sanitarium and told me that the people there "wanted to talk." I was reasonably sure that the meeting was prompted by Dora's cancer diagnosis – she seemed to be important to the rest of them, making her passing a turning point – but I also gathered from Esther's expression that they had more on their minds.
And so I did two things that I've learned to do over the years in demanding situations.
First – and I learned this from taking tests – rather than obsessing on the facts I might be expected to know, I focused on getting myself in the best possible condition to face the situation. Whatever was going to happen, I would be the central instrument in it, and so I prepared myself first and foremost: good sleep, a nourishing but not heavy meal several hours prior, and so on.
Second – and I learned this one from doing radio shows – I focused my mind, not on knowledge, but on loving the people I'd be addressing.
(If you find yourself stepping into a demanding situation, please try these two things. They work.)
"We Need to Know Why"
They sat me at the head of the dining room table, which was pulled so far toward the wall that I was almost against it. Then they all came in and sat, filling up the remaining spaces at the table and then the open space at the other end of the room. Everyone in the sanitarium was there.
Dora spoke for all of them.
"Look," she said, "we're about to ask you some hard questions, and you probably won't like it, but we need answers, and you're our best chance at getting them."
I made myself focus on my own operations and on loving them. I nodded my understanding.
"We need to know – really know – why this happened to us. Why are we ugly and deformed? We know that some other people have suffered worse, and we can understand the words, "We just got unlucky," but that's not enough! This is us; we suffer through this every day, and will, every day, till we die…
"So, we want you to make sense of this for us. And I think you can."
Two thoughts slid through my mind – helluva a job you stepped into and I'm less sure about this than I am that 2 plus 2 equals 4 – but they only slid through; they didn't seize the mechanism.
"Okay," I said, I'll tell you what I think, flat out."
They sat back and waited. And I waited too; I could feel things forming in me, but I still didn't know what I'd say. When I opened my mouth this is what came out:
"You're quite correct that the things that happened to you were accidents, but that's never going to be satisfying until you have an overview that supports it," I said.
"And right now you're struggling within the old model of God… So are the atheists," I added. "They base their anger upon the same model.
"And so, here's the big thing: There was a creator, but there is no "omnipotent God" as people imagine him, controlling everything that happens in the world. That much is clear from the condition of the world and it's also implied fairly well in the Bible… religious people just don't see it because their theologies come first."
I paused to let the words sink in.
"And so we can drop the dark imaginings that are tied to that structure – that someone didn't care enough about us and that he cared about other people more. That whole model is simply wrong. Those ideas were based upon distortions."
I paused again for a few beats.
"Now, let me give you something further. We're all at an early stage of development – even the best of us. We're not ready to even imagine what our final state might be. Really, we're not terribly far past crawling out of our holes and making sense of light and dark.
"But… the seed of our advanced state – whatever it may be – is already in us. As Moses said, we don't have to send someone into the heavens or into a far country to get it for us and bring it to us. It's in us already.
"And it's in you – as unfortunately as your bodies may be formed – equally as much as it's in anyone else."
Then I knew I was done and I stopped. In my younger days I would have been tempted to elucidate on the theme, but I've learned to simply shut up. It's better.
Seeing tear-filled eyes I was grateful that I was able to do this job. And so we sat in silence for some time.
I'll tell you next time what happened afterward.
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A book that generates comments like these, from actual readers, might be worth your time:
I just finished reading The Breaking Dawn and found it to be one of the most thought-provoking, amazing books I have ever read… It will be hard to read another book now that I've read this book… I want everyone to read it.
Such a tour de force, so many ideas. And I am amazed at the courage to write such a book, that challenges so many people's conceptions.
There were so many points where it was hard to read, I was so choked up.
Holy moly! I was familiar with most of the themes presented in A Lodging of Wayfaring Men, but I am still trying to wrap my head around the concepts you presented at the end of this one.
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