Celebrating Faith edited by Kenneth Weene

 

As part of my own celebration of the Passover-Easter season, I asked my fellow members of The Write Room Blog to contribute short pieces about celebration of faith. (Ken Weene)

 Sal

NO GREATER LOVE

by Slavatore Buttaci

When God the Father sent His only Son

To be born of flesh and die on the cross,

He could have refused. It was not a done

Deal, but Jesus agreed to pay the cost

Of expiating man’s sins. He would die

A most ignoble death so we could live

Eternally. No human could have tried

To sacrifice what only God could give

To atone for sin –– Himself! A God born

Of a woman so that our sin against

God in Eden would let us all be saved.

He gave Himself to ridicule and scorn,

But it does not end at the Lord’s grave.

On Easter Sunday He rolled back the stone.

No greater love the world has ever known!

Salvatore Buttaci has seen his work in print since 1957. A retired teacher and professor, he writes daily both poetry and flash fiction. He lives with Sharon in West Virginia. www.salbuttaci.blogspot.com

 

John

Easter and Africa

by  Rev. Jon Magee

It was 1966. I crouched down beside the grave in one small corner of Africa and studied the writing on the tombstone. “Robert Baden-Powell, Chief Scout of the World” Then, below the dates of his birth and death I noticed the tracking sign well known to many Scouts, a circle with a dot in the middle. It’s a sign instantaneously recognized as a message declaring, “gone home”. Its possible that the message was intended to relate to the place where he was laid in Nyeri, Kenya, where he loved to be and where he had a residence. It was a place he felt a sense of peace; it was his home. In that sense he was at home in the environment where he loved to be during his life. However, as I reflected my thoughts began to wonder, realizing that often people have spoken of “going home” as they referred to their death. As a young teenager, I grappled with this whole sense of being at peace when there is no life

I was at the beginning of a 3-week working holiday in Kenya with a party of men from our church at the Royal Air Force station at Khormaksar, Aden. As we made our way north from Nyeri towards Meru on the foothills of Mount Kenya I was conscious that there would be many new experiences I was to come across. There was my first experience of standing next to a sign declaring the border between the northern and southern hemisphere, the equator. There were my first sightings of some of the wild life of Africa, the lion, one of natures most fearsome creatures, the swift running gazelle and the tall giraffe, to name just a few. There was the excitement of not only visiting the site of where they filmed “Born Free”, but also the home of the Lioness, Elsa which the film was the story of. Experiences that few of my western peers could have hoped to have known. Yet, on reflection, the greatest experience for me was to meet with the local people and get to understand them in their life and culture.

Initially, we were the ones being observed. Each morning we began another stage of the building work we came to carry out. It became a ritual that the young Africans made there way to visit us, to stand as a group and to wonder at who we were, and why had we come to work in their community. There would soon develop quite a sizable crowd, including the young children each wielding their panga, a larger cleaver like knife. Soon, a bond began to grow until the invitation was given by one family to visit their home. They lived in a cluster of round mud huts, and we sat in a circle in one of them as our hosts showed their hospitality. The first item they brought through, they described as being like porridge. It was a liquid, made out of maze, cooked over a charcoal fire, and tasted like charcoal. No self respecting Scotsman would have called it porridge, but we took it appreciating that they had given what they had, simple as it was, given from the heart.

As a teenager, this made a deep impression on me. From a Western perspective I had everything that’s needed to have a meaningful life. I had a home with a roof over my head, the guarantee of being well fed each day. Our hosts had such a simple life in comparison. Though they had none of the essentials as we see it, there was certainly a peace in their life which I did not know. It struck me that the one difference is that they had discovered that the best to be gained is not necessarily within the material, but from their perspective a simple trust in the one they knew as their Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ.

We are in the season when many are speaking of Easter, though not always for the spiritual reasons, of course. At the heart of the Easter message is the hope that can be known even when everything seems hopeless. Jesus died on the cross, but on the third day rose to life again. The disciples gathered around the cross felt they had lost everything, but were soon to find that the things they feared most had been conquered. Jesus was to reveal there can be victory over death and sin, and the promise of abundant life can become a reality. There is an eternal dimension within all of that, of course, but when it begins with a simple trust in the Saviour, even when not everything can be understood, then an abundance of life can be known in the here and now too. For a Christian, we can rightly speak of a heavenly home, but the message of Easter also declares we can be “at home” where we are now when we are at peace with Him and where he has placed us. Gone home? Yes, with such a peace we can surely be at home this Easter.

Jon Magee is the author of 2 books, Paradise Island, Heavenly Journey and From Barren Rocks to Living Stones, as well as pieces for magazines and local newspapers. Much of his writings reflect his broad experience living throughout the world. Currently he is based in Fife, Scotland, as a minister with the Baptist Church. http://www.amazon.com/Jon-Magee/e/B003VN33WA/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1386409674&sr=1-2-ent

 

 Jim

Honoring Our Ancestors

by James Secor

Obon (お盆) is the annual Buddhist holiday honoring the ancestors’ spirits which, it is believed, return to this world in order to visit their relatives at this time each year. Lanterns are hung in front of houses to guide the ancestors’ spirits home, graves are visited and, in some cases, cleaned off, food offerings are made at house altars and at temples, and dances (bon odori) are performed to entertain them at the Festival (bon matsuri). At the end of the three days of Obon, in order to guide the spirits back into their world, lanterns are floated on rivers and lakes or the sea. Perhaps in olden times these boats were shallow bowls and as the name “bon” means “bowl” (or “tray” in some dictionaries).

This Buddhist-Confucian custom has evolved into a family reunion holiday and has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years. Confucian because of the focus on veneration of the ancestors and the heavy influence of Neo-Confucianism on Japanese culture.

Obon is a shortened form of the Sanskrit Ullambana (盂蘭盆會, urabon’e), “deliverance from suffering,” symbolized in Japan as “hanging upside down.” Obon arose from the story of Mokuren, a disciple of the Buddha, who wanted to look in upon his deceased mother. To his horror, he discovered she had fallen into the Realm of Hungry Ghosts where she was being tortured by starvation and being hanged upside down. Mokuren embarked on a grueling journey to the underworld to bring food to ease her hunger. But when he offered the food to her it erupted into flames before she could swallow. Mokuren ran to the Buddha and asked how he could release his mother from such horror. The Buddha instructed him to make offerings to the many Buddhist monks who had just completed their summer retreat. Mokuren did so and his mother found release. Happy at his mother’s release, Mokuren danced with joy.

Japanese and Chinese Buddhist tradition believes Ullambana Sutra was translated from the Sanskrit by Dharmaraksa in the 3rd or 4th century.

Obon occurs in the heat of the summer–mid-August–or as late as fall. The most famous obon celebrations are those of Tokushima on the small island of Shikoku. There, the bon odori is known by its ancient territorial name, Awa-odori, sometimes also known as the fool’s dance as the dancers dance and shout as if they’ve lost their minds. Perhaps not to be wondered at as the bon odori is said to have started in the later years of the 16th century as a public entertainment, possibly sarugaku noh (monkey noh), a precursor to Noh. In the modern day, the religious coloring of the dance has been all but lost.

The Mexican counterpart is Día de Muertos, Day of the Dead. The three days of the Christian celebration are All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween), All Saints Day and All Souls Day. People in the West tend to celebrate Halloween only.

Jim Secor is a Buddhist with many years’ experience in Japan and China. Every year in Japan, he returned to Tokushima for the Obon festivities, some of his friends dancing odori. The temple was at the top of the mountain, the house at the bottom. The river flowed in between. Jim can be found at http://labelleotero.wordpress.com or on Linkedin as James L. Secor and is e-mail literate at hellecchino@inbox.com. He is the author of Det. Lupée: The Impossible Cases, which won bronze from P&E.

 

Yves

Confessions of a Love-Aholic

by Yves N. Johnson

How many females can you handle in your life?  I have a lot.  I think it’s because I’m so charming. All seven of my ladies want my time and attention.  Well, if you “have it,” you “have it.”  One day I’ll share with you how to love multiple females but for now, I’ll simply share a little bit about them.

I’ve been with one of my loves for a long time. She was with me at a special event where I was speaking on career transition.  I saw the love in her eyes.  It seemed to drip out of her eyes and roll down her cheeks.  I felt the pride she was feeling and it made me feel good.

Another one of my ladies seems to always want to hold my hand and spend time with me.  I must admit I think of her constantly.  She’s special to me. I’m a much better man since she came into my life. I feel like I’ve known her forever.  Have you ever met anyone like that?

I have three young pretty ladies also. Years ago we had watershed moment that transformed our lives.  I had received two very prestigious awards.  I was dressed razor sharp.  I think I was walking above ground on that day.  I decided to share my joy and achievement with them.  I was stunned to find they didn’t care nor did they share in my excitement.  The funny thing is they just wanted to spend time with me.  Our relationship is more complicated than the other two ladies. Theses females were roommates and at times volleyed to spend time with me. They were upfront and unbashful in letting me know they wanted “their time with me.” Honestly, I feel 10 feet tall when I’m with each and every one of them.

I might as well continue to spill out my heart. I met a much younger female.  We instantly connected and fell in love. One day we went walking along the river.  For some unknown reason she wanted to jump on rocks!  I tell you, younger ladies.  She held my hand tight at first.  I think she was a little scared.  Then she started to jump on her own.  She stumbled but didn’t panic.  For some reason, she knew I’d be there to catch her.  That was a defining moment for me.  She loved and trusted me without question.

Hold on, there’s more.  While on vacation with my wife I met my latest love.  She was as pretty if not prettier than the previous six female.  When she looked at me she would flash a smile that melted my heart. She had a problem going to sleep and decided to lay her head on my chest.  My wife was in the next room!  She squirmed around and finally settled down…her heart beating at the same cadence as mine.

I confess. I’m a very blessed man.  I have the love of a wonderful mother, a great wife, three beautiful girls and two “wrapping me around their fingers” granddaughters.  Who were you thinking I was talking about? I’m not certain if my “ladies” have me wrapped or if I have them wrapped.   I’m just happy to be wrapped by them.

Yves N. Johnson is the Founder of Christ Is My Savior Ministries LLC.  As a speaker his subjects range from personal development to spiritual warfare. Yves recently published his second book, Outside The Wire: Every Man’s Guide For Spiritual Warfare. His well-received debut book was, There Is No Gray In Moral Failure: A Practical Guide In Preventing Financial and Sexual Abuse.

Learn more at http://www.amazon.com/Yves-N-Johnson/e/B008GZ2UC2

 

April 16 photo of Church

On Faith

by Clayton Bye

When I was a young teenager attending the local First Baptist church, I had the misfortune to fall in the crosshairs of an overly zealous pastor. He basically pushed me into being baptized, something that felt so wrong afterword that it was the beginning of a long walk away from the church.

I didn’t lose faith. In fact, I’ve always had a strong connection to that Supreme Being we Christians refer to as God. No, what happened was I came to see the church as a very flawed human construction, something I didn’t need to reach out to God as I know him.

At the height of this battle I was involved in, I attended every denomination’s church or bible group I could find. Nothing shook the feeling that I didn’t belong under these roofs. My visits always seemed to end in anger: from my observations that each church was only as good as the people running the thing, that many just spouted things they didn’t understand or, at times, that they didn’t believe.

Understand when I say I understand the very human longing to belong to something larger than yourself and how the church provides that for many. It just isn’t for me.

But there’s an unusual and happy end to this quest of mine. It came in the form of the largest fraternity in the world, that body known as Freemasonry. This is an institution that teaches a moral code based on the belief in some sort of Supreme Being. One that has revealed his will to man and that will punish vice and reward good behaviour. The bible is always open during our meetings, plus whatever book any individual might believe in. This is to remind us to give up some portion of each day to study these books.

Freemasonry takes in good men and tries to make them better, but it never tries to do so without instructing you to turn to your own religion for guidance. It is completely nondenominational in structure, and while it is not a religion, it is does have religious aspects, especially in the appendant bodies that one may pursue.

One of these bodies emulates the code of Christian Knights and has done more to bring me closer to the church than anything else in my life. I still don’t attend on a regular basis, but I celebrate such things as Maundy Thursday and Easter, and I can now visit a church and read the Bible without the anger of my youth.

It is strange where one can find God.

Clayton Bye is a writer, editor and publisher. The author of 9 books and a varied collection of short stories, poems, articles and hundreds of reviews, he has also published (under the imprint Chase Enterprises publishing) 3 award winning anthologies: general fiction, horror, and short detective stories.

Mr. Bye also offers a wide range of writing related services, including small business management for writers.

Visit his website and bookshop at: http://www.claytonbbye.com and http://shop.claytonbye.com

 

T.R.

Domingo de Pascua (Easter Sunday) at an Orphanage by T.R. Heinan

The women arriving at Queen of Angels House orphanage are fewer in number than usual this morning.  Easter is a family day in Mexico and the teachers, tutors, our psychologist and some of the caretakers are allowed to be at home with their own families.  Those who have agreed to work today are all carrying flower bouquets to place near the altar in the orphanage chapel.  It will be the first day since the beginning of Lent that the chapel will have flowers.

The night crew files through the metal security door and out the gate, having already assisted the Easter Bunny in hiding plastic eggs and candy around the playground.  The bunny is a very un-Mexican visitor, not much of a feature in the national culture, but our orphanage is located just three blocks from the United States in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico.  The community shares a border with Douglas, Arizona.  Here the Easter bunny and Happy Meals are as much a part of the local flavor as picante and piñatas.  What is missing is Mom and apple pie.  Apples are expensive in this desert locale and Mom died from cartel violence fueled by the American appetite for drugs, or for survival, she abandoned her child to feed the American appetite for cheap labor.  In some cases, Mom is in prison, or tried to sell her child into prostitution. Maybe Dad was abusive. There is no Mama at an orphanage.  The priest, who will arrive this afternoon is addressed as Padre (Father) and, for some reason I have been given the title “Papa Tim”.  All other male visitors are called Tio (uncle).

One of our goals at Queen of Angles House has been to minimize the effects of institutionalization.  It is easy to overlook the small but critical skills children acquire from parents…how to sew a button, how to manage an allowance, how to launder your own towels.  Every effort is made to simulate a caring family environment.  Having a consistent, reliable staff is important.  That requires careful health, educational, and psychological screening as part of the hiring process.  Tactile and visual stimulation is especially important for the babies in our nursery. Sensory stimulation during the first two years can actually help build neurons in the brain. It affects intelligence.  Student volunteers are recruited to help the “tias” hold and touch the infants.

The children range from newborns to age 17, so we must develop skills that can help break the cycle of poverty.  English as a second language and computer skills are added to basic tutoring as part of our curriculum.

Our tias start the day with a cup of Café Justo, coffee roasted locally by a local better-than-fair-trade coffee cooperative, before they head off to change diapers and getting the older children showered and dressed.  Adorning the girls’ hair with ribbons is always a part of the morning routine, but it seems even more important on Easter morning. Dress today will be casual. The kids love a day without uniforms. The menu for the hot breakfast was designed by a certified nutritionist. An Easter egg hunt, videos in the TV room (deliberately built to be the smallest room in the orphanage), and family-style games will fill most of the day.

Queen of Angels House orphanage is a project of the Blessed Nuno Society, Inc., an integrated affiliate of the Catholic Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota.  Correspondence can be sent to The Blessed Nuno Society, P.O. Box 3484, Duluth, MN 55803. Both the Society and Queen of Angels house were co-founded by T.R. Heinan.  His book, “L’immortalité: Madame Lalaurie and the Voodoo Queen” is an Easter themed story focusing on a fire that took place during Easter week in New Orleans in 1833. Proceeds from sales help support the orphanage. http://www.l-immortalite-madame-lalaurie-and-the-voodoo-queen.com/

 

giraffs

THE MUSLIM EID

Maryam Sakeenah

The Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) is reported to have said, ‘there is a festival for every nation, and this (Eid) is our festival.’

There are two Eids in the Muslim lunar year, essentially about thanksgiving, sharing and strengthening communal ties. The first of these (Eid ul Fitr) is celebrated at the close of Ramadan (the fasting month), as an expression of thanksgiving for all that Allah has blessed us with, particularly the Divine Guidance in the Quran the revelation of which began in the month of Ramadan. It is also a thanksgiving for having received the blessed month and acquired spiritual reward through spending it in intense worship and self-restraint.

The second Eid (Eid ul Azha) celebrates the end of the pilgrimage season and the Abrahamic legacy of sacrifice that Islam revives. Both emphasize on giving and including others in joy and festivity by making charity on the occasion a compulsory religious obligation.

On both Eids, the day begins with special prayers performed in congregation in which God is glorified and the prayer leader (imam) engages in ritual invocation to God before the congregation. This invocation calls upon God to ease the suffering of Muslims in specific and mankind in general, to keep one guided and accept one’s effort in His way. At the end of the service people meet and greet each other and give charity to the poor, many of whom congregate to mosques to receive their share to be able to partake of the festivities. Hence a day of celebration commences.

Celebrations on each Eid have unique cultural aspects all over the Muslim world. While the essence is the same, the expression varies across cultures. In my culture, some of the interesting and spectacular Eid day practices include the Pakistani ‘three step hug’ and eating sweet vermicelli cooked in milk for breakfast. For the ladies it means dressing up in glittery traditional clothing- the ‘shalwar kameez’ and ‘dupatta’, which consist of loose pantaloons and flowy long shirts draped with a long traditional scarf. Ladies also wear coloured bangles and paint their hands in intricate patterns with henna. For children Eid means getting pocket money from all uncles and aunts called ‘Eidee.’

One beautiful experience exclusive to Eid ul Azha is the distribution of sacrificial meat. I remember family elders gathering to do the annual ritual efficiently and zealously. According to Islamc tradition, the meat is to be divided into three parts: the first for oneself and one’s family, the other for relatives and neighbours and the third for the poor and needy in one’s community.

One of my Eid day moments is when the door bell rings… I rush to the door and find some hungry old man with sunken eyes or a ragged woman with her malnourished children wanting to know if they could get a share of the meat. The act of giving of what has been entrusted to you by the True Giver, and which is to be spent in His way for His people is spiritually fulfilling.

Having studied at a Catholic convent, as a child I always found Christian celebrations more grandly ritualistic and colourful. I now realize that the simplicity characteristic of Islamic festivals is beautiful in its own quiet way. Islamic sources strongly condemn extravagance, pomp and luxury as ingratitude to God and a sign of selfish arrogance. The simplicity levels all to reinforce Islamic fraternity and egalitarianism. The simple joys of Eid are affordable to all.

Venturing out in the streets of my city on Eid day is a heartening experience- I see, for once, smiles and laughter- little girls all dressed up, children at the park flying kites and holding balloons waiting for the ice-candy man. I let my spirit join in, my heart light and celebrating a vicarious happiness. It comforts me with the illusion I wish to hang on to just a while longer- the world is a happy, sunlit little home, after all!

Although not a member of The Write Room Blog, we are delighted to have Maryam Sakeenah join us with this special post about Islam. A freelance writer based in Pakistan, Maryam divides her time between teaching Sociology and Islamic Studies and working for the education of the underprivileged in Pakistan. The prominent themes in her work are Islam and society, international politics, human rights, the clash of civilizations and the war on terrorism. Her work promotes the values of moderation and the idea of ‘middleness’ between extremes as enunciated by Islam. http://www.suhaibwebb.com/tag/maryam-sakeenah/

 Ken

Song of faith – A Passover reflection

by Kenneth Weene

We never sang. I knew from Sunday school that we were supposed to. Passover, Pesach, the feast of the Exodus: there should be singing and joy. There wasn’t. Every year I learned the songs anew; we sang them in class and discussed their meaning; but at home — actually my uncle and aunt’s home, where we had the yearly family Seder — we didn’t sing.

My uncle did not understand the joy of the holiday. For him it was all obligation and seriousness. The bitter herbs of captivity mattered; the sweet manna with which God fed the wandering Israelites did not. He yelled and growled through the Haggadah, the order of service for a Seder. He yelled at his children, growled at his wife, and then went to sleep while we ate chiffon pies.

Very quietly we said goodnight: Always say goodnight to sleeping gorillas; it does not do to have them feeling ignored and angry. But it is far worse to wake them. So very quietly indeed, we said goodnight. We would leave, dreading that another year would pass and we would again have to listen to him monotonously say those prayers and angrily correct everyone’s Hebrew.

Being a Jew in those days was not a reason to celebrate. Many people, even some who had helped liberate the camps, thought Hitler should have gotten rid of us. And the myth that matzoth were made with the blood of Christian children persisted. Sometimes, I would try to point out that there were no Christians at the time of the Exodus, but that didn’t stop the taunts or slaps. There were gorillas everywhere.

I don’t know if it was the camps, Hitler, the war, or the pervasive anti-Semitism that made my uncle so sour. Perhaps it was just being stuck in the house with his wife and children for a holiday.

Years later, when I developed a more intellectual sense of religion, one in which God is more a metaphor than a supreme being, less a gorilla than a ground of being, my wife and I celebrated the Passover in our own home. No fancy dining room for us, we sat on the floor under a makeshift tent and leaned on pillows. Our animals (live, some stuffed, and others of wood) surrounded us. We wrote our own Haggadah and celebrated the Eucharist in remembrance of the long-ago preacher who taught that God is love. We invited friends and we sang folksongs: Songs that rejoiced in the joy of life, the love of creation, and the wonder of human freedom. Songs that challenged us to live with dignity, compassion, and truth.

I no longer think of myself as a Jew or a Christian. The God around which I build my worldview is the God of Spinoza, the unification and reason of a universe which I cannot understand but which challenges my mind every day. The Hassidic philosopher Martin Buber suggests we need an aesthetic model of the divine against which to view our lives and purpose. Such a modern God will not guide us out of Egypt, nor will that God protect us from Hitler or from other haters. Still we can draw on that sense of the divine and on the realization of order and beauty in the universe to help us appreciate the wonder of it all.

And we can sing. Oh, yes, we can sing.

Song, spontaneous and joyful, is the true fruit of faith.

Ken Weene’s novels, short stories, and poetry reflect his continual search for personal meaning and universal humanity. http://www.kennethweene.com

 

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What the Hell is Wrong with Me? by John B. Rosenman

 

Bread

I was teaching my 9 a.m. World Literature class about three years ago, when I noticed my brain was floating about five feet above my shoulders.  What’s more, it wasn’t floating in a good way.  I felt disconnected, disembodied, unreal.

What in the world was happening to me?

I was nearing seventy, a full professor of English, and planning to retire from Norfolk State University after forty-five years of teaching.  I had never experienced anything like this before.  Should I excuse my class early and lie down, or be a man and soldier on?

Hell, I was as macho as the next guy.  I soldiered on.  The fact that I was undergoing an out-of- body, semi-psychotic experience didn’t mean I couldn’t pull it off.  I was a pro!  So on I charged, fielding students’ questions out of the air, and I believe, passing the test with flying colors.

As I left my class, my affliction lifted.  For the rest of the day, I was fine.  My relief was fine, too, and I didn’t even mention the “incident” to my wife Jane.

The next day, with classes meeting later, I was absolutely normal.

The following day, with my World Literature 9 a.m. class, my brain drifted to the ceiling again, hovering near the light fixtures.  In subsequent 9 a.m. classes, that’s where it remained.

I told my wife about it, and she reminded me that a few months back, I’d had arthritic pains in my right arm.  They had interfered with my playing tennis, which I love.  A visit to my doctor and some meds seemed to have solved the problem, but could there be a pattern here?

We soon learned there was.  Starting at 150 pounds, I began to lose weight.  Finally, I went to Dr. B again.  He ran all the tests, which turned up nothing.  He concluded that my symptoms “screamed depression” and referred me to a psychiatrist who gave me pills.  My weight continued to drop.  One forty-five . . . one-forty-two.  When it reached one-forty, my system began to shut down.  Forget about having an appetite, sleeping, or going to the bathroom, and hello to a half-body hideous scarlet rash which itched like the devil and eventually no damned energy whatsoever.

One day in his office, Dr. B said he’d done as much as he could.  He’d run all the tests and didn’t know what was wrong with me.  In short, I had a MYSTERIOUS DISEASE, a subject I’ve written about in fiction, as in “The Blue of her Hair, The Gold of her Eyes,” where a woman contracts a disease that makes others shun and fear her.  I looked at my doctor and said, “Could I have cancer?”  He replied, “Do you want to go and have a CT Scan?”

Well, I had it, and the Scan revealed a discolored area in my lower intestine.  I’ll never forget the day Dr. B asked, “Did your wife come with you?”  Folks, take it from me, when you see your physician, one of the last things you want him or her to ask is, “Did your wife [or husband] come with you?”  I said my wife was present and he went and got her, and we all convened in the examination room.  The only things missing were a Grief Lady and Chopin’s Funeral March.  Dr. B held his fingers an inch apart, indicating the size of my probable cancerous tumor, and I smiled with as much fortitude as I could and kissed my ass goodbye.

pants

Hallelujah, it wasn’t curtains!  I’ll skip some painful details. Another CT Scan, some more blood tests, and a gastroenterologist would finally, finally, nail it down.  I had Celiac disease, a severe allergy caused by gluten, a protein found mainly in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley.  This digestive disease can be hard to diagnose because it has over 250 symptoms, and no two cases are the same.  Also, many of its symptoms are nonspecific and can occur in other diseases.  Celiac disease is often but not always genetically inherited, and in my case, it had lain dormant in my system for the unlikely period of nearly seven decades.  One out of 100 people has this condition, but more and more folks are finding themselves affected in this age of processed foods.  As for my floating brain syndrome, my hematologist told me last year it’s a psychotic effect some of those with Celiac disease experience as a result of eating wheat.

After I was diagnosed, the process of recovery was slow and torturous as the villi in the inner wall of my small intestine which absorb food and nutrients had to recover and straighten.  Indeed, despite my efforts, I continued to lose weight.  One thirty . . .  One twenty-eight . . . One twenty-five . . . One twenty.  If I turned sideways, I disappeared in the mirror.  I was so weak, I couldn’t even run, and it was a struggle to dress myself.

One day, still a bit blotchy with an itchy red rash, I gazed at a class of students I loved and told them I could not continue.  We had begun a literary journey of the creative imagination together, I said, and I wanted so much to complete it with them.  Try as I might, though, I would not be there to reach the finish line at their side except in spirit.

It was painful to say this.   I knew it wasn’t my fault, but I still felt I had failed them.

Then something happened that had never happened before in all my years of teaching.

Every student in my class rose to their feet and formed a line around the room, waiting patiently to hug me.

Some of them even hugged me twice.

Back at home, I was semi-bedridden for about a month.  Talk about being limp, listless human meat.  My wife climbed the stairs and brought me my meals, which I could barely eat because I had no appetite.  I came to hate the sight of those eight ounce bottles of Ensure which I was forced to drink because they provided 350 calories.  I sometimes think Jane kept me alive, that I’d be dead except for her.

Lying there, I came to empathize more and more with the sick and afflicted, especially those sicker than me who might lack the benefit and comfort of insurance, doctors, and caregivers.  All we have are our bodies and our spirits, and our health and our senses can be taken away in a heartbeat.  I already knew this of course, but it bears repeating.  We don’t own our good health, our good looks, our success, or the fortunate way our brains are wired.  We don’t possess them because of any moral or spiritual superiority we have over others, or any special favoritism we have received from God.  Recently Mary Firmin wrote an essay entitled “Alcoholism.”  Some people are blessed enough to be able to drink a beer or a glass of wine without risk of addiction.  For others it’s like walking a tightrope above an abyss.  In some ways alcoholism is a mysterious disease, too.  Some of us are just luckier than others.

Dear Reader, if you type Mysterious Diseases into your browser, you will find all sorts of strange, bizarre, and often unsolved and incurable maladies.  Perhaps new ones will appear in the future, and it will be impossible to prepare for them.

As for me, my doctor informs me I’ve made a “tremendous recovery.”  Thanks to Prednizone, a steroid, I developed a voracious appetite and finally managed to gain weight, although later it caused a cataract to ripen in my right eye that half-blinded me overnight.  Today I weigh as much as I did before and live an almost normal life.  However, while my disease is in remission, it remains, and I must take meds daily for it.  Above all, I must avoid gluten at all costs.  For example, if I go to Wendy’s or any other fast food place, I take my own gluten-free, poorer textured, and less tasty bread if I want a sandwich, avoiding their wheat-packed buns and flavorful varieties such as the one featured at the front of this essay.  Also, I shun items such as macaroni, doughnuts, and greasy pizza, no matter how much I crave them.

It’s a small price to pay for staying alive.

John has published twenty books and three hundred short stories, most of them science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, horror, and paranormal romance.  He’s the former editor of Horror Magazine and Chairman of the Board of the Horror Writers Association.  Recently, he’s focused on his Inspector of the Cross series which features a 4000-year-old hero fighting to save the human race from seemingly invincible aliens.

Web site: http://www.johnrosenman.com

Blog: http://www.johnrosenman.blogspot.com

FB page: https://www.facebook.com/JohnBRosenman?ref=hl

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The Gentle King in our Midst By T. R. Heinan

 

 On April 6, 1984, hell supplanted purgatory in the African nation of Rwanda. That day, news of the president’s assassination became the catalyst for one of the most horrific, shameful, and grotesque crimes of the 20th century.  In less than 100 days, nearly a million Tutsi and moderate Hutu men, women and children in Rwanda were hacked to death with machetes or riddled with bullets, while U.N. “peacekeepers” stood ideally by and world leaders refused to intervene.

What made this massacre – this genocide – so difficult to understand was that this was not a religious war.  Both sides claimed to be Christians.  Indeed, it required identity cards to distinguish one group from the other.  Anthropologists and historians still can’t agree on whether the Tutsi and the Hutu peoples originated as different tribes or as different social castes within one populace.  For years, it was even possible for some Hutu to become Tutsi.  All that changed after Belgium seized control of Rwanda during World War I. In 1935, the Belgians introduced identity cards, labeling each resident as members of this or that group.  It was a classic divide and conquer strategy that segregated and prevented further movement between classes.

Like many of its European neighbors, Belgium colonized distant lands in order collect taxes and to exploit the rich local resources.  In Rwanda, that meant coffee, the second most profitable legal commodity on the world market, exceeded in dollar value only by oil. The Belgian government also seemed obsessed with racial and ethnic classifications.  They began to treat Tutsis as superior to Hutus, claiming that Tutsis had more “European features”.  This was a policy that would clash with the dream of Rwanda’s future King Kigeli V.  He was a man who viewed his role to serve as “father to both the Tutsi and the Hutu”, a king who would encourage intermarriage among the groups in his homeland so that they “can become one people again”.

One cannot help but wonder if the bloodshed of 1984 might have been prevented. Instead of clinging to the last vestiges of colonial power and continuing to thwart independence, what if Belgium had released Rwanda from its grasp?  How would history have played out if the Europeans had not engineered the expulsion of Rwanda’s last legitimate and lawful king? Rwanda’s gentle king was forced from power, but the people of Rwanda did not choose to end their monarchy, that decision was imposed on them by a foreign power.

King Kigeli V came to the Rwandan throne in 1959 when his (quite healthy) brother suddenly dropped dead after being given an injection by a mysterious substitute for his regular physician. The former king had been preparing to go to New York to demand independence for his country at the United Nations.  Whether his death was a murder or a “medical accident” may never be known.  There was no autopsy. What is known is that the royal family immediately recognized that Belgium could use this vacancy on the throne to impose a regent of their own choice, thereby seizing total control.  To prevent that from happening, King Kigeli V was crowned on the same day as his brother’s funeral, keeping alive the Rwandan tradition that “not a day should pass with a vacant throne”.  Perhaps no one was as surprised by this coronation as the new 23 year old king, who had to be summoned from his family farm for the event.

In November, 1959, young King Kigeli traveled to the Congo to meet with U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold.  While he was out of his country, a coup d’état supported by the Belgian military took place, and King Kigeli was forcibly and illegally prevented from returning home.  Having never been legitimately removed by his own people, and lacking any honest, independently monitored vote, Kigeli V remains in exile to this day as the legitimate King of Rwanda.  While the U.N. General Assembly stipulated that the Belgian government should allow his return, Belgium ignored the U.N. action and posted guards on the border of Rwanda to arrest him.  Indeed, he was arrested when he attempted to return to Rwanda to oversee free elections.

Most Americans are unaware that this king has been living in Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., since the United States granted him political asylum in 1992.  A friend of the late Nelson Mandela, His Majesty is a giant of a man both physically (he stands over 7 feet tall) and morally.  He tried, unsuccessfully, to warn the United Nations in advance about the impending slaughter in 1994 and since then he has established and now heads the King Kigeli Foundation in order to foster humanitarian initiatives on behalf of Rwandese refugees. While he lives quite modestly, he continues to travel and speak on behalf of Rwandan refugees, in support of various humanitarian efforts, and for reconciliation between all ethnic groups.

This writer has enjoyed meeting, speaking and traveling with King Kigeli.  We have a common religious devotion to Saint Nuno, the Portuguese patron of orphaned children, and we share  investiture in three of the same royal orders of knighthood.  In 2009, His Majesty honored me with a medal and I had the privilege of receiving him into the Royal and Venerable Confraternity of St. Nuno, of which I am Comrade Major.  King Kigeli is a prayerful, devout Catholic, a kind, modest, humble gentlemen, and a tireless spokesman for the cause of peace. It is inspiring to be with him.

In America, we chose our own independence from monarchy, but even more, we continue to celebrate our freedom from colonialism. That said, one has to think that the people of Rwanda could have fared much better under a constitutional monarchy headed by their beloved king than under the harsh regimes forced upon them by power brokers and colonialists in Europe and America.

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H.R.H. King Kigeli V with the author

 

T.R. Heinan is the author of L’immortalité: Madam Lalaurie and the Voodoo Queen, a reflection on justice and compassion set in the historical context of a popular 19th century New Orleans legend. http://www.amazon.com/LImmortalite-Madame-Lalaurie-Voodoo-Queen/dp/0615634710

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Focus is Everything by C.C. Bye

iceburgOne summer, when I was working at the top of  the Arctic Archipelago in an eight-person settlement known as Eureka, an iceberg ran aground in the strait between Ellesmere and Axel-Heiberg Islands. I enjoyed the novelty of having a mountain of ice parked outside my window, but I must admit it soon became just another part of the scenery. The same thing happened with the wolves who hunted us every time we left the confines of our buildings, and with the rabbits who achieved such tremendous speeds when racing our enclosed snow cruiser that they were able to bound along upright, front legs never touching the ground. Such strange and beautiful sights become mundane when they occur too often.

Then came a cold January day when our cook, an axe in one hand and a cardboard box in the other, asked me to go out to the berg and get him some ice. I already thought he was an eccentric, so I bit my tongue and went for a stroll.

“Make sure you get  ice from the centre of the face,” he hollered to me as I trudged out  into  the  – 40°C air.

I did what he asked. Even though the face of the berg was in shadow, and the air that pooled there seemed to be inordinately cold, and I was convinced the 30-foot wall of ice was poised to fall on my head.

When I got back, Cookie thanked me, indicated that I should put the box in the walk-in freezer, then  went on preparing dinner. No big deal. No explanations given.

Later that evening, a few of us gathered in the common room to watch a canned hockey game which had been flown in from Winnipeg. This was before the advent of satellite TV, so it was something of an event for us. Cookie came in and surprised me with one of my favourite drinks—good Canadian rye, a small amount of ginger ale and lots of ice. In fact, the tumbler was filled with so much chipped ice that rivulets of condensation had begun to run down its sides. The odd little fellow chuckled, winked at me and said, “There’s something about million-year-old ice that just makes a drink taste better.” He was right.

Many years have passed since that memorable day. Cookie’s most likely in his grave. I’ve begun to feel the sear of age myself. But every now and then, when I have a spare moment, I think about ancient ice in my drink, and the company of wolves, and I smile.

Life has helped me to understand that whether it’s a certain piece of art catching the morning light in a way that  delights, or  a walk along a leaf-strewn country road, or icebergs that run aground outside your bedroom window, the trick to having an interesting life that’s filled with beauty, is to make these things your centre of activity or interest. You must make them your focus. Because of this, I do my utter best to spend my days purposely drinking the juice of life. Yet the iceberg story is proof that beauty can also be found in memories and that it’s important to make time for revisiting them.

You can take this idea a step further by accepting those ugly, disheartening events that life seems to present with unnerving regularity. Accept them, but don’t let them affect you. Understand that they’ll eventually pass, and that you’ve the choice to refocus on better things. There’s also no rule that says you ever have to think about them again. You choose what you remember and how you remember.

A death can become a reason to celebrate someone’s life. A lost job is an opportunity to try the career you’ve always dreamt of. A failed romance has the potential to teach you about man’s incredible capacity for love. And a struggle with disease can renew your zest for life. You have the power to recall and reshape your experiences so that they work for you.

This is a simple concept with the power to transform our lives, but it’s worthless unless applied. I challenge you to spend today on the conscious enjoyment of beauty, allowing all else to be diminished or ignored. Choose to build beautiful memories while forgetting everything else. The exercise represents an important step in creating a truly enjoyable life. It can also help you to understand that focus is everything.

If you enjoyed this essay, then you’ll enjoy the countless other stories in The Contrary Canadian, available on Amazon or at my own store at http://shop.claytonbye.com

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Honeymoon – Rhodesian Style

trish

             This is the true story of my honeymoon. It probably helps to illustrate just how diverse we, at the Write Room Blog really are.

 

Webster‘s defines “insouciant” as: “Blithely indifferent; carefree.”  It aptly describes the irrational idea to drive down one of the worst roads in Africa in the middle of the rainy season. It was an idea that could only have been conceived with the slightly insane self-confidence of youthful minds. It would be exciting and romantic to honeymoon in Inhassoro, in Mozambique, where we had met just over a year ago. We didn’t care that that had been in the winter, when it didn’t rain. We brushed aside the warnings with derision.

 

We were excited and filled with confidence that balmy summer morning, the first day of our life together. My new husband whistled as he maneuvered the Jeep deftly around the steep curves that would lead us down to Forbes Border Post where we would cross out of Rhodesia and into Mozambique. The freshness from the previous afternoon’s thunderstorm lingered and perfumed the air with its fragrance, but the scream of cicadas was a sure sign it would be hot later.

 

There was very little traffic and we made good time despite the rutted surface and potholes in the road. The midday sun blazed overhead when we stopped in the village of Theca. We wandered unhurriedly around a small private  zoo, hand-in-hand, while waiting for our meal of peri-peri prawns, a Mozambican delicacy. The earthy aroma of the thick coastal jungle conjured up memories of previous journeys and hinted that soon we would be at the Indian Ocean.

 

Not long after lunch, we turned off the main road and headed south toward the coastal plain and the village of Buzi. After about an hour the paved road came to an abrupt end at the banks of the Buzi River. There was no bridge and the  only way across was by pontoon.

 

On the other side, in the small settlement, the storekeeper cheerfully informed us in Portuguese that he had “no gasolina”. Rivers of sweat trickled into the folds of fat on his bare torso. His eyes rolled southward, he scratched the stubble on his chin, then raised his hands, palms-upward, and shrugged. It wasn’t his fault. No tankers had been able to reach him from the south on the flooded roads.

 

He had ice-cold beers, though. The sultry heat turned them blood warm before we had time to finish them, as we foolishly headed into the uninhabited coastal plain on an impassable road with insufficient gas.

 

The warm beer tasted metallic. Cicadas screamed. The heat hung heavy in the humid air. The open windows were our only form of air conditioning and Tsetse flies followed the vehicle in swarms. Our attempts to swat them away were mostly unsuccessful and their stings were painful.

 

Sweat poured off us in the stifling heat as the road deteriorated into two meandering pathways dotted with potholes in the thick, black mud. The tracks divided into three then four separate trails with no indication of their ultimate destination. Unconcerned, we sang to relieve the monotony, “We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun…”

 

Precariously balancing above the deeply rutted tire marks, we had to skirt a wine-tanker—we didn’t see any gas tankers—buried to its stomach in the mire. We stopped and I jumped into a pothole that reached almost over my head.

 

The deserted town of Joao Belo sprawled into view and we pondered the reason for its demise as my husband randomly selected our route from the myriad of tracks that circumnavigated a broken bridge. The Jeep’s engine growled monotonously.

 

Darkness fell with the rapidity of the tropics, bringing only slight relief from the heat. The whine of mosquitoes replaced the buzz of the tsetse flies as we churned on through the endless, restless mud until a flooding creek forced us to stop.  A sign, incongruous in this lonely place, told us it was the Gorongoze River. Normally a shallow stream, it was now in flood, and the low bridge had disappeared under the rushing water.

 

A lion moaned mournfully in the thick undergrowth as we tried to decide whether to press on or wait until morning. We were young and impatient, and I held my breath, wondering briefly at our sanity as the Jeep eased forward. The headlights sank under the water and it lapped at the doors. Something grated against the undercarriage.

 

A Land Rover materialized in the opaque beams of the headlights as we fought our way up the steep, slippery bank on the other side. The dejected demeanor of the three men standing beside it in the darkness told the story. An unknown object under the water had smashed their vehicle’s differential. They had gas and we were almost on empty, so we agreed to tow them.

 

It turned out that a can of gas was a small price to pay for the xenophobic experience that followed. The old and tattered rope broke constantly as one or both vehicles was dragged down by the mud. Each time, they had to get out and re-join it, and we would start again, until a massive pile of steaming dung in the headlights announced the presence of elephants on the road ahead.  Flies buzzed around it and its unmistakable manure smell suffused the night air.

 

We stopped to investigate the reason for the urgent blasts on the horn of the vehicle behind us. The three men told us in their broken English mixed with Portuguese they were afraid we would come across the elephants and startle them. They would be helpless with their disabled vehicle, and unable to escape if the elephants attacked them.  They told us to leave them and continue on without them. We promised to send help, although I wondered how anyone would get to them, as theirs was the only other vehicle we had encountered.

 

The relief of travelling without the incessant jolting from the towing added to our excitement when we reached the banks of the Rio Save, which was in full flood. The old low-level bridge was buried beneath the water. The chain blocking the entrance to the new high-level bridge was easy to remove. Layers of spattered mud dulled the headlights and it was impossible to determine the cause of the intermittent bumps in the gloom. Finally, we stopped to investigate.

 

The icy grip of fear clawed at me when I looked down through a gap in the road to see the silver, moon-washed water rushing past far, far below. We were on the center of the longest multi-span suspension bridge in Southern Africa, and the massive concrete slabs suspended from the arch above had not yet been joined.

 

There was no going back. Time stood still as, with the heavy helplessness of a nightmare, we crept forward for an agonizing lifetime-long period. My fear gave way to sighs of relief that were short-lived when we reached the southern end of the bridge. In place of a chain, a massive construction vehicle blocked the exit.

 

We had come too far. Nothing could force us to turn around, and anyhow we didn’t have enough gas. We plunged down the almost vertical bank of loose earth, not daring to breathe until we felt the firm bite of asphalt under the wheels and we knew we had made it to civilization and paved roads.

 

I grinned at the Tsetse Control official. The whites of his wide eyes gleamed in the moonlight as he sprayed the vehicle mechanically, probably wondering if we were real or just ghosts in the night. I looked at my watch. It was four thirty in the morning. It had taken us thirteen hours to drive one hundred and seventy miles.

 

The insouciance of youth prevailed, and as we roared triumphantly onto the illusive paved road we had no misgivings about the return journey. And that is another story.

 

Trish Jackson writes emotive romantic suspense focusing on small towns, country folk and animals. www.trishjax.com

 

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April Fools’

Dear Readers,

With April 1st just around the corner, we just had to do something. For those of you who caught it, we posted a very funny story by James Secor, one we had published before. For those who didn’t, April Fools’. And now the real fun begins…

 

1

The Pommie

[Excerpt from “Grog Wars”, Coming Soon!]

 by

Anne Sweazy-Kulju

I’ll take the little hinny with me on patrol. But it’ll be a Pig-shearing Expedition”, he grumbled.

“I’m afraid I don’t know what that means, Queensy. But I do appreciate your taking Bleeker with you”.

Queensy smirked and asked his friend, “Have you ever tried shearing a pig?”

“Certainly not; why would anyone do such a–”

“Exactly, Mate! It’s too much squealing, and too little wool. When it comes to hunting Indians with the Pommie, I think I’d rather take my chances with the pig”.

XXXXX

“You there, Pommie, three of us are heading out tonight; we’ll leave in an hour, maybe two. Hard to notice you haven’t been of a scouting party, so far, and here you’ll be leaving us tomorrow when we reach the fort”. He clucked facetiously. “So you know what that means, Pommie? Tonight is your night. We need a fourth, an’ you’re it”.

Bleeker stared aghast at Queensy for several long seconds before he found his voice. By then, Queensy was already headed back to check on the horses and cattle. “I wouldn’t go to a party with the likes of you, ever–Indian or otherwise, Mr. Queensy. I don’t bear fools”, he hollered after him, tossing his nose into the air.

Queensy stopped in his tracks, turned slowly and smiled wicked at the snit they called Bleeker. “Well, I find that wonky queer, mate. Your mum certainly did”.

Bleeker could only spit and huff at Queensy–to do more would be to invite pain. He snatched up his journal and pencils and hurried off for his buckboard.

XXXXX

Detergent blue sky, birdcalls and nothing else; it was too early to be morning already. Queensy shook his friend’s shoulder until he woke. “Georg-without-the-e didn’t make it back last night. Don’t know if he’s off on the one-way trail, or not. The, uh, the Pommie didn’t make it, either–so they tell me. One of the others in our party, that meaty-pawed cooper, he saw Georg in a bit of a pickle, he told me. At the time, he was locked in fierce battle himself and couldn’t be of a help to Georg. He went looking for him later on, but there was nothing for it. Everyone was gone”.

Burke shook the cobwebs from his head and expelled them with a yawn. “What…well, how bad a pickle was Georg in, did the cooper say?” Burke asked, concerned.

“Well, the cooper said Georg had hollered to him that his sidearm only had two pops left in it. When the cooper looked Georg’s way, he saw an Indian on Georg’s left, and another savage to his right. An’ as I mentioned, the bookish little pommie, Bleeker, whinger about everything under the sun, including the sun, well, the cooper caught sight of him too—of course he was carrying on like a hinny, savages all around and he’s worthless as tits on a bull—I tried to tell you, Burke, pig shearing…”

Burke exhaled audibly. “We all know how you feel about him. Well, did the cooper say whether Georg had managed to shoot the Indians?”

“That’s just it, Mate. Georg didn’t shoot either one! The cooper said Georg shot that pommie twice, instead!”

If you agree with Anne Sweazy-Kulju (and Anatole France) that history books that contain no lies are extremely dull, visit her website: www.Historical-Horse-Feathers.com, and read more of the author’s fun perversions of the past!

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

2

Metric

by

Kenneth Weene

Curtis had never been this far before. It was a big step. His father would have been pleased, but the old man was dead.

“That’s what happens when you take risks,” his mother had lectured. Her words had become the foundation stone of his life — a life lived within the safety of a metaphorical rock bunker.

“What am I doing?” Curtis questioned himself. He had to stop and hold on to a parking meter, to give himself time to think through his options. There were two – go forward or retreat.

“Tick. Tick,” the meter was counting seconds. Five minutes left.

Home beckoned: The safety of his front yard.  The comfort of the living room, where the television offered glimpses into a world so seductive yet so terrifying to enter. The security of his bedroom and the soft quilt under which he could lie and dream of love.

Love — that was the force which impelled him forward.  If she were not worth the risk, then there would never be a reason to leave his house, his yard, and especially not his room.

The parking meter clicked. The red flag.

She was his dream, the focal point of Curtis’s energy. For her he would brave the world.

Stumbling, he let go of the parking meter and moved forward. One more block. He could see the sign.

Another guy was going in. “What if they run out?” The thought pushed Curtis onward. “She’d never forgive me.”

Breathing heavily, Curtis burst through the door. “Do you have it? I have to buy it for her.”

“What?” the woman behind the counter asked in a removed voice not unlike his mother’s.

“The new Disney magazine. The one with Miley’s pictures. On the show, she told me; she told me to buy it.”

http://www.kennethween.com

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

3

THE WIN-A-HOUSE SWEEPSTAKES

 by

Sal Buttaci

We all waited for Ivan Petrovsky’s luck to change. No, not change. Melt into a dark viscous residue of terribly bad luck. Okay, we were over-the-top jealous of Ivan Petrovsky who dreamed of owning and living in the only gated dacha house on Bartholomew Street.

We were less-than-neighborly neighbors, mostly renters of post-World War II dilapidated tenements that groaned under the weight of neglected years, including 114 Bartholomew Street where Petrovsky made what he called “his temporary residence.”

“Going some place?“ Scanlan the tailor asked him.

Then in an almost undetectable Russian accent he cryptically replied, “Dreams come true.“

In his childhood Ivan, his engineer parents, and his brother Sergey lived in an eye-captivating dacha in Pitsunda on the Black Sea. In fact, as Ivan told us numerous times, “Nikita Khruschev owned the next dacha.“ We would have fared better with Nikita next door than with Ivan.

He had won several lotteries. Nothing like millions, but enough to create a “Mr. Lucky” reputation. Once he said he would bet one dollar on 0-0-0-0. The following morning we checked the newspaper. 0-0-0-0. Petrovsky won five thousand big ones!

He had panache. You could see it in his swagger and that enigmatic pencil-thin smile. Though friendly enough, he felt superior because his family centuries ago sat in the czarist courts. The consensus of the neighborhood? If only we could all move to Winchester Circle, smile mysteriously, and hold up our noses like Ivan Petrovsky.

He was the picture of “imperially slim,” but unlike the poet Robinson’s “Richard Cory,” he harbored no hidden despair, no gun, and no bullet for his head. He was capital D dapper.

I’d been living on Bartholemew Street since grade school. Petrovsky in his early twenties   moved in close by. Ever meet folks with a one-track mind? No matter the conversation, they unrail it and set their wheels on their favorite subject? Obsessive Ivan droned on about the eggshell-white dacha he would one day own.

One February morning, a few cities away, I came across a contest announcement in the daily free newspaper. “Win a Dream House” it read. The picture showed a huge plantation home. A  possible win for the man who seemed to win everything? In several copies I filled out a few contest entries with Petrovsky’s name and address. The winner would be announced at the start of April.

No surprise. Ivan won the dream house. A rep from the sponsor, a three-man bugle band in tow, delivered it to his apartment on April 1.

“Congratulations, Mr. Petrovsky. You won an excellent replica of Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage House, fashioned by American Cast-Iron Edifices! Place it on your mantle. Use your Home-of-the-Month discount card to purchase more houses from our impressive collection.”

When the implacable Ivan Petrovsky confessed his bad luck to Donovan the bartender after several shot glasses of Stolichnaya, the revelation traveled up and down Bartholomew like a Russian MiG-31 Foxhound jet.

We all applauded Ivan’s sudden turn of events.

#

 

Sal Buttaci is the author of two flash-fiction collections Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts, both published by All Things That Matter Press and available athttp://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Salvatore%20Buttaci

He lives in West Virginia with Sharon the love of his life.

www.salbuttaci.blogsport.com

www.twitter.com/sambpoet

www.facebook.com/salvatore.buttaci

 

 

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The Case of an Ape Gone Berserk

The Case of an Ape Gone Berserk:

an “I Was There Mystery”

by

James L. Secor, B.A., M.S., Ph.D., Q.P.Q.

Any PI just out of school could have solved this case but it came to me because the Zoo was my territory. Perhaps this was because of my circus background. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I was there. I had a job to do.

I was called about 6 PM. I was just sitting down to a nice TV dinner, beef bourgoyne with mashed potatoes and gravy, and a can of Hamm’s Special Light Lager when the phone rang. Damn! I thought. Just when Dialing For Dollars was getting exciting. I reached over to the end table and picked up the phone, a red Nextel I took off my belt when I got home. As always.

“Hyellow,” I said.

“Is this Sammy Thimblerigger?”

“Sypeaking. Syammy Thimblerigger in person. Nyot an answering machine. Hate the dyamned things. Whyat d’ya want?”

“This is the Downtown Zoo. We got a problem with an ape. She’s gone mad. Jeez, you should see her! We can’t do nothing with her. We think it was something somebody gave her.”

“Syounds like the yape’s gone berserk. Tried a byaseball byat? Thyirty-four inch signed Reggie Jackson issue?”

“No.”

“Hyow about an aluminum byaseball byat?”

“No. We can’t get near her.”

“You got a case there. They usually respond to this kyind of treatment. Yonly thing they understand.”

“This is a different kind of ape. Baba’s special.”

“Thyat’s what they yall say. They’re all alike. Yan ape’s an ape’s an ape. I’ll be right dyown.”

I sighed. No TV. No beef bourgoyne. What could be worse of an evening? So, I lifted my TV tray away, cursing the day I’d left the bargain on the wheeled variety go by, and carried my dinner to the kitchen. I drained the Hamm’s and put the dinner in the fridge carefully wrapped in Best Buy clear plastic wrap. It didn’t stick well. Maybe I’d break down and buy the more expensive brand next time. Be that as it may, I’d be back before too long. “Styupid yape,” I muttered under my breath as I crushed the can and tossed it in the garbage under the sink.

I got to the Zoo in no time flat. Lucky I guess. Hit a pocket of light traffic at traffic time. Even these people should be at home, I thought. What’s the matter with them?

They were waiting for me at the front gate. There was alot of growling and hooting and hollering going on behind them. The Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, Secretary to the Superintendent in spine-tingling short skirt, Head Zookeeper, Assistant Head Zookeeper, the Ape House Supervisor and Winkin, Blinkin and Nod the three Ape House Attendant Drudges led me to the screaming meany. The Superintendent, dressed in white linen suit, shouted at me the entire way. The din was unbearable. I was literally deaf by the time we reached the offensive primate.

“Baba is special. She’s one of Koko’s apes. Speaks sign language.”

Yeah, right, I thought. An intelligent ape. A berserk intelligent ape. Sheesh.

We gathered around the eight-foot square cage. As the black hairy beast flung itself, not for the first time, at the iron bars and shouted at us incoherently, pearly whites flashing, we stepped back. She dropped to the concrete floor and began hooing and hawing and making furious hand signals. Baba was clearly disturbed. She beat her chest in cliché fashion. She jumped up and down. She flung herself at the bars again, reaching through and punching a huge undulating fist at us. We took another step back. This was one ticked off simian.

The lot of us retreated to the Superintendent’s office. He sat behind his oaken desk with the burnished gold pen and pencil set and the marble paperweight in the shape of a seated elephant and the glass ashtray that looked all the world like a turtle giving birth. The others took up their respective positions, Winkin, Blinkin and Nod on the fringes, near the door. I sat in one of the wing-back brown leather chairs with brass studs.

“Yokay. What’s the big yape saying?”

“We don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“We don’t know.”
“Hyave you called an interpreter?”

“We thought it best to wait til you got here.”

I knew just who to call. I’d worked with her before. Had several of her cards in my card catalogue at home. She’d had lots of experience with outrage before.

“I know just hywho to call. Lyet me see your phone.”

The Superintendent handed me a 1920′s stand-up job that looked all the world like a giraffe. I dialed the orange and white dialer. Modern kitsch, I thought. A dial pulse tone phone.

“Hyellow. Is Deb Brown in?. . .Thyis is Sammy Thimblerigger. . . .Hi to you too, officer. Heh-heh. . . .Dyebbie old girl. Y-it’s Sammy. Hyow ya doin’?. . . . Syorry about that but they’re gonna hafta fend for themselves. I got a hot one. . . Yat the Zoo. . . .Dyowntown. . . .Yeh. . . .Meetcha at the front gate.” I hung up. Passed the giraffe back to the Superintendent. “Problem solved. Dyebbie Brown is a Level III Interpreter. Shye’s good at dealing with myad people. Yif they don’t cuss too much. Shye doesn’t like signing them words. Makes her hyands feel dirty. Yif you know what I mean.”

They nodded. We waited. I went to the gate. Deb was there in no time.

“Hi, Sammy.”

“Hi, Deb.”

“What have you got?”

“A myad ape.”

“And you need an Interpreter!?”

“Thyis is Baba. Yone of Koko’s breed.”

“Oh. I see.”

Baba was still acting up. She quieted down as soon as Deb started in with the hand jive. After a few frantic exchanges, Deb turned to me.

“I can’t say all that, Sammy. She says she wants George.”

“George is a male?”

“George is a human male. She says she loves him and must have him.”

“Thyat’s disgusting.”

“She says they talked for some time. He said he loved her, blew her a kiss and disappeared.”

“Yand she wants him back?”

“Yes. She says she’s ready to make a commitment.”

“Yokay. Lyet’s go byack to the office. They’ve got cameras. Syee?” I pointed upward and waved.

We got back to the office. Deb and I sat down in the wing-back brown leather chairs with the brass studs.

“She wants George. Apparently some guy came by and made a pass at her. She’s ready,” Debbie reported matter of factly.

“I see you have video camera coverage. Cyan we see the filum?”

“Boys?”

Winkin, Blinkin and Nod departed. We waited.

“They should be ready now. Shall we go?”

The Superintendent led us all to the Security Booth. We all crammed into the small room behind the seated Security Guard in his mauve and blue epauletted uniform. He sat before a wall of 12″ TV screens. TNTC. He pointed to one.

“Dis heah is da ape cage camra.”

“Whyat time did Baba begin exhibiting this behavior?”

“I dunno. I wadn’t on den.”

“Syuper?”

“Winkin, Blinkin and Nod?” he asked in turn.

“About 2 PM,” they chorused in three-part harmony.

So, we had the Security Guard backtrack to about 1 PM. Sure enough, there was a man dressed in blue serge and red tie signing to Baba. Baba became excited. She came right down to the bars. They signed some more. The gent signed “I love you” and blew Baba a kiss. As he turned away, the camera caught a full facial.

“Thyat’s our man! Whyat’d he say?”

“I’m embarrassed to say. But the nicer parts were that he loved her and he wanted to marry her and something about a big banana. He’s kind of awkward at signing. She’s easier to understand.”

“Thyat’s our George!”

“Georgie Porgy puddin’n pie, kissed the girls and made them cry.”

“You’re perverse, Deb.”

“Just a little levity. May I go home now? I’ll send you the bill.”

She left. We got a picture of the perp. I went about my business. I’m a private eye.

To make a long story short, we found our man. Baba was insistent. There was nothing we could do. The long and the short of it is, if you go to the Downtown Zoo, you’ll see Baba and George together at last. George looks a little sheepish, though, without his suit.

 

 

Jimsecor is a long time social activist. As a playwright, he fell in love with Absurdism and this approach to writing has stayed with him. He’s written essays and articles and award winning tanka, become over-educated and traveled the world. His latest work is Det. Lupée: The Impossible Cases. But the very first detective mystery was the above, a flight of fancy. He can be found at home or at http://labelleotero.wordpress.com.

 

 

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ALCOHOLISM By Mary Firmin

dreamstime_xl_12568801I’m sure most will agree that Alcoholism is a Family Disease. Most families have at least one member of the family who is probably alcoholic. Crazy Uncle Joe who is always falling down at Holiday Parties; cuckoo Aunt Sally who rarely leaves home but always accepts the deliveries from her local liquor store. And, even more sadly, there are the young people: sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, and cousins, some who are afflicted with a drug addiction or even dual addictions. But addiction is all the same: A KILLER! It kills hopes, dreams, potential, expectations, family relationships, and sometimes even the addict himself.  I know of many families who have lost a son or a daughter to an overdose. or to a long prison sentence for mistakes they made while under the influence. You just have to look at the list of celebrities who have lost family members to this dreaded DISEASE. And it is a disease. It is an allergy of the mind, body and spirit to an addictive substance, whatever that may be. Alcoholism is cunning, baffling and powerful. It is the one and only disease that tells you don’t have it. Some scientists now believe that Alcoholism is GENETIC. While the studies are promising, the exact gene has not yet been discovered.  Whether it is inherited or caused by environmental conditions, no one knows for sure, but the investigation is ongoing and every day we learn something more about this often fatal disease.

The good news is that there is a tremendous amount of help out there. The bad news is that Help is not for people who NEED it but for people who WANT it. I did not have that information when I went to my first twelve step meeting more than forty years ago. I didn’t particularly want to be sober, I just wanted all my problems, especially those associated with drinking, to go away, and if I had to go to a few meetings I could do that. But that was not the case. I could not stop drinking. And I continued on that destructive path until I had lost every single person that I loved and everything else that had any value in my life. It was only when alcohol brought me to my knees that I truly asked for help. And so, on March 24th, 1975 when I wanted to be sober, when I decided to do whatever was necessary to keep me sober, and agreed to keep on doing it on a daily basis, it was only then that I became a sober woman. On March 24th this year I celebrated 39 years of sobriety. Now that is a miracle! And it has been an incredible ride. I have met many wonderful people who have become my lifelong friends; I was married to a handsome, fascinating man for thirty years until he recently passed away. I have a beautiful family and have experienced a life I could never even have imagined unless I had WANTED to be sober thirty-nine years ago. But most of all, it has been FUN! It is not the death sentence I thought it would be. I have now been sober for many more years than I drank — and that is quite a feat.

If you, a friend, or someone in your family has a problem with Alcohol or Drugs there is an amazing amount of help out there—and you can beat it if you WANT to!

I have prevailed ONE DAY AT A TIME for 39 years.

Mary Firmin

Help for Alcoholism:

 

BIOGRAPHY OF MARY FIRMIN

 
Educated in England and Canada, Mary Firmin has enjoyed several careers. After ten years as a ballroom dance teacher for Arthur Murray’s, she settled in Santa Monica, California, raised her family, and sold Real Estate while attending writing classes and seminars at U.C.L.A. Ms. Firmin wrote a society column for the Palm Canyon Times, and is past President of the Palm Springs Writers Guild. She is a long-time member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Romance Writers of America,. Mary has three grown children and presently resides in Rancho Mirage, California. Mary is the author of the award-winning mystery novel, Deadly Pleasures, and many short stories.

 

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Reach For The Light

Reach for the Light Pictures For purposes of beautification, or some other landscapers’ reason, someone planted this tree in a dark corner surrounded by buildings.  This place really is not the most ideal spot for a plant of any kind, as plants do need sunlight to grow.

Fortunately for plants though, they have developed a number of strategies to capture the maximum amount of sunlight through their leaves. As we know from looking at plants on a windowsill, they grow toward the sunlight to be able to generate energy by photosynthesis.

The plants make use of a hormone called auxin to help them in this process of moving towards the light. So needed, as after they use up their limited nutrition of starch and lipids germinating in the soil against the gravitational pull.  They really do need to find another source of energy to keep on growing. This is the process of phototropism.

Look at how amazingly, this tree exhibits that process.  It has elongated its limbs to be able to reach for and obtain the sunlight for its growth.

Now how about us humans?  I think it is just a little bit more complicated for us.  We have a little more than just growing to do.  And we have to do it on so many levels. Physical, emotional, spiritual and with our minds.  The physical part is probably the easiest for us. Our genes dictate for the, short or tall, blue or brown eyes and the like. Add the right food and nutrition , and we grow. The mental, the emotional and the spiritual are a little more complicated.

The mind develops over time and changes as we grow through the stages of life too.  Our emotions affect us all in so many different ways too! Negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, negativity, frustration and depression cause chemical reactions in your body that are very different from the chemicals released when you feel positive emotions such as happy, content, loved, accepted.

Spiritually, you grow in time, over time and through a lot of situations in your life.  It takes a lot of work to know who we are at any given time in our lives. And even more so;  if your life has been impacted in a negative manner of any kind. And yet still, knowing your beliefs will give you a sound basis upon which to build.

Reaching for the light is what this tree that was planted in such an inopportune place does.  And it is my hope that we too as humans can reach for the light in our own lives when a time that is inopportune for us presents itself. An inopportune time can be described as not opportune, inappropriate, inconvenient, untimely or unseasonable, and can be applied to any time and or situation in our lives from birth to death, of ourselves or our loved ones, families and friends.

Watch out for others that are having inopportune times in their lives and trying intentionally to create havoc in your own. Take your chances at going it alone in such cases.

Our bodies have amazing healing abilities within itself. Our bodies have many amazing ways of supporting and protecting ourselves.  Our mind will suppress things and bring them up slowly to help us.  Our body can produce endorphins to help us with pain.

And when those are exhausted, I hope that you are surrounded with like minded persons, and if not at least someone to point you towards the help you need to get you through.

It is my hope that when, the time comes in your life that you, like that tree can find a way to reach way down deep within you to find some kind of way to reach for the light.

 

 Louise

Louise Malbon-Reddix is the Author of:

Stand In Your Anointment – This Too Shall Pass!

See the Trailer & where to buy the book: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfOUVQFaxU0

You can find more by  me at: amazon.com/author/louisempc

http://www.facebook.com/victoryroadwellnesscenter

http://www.victoryroadwellnesscenter.com

http://www.scoop.it/authoring

http://pinterest.com/lmreddix/

And you can Follow me on Twitter – @LouiseReddix - see you there!!!

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The Contrary Canadian

The Contrary Canadian Ebook_pic0002


A casual hike in the early 1980′s changed the course of my life. I was a meteorological technician stationed at Alert, a Canadian military site on the upper tip of Ellesmere Island—just a few hundred miles from the North Pole.

I’d persuaded an army buddy to accompany me on a prospecting trip for some of the unique black crystals that were on display at the base. We spent a few hours working our way through a maze of gullies, fording ice-rimmed streams, even crossing paths with a herd of reindeer. Another thirty minutes of walking over relatively level bench land saw us arrive in a narrow valley formed by the bases of the twin mountains we’d chosen as our destination.

Unaccustomed to such treks, I found myself winded and loath to take another step. I set down my pack, lowered an aching body to the ground and tried to put my focus elsewhere. It wasn’t long before I noticed the face of the smallest mountain was covered with ugly scars.

“Those are holes left by people who were digging for crystals,” my friend said.

“What about the other one?” I asked, indicating the unblemished surface of the larger sister.

“No one goes up there,” he replied. “No crystals.”

We turned our attention to laying out a lunch of sandwiches, fruit and hot coffee. Then, sitting with our backs against the foot of Big Sister, sheltered from the wind yet able to enjoy the sun, we studied the mountain in front of us and contemplated our next task.

My companion wanted to work some of the existing holes on the lower slopes, but something about those excavation marks didn’t sit well with me. I bit into a sandwich, turned my gaze away and looked up at the pristine slopes of Big Sister.

It came to me then, an old Robert Frost poem entitled The Road Not Taken. The implication seemed obvious: Two roads diverged, and I was going to take the one less travelled. Still, I invested a few moments to make sure I really wanted to give up my chance to acquire the rare stones I so admired. In the end, though, I chose to persuade my friend to change targets, to join me in climbing the mountain no one visited.

And what a climb it was! You’d take a step, sink at least ankle-deep into loose shale, then struggle to keep from slipping backward. Two steps up, slide a step back. Sweat poured. A stitch developed in my side. Lungs clamoured for air. Both of us questioned my intelligence.

Until, that is, we reached the summit and found a cairn that couldn’t be seen from the ground. About four feet wide at the base and just as high, the unexpected mound of rough stones made quite an impression.

“Built to last,” my friend commented.

He and I caught our breath. Then, both being convinced the structure served a special purpose, we began to poke and prod the thing. Our excitement was palpable, and justified. Within minutes we discovered a metal pipe protruding from one corner of the cairn’s foundation. In a hollow behind the pipe was a metal box which contained, written on scraps of paper, the names and comments of adventurers who’d come before us. Some dated back to the early 1960′s.

After adding my name to the cache, I walked to the northern edge of the mountain, leaned into the wind, and stared out over the partially frozen Arctic Ocean. To the east, the mountains of Greenland rose upward out of the sea. Inland and to the west,  the sun glinted off Ellesmere’s peaks. Some twenty years later, I still consider it one of the perfect moments of my life.

An important lesson was offered to me the day I left my name on that mountain at the top of the world. I learned to walk the unbeaten path, began to understand the importance of taking unique, purposeful actions. And over the years, as this lesson became an ingrained part of my life, it slowly evolved into a guiding attitude I call The Philosophy of The Road Not Taken.

The investment world has developed a similar convention known as Contrarianism. Advocates of this path pursue success through views and actions that tend to contradict prevailing wisdom. Sounds about right. Just call me The Contrary Canadian.

 

Clayton Bye is the author of 9 books, has worked as an editor and currently operates his own traditional publishing house, Chase Enterprises Publishing. Visit him at http://www.claytonbye.com or view our products at http://shop.claytonbye.com

 

 

 

 

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