Chapter One - Random Thoughts
Sipping her hazelnut almond milk chai latte, Pauline considered her options. She had wanted to lose weight for several months now, and tried several diets, unsuccessfully. It didn’t help that there was too much leftover Halloween candy around the office today. Why could people not stop eating crap? She had sent her husband to buy the Halloween candy for at home, as an attempt to delegate, since he had the week off work. She even told him what she liked, some of which was sold out and some of which he replaced with what HE liked. Which was fine. Unfortunately she had just had dental work and could not eat the chewy caramely types she loved, or the Neopolitan coconut squares, for fear of pulling out her crown and fillings. In the last year she had been a test subject for two diets that were subsequently featured in a nationwide women’s magazine. The diets were fairly structured, but easy enough to understand, and she was paid for the trials, but did not lose any weight to speak of. She had tried Slo-Carb, Belly Fat Cure, Eat to Live, Beauty Detox, and just a basic low carb diet. She remembered when she was pregnant with her (now 28 year old) son, she had gained 36 pounds, but she lost it again in 8 weeks, fit into her pre-baby clothes, and went back to work. She had done it by avoiding bread, potatoes, rice, and desserts. She knew now, of course, that that was a lower carb diet. Most diets worked for a while now, but the weight either crept back on or the weight loss stalled. What to do? She even thought she was eating too much on these diets at times. The diets that specified serving size and specific foods seemed to be too filling. Was she underestimating portion size, since it was just a pain to measure the food? How had she put on 30 pounds in the last 5 years? She had struggled to lose 14 pounds in the last 10 months, but the holidays were right around the corner.
It was amazing how many different food “experts” were out there. The magazine she worked with on the two diets had a different diet every WEEK, with its corresponding expert. And the recommendations conflicted. Then there were the opinions of the online school she had attended, until it went out of business. How to recoup those funds?? It sure would have been more practical to put them toward, say, a new furnace. And every week it seemed there was at least one public television special, in conjunction with a fundraising effort, with yet another different plan or way of eating. They went into far more detail than anyone wanted to know about the colon and what horrors might be lurking there. Was that even possible? Of course not everyone is built the same. Not everyone needs the same type of plan. It would depend on one’s metabolic makeup, for one thing. Some people can’t metabolize sugar properly. And it isn’t good for anyone. But even the “experts” through the years had not agreed on health topics. Aside from true advances in medicine, there had been some very unusual practices through the years. John Harvey Kellogg had founded a health institute and believed that “Putrid, foul-smelling stools are an indication of intestinal autointoxication, and are due to an excess of protein . . . or to decay (stasis or stagnation) in some part of the colon. (Kellogg, n.d.)” Hence, he advocated enemas and a vegetarian diet. This stemmed from his Seventh Day Adventist beliefs, who also believe that meat is too stimulating and incites lust. Believing that the colon should be cleared two to three times a day, he recommended roughage, and even lubrication in the form of a spoonful of mineral oil with meals. Incredibly, he even stated that if the colon was unencumbered, vomiting would never occur. Regular mealtimes and no snacks were advocated. Then there was Mesmer, whose theory Mesmerism was a type of vitalism, a class of theories involving energy transference throughout the body and between life forms. Another practice which may still be used today in some cultures was bloodletting, or bleeding, either with leeches or simply by cutting the skin. This was said to remove toxins that resided in the blood. Unfortunately the practitioners were at times too zealous, causing the loss of too much blood and subsequently loss of life. Nowadays, diets were often a version of a low carb diet, but eggs had gone in and out of fashion, as had fructose, coffee, red meat, all meat, fancy South American fruits, Hawaiian fruits, yogurt, just about anything that could be sold to gullible or desperate Americans for a profit. It’s said that Baby Boomers would try anything so as not to age.
Getting married had changed her diet as well. Her husband ate a lot more salads than she ever had, which is good, since it caused her to do the same. But he also ate more snack foods. She had never had chips or ice cream in the house, and now in the spirit of fairness she did. Despite her being allergic to dairy, she could not resist ice cream at times but paid for it later with painful symptoms. According to what she had been reading lately, this could cause inflammation which can actually cause weight gain.
Her training in Holistic Health came in handy, in that she knew what was nutritious and what was not. She knew the number of calories in fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. But how many times did she make conscious choices? Eating what was truly best for her and her health? So often she was too tired or busy to go to the store, so she would eat what was in the house (or go out). Sometimes if there was a free lunch available at work, she would eat it, even though it was not the best thing. If she had to live on pizza, she thought, she would go to an early grave, as it made her feel ill, though that was most often what the free lunch was. Ideally-she should eat salads and fish.
She often amused herself by looking in other people’s grocery carts to see what they bought. So often it was frozen meals, soda, white bread, desserts. Sometimes the person’s health appeared to correlate with their choices, sometimes not. Once she saw an obese woman with 6 boxes of Special K in her cart. On the front of each box was printed the teaser, “Lose 10 pounds this week!” It was just interesting. She and her husband had also started watching food related films. You would think she knew everything there was to know about nutrition, but she still did not lose the weight she wanted to lose. She had even read a book about Orthorexia, a disorder of worrying about what you ate, and considered that she might have that condition.
In short, she probably thought about food too much. Had she always? As a teenager she had experimented with eating different foods before bed to influence dreaming. Later she read that Vitamin B6 caused enhanced dreaming and so she tried that (it worked). She had to think that dreams had some meaning, if only to a writer. A very memorable book series she had read was the Carlos Castenada series on being apprenticed to a Yaqui sorcerer. Aside from the drugs they ingested, they did utilize the dreaming state as part of their life. Part of their theory was that the dreaming self and the waking self were living two separate lives. One was always dreaming while the other was awake. In their world, dreaming was very meaningful indeed. In fact, it could have critical importance to remember what you dreamed.
She realized there were other areas in her life she did not make conscious choices. She remembered she had noticed years ago when people didn’t decorate, but just used the things they had. She realized she was now doing the same thing, and calling it frugality. She always bought what was on sale, and had lost touch with what she actually wanted.
When is the last time in her life she made conscious choices? Had they always gotten her into trouble, so she gave up?? It was before college . . . she couldn’t really decide on a path after high school. She wanted to go to art school, but didn’t have the money. Was that the turning point? So why pick anything if it’s not what you want anyway? It’s not all about what I want, she told herself. Sometimes there is a need to be practical, even a greater good. Like what will support me? What will create a good future for me and for others? True, art is a very tough market. You work for yourself mostly, and if people don’t like your paintings, you make nothing. No health insurance either. She guessed that might be it. Giving up on her dream of becoming an artist created this great black hole of apathy. Once she started working at office jobs, which seemed secure but were not spiritually or emotionally fulfilling or mentally challenging, the apathy grew.
She ended up in an unfulfilling major at a liberal arts college but took the artsiest classes she could find. Something deep within her, however, was growing darker. She became withdrawn and depressed. She was bound to rules from childhood and felt she could not grow and develop as a person.
The people she met at school only wanted to do drugs and skip class, and she didn’t feel right doing that. It began a downward spiral of friends who were not really friends, just people who wanted someone to do wrong along with them. How did she get this way? She frequently drank and finally realized the mistakes she was making. She knew she had to take responsibility for her life and began taking steps to do things “the right way.”
Thinking back further, she remembered she enjoyed climbing trees. There were huge trees in the woods behind the house, and some were excellent climbing trees. She enjoyed spending time alone as a child and would even set an alarm clock in the summer to get up and go out in the woods in the morning before anyone else was up. Once she climbed a tree to avoid a school dance, because a boy she didn’t like asked her to go. If she wasn’t available to come to the phone-she wouldn’t have to tell him no. In the spring, her family made their own maple syrup and she liked that too, emptying the sap buckets from the dozen maple trees scattered around their property. Her mother had made it her mission to make every experience an education one. By the time she was out of high school she remembered the names of many trees, flowers, birds, and stones, and because of the way her memory worked she never forgot them.
There was a time she enjoyed playing with occult practices. Thinking back, she thought it was likely the unknown and mystical aspects of these practices, but sometimes people take up those practices to exert control over their lives. Did she feel she didn’t have any control? It was possible. She had an older brother and an older sister who completely dominated the family dynamics. But what could she hope to gain from the occult? She had grown up in the church. Knowing now that the occult is not compatible with Christianity, she had left it behind, but she was still drawn to yoga and Eastern religion at times. The turning point had been when she was married to someone who was convinced he was psychic. But he must have been wrong, or at least been a liar, when he swore he would love her forever. Her friends joked that he couldn’t have been that good a psychic, if he didn’t see it would fail. During their marriage, he started taking channeling lessons from a professional psychic/minister/friend. She coached him to allow alien spirits to take over his body, and he swore that he felt something pushing “him” to the back of himself and “it” pushed to the front and spoke through his bodily apparatus. However, he looked like the same old guy to Pauline. He didn’t say anything earth shaking. He didn’t look any different. But why would you let a potentially demonic spirit take over your body? She had felt danger there. He did Tarot card readings for money, meditated every day, and kept crystals in a box with pictures of things he wanted. He never got them. He had tried to find others like him in their small town and finally moved to a cheesy resort town out west where self proclaimed psychics abounded. It seems like the dynamics of friendship with those people would be unusual, to say the least. You would know what everyone was thinking, and they would know what you were thinking. Wouldn’t you run out of things to talk about? And if they all had the same job you were trying to do, it seems there would be fierce competition. I guess that’s why it was a tourist town . . . a never-ending deluge of tourists coming through to have their palms read, or cards dealt, or consulting whatever means the particular psychic would use. It seemed to her suddenly like a form of idolatry. Putting your faith in cards or stones or candles . . . how could those lifeless objects control anything, know anything, or tell you anything? And constantly dealing with strangers . . . maybe it was for people who couldn’t commit. This was certainly true in his case. She had seen much of this in his life when they were together. He even kept changing cell phone providers and at one point determined they did not need a home phone. She suddenly realized that that effectively cut her off from anyone he knew that she didn’t. His friends were not their friends. Maybe they didn’t even know he was married. Toward the end, she had been with some acquaintances and when she mentioned she was married to him, a young girl who apparently spent a lot of time and money on her physical appearance to the neglect of her personality, got a confused look on her face and said only “But he told me . . . “ and then stopped, obviously putting two & two together where I had not known there were any other numbers involved. Within two weeks he announced his intention to divorce. Her best friends tried to console her by asserting that he must be gay. She was fit, she was attractive, even looked ten years younger than she actually was.
She had prayed in renunciation of the occult. Was there more she needed to do? He had invaded her dreams at night for years after he cruelly divorced her on the eve of her having major surgery. In retrospect, the timing did give her several weeks to stay home and deal with the rejection and adjust to her new life, but of course he justified away any sense of cruelty. “Is there ever a good time?” he said. His occult practice went against what she had been taught in her upbringing, indeed against what was expected of her, and so of course it was for the best that he had ultimately rejected her. She prayed and prayed for the marriage, to no avail, and so she began instead to pray for his soul. She enjoyed a quirky sense of satisfaction when she could tell he was squirming inside. His evil was warring against the purity she was directing at him and he did not like it. There was so much wrong with this picture. What drew her to the occult, and what was wrong about it? Chaos-she liked interesting things happening in her life. Challenge-she liked to learn new things. Control-everyone wants to control their life in whatever way they can, and the occult offered this promise, although never really made good on it. Only God has any real control over our lives. Contradiction-she had always been a contradictory sort, though it really was only that she could see other sides to any situation, and not that she wanted to argue. So this practice gave her a chance to be contradictory. Camp-summer camp was where she first tried several things in her life. Smoking was one. The Ouija board was another. Creativity-she was an artist at heart and the occult gave her an outlet for her creativity. She could dress a little different, eat a little different, decorate a little different, and really have fun with it. Finally, community. She genuinely enjoyed the quirkiness of people who were drawn to the occult. Hence, these practices were dangerous to her. There was so much that appealed, and yet she could ultimately be in danger of losing her soul and her eternal life. The only possible thing to do would be to minister to and help others with the same tendencies.
Is this why she felt numb? Were childhood rules too confining for her? Where could she make her own decisions? Why, oh why, did she have so much trouble with this? But she felt she had hit upon something. Something in the expectation for her to follow rules, had set up this midlife obsession with food and eating perfectly. And now, at a time in her life when there were several large scale stresses for her, now is the time she could use some control. She discounted the draw toward the occult. That just didn’t work for her and who she was now. What else could she do to take control of her life, to plan out what and who she wanted to be, and to become it?
Perhaps there was a Christian spirituality or mysticism that would hold her attention. She had read somewhere that by taking small steps and making conscious decisions there, eventually a person would grow into an individual making every choice in a conscious way. And she had been trying to control her diet for a long time. Why not start with something easier? She knew she was artistic. Why not start by decorating a room in the house, or fixing up the yard? She would have to plan it from start to finish. She didn’t want to continue to live life by default, making the best she could of what came to her by chance.
Her brother’s family was coming over for Thanksgiving. She wanted to get the house in better shape before they got there-since it was their parents’ old house and they would be curious to see how she redecorated and made it her own. Luckily Tyler’s father had been a prolific painter and art collector. So she got the dining room set up for company, and he hung several of the paintings and arranged the sculptures. She was really going to love making this house their own. She had finally figured out a new way to go about decorating. She had been trying to first of all fit all the furniture in somewhere, and make the rooms functional. But what next? Finally, she hit upon the idea of detailing each room. Just as you would detail a car, you could detail a room to prepare it for company. Put away all the clutter, and clean the room, but then envision the room’s perfect incarnation and make it happen. You could pick up items to personalize it at second hand stores, paint the walls, and things of that nature. So her favorite room was going to be the office upstairs. They had such an incredible view out the back of the house that she had immediately claimed the larger upper room for their office, and it had nice large yellow leather furniture where she could sit and drink tea and look out the back windows. Still waiting to see their first deer, but she knew they were out there.
She remembered a time a few years back when she was re-exploring her spirituality. This perhaps was the beginning of the reinvention or maybe just the discovery of who she was at the heart. She tried several different churches. She tried to “fit” yoga and positive thinking type approaches into Christianity, since she knew Christianity to be true by this time, but she also wanted to explore these other options. Since they were not specifically forbidden in the Bible, were they ok? Since they were apparently abilities inherent in the body, wouldn’t God have created them? She discovered that this was not the issue. The issue was that the individual wanted to take control, once again, by these methods, instead of relying on God to provide everything and make it all work together. But wasn’t relying on God too passive? How much were we expected to exert effort of our own, and by what methods? She decided to tackle this one area of her life, which while not easier than losing weight, was certainly the most important thing. She began reading the Bible, one of those “in a year” programs, and began noticing things she had not seen before. For instance, God gave a lot of instructions in the Bible for building the tabernacle, containing certain structures, and gold fittings, and curtains. How did they do all that in the wilderness? She made note of it and went on. She had so many questions about the Bible and about life. How could she ever hope to understand herself?
How much control do we really have over our lives anyway? There was a film a few years ago that made millions and it was on this very topic. If you could picture something in your mind, and believe it to be true, the “universe would conspire” to create it. People think they have control, and they do, to a point, but sometimes things happen to everyone that they had no control over. What had brought her to this coffee shop today? Was it truly a random event? She began to pay attention.
Was there someone she was supposed to meet? No, no one else was in the coffee shop. Why was it so empty? The molasses cookies and orange peel scones smelled so good. The marble topped tables that didn’t wobble and the recycled vinyl flooring that somehow didn’t squeak, creak, or get cold, said quality to Pauline. She enjoyed quality surroundings. The wide mouldings around the windows and doors, large glass front cases, leaded glass in the windows, and round ceramic mugs with no chips, seemed so comforting. Looking around, she noticed the bulletin board. Maybe there was something there. She walked over and perused the slips of paper and business cards. Expensive puppies for sale; babysitters looking for work; then she saw something of interest. There was a book exchange group, meeting that night at 6, on 24th Street near the railroad tracks in a vacant storefront. This was handwritten on a sheet of ordinary white paper with blue lines. She wondered what kind of people went to this group? Her husband would have her believe that people didn’t read books anymore. True, she loved her e-reader, if only for the sheer plethora of options when she wanted something to read, but there were times when she needed to look up facts or review instructions for a recipe or craft. At those times she found paper books easier to navigate. And then there was always the looming apocalypse . . . people laughed when she said that. Just last week Hurricane Sandy wiped out the power in Manhattan and flooded the subways. They were still cleaning it up and the suburbs were not slated to have power restored for two more weeks. E-readers wouldn’t be much good in a case like that. What if there was a conspiracy to limit knowledge, “they” switched everything to e-books, and then shut down the power system? She did have a lot of actual books, and made a mental note to pick up survival books in hard copy. She could never resist buying a book that looked interesting. And what would she bring to trade? It would be a shame to take something she hadn’t read yet, but she would look and see what she had. She tore off a ragged slip with the details, poured the rest of her chai into a to-go cup, and went out to her car.
The bronze colored Kia Sephira still looked good to her. She had bought it the year before to support her concierge business. It wasn’t too big, but provided plenty of room to pick up and deliver items, give people rides, take pets to the groomer, and was big enough that she felt safe driving it. It was a windy afternoon and the leaves were almost gone off the trees. She loved this time of year. The crisp fallen leaves swirled about in the wind and had a pleasing aroma. The clouds were deep purplish in hue and thick like dumplings even though the next few days were forecasted to be dry. Maybe they could get the lawn mowed one last time before it snowed. There was always so much to do. As she drove, she noticed piles of leaves next to the road. The city was supposed to pick them up in a week or so. We should compost a few, she thought.
She drove into her driveway and was met by her husband walking out of the door. “What are you doing home?” she asked. “An alarm went off-the power is out,” he replied. “What were you thinking for dinner?” “I wasn’t,” she answered. “I have a meeting tonight.” Her eyes fell on the unwashed dishes in the sink, and the floor that needed vacuuming. “At 6:00.” As an act of good will, she looked in the refrigerator and thanked God she had bought sliced turkey and cheese from the deli yesterday. “Don’t leave that open too long,” Tyler warned. “There’s stuff for turkey sandwiches,” she reported, closing the door. “I’ll be upstairs for a little bit.”
Her office was upstairs. They had bought this house a few months ago when her parents moved to assisted living. It was cool living in the house she grew up in, but a bit surreal at the same time. They were still getting things in order; his, hers, theirs, and theirs (her parents had left behind some furniture and other belongings they did not want to keep). So some of it was assembled into a makeshift office. She had yet to set up an art studio. A few years ago she had decided that, art school or not, she could still paint. So she bought paints, canvas, and brushes, and had painted 30 or so pieces before she tired of it. She had even sold a few and given some as gifts. The rest were now hanging in their home. She had had a lull, however, and gave her painting supplies to her niece. But she still thought about painting when she saw art she liked. Just last night at the Italian restaurant in their neighborhood, over the salmon and Malbec, she admired an oil pastel over their table of what she supposed was a Tuscan landscape. Those tall thin cypress trees and rolling hills. She could almost picture an ancient stone villa. Her own paintings were of many different styles. She preferred landscapes in art in general, but she had painted many abstracts, a few still lifes, three angels, and tried a portrait that did not work out. When someone described the portrait saying, “they look like they have Down’s Syndrome”, she painted something else over it. She wondered which painting might have those children under it . . . she couldn’t remember.
In the office, she attempted to flick on the light switch, and then remembered the power was off. She looked over the books available. Her most recent passion had been holistic health, but she also had religious books, books on writing, and self-help books. Then, like everything else in their home, there were also books her parents had left behind. Large volumes of historical interest mostly. She selected a knitting book, a health book she did not anticipate needing to refer to, and one of her old college textbooks, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Sitting in the large comfortable leather chairs to look over the books one last time, her eyes fell on an oil pastel she had done a few years ago. It wasn’t even wholly original-she had occasionally attempted to copy pictures in books as practice-but she liked the colors. Soothing shades of deep blue, green and purple in a scene of a sunset over a small pond. She then spotted the magazine pile, pulled a few out of it, and went back downstairs.
Making a turkey sandwich and a cup of jasmine tea, she sat in the dining room and gazed out the back window, letting her green eyes go out of focus. She had seen deer back there, but not since they moved in. She probably didn’t sit still long enough. Now she needed to get the house in at least some order before Thanksgiving since her brother’s family was coming, so she wouldn’t be sitting around much any time soon.
She gathered up her books and found her husband working in the living room. “I’m going to that meeting. I found a notice for a book exchange so I wanted to check it out.” “Does anyone even read anymore?” he countered. “I’ll let you know,” she replied.
She drove to the address on 24th Street. It was a tiny building that she had noticed before, but hadn’t noticed what it was. Walking inside, she felt uneasy as she was the only person there other than the person sitting in an overstuffed chair. It was an attractive younger man, maybe five years her junior by the looks of him, and he had one book in front of him. He smiled at her. “I’m Harry,” he said. I’ve been expecting you. Here is your book.” And he held out a large volume with a very ornate cover. It reminded her of a popular book at Barnes & Noble a few years ago, The Daring Book for Girls, but it wasn’t. It had a teal green cover and was studded with beads. “Are you sure?” Pauline asked him. “Oh yes, of course. This is definitely your book.” Taken aback, she said, “Well-I have these to trade.” Harry selected the one book without really looking at it, almost as if it was just a courtesy to her. “Where is everyone else?” she asked. “Else?” said Harry. “You are the only one tonight.” “What is the program? How do you normally do this? I thought we would have some choices.” “This is all you need,” said Harry nicely but firmly. Well, this is just too weird, she thought. She left Leaves of Grass with him, said thank you, and left again.
She had only been gone from home for 10 minutes. She stopped in the coffee shop on the way back home to look the book over-her home away from home--since it was getting dark and she didn’t know when or if the power was going to be restored. Flipping through the book, she marveled at its beauty. It was one of those antique books with the illuminated letters and ornate drawings. What a strange guy, giving something like this away. And how foolish of her to go and put herself in a situation where she was alone in a strange building with him. Glancing up at the bulletin board, something looked different. She walked over and frowned. The notice about the book exchange was gone. She heard a bell and turned to look. A man walked in who looked vaguely familiar. But once she heard his voice, ordering tea, she knew him. It was a teacher from college, the teacher of her Inner Voice class, where she learned about meditation. How odd he would be in Holland. Last she knew he was living in Colorado, in an ashram, and she knew no reason he would be in Holland. “Rob?” she said to him. He looked at her, blankly. Rob Rowe, right? I was in your classes at Grand Valley. “Oh, how nice of you to remember me. What was your name again?” She told him and he didn’t seem to really remember. They didn’t really have anything to talk about so they went their separate ways after a brief chat and the surrealness of that whole day made her head spin. But, back to the book. As she looked into it, she thought about meditation again. She turned a page, and there was a section about meditation! How interesting. Maybe this was a guidebook written just for her, she thought to herself, and then snorted inwardly and dismissed the thought. How is that possible, she asked herself. She picked up the book and went home, and found that the power was back on.
“Home already?” Tyler asked. “What was going on there?” “Not much!” she replied. “I was the only one there, and this guy gave me this book like he was expecting me. In fact, he said he was expecting me.” “Oh Pauline, that’s just bizarre. You’re lucky you got out of there alive. Don’t I always tell you not to go off to strange places alone? What would you have done if he had tried something?” “He wasn’t like that-he was just an average guy.” “And you knew this after talking for how many minutes?” She sighed. “You’re right. I need to be more careful. It makes me so angry though that you can’t even do anything safely anymore.” “It doesn’t matter if it makes you angry, just be safe, okay??” he said, hugging her. “I don’t want to lose you.”
“Hey, I made waffles for dinner when the power came back on. Do you want some?” “Well . . . all those carbs . . . but they look really good. Sure.” They ate their waffles in silence. “Oh something else weird happened. I ran into one of my old college professors in the coffee shop today. He didn’t remember me though.”
Pauline went to bed to read. Starting at the beginning, she saw that the book was titled “A Guidebook for MCDB”. Weird-those were her initials. She wondered what it meant. Turning a page, she saw the table of contents. Unfortunately the chapters were not titled, only numbered. She always read through the table of contents first, to get an idea what a book was about, and usually skipped to the most interesting sections. For instance, in a diet book, she went straight to the section where it actually laid out the diet, skipping the logic or science behind the food plan. When she got to the first chapter, it began with the page on meditation. “Okay,” she thought. “If this is a guidebook for me-I’d better try it.” She read the description, rolled her eyes, put the book down, and lit a candle. Sitting up in bed, she closed her eyes. It was always so hard not to think about anything. As she sat there, colors began to drift across her mind’s eye like psychedelic clouds. How beautiful. She watched intently as the colors were changing and moving. It was like she had heard the northern lights must look, though she had never seen that. Then she saw a man in her mind’s eye, dressed in white, and walking toward her with his hand outstretched. Was this Jesus? It seemed as if he took her hand and led her away down a narrow path through a beautiful garden. There were flowers she had never seen before, but all of them white. What could this mean? Everything seemed to be white in her vision. But it was so lovely she didn’t want to think about it, only to enjoy it. They came to a garden bench, hand carved out of wood, and he motioned for her to sit down. They sat, and he turned to her. He said, “Read the guidebook. It will help you in days to come, but do not believe it.” And then he got up, and walked away! She longed to follow him but she was distracted and opened her eyes, to find herself back in the bedroom. The Guidebook. What was the meaning of all this?
She fell asleep with the book beside her. In the morning, she awoke from a dream about the same man dressed in white. He had come to her as she walked in the woods, urging her to follow her heart and find her true and authentic self. “I know who you truly are,” he had said to her. “Do not try to be anyone else, because you can’t. I have given you the desires of your heart. Not the fulfillment of those desires-that comes over time and after you have done certain things toward achieving them. But I have given you the actual desires.” “Who ARE you?” she asked. “Jesus, of course,” he said, smiling. “But why are you contacting me?” he asked. “Everyone can talk to me, if they are willing to reach out,” he said. “And everyone can hear me, if they are willing to listen. No man comes to the Father but by me. And the way is narrow and few will take it. You are chosen and I believe that you will listen and obey. By my words, you can enter heaven as the child of God.”
She was blown away by this dream. What WERE the desires of her heart? What was she always drawn to and what made her feel good-like as if time were standing still or something? Now that her school had closed unexpectedly, she had to admit that she had been sorry at times that she had signed up for the Bachelor’s degree. She really didn’t like formal education but very much liked informal education. She didn’t realize how unmotivated she was to finish the Bachelor’s until the school closed and she was faced with decisions to make. She had always wanted to do something creative as her life’s work. Once she had thought she wanted to be a top executive of a corporation, because they make so much money and have extra benefits, but then as she spent time in the business world she realized how much they are responsible for. She really just wanted to do her work and be left alone. So, solitary creative pursuits were perfect. Her concierge business, Lady of Leisure, was the compromise as it did actually bring in an income. She could be alone when she wanted and work with different people, every day that she did work. She would pick up and deliver groceries or other shopping, return clothes that didn’t fit, plan parties, wait for repairmen, arrange rides to airport, theatre, or doctor, and select samples for decorators to choose from. It was fun really. Almost like living someone else’s life for them, for money.
She had grown up in the Lutheran church but had not really pursued God like she thought sometimes that she should. She was so busy, and yet, sometimes she felt she spent time on things that were not that important. When she got time today she would make a list of important and unimportant things. It would be hard to choose-people often asked her to do things or simply expected her to do things. And there was so much more work having a house-things she didn’t know about that she had to learn, and, well, now she had a guidebook. She wondered what else was in there.
When Tyler left for work, she stayed in bed a little longer. Maybe she would make something special to eat today. She read her Bible passage for the day, and it was about seeking after God and not allowing yourself to follow any false idols. Not that she would ever bow down to a piece of wood or stone carving-but she’d read that idols can include your job, your children, a relationship, anything that your life contains that you feel is more important than God. If it takes you away from time with God, maybe you do feel it is more important. She looked in the freezer. There was a roast. She decided to put that in the slow cooker, with potatoes, onions, coconut milk, and mushrooms. This was one of Tyler’s favorite meals and the simplicity of the recipe would leave her time to explore this new practice of meditation, and maybe Jesus would appear to her again. What a blessing that had been. And what did it have to do with the book? After setting up the slow cooker, she picked up the Guidebook again. After skimming over the section on meditation she had read yesterday, she turned the page and found that the next section was on exercise. Great, not one of her favorite things. But on the other hand, she was finding as she got older that it helped her avoid aches and pains if she stayed flexible. That was another practice she could start. She put on some clothes warm enough for this season and went for a walk around the block to think about all the events of the last few days. Where had that Harry guy come from? And why did she run into the college professor? Could they be related incidents? How could she make more good conscious choices in her life, and continue this trend of improving herself? Really, she could reinvent herself. Just decide what you want to do and be and look like, she told herself, and you can achieve it. Not that she could look 25 again, but she could develop her own “look” and maintain it.
She could not get the dream and the meditation out of her mind. Be herself . . . how to proceed? She looked out at the yard. Yard work could be exercise. She decided to start there. Looking at the Guidebook again, she was amazed to find drawings of beautiful gardens right after the mention of exercise. “Guess I’m on the right track,” she thought smugly. She dressed, had tea, and looked at the pictures. It was late fall, so there wasn’t that much to do in the yard but clean up and build structures, but she went out and blew the leaves to the curb, hoping the wind wouldn’t come up and blow them all away again. Picking up fallen branches was bending and stretching, so she did that next and soon had made a big pile next to the backyard fireplace.
Lighting fires was fun for her . . . she had enjoyed that chore even as a child. It seemed so easy to make the yard look neater and to get rid of fallen branches by burning. She was an expert fire starter and the flames soon burned hot, creating an orange glow deep within the cavity of the fireplace her dad had built. She strolled around the back yard to think about what else she could do. Tyler had promised to cut down a few things with a chain saw and she supposed that would open up the space and create a bit more sun down below. He actually had a plan to create a nice landscape in back, with flagstones and a Japanese style garden and a hot tub and a walking path and a barbecue. So anything she could do to move the process along would be helpful. The work now was mostly clearing . . . which sort of had a correlation to the inner work she was doing. She needed to clear out the sludge from her mind, her body, from her life. She pulled some weeds. Maybe she should get the rake out . . . Most of the leaves had fallen and she could pull them back to the compost pile. What about the mental compost in her life? Would it grow anything worthwhile?
After an hour the fire had died down and she had a nice area cleared of leaves. Next, to move some of the rocks. There was an old rock retaining wall, sturdy when built but it was very old and falling down. It was a perfect opportunity to move some of those rocks to other areas of the yard. They could be used in front as accents-maybe that would be a good place to start. She had brought the Guidebook outside with her. Flipping through the pages with drawings, she found a picture of a nice little pile of stones with succulent plants growing all around and on it. That would look good as a focal point near the bottom of the stairs, where the hot tub was supposed to go. She went to get the hand cart they had used for moving boxes when they moved into the house, and was able to wiggle it under a rock and then wheel it over to where she wanted it. Slow, but it allowed her to move much larger weights than she would have by lifting them herself. By using the right tools, you can accomplish things that might otherwise be impossible.
Before long she had a pile of five granite stones. The pile kind of looked like a little pagoda. It only involved lifting one herself to place at the top. She had learned, long ago, the proper way to lift heavy objects by squatting next to it and lifting with her upper body rather than her low back, and bracing her lower arms on her thighs. She wasn’t really into sports, but people often thought she was when they saw her muscular legs. She knew about the benefits of exercise, obviously, and only recently had started thinking about bone density when she entered her 50′s. Weight bearing exercise was supposed to be good for that, so she had a set of dumbbells and a Shake Weight, but also did not avoid lifting objects when she needed to. But she seemed to stay in shape by just doing everyday activities.
It was awkward sometimes not being into sports. Everyone else seemed to be. It didn’t make sense that baseball season went so far into the fall, and overlapped with football. She just didn’t think about it, but tried to pay attention when the big games were on. But, she didn’t really care. How on earth do people develop a large world view, caring about world events and politics and stuff? She had all she could manage with family, keeping up the house, preparing her meals.
Unexpectedly, it started to rain. Well, that would put a nice clean surface on her rock work. It would also finish putting out the fire, so she was glad she could go back in the house and not worry about that. The surrounding woods were so beautiful, and the towering maples had been exceptionally beautiful when the leaves changed color this fall, but the leaves were all down now and getting dry and, well, flammable. Several trees were dead as well. Tyler was supposed to cut those down, at least the small ones, as part of his master garden plan as well as for safety reasons.
Just as she reached the top of the stairs, she heard a loud crack and looked back. A big piece of the leaning willow had broken off and smashed into the old, leaky tool shed. It was leaking, a window was broken, and she had seen a raccoon and mice in there. It was unappealing and she had talked to Tyler more than once about tearing it down or setting it on fire. But, for the time being it was a handy place to keep a few yard tools and a wheelbarrow. Hopefully they were still intact. She would check later. Well, good thing that tree was coming down. Tyler had wanted to cut it but it was huge and also was not on their property. Maybe that was how they did things in California, but she thought they might get in a lot of trouble cutting it down. Nature would take care of it instead.
Pauline went inside and called her mother. “Does the work ever stop?” she moaned. “A great big branch just took out the shed. I’m not sure we can save it now. I’m not sure we need it, though. I told Tyler we should just tear it down and maybe build a new one. What do you think?” Mom lived nearby under the care of staff, but still liked to hear what was going on at the house.
“Do you really need a shed?” her mother replied, predictably. Her mother was the original frugal lived-through-the-depression German housewife. Their house was full of the evidence of the frugality. “You two are young. You can keep things in the garage and bring them down to use them. The yard won’t look so cluttered that way.” Mom always had an answer.
Pauline sat down with a cup of tea and the Guidebook. OK, the yard was coming together. If it hadn’t rained, she would have spread some leaf mulch compost over the remaining flower beds. She still wanted to plant daffodils too for some spring color that would bloom before the tree leafed out and created too much shade to grow flowers. It was supposed to be in the 60′s next Saturday and no rain, so that would be on the list for next weekend. She loved planting. But then, she always loved starting new things. She often had to hold herself back from new projects, like the afghan she wanted to make to coordinate with Tyler’s furniture. Had she gotten enough exercise? Maybe not. She sat the tea & book down and grabbed the yoga mat. She could stretch and relax before dinner. Going into a downward dog, coming up into a lunge, stretching was so therapeutic. Lying on her back, she did the aptly-named Wind Relieving Pose, transitioning smoothly into the reclining side twist with arms out to the sides. Finally, she ended with Legs Up The Wall, supposed to help her vein health.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a flower garden to paint? She might even be able to do watercolors. Was she too isolated though?? Maybe tomorrow she could get together with Satia for tea at the little shop. She decided to call her. “Hey, how are you? I’ve missed you, what have you been up to?” Satia replied with her usual decorating dilemmas of drapes and dining room tables. “What are you doing tomorrow? I wondered if you want to get together for coffee or tea? We could meet at the Way Cup maybe at 11?” Satia agreed and Pauline wondered how much she should tell her. She looked forward to the visit, but decided to play it cool and see what transpired.
When Tyler got home, he appreciated the roast and potatoes, and since the rain had stopped they went for a walk after dinner. He had been in meetings all day and needed to move his body a little. Too often they ended up in front of the television at night. A few blocks from their home was a cemetery, and they sometimes entertained themselves by reading the gravestones and seeing how old they were. Some of the people had been born in the early 1800′s. The oldest stones were written in Dutch and nearly illegible after so many years. Many locally prominent names were included there. Founders of department stores, mattress manufacturers, drug stores, pillars of the community it seemed and who thought about their graves now? Pauline wondered if she and Tyler should be buried there. Or would cremation be preferable? She wondered what happened if you didn’t make any arrangements? Was there a pauper’s graveyard somewhere? Further, she wondered whether cremation or burial was spiritually preferable? If their bodies would be replaced by glorified heavenly bodies, did it matter?