The Introduction to the one and only (1995) edition of Infinite Journeys, Infinite Possibilities by Antonin Leopold Renard:
I am continuously embarked on an infinite number of fantastic journeys, as are you, dear reader. Notice that I did not write “I have taken an infinite number of fantastic journeys during my life.” Of course, I think of my present existence on Earth, my time researching and writing this book, my relationships with my parents and others, and everything else that can be linked to Antonin Leopold Renard as real and present and vital. But I know that my presence in this realm of existence at this time (1995) and in this place (New York City) is an infinitesimally tiny fragment of who and what I am. As with you and with every other living and inanimate thing throughout all levels of existence, I am here and now and here and then and there and now and there and then, forever journeying.
We are all travelers in and through the infinite number of planes of existence that compose both the material and the immaterial world. At this moment, writing this sentence, and at this instant during which you are reading it, we are here and there and now and then and so on into eternity.
If you do not understand this truth or if you are first beginning to comprehend it, please do not be alarmed, because this fact will not in any way endanger your present existence in the here and now or any of your other existences—it will only enhance them all. Those who are unaware of this reality, people who may be referred to, not unkindly, as incognizants, are like individuals who do not understand how the circulatory system operates or who do not comprehend Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. They carry on their daily activities; they may be joyfully happy or they may be desperately sad or they may experience periods of each. You and I, who may be referred to as cognizants, should be happy because we know that regardless of what occurs in any one plane of existence we are present and living in an infinite number of others.
This book is a temperate introduction to the truth of the infinite number of journeys and the infinite variety of possibilities of existence. Read its pages; think; open your mind; and rejoice because we are indestructible elements of the fabric of existence.
Antonin Leopold Renard was born at 12:30 p.m. on November 22, 1963, in his family’s tidy bungalow on the outskirts of Mirebalais, Haiti. His father, who had been dozing during that pleasantly warm early afternoon on his favorite easy chair while listening to Dvořák’s New World Symphony, jumped up and ran to the bedroom when he heard his wife scream. When he examined her, he knew there was no time to drive the sixty kilometers to Centre Hospitalier du Sacré-Cœur in Port-au-Prince, as had been the plan, so he delivered the child. In his role as country doctor, Renard had assisted midwives on numerous occasions and delivered dozens of babies on his own.
The baby slipped effortlessly out its mother and into the eager hands of Dr. Renard, who deftly tied off and cut the umbilical cord and wiped down and massaged the child, who was breathing but not crying, something that Dr. Renard had never seen. “C’est un garçon fin-regardant, mon amour,” he announced to his wife as he proudly held the baby up for her to see. Then, before placing the newborn in his mother’s arms, Dr. Renard looked deeply into the child’s eyes. He thought his son winked at him, but, of course, that was not possible. It must have been an involuntary movement. Dr. Renard smiled and said in English, in which he was fluent, “Here he is, my love, our beautiful boy.”
The record player had been operating on an endless loop, playing New World Symphony over and over again during the birthing process. For that reason, Dr. Renard, with his wife’s approval, named the boy Antonin Leopold. Then he proudly said, “This boy will have an infinite number of possibilities in his life.” Who knows how far he will go in his journey through life.
Antonin’s earliest memory was of the absolute endlessness of the tranquil blue blue sea, which he later thought of as a metaphor for existence. When he first told his parents about this fragment of infantile memory, they laughed and said that it was impossible, for they had never taken him to any part of Haiti from which he would have been able to view a sea. After a great deal of thinking and many hours of research over the course of several years in the little library in the nearby town, the studious boy developed his first glimmer of understanding regarding travel through the infinite planes of existence and the irrevocable interlinking of time and space.
He deepened his understanding of this truth during the years that he worked as an assistant to and companion of Professor Louis Brouard after school and during holidays. After a long, distinguished career as a professor of religion and philosophy at Université d’Etat d’Haiti, the old gentleman had purchased and then retired to a large, colonial country estate on a hillside near Mirebalais. He filled the old house with simple, well-made local furniture, finely crafted carpets, and stunning works of art. Since he had never married and was not close with his family he relied on young Antonin to cook his meals, tidy up his house, help him organize his books and papers in preparation for his attempt to write his memoirs, and keep him company. The two spent hours, far into the night, in the professor’s unadorned study, discussing the history, literature, and culture of their beloved Haiti and how to bring its people out of the abyss of poverty. They also talked about the tenets of the world’s religions, great and minor, and numerous philosophies of existence. Antonin was devoted to the old man, who gave the boy full access to the volumes in his extensive library. By the time Brouard died at the age of 102, Antonin, who was eighteen years old, had read or at least skimmed through most of the 2,000 or so books that the professor had accumulated over the course of his lifetime.
Antonin and his extended family, who composed the bulk of the inhabitants of the little town, and a few former students and colleagues from the university attended the funeral in the ancient church in the center of Mirebalais.
Later that day, when the local magistrate knocked on the door of the tiny house that Antonin shared with his parents, even though they were surprised to see him, they courteously invited in the distinguished visitor, guided him to Dr. Renard’s favorite easy chair, and served him a tall glass of chilled mango juice. After thanking the Renards for their hospitality, the magistrate, who did not even look at the juice, pulled a copy of Professor Brouard’s will from his satchel, explaining that he had read it over the telephone to some of the professor’s family members two days before the funeral. Professor Brouard had willed the manor house, including all of his furniture and personal possessions, as well as his small amount of liquid assets, to Antonin. Dr. and Mrs. Renard were too stunned to speak as they attempted to imagine this unexpected and wildly inconceivable turn of events. Would they move into the big house? How would they have enough money to run it and pay the yearly taxes? Would they sell it? If they did that, where in their tiny house would they be able to fit even a fraction of the lovely furniture and other valuable items left to their son? Antonin, who had just finished packing his belongings in preparation for his trip to the United States to attend college, did what he had not done from the time the beloved professor had died: he cried, but only for a few seconds. Even at this early point in his understanding of the complexity and wonder of life, Antonin believed that, just like time and the universe, human existence is without end and that the professor was still present in an infinite number of renderings in an infinite number of planes of existence. And, even though Antonin understood that the blue blue sea is not limitless, that was what he pictured when he thought of the never-ending quality of life. His parents’ insistence that he had never been anywhere near a large body of water as a small child had proved to be the seed of an idea that germinated and grew and flowered, eventually evolving into his philosophy of existence. His thinking was as follows: If I absolutely remember the blue blue sea and if my parents say that I had never seen it as a child (and I know I have not seen it in the years since) and if I believe that my parents are telling the truth, then I must conclude that I saw that blue blue sea at another time and place, one that did not include my parents.
Antonin, sitting on the grass in Washington Square Park, shivered. Although the people strolling, frolicking, and bicycling all around him were in shorts and skimpy tops on this late September afternoon in 1981, he was stunned by what he considered to be a bitterly cold wind. He held himself close and zippered his jacket up to his neck as he wondered whether he had made a mistake enrolling in a university in North America. If this was considered balmy weather, he did not know whether he would be able to survive when winter arrived. His grades throughout his years of schooling in Haiti had been so high and his scores on the college entrance exams had been so exceptional that he had been accepted by each of the colleges to which he had applied. His parents had wanted him to remain in Haiti, but he hungered to see more of the world, so he had accepted the invitation to enroll in New York University.
Taking comfort in the fact that existence occurs on many planes simultaneously, Antonin thought of the blue blue sea over which he had flown in an airplane to New York. He longed for the inspiration that would come from being in another physical place and time, but, for the past year he had not been able to call to mind any journeys through time and space. He had clear recollections of his travels during previous years, some of which had involved remaining in other dimensions for extended periods of time. It had never bothered him to return to what seemed to be Haiti in the twentieth century, because he believed that was his primary state of existence. He was sure that every living soul had one. But no recent voyages? Why? He closed his eyes, blocked out the sounds around him, and concentrated. Nothing. He knew that he was still traveling, but his inability to recall any of those passages was distressing.
Antonin, shivering and holding the top of his jacket more tightly against his neck, looked at three young women in shorts and halter tops jogging past him. It amazed and confused him to see them in what amounted to beach attire on this cold afternoon. He stood up and walked to his dorm room. That was another shock; after having spent 18 years in a small but comfortable house with his mother and father, he now shared a cramped room with a stranger. Even though he had prepared himself as much as he could for that state of affairs before he left Haiti, it was still a difficult adjustment. His roommate, Vincent Romanelli, was pleasant enough. He was neat and diligent and did not have any annoying habits, but like almost all of the other students at NYU, his life experiences were very different from those of Antonin.
Before Antonin had eagerly boarded the airplane at Toussaint Louverture International Airport, his father, holding him close, said, “Although most Americans are, by nature, fair minded you must remember that, for the first time in your life, you will be in the minority. Even the American blacks will think of you as different because of your accent, your upbringing, and your ways, so, be positive, but also be ready to be spurned by some people, both black and white.”
Happily, that had not been the case. Everyone with whom Antonin had come in contact had been gracious and kind, but he most certainly felt like a stranger in a strange land—which was odd, because, during his many travels to other planes of existence he had been in stranger places. It was a mystery, which, Antonin decided, was a good thing.
In his classes and seminars on comparative religion, which was his major subject, Antonin was one of the few students who was not planning on becoming a clergyman. Even those who occasionally voiced reservations regarding faith and organized religion were steadfast in their devotion to the Judeo-Christian concept of God. For that reason, when Antonin, who had remained attentive and silent in class from the beginning of the semester, stated, “All beliefs, religious or otherwise, are secondary notions within the greater truth involving the infinite variety and countless planes of existence through which all things, living and otherwise, journey for all of eternity,” everyone in the room, including the professor, appeared to been stunned into bewildered silence. As he had done in all of his classes in Haiti, Antonin had stood while making this declaration. He remained that way for a few seconds as he looked at the professor and his fellow students. At first, Antonin assumed his highly accented English was the problem, and so he started to repeat his statement in a slower, more deliberate manner, at which point Professor Hayes held up a hand and asked him to sit.
As Antonin left his seat at the end of the period, the professor gestured to him. Without any preamble, he said, “Mr. Renard, you are free to say anything you want in class, within the boundaries of good taste, but please understand that this is not a philosophy course. We are not discussing theories and odd ideas that emerge from cults and radical social organizations. In this class, we talk about the beliefs and rituals and histories of known religions. Do you understand?”
“Yes, professor. I am truly sorry that I offended you.”
“You did not offend me. The thing is, once we start bringing unusual philosophies and odd perspectives into the mix we waste a great deal of time.”
Antonin nodded in agreement, although the professor’s words burned in his ears. Then he said, “I understand.” His own words scalded his tongue and left him feeling short of breath. He never again attempted to discuss his understanding of the infinite planes of existence with fellow students or his professors, but he was not dismayed because, near the end of that semester, he traveled extensively. As in the past, the journeys occurred mostly at night, but he knew they were not dreams. The richness and colors and smells and other sensations of those fantastic voyages were too real to be simply scrambled nocturnal images. On one particularly long journey he inhabited a different kind of body—he was short and muscular and of a species other than human. He rose through the ranks in that society to a position of great authority and respect, spending his days reclining on a pillowy-soft bed of fragrant multi-colored blossoms and his evenings sleeping at the bottom of a blue blue body of water in which he was able to easily breathe through gills behind his ears. When he found himself back in his then-primary existence, his dorm room at NYU, he was disappointed, because that rendering of existence was banal and humdrum compared to the one from which he had just returned.
Since there was so much that he did not understand about planes of existence he decided to conduct research at the NYU library and the New York Public Library. He was sure that once he had answered all of his questions and had put his understanding of existence down on paper he would be able to convince others to at least consider the subject. He had long ago stopped talking about it with his parents because they had told him that his beliefs were sinful.
His research included studying the philosophical and religious beliefs of the Incas, Aztecs, and other New World ethnic groups, along with those of Asia, Africa, and the Enlightenment thinkers of Europe.
He spent summers in Haiti, enjoying his mother’s cooking and taking long walks in the humid hibiscus-scented woods surrounding his parents’ new home. With Antonin’s consent, shortly after he had left for college, they had sold Professor Brouard’s house and possessions, but not his books, and, after selling their old home they had purchased a larger one a few miles away. When Antonin was there he continued to read and think, but he itched to return to New York, where he would have access to the books that he needed for his research.
At the beginning of his senior year at NYU Antonin completed his study of the planes of existence. He had made a number of modifications to his original theory, the most significant being that there is no primary version of life; at any instant, one’s plane of existence is as valid as all others. He stayed up for hours each night after he had completed his regular school work, painstakingly reviewing and organizing the mountains of notes that he had written over the course of the previous three years. Then, once he had put together a comprehensive outline, he began to write what he assumed would be a compact explication of his theory of the infinite levels of existence. A bit over 300 pages later, he stopped writing. Then he spent four exhausting months reading and revising and reading and revising his manuscript.
Finally, on a chilly Sunday afternoon in February 1985, he sat back and sighed. The manuscript was complete. Then, knowing that this was to be his life’s work, in this and in all other dimensions of reality, he read it again from the beginning to the end. He smiled with satisfaction and shut his word processor. He had a full six hours of sleep that night, the most he had enjoyed at any one time in any plane of existence in months. Most of the publishers and literary agents to whom he sent inquiry letters regarding his manuscript, which he called My Journeys Near and Far, replied with polite rejection letters. A few sent form letters. Some did not reply to him, but he was not disappointed; he knew that, in another plane of existence, his manuscript was being published. However, since he wanted it to be available in this realm of existence too, he continued to reach out to agents and publishers.
Right before he graduated from NYU Antonin applied for the position of lecturer of religious studies. When he was offered an adjunct slot, he accepted. At the same time, he enrolled in the graduate program in comparative religion. During the following ten years, during which he became a tenured professor (and embarked on many journeys to a dizzying variety of times and places), he was too busy to think about his manuscript. Then, during a break in early 1995, finally accepting the fact that no publisher would be willing to put out his book, Antonin brought a copy of it to a small printing business in Greenwich Village, Gotham Printers, where he paid $2,495 to have 500 copies of what he now called Infinite Journeys, Infinite Possibilities printed and bound.