Every news channel all over the world from ABC to Al Jazeera to BBC to IANS in China, had covered Father Cass Radnaezewski’s offer, some with incredulous disbelief and some with joyous celebration, but as the time proceeded from the three o’clock start time and people began to experience what some deemed Utopia, most changed to joyous celebration. It was New Year’s Eve without the drunks everywhere you went.
People who usually walked around with a chip on their shoulder suddenly forgot what or who had made them angry, or if they remembered at all, they decided that forgiveness was healthier for everyone involved. About six-fifteen, Pattie went out to clip some late-season basil from her herb garden and found to her surprise that the fifteen-year-old barren fig tree in her back yard was suddenly heavy with large, luscious figs the likes of which she’d never seen before. In fact all of the fruit and vegetable plants in her yard were thriving. Summer had been mild this year, but they had never grown like this. She hoped the community gardens were doing as well and knew instinctively that they must be. As she rounded the corner of the backyard, she saw Emily pulling up in her driveway.
Emily got out of the car carrying two sacks of fresh corn. “Can you grab one of these, Pattie? I brought two bags-one for you and one for Melanie and Luke. I know Melanie doesn’t keep a garden, and I remember how much she liked corn on the cob when she was little. My garden is growing like there’s no tomorrow, so I thought I should share.”
Pattie smiled. “Oh she’ll be tickled, she will. And you know Luke. He’s got a wooden leg when it comes to eating. I don’t think he’s ever filled up. You should see my fig tree! It’s Father Cass. You know it is. It’s all his doing, it is. That man has blessed us so much, you know.”
“Great! Would you mind sharing? I love fresh figs. My dad had a tree when we were kids, and we used to call it the candy tree. Every time I have a good fresh fig, it reminds me of him.”
“Well of course you can; you can have as many as you want. Come on in. I was just getting ready to turn on the TV. Channel 7 is doing a thing on the Sudan. Apparently it’s started to rain, and I mean really rain. They’ve been needing rain for years and years and years. I guess it’s coming down so fast it’s filling up the rivers, and all of a sudden vegetation has sprouted. It’s a miracle they say.”
Emily nodded. “And it’s only going to get better. It’s drying up where it’s been too wet and raining where it’s been too dry. Crops are growing where they’ve never been able to grow, and for whatever reason, those black market folks have taken a break or something, because all of the aid and food that’s been sent to where it’s needed is suddenly getting through. Father Cass wasn’t kidding, I guess.”
“I guess not, Em. He never was much of a joker. You want coffee?”
“Is life good?”
By six the next morning, reports were coming in from all over the world of unheard of tentative peace agreements and sudden, unplanned cease-fires. In Columbia, in the midst of a gang war between rival drug lords, both sides had simultaneously lowered their weapons and began tending to the wounded. When the injured had been seen to, the soldados mercenararios on both sides began the job of digging graves and burying their dead. Once done, they stood as one and prayed. It was something none of these men had ever thought they would do, and yet for all of them it felt right.
The massive factories in China that employed children as young as eight years old unlocked their doors, and after they were able to convince those inside that there would be no repercussions, the children and others moved out into the fresh air. As they did they were met by aid workers who gave them fresh food and water and then allowed them to rest awhile before making sure each child was reunited with family.
Against all odds at a small table in a café in the West Bank, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, drank glasses of tea and shared a plate of hummus as they quietly and civilly discussed the future of their two tiny nations. Outside the café passersby who happened to look in couldn’t believe their eyes, and would point and whisper but would continue to walk on, fearful that if they stopped, the mirage they were witnessing would vanish in a puff of smoke. Just as amazing was the sound, or lack of it, that surrounded them. There was no gunfire, no sound of explosions; there were no bombs going off, just the sound of people, people walking and people talking. It was new and different and very beautiful.
It was like this all over the world. Guns were laid down. Tanks were abandoned. Enemies shook hands. Crops grew, droughts ended, and floods ebbed. People recognized it for what it was, they were not hypnotized, they were not under a spell. They were just given the opportunity to say, “No more. I don’t want to fight any more,” and they were given the opportunity to say it without any judgment or repercussion. And so it was. It lasted for twenty-four hours and then it ended.
The crops that began to grow did not die, but they would need tending if they were to flourish. People were different. In the final hour there were people who decided that, although it was a pleasant enough recess, twenty-four hours of Utopia was about all they could manage. The majority of these people were either in politics, big business, or the business of religion. And all of them knew exactly what kept their businesses going. Conflict. The world revolved around conflict, and the people who acknowledged it were the people who had the money and the power.
It broke down along similar lines, but it was all essentially the same. War was good for business, really good. When countries went to war, people in business made a lot of money, literally tons of money. No war meant no money; it was a simple mathematical equation. It was a shame that people had to die, but people were expendable. People were born every day. You could always get more people. War was business, and if business was good, then the country was good.
War was patriotic, which meant it was good for the country. Who didn’t love patriotism? And it didn’t matter what country you were from either, although of course America was the best. But really, every country was patriotic about itself, and nobody gets more patriotic than when their country is at war. So war is essentially good for the country.
Conflict is basically how the masses are controlled, and the masses need to be controlled. That’s the whole reason for the church, any church. When people are in conflict, they need the church to tell them which way to think, which way to go. Without the church, people are lost. So if every god is the right god then there’s no reason for church and there’s no way to control the masses.
So essentially Utopia is bad for people, bad for business and bad for America. There’s just no argument that comes down on the right side of utopia.
At Ben’s Deli on W 38th St. in Manhattan, as was their usual habit on Wednesday afternoons, Rabbi David Schein and Rabbi Samuel Blumen sat in the corner booth by the window that faced the street, studiously studying the menu and sipping their hot tea. When Joey, who had worked at Ben’s for the last six or seven years, came over to take their order, Rabbi Schein put down his menu and asked, “What’s the soup today, Joey?”
“Rabbi the soup is beef barley, but we both know you’re going to order the chicken with extra matzo balls, am I right?”
The rabbi nodded. “That’s correct, young man. But now I have also learned what today’s soup is, and it is a blessing to learn something new. Thank you.”
Not to be outdone, Rabbi Blumen also had a question. “It’s never a good idea to assume too much. It just makes an ass out of you and me.” He gave Joey a small satisfied smile and continued. “I’m thinking I might try the special today. What is it?”
“Okay. The special is the Chicken Fricassee with fresh garden peas and carrots and your choice of potato for $18.99. Would you like to try it?”
Rabbi Blumen thought for a moment and then said, “No. That sounds too heavy for my stomach. I’ll have the kasha varnishkas and two…”
“..potato knish. It’s nice to know there are still some things in this world that can be depended upon. Coming right up, gentlemen.”
“Since when is gathering information a bad thing, I’d like to know?”
“We’re getting old, Sam. Young people have no use for curiosity anymore, and they have no use for two old rabbis like us.”
“You’re wrong, David. Aren’t they always looking things up on their devices? Doesn’t that prove their curiosity?”
Rabbi Blumen shook his head, “It would if they spent more than two minutes on the answer, but it seems as if that’s all the patience they have for any information. It’s all about the headline, or the first two lines of the response. No one looks any deeper.”
“You make a valid point, my friend. This priest, this Cass Radnaezewski-did you listen to his speech at the U.N.?”
“You know I did, why would I miss it? Am I a schoolboy, wet behind the ears? Have I not experienced these last twenty-four hours with the rest of the world?”
“Of course you did, David. I wasn’t suggesting otherwise, I was merely beginning a conversation. Drink your tea and take a breath, your face is flushed.”
“I’m fine. Go on.” Rabbi David Schein sipped his tea and waited to hear what his friend had to say.
“So many believed that Jesus was the Christ, the messiah two thousand years ago, but our people stood firm. We knew he was not the one. Was he a great teacher, a great prophet? Yes, to all of those, but no to the messiah. We had many reasons for believing so, all biblical and some stood out more than others; none of which I am willing to argue with you about now. But for me, and I believe, knowing you for as long as I have, the main reason that Jesus was not the Christ, not the messiah, was that he did not bring peace. This man, Father Cass, catholic priest or not, has offered peace, and based on what we have caught a glimpse of, he can indeed deliver what he has promised. Have you considered this?”
“Sam, indeed. It kept me up most of last night. Yes, I have considered it and I have searched my heart, my mind, and the Torah, and I can come up with no other explanation. I believe that is the only explanation that fits.”
“So what happens now? What do we do?”
“What do we do? We pray. We are two old rabbis, my friend. We have no pope, no central government we can turn to for help. We spread the word among those we can, and we pray that those with the power, will use the free will that they have been given for good. That’s all that we can do.”
Rabbi Schein looked at his friend and his eyes welled up with tears. “Yes, free will. You may have noticed that there are some here on earth, that have not been very good stewards of their free will. No, not very good at all. This has me very worried.”
Rabbi Blumen reached across the table and placed his hand over the hand of his old friend and replied, “You also may have noticed that you are never really happy unless you have something to worry about. Have faith in God. He has faith in his people.”