Archive for the ‘Dreams’ Category

Didn’t seem to be a big deal. Fellow came by yesterday. We were sitting at the kitchen table, just chatting, and he asked, “Do you know those little Tedeschi stores?” I just smiled and nodded that I did know them. Maybe my smile gave something away, I really don’t know. However, he followed up with, “What, why are you smiling?

I had to ask, “Do you know the history of the Tedeschi’s?”

“No, whadda you mean?” he asked.

Well, you know me, I’m not one to let an opportunity pass, so I had to tell the story…at least as I know it, and so I began…

Years ago, gosh, I couldn’t have been older than six or seven, we lived on the first floor of a two story house in Rockland, Massachusetts. The house was on Belmont Street, number 51 to be exact. Down the street from us was a little neighborhood grocery store. It was actually attached to the residence, but it had a parking lot that was big enough for maybe six cars. The husband and wife who lived there were Angelo and Katherine Tedeschi. There were days when my dad would take his shotgun and some shells, walk down the street and into the store. He’d yell, “Hey, Angelo, get the dogs and let’s go hunting,” and Angelo would tell Katherine to mind the store, and off he and dad would go to hunt. Remember now, this was late 1940, early ’41. If they were lucky, they would bring home a number of rabbits. Angelo would skin them and put them in his freezer. I have to tell ya, this store was just a little big larger than a two-car garage, so when I say it was ‘neighborhood,’ I mean, if you walked in there, you knew right away who was shopping. They were your neighbors. They knew you. You knew them, and it was a gathering place for neighborhood gossip as well as for picking up that night’s dinner.

It was later in 1941, December 7th to be exact, that America changed. We were drawn into a Second World War. Angelo and my dad were too old to join up, but some of the Tedeschi boys, as I was later told, went right down and enlisted. Ralph, the oldest, went into the Army as an officer. He fought in Europe and was promoted to the rank of major. To his misfortune, he was captured by the Germans. Ralph’s treatment at the hands of his captors was not too good. He was severely beaten. He was urinated on, and a number of other rather vile and despicable treatments were his wont in the camp in which he was held prisoners. He was isolated and thrown in a cell that had a dirt floor. As I understand it, he found a small stick at some point, and that dirt floor of his cell and that stick probably saved his life. You see, Ralph would diagram on that dirt floor his ideas for a new kind of market that he and his family would build when the war was over and he could go home. Different stores, different designs, different this and different that…all on the dirt floor as he was recovering from his beatings and his interrogation. Eventually, Ralph was freed from his captors by Russian soldiers. He was reunited with his family, and he began to plan.

The first “supermarket” opened by the Tedeschi family was on Market Street in Rockland. Ralph’s family, including brothers, Sam, Nick, and Bobby, as well as sister, Etta, were all part of the team. There could have been other brothers, heck, I could never keep track of all of them. Anyway, Angelo and Katherine were able to retire and watch their boys build a small empire. Stores in Braintree, Hanover, and a couple of other towns followed. Eventually, Stop & Shop, another major New England chain of supermarkets took notice. They offered to buy out the Tedeschi’s, and Ralph, as I understand it, drove a pretty hard deal, one that resulted in reasonably good wealth for all members of his family. Oh, and there was another proviso in the buyout. Ralph was prohibited from opening any other supermarket with the Tedeschi name for a period of ten years. Hey, they were all now millionaires, right, so what’s the big deal. Well, not so fast. The Tedeschi family hadn’t gotten to the position they were now in by being lazy and sitting on their collective butts. Within five years, the supermarket bug that had bitten Ralph was back and chomping away. As a result he opened some supermarkets on Cape Cod under the name of his father. They were called, “Angelo’s,” and they were big! As time went on, Ralph turned the business over to his brothers and other relatives. Eventually, another chain came and, once again, purchased the stores.

That, however, is not the end of my tale. My own Mother and Dad were in Florida when Angelo Tedeschi died. They read of his passing in a paper, and Mom called me. “Will you please go to the wake and the funeral and represent our family?” she asked. It was an honor I couldn’t refuse…probably would have gone anyway. When I walked into the funeral home, there they were, all of the brothers, greeting people who had come to pay their respects to this wonderful man who, along with his wife, had raised some pretty damned good kids. Ralph walked over and asked, “Excuse me, but who are you?” I explained that my folks couldn’t come and that I was representing the family because someone from our neighborhood had to be there. I no sooner got the words out of my mouth than Ralph grabbed me in a bear hug and carried me into the room where Etta was sitting with her mother, Katherine. “Look,” said Ralph, “It’s Dickie Bishop!” [Gad, how I hated that nickname…still do]. I spent some time with the family and, really, it was old home week. It was also the last time that I saw Ralph alive.

Years later, my wife and I were spending a vacation in Bermuda. As I was heading for the water at our little beach, a lady ahead of me yelled out to her friend, already in the water, “Wow, not like Green Harbor,” – a beach on the Atlantic to which our my family and all of our friends frequently visited. Being the smart mouth that I am, I responded from behind her, “Not like Brandt Rock either,” another haunt of our neighborhood and right next to Green Harbor. We both laughed and went for our swims. On getting out of the water, I told my wife of the brief encounter which she thought to be rather amusing. About half an hour later, I noticed one of the women talking to a man on their blanket and point over toward me. “Ah, what the hell,” I figured, “might’s well walk over”…which I did and introduced myself. “I’m {can’t remember the first name] Tedeschi,” he said. To which I responded, “Whose are you?” This rather confounded them, and I asked if they were from Rockland. “No,” the man said, “We live in Norwell.” I repeated my question, adding, “Which one of the brothers are you the children of?” It was as though the lightbulb went off, and he responded, “Do you know my family?” I allowed as how I did and asked them what they knew of their grandparents. Turned out that both Angelo and Katherine had passed on before these young people were born. “Did you know my grandfather,” I was asked, and thus, once more, I had the privilege of telling some folks a bit of their own family history. Did I embellish just a bit? Of course, because Angelo and Katherine deserved to be embellished. They, along with their children, believed in and became the American Dream.

I write this not out of a need to tell a story. I write it because another fellow came by yesterday, sat at the kitchen table, and asked if I knew the name Tedeschi. This fellow, too, is an immigrant. He and his mom, escaped from the Soviet Union about thirty-five years ago. He owns a small business, and I can see in his eyes and in his work ethic, that he, too, is pursuing this thing we call the American Dream. I think he’s going to make it, maybe not the way Ralph or his counterparts did, but I really think he stands a good chance of realizing what just about every immigrant dreams of when he or she enters the shores of our United States of America.

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It’s difficult to understand why law enforcement, city, state, and federal, as well as the President of the United States, took so long to state the obvious about San Bernadino. I just don’t comprehend what is so difficult about seeing this couple, dressed as they were, not being immediately identified as ‘terrorists.’ However you wish to slice it, this was a terrorist act. It certainly terrified the crap out of the people who were being shot and those ducking for cover. With the discovery of the ammunition and pipe bombs in the house occupied by that couple and their baby would indicate preparation for a ‘terrorist’ attack. So we’re at war. Is there anyone in the USA who doesn’t understand that? Are there actually people whose heads are stuck so far up…in the sand that they aren’t aware that Americans are considered by some people who actually live and work here, as the enemy. Take a look at Dylan Roof who thought that blacks were taking over America. Can you understand why an ignoramus like that would think such a thing? Who does he see on television when the President speaks? Who does he see when the Director of Homeland Security speaks? Granted, the kid is probably not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he’s probably just a wee bit prejudiced against black folks in the first place. Someone said to me the other day, “I saw a family of Muslims in traditional dress coming in the store and I didn’t panic,” as though that was a major friggin’ achievement. It’s clue time…this country is filled with all sorts of people; some came here to escape terrorism and want to live peaceful lives. Others are here but are nothing but crazy fucking assholes who are influenced by other crazy fucking assholes and who will go out and kill anybody they see who is not dressed or look exactly as they do. They do have sufficient smarts to make certain they kill at a gathering…just walking up and down the street is not going to give one maximum exposure nor maximize your kill rate…riiiight!

To top off our understanding that we are at war, we have public panic purveyors like Donald “I-can-fix-everything-but-I-won’t-tell-you-how-because-I don’t-really-know-what-to-do” Trump. I find it truly difficult to understand how this man became a billionaire. The only thing I can think of is that he bullied his way to riches; he was the loudest shouter in the room; his face got so red, his opponents thought he was going to literally explode and shit would be flying everywhere since he was so full of it, so they gave in. It’s all I can think of. He speaks such ridiculous bullshit that no one in their right minds could possibly believe what he says. And yet, what is he doing? He’s appealing to the frightened, the uninformed, people who don’t know, or care to know, understand or care to understand other cultures. These are the folks who believe that blacks eat only fried chicken and watermelon; they may see hummus in the store so that’s what “they’ eat; Asians eat only fish and seaweed or some other shit like that. They don’t know, and one who preys on their fears such as Trump becomes their hero. The media is proving to be just as gullible. Trump speaks; it’s a sound byte they have to get on the air before the competition. Don’t react; don’t cover, and see how long Trump stays in this race. The media are “feeding Seymour” and he continues to grow. If the media ignore him, Trump will be within his rights to demand an equal amount of time as is given to other candidates; that is his right. However, the minute his talk becomes inflammatory, as it has been through most of his campaign, cut off the microphone; he has overstepped his bounds.

On November 8, 2016, America will go to the polls to elect a new President. That is eleven months from this very day. Should this country, in its ultimate stupidity, elect Donald Trump, I will make every effort to move to Nova Scotia and to renounce my American citizenship. I have little doubt that the world will become a nuclear wasteland before his term of office has ended.

Lone wolf terrorists on American streets will become more identifiable and stopped as we move along in our war. At some point, they will be identified before they enter the country. ISIS or some offspring of it will continue to function in the Middle East. It is only when America says, “Enough, solve your own problems,” that we will be able to breathe easily again. If “secure the homeland” is a dirty turn of phrase, forgive me. However, I don’t want to see more gold star flags hanging in more windows than are already there. We can “preserve, protect, and defend” the United States of America by putting our own nation first and let other nations solve their own problems.

The United Nations appears to be a useless group of foreign representatives suckling at the American teat and little else. Let us move their headquarters to someplace like Belgium, Luxemburg, or Lichtenstein, and see how quickly they dissolve or get their collective acts together to solve the world’s problems. America is too rich and too developed a nation to be playing host to a bunch of spies and neer-do-wells. Is this laissez-faire attitude going to work? No, because it will never receive bi-partisan support, nor will Wall Street allow it to happen. It would be nice to give it an honest try; to attempt to make other nations wholly responsible for their actions. We can’t; we’re America. We’re the supposed 800-pound gorilla in the room. That’s why poor families raise cannon fodder and we cry crocodile tears when they’re blown to pieces. If we really cared about our young men and women, we’d be expanding our efforts to keep them out of harm’s way rather than putting them directly in its path.

We have a great many problems in our own country that are in dire need of solutions. We need solutions to our problem of poverty. We need solutions to our problem of racial injustice and profiling. We need a unified, national police force that is fully trained and fairly paid. We need to stop teaching our children to pass some damned standardized test and teach them what it means to be a citizen of this country. We need more, better trained, and again, fairly paid, teachers. We need term limits for members of Congress to weed out the do-nothings, hangers-on, and radical assholes who somehow find their way into Congressional seats every now and then. We don’t need equalization of wealth, because if you’ve got the brains and ideas, God Bless You for making the money you’ve made, but we do need workers who are paid above a poverty level to build what you’ve designed or to sell what you have made. We need equal pay for equal work. We need to stop treating women like second-class citizens by telling them what they can and cannot do with their bodies. Our problems are tremendous; they’re hard to solve and they will continue to get harder until and unless we take some positive steps to address them. However, remember this: Over half of the Pilgrims who made the voyage on the Mayflower died before a year had passed – OVER HALF – yet the rest didn’t just lay down and die. Seventy-five thousand colonists died in the Revolutionary War; that’s 1 in 20 what we now call Americans. Yet, the men who signed the Constitution didn’t give up and say, “Screw this; take it back England.” No, the problems of their day were no more or less complex than the problems we face today. Sure, the world’s a smaller place, and the problems are terrifying. Problems of the magnitude facing the Pilgrims and the colonials and that guy who lives down the street from you today are daunting, but they can be solved. That’s our job – yours and mine – to chip in and ask what we can do to help solve those problems. No, I won’t give you the Jack Kennedy tag line; you can do that for yourself. I will say a couple of things: “If you see something, say something,” and “Don’t listen to fear-mongers and loud mouthed know-nothings like Donald Trump, because he’s not worth your time.”

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I am slightly bothered by the extent to which technology has taken over our lives. Tomorrow I will attend a commencement ceremony where I fully expect the graduates’ chins to be resting on their chests except for those brief moments when they are required to stand and process to the stage to receive their diplomas – I’m certain at least one will pause to take a ‘selfie’ with the president – and that moment when they are told to switch their tassels from the left to the right to prove they are now alumni/ae of the institution. Come to think of it, if a ‘selfie’ gets taken early enough in the procession, every damned one of those kids will pause for a ‘selfie’ with the president. If she allows the first one, she is screwed! Years ago, upon learning the former president’s love for golf, the senior class members each handed him a golf tee or ball after they shook his hand…”quick get a bucket,” could be heard from someone behind the stage. Fortunately, it was a small class; nonetheless, juggling 380 golf balls and tees while trying to shake the hand of someone attempting to hand you another tee or ball tends to make the top executive look something like a fool…no, exactly like a fool!

I mentioned the “chin on chests” thing because the graduates will be more interested in texting their friends, perhaps two seats over; perhaps a thousand miles away – “sitting here trying to text you but some doofus on the stage is talking loud and ah well, be home soon. Did u go o8 w BB last nite?” Is there really any hope for the nation? It’s one of the problems with having a name that begins with the letter ‘A;’ you’re generally in the front row and it is considered rather déclassé to be texting when everyone on the stage is giving you dirty looks…tres déclassé!

I cannot help but wonder where all of this is leading. Teachers can no longer teach the way they once did because of the vast amounts of knowledge available through the Internet. The wise ones are using that knowledge to expand the horizons of their students as well as impart practical wisdom in subject areas, and this is wonderful. It keeps both teachers and students on their respective toes and forces them to adapt to the exponential increase in knowledge that is taking place daily. What I see on too many occasions is that social interaction skills on the part of students are starting to lag. Young people aren’t as quick to look you in the eye; business letters are poorly written; even a two-way conversation is an effort for all too many of the younger graduates.

In most respects, I’m happy that my high school and college years, even my working years, are behind me. In other ways, I cannot help but wonder how teachers and students cope with this knowledge revolution which bombards them daily. In my time, high school still consisted of reading, writing, and math, with a smattering of civics and history thrown in for good measure. In college, attempts were made to broaden our horizons, but I still remember using a Friden calculator at a store across the street from my university to complete statistics projects. We were required to book time in the store when we could use the machines. This was equipment that was being sold to the public as new, and I have no clue how many members of “Stat” courses before or after our class used the things. Today, the number of subjects in which students as well as teachers are expected to have a working knowledge is far broader than anything to which I was exposed.

Just think of it, today’s smart phone has more computer capability than the computers that sent men to the moon. The next question is when we begin inserting computer chips in newborns in order that one of their first grade classes, with which they’ll be thoroughly familiar, will be Particle Physics! That may be a bit of an exaggeration but at the rate computer technology is expanding, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen in the 22nd Century.

So tomorrow I will sit with an audience of about 5,000. My attention will be focused on the speakers on stage – unless they’re really dull; then I’ll turn on my Kindle and read or play games – and my granddaughter will walk across the stage to receive her Bachelor of Science degree in business. From the stage, the speakers will stare out, not at the eager faces of the graduates, but at the tops of the mortarboards that are facing them. Faces will be invisible to those on the stage because (a) they are on a platform that is approximately five feet above the seated grads; and, (b) the faces of the graduates are staring down into their phones as they text. The soon-to-be-newly-minted-alumni will stand for the invocation and dutifully sit down when it is over. They will not hear the president tell them how fortunate they are to have received such a wonderful education – true for some but not for all. They will not hear the upbeat commencement speaker tell them to go out and take over the world because he or she is certain they can do it – damned few will do anything of the sort. They might pick their heads up momentarily when their class speaker shouts, “We did it” with such enthusiasm that the microphone will squeal and the technicians in back shout just a bit less loudly, ”Jesus H. Christ, is he/she trying to deafen everybody?” They will then file across the stage; get the piece of paper that says they have completed the requirements, etc., etc., take their selfie with the president if possible, and march back to their seats…where they will immediately text all of their friends who aren’t there and say some stupid thing like, “I made it!”

And another graduation ceremony will go into the books. Good luck Class of 2014. Just stop texting, keep your head held high…and don’t be surprised when you get fired from your first job because you aren’t considered a team player and can’t write worth a damn!

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Somewhere out there is a child. He or she – probably a she since we’ve been such a male dominated society for so long and have really messed things up – may be in elementary school, possibly even in kindergarten or still in the womb. I’ll use the feminine pronoun from here out…she thinks a bit differently from most of her classmates; she looks ahead. She wants desperately to learn. Sometimes, the teacher actually goes to slow for her and she jumps ahead; sometimes she gets bored and finds herself in trouble. Who is this ‘girl’ who is just a bit different? Why she’s the next great American entrepreneur. She is the person who will make us think differently about…

…I don’t really know how this child, girl, woman will affect us, but she’s out there. She’s the seed, pushing harder than the others through the frozen ground to be first to break through and become the flower whose destiny is to achieve something of which no one yet has the faintest idea. She won’t be another Bill Gates, Madame Curie, Warren Buffet, or Marc Zuckerberg. No, here achievement will be greater in her field than those others. She will see beyond the horizons, where others are unable to see. She will be criticized, particularly by the male side of the ledger, but she will persevere, and she will change our way of thinking.

What will our kindergartner cum woman see that the rest of her counterparts will not? Oh, Lord, how I wish I knew. Thankfully, we, as a nation, have always been blessed by an adventurous few who have been willing to step up, take a chance, and make something good happen. Indeed, it is the foundation of America. Of the 104 arrivals who settled Jamestown in 1607, only 38 survived the winter, but 38 survived. When the “first comers” landed in the New World aboard the Mayflower, they were 102. When they landed at Plymouth, there were 99. By the time that first winter ended, there were only 50. But 50 were enough. It has been so throughout our history. There have always been those who have survived and who have wanted more. Their reasons have been many; all too often, we have said the reason was greed, and in a few cases that may have been so. While we talk about the decline of the middle class in today’s society, it can’t begin to compare with the nearly extinct middle class of the 19th Century…but we survived. Some prospered; some died…actually, they all died, as will we. As someone said, “Birth is a life sentence.”

Think about this: At one time, gasoline was a waste product. It was too volatile and flammable to be used in lamps and thus was thrown away. Along came the automobile and clean gasoline – the waste product – was perfect for powering the new engine. We’ve seen typewriters progress from manual to electric; from electric to self-correcting; from self-correcting to adding different features; from different features to room-sized computers; and from room-sized computers to something you can wear on your wrist.

What’s next? Sorry, but only our child in kindergarten has her finger on that pulse. She may not even be aware of what she will do, but she’ll do it. Perhaps she’ll find the cure for all disease, and although that will create its own share of problems, it’s certainly a positive. Perhaps she’ll eliminate surgery as an alternative form of cure. She may be the one to lead a colony to an earth-like planet in another galaxy or find the solution for peace in this fractured world.

Our little girl will not shatter the glass ceiling; her predecessors will already have done that. Of one thing I’m quite certain…she will not be political or a politician; their views are too narrow, and few of them are as visionary as they would have us believe. Another thing of which I’m certain is that her commitment to whatever it is she is doing is total. She will eat, sleep, and breathe it until her goal is accomplished. She will not be interested in a Nobel Prize or awards and accolades of any kind. Her reward will come with her accomplishment.

I deeply regret that I will not be around to watch you succeed, child, but I have faith that you will achieve; that you will change the world, and that the world will become a better place because of you.

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I am not a winner! No, neither am I a loser, nor a nebbish nor an insignificant nobody. When they talk about people winning the lottery, that ain’t me. I’d like to be the one who wins the lottery, but no matter how much I don’t play, I still don’t win. I have a friend who is 84; he’s also a multi-millionaire. He worked hard for his money. He is an inveterate gambler. He can’t go into a store that sells lottery tickets and not buy…and win. If he buys a scratch ticket for a buck, he comes back with a minimum of ten dollars. Has he won the lottery? No, but he just might do so. Actually, another acquaintance of mine has won the lottery not once, but twice. He was a sculptor. When he won his first million, he bought a farm in the country where he could sculpt to his heart’s content. I have no idea what Arthur did with the second winnings, but I’m certain he invested wisely.

This year, just for the hell of it, I decided to participate in the Publisher’s Clearing House…what the hell do they call that, a giveaway? Whatever, it’s a gambler’s delight. I even purchased a coupled of the products they were offering. It seemed easier to buy from them than to go hunting for what they had that I wanted, okay? After the first purchase, I began to get at least five e-mails a day from PCH. “No purchase necessary,” these kept saying, “No purchase necessary.” So I took them at their word and didn’t buy anything else. I never did read Cosmo, or Redbook, or Ladies Home Journal, and I’m a little old to be buying Playboy. I suppose it’s always nice to dream or have memories of dreams or whatever, but I don’t need another reminder of just how old I’m getting.

Once PCH learned that I had purchase something else, this must have triggered one of those spinning red lights in some office. “He’s hooked,” someone said. “Let’s go get ‘em!” Thus began the barrage of mail. These aren’t small, window envelopes with a couple of pieces of paper. These are your super-sized thingies with,  “You’re a winner” plastered all over the front and back…not only “You’re a winner,” but “Mr. Bishop, you’re a winner!”  Now, I know a little bit about direct mail. It’s no big deal to personalize an invitation or a letter, but these things carry personalization to a new level. Inside this package are scratch cards on which you always win something…with a caveat that you must keep playing to collect your eventual winnings and “No purchase necessary,” but with a ton of paper offering everything but the sun and the moon. You have two choices: first, you don’t even bother to open the envelope but consign it immediately to the recycle bin or, second, you play the game and take half an hour to go through each piece very, very carefully. Remember, I told you that I had decided to participate. Old people do stuff like that; they have no expectation of winning, but they delight in seeing just how far one of these ’sharpies’ will go to milk money from the poor and unsuspecting…shades of Nebraska. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I gather that’s the premise. I just can’t imagine the battery of lawyers these people must have on call!

I want you to know that I have been given to understand that on February 28th, the ‘Prize Patrol’ will come knocking on my door – they’d ring the bell but it doesn’t work – and tell me that I have one a million dollars a year for life. Not only that, but I can pick someone to receive a million dollars for life after I die. I’d tell my children to get busy, but it’s only 25 days away…and nobody’s that good! These folks are going to bring me flowers, balloons, and a great big check. Hell, they’ve already told me I’m a winner. They tell me every time they send me an e-mail or one of those hernia-lopes. Between those and the catalogs, we bring the mail in in a small cart.  That’s another thing that retirees enjoy doing, going through all the second, third, and 84th class mail they receive each day. I wonder how much mailing lists are going for these days.

Oh, goody, I’ve just received another envelope. Things must be coming down to the wire.  Here’s an ad that offers to sell me a silver dollar for only four payments of $3.99. Why doesn’t that sound like such a great deal?  I can also get a pair of Coca-Cola salt and pepper shakers for only sixteen dollars…again, not what I would call a bargain. Ah, here it is…sweepstake facts. According to this, my chances of winning are one in one million, three hundred thousand. Well, so much for becoming a winner.

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Let’s play a game. Well, it’s not so much of a game as it is I ask questions and you answer them, okay? Some people would say this is foolish, but what do they know? You and I both know that this could be a very interesting game. Of course, there is one slight problem. I am dependent on you being truthful in your answers and you are dependent on my not exposing your answers. This last is probably not so much of a problem since you aren’t going to tell me your answers anyway, right?

Before we begin the game, I’m going to make some unwarranted assumptions about you as a person. The first assumption I’m making is that you’re a reasonably good and honest person. The goodness part comes from the assumption that you haven’t killed anyone during this part of your lifetime – other lifetimes we won’t worry about right now, but for this one, you’re in good shape. The honest part, that’s entirely up to you. You have to make your decision regarding that. The second assumption that I will make is that you believe in some form of Deity. Call it God, Adonai, Allah, or whatever. I have no idea what the little boy on some faraway island, who worships that rock perched on a stone calls that rock, but he does believe; that’s all I’m asking.  My third assumption would be that you have a working knowledge and a feeling that there just might be something like a Heaven and a Hell…like your mother went to Heaven and Hitler went to hell type of thing…we still together on this stuff?

There are many more assumptions that I could make about your relationship with an all-knowing and all-powerful Being. Frankly, I’m a New Testament kind of guy, and therefore, I believe in a loving and merciful God. If not, I guess I’m up to my ass in alligators and I have no idea where the plug is to drain the swamp.

Ah, the game. Okay, let us begin. When you die, this shell you call a body is left behind for others to do with what they will. Question one; When does your ‘soul’ leave your body? Next, what happens to your soul after it leaves your body; part two of this; does it go somewhere on its own or is it escorted. Does your soul go straight to Heaven or Hell or is there a stopping off spot. Let me give you an example here: Picture a huge waiting room in a railroad station or airport…without all of the shops. If we assume that Heaven is above and Hell is below…a highly unwarranted assumption by the way…then you just know that people like Mother Teresa, several of the 20th Century Popes and a few others are a shoo-in for the Heaven express. On the other side are several Saudi Princes, Idi Amin, Genghis Khan, and others which you may feel free to consider. Think of it as their plane or train has no seats and they don’t get an in-flight movie or a free drink. Somewhere in the middle is where you and I remain. We don’t yet know whether we’re bound for Heaven or “The Other Place.” Is this place Purgatory? Who is to say? Let’s just call it a way station on our route to where Washington and Lincoln might reside or where Jack the Ripper and Bonnie and Clyde might have residence.

So, here you are…no, there’s really only one question left, but we’ll get to that. There is a large curtain at one end of the station and people move right along. Each person appears to have an escort on their right side. The escorts aren’t there; then they are. You notice that they are all, well most of them, very similar in appearance. The people who enter don’t come out, but just keep moving in. Only the escorts come out. You get in the line – not much else going on here so this must be the place. As you near the curtain, an escort appears at your right arm. He/She/It – it defies gender specification. The escort smiles but says nothing. As you enter, another escort – definitely a woman, a most attractive woman, asks your name. You politely tell her, and you are told to go to the left. It’s at this time that you first notice all of the others who have come through the curtain are male souls. You don’t know how you know this; you just do [if you are a female reader, reverse the gender; after all, I’m the male writer here]. You board what appears to be an airplane. There is no sound. You just know that the plane is moving; that you are in some kind of seat, and that all around you is peace. If asked to define what you mean, you know that words would fail you. It’s just…there.

Soon, you, too, are ‘there,’ wherever that happens to be. Now you find yourself in another station, this one smaller and more beautifully appointed. A different escort appears at your arm and indicates that you are to follow her; yeah, this, too, is an attractive woman. What you notice more than her beauty is her gentleness. There is a ‘goodness’ about her that makes you feel very much at ease. You sit for a while; then she guides you toward a door. With just a smile and a gesture, she bids you to enter and then she disappears. Inside the room is a chair facing out into nothingness. You sit…and you sit…and you sit. As you do so, the scene before you changes. It varies from day to night; from sunshine to stormy, dark skies. It changes from emptiness to children in a field, to young lovers walking hand in hand though autumn leaves; an elderly couple makes their way along a snowy path; a plane crash, and you try to scream a warning as a man shoots another. This is all more real than a movie. It’s beautiful and it becomes horrific and back to pleasant. A man walks toward you and sits down opposite…you never saw another chair…was it there before?

“You are a decent person,” the man says. “Why are you here?”

Oh, boy, there is the question of all time, ‘Why am I here?’

You have no idea where you are. You have no idea whether you are in a good place or a bad place. This calls into question every part of your life, and your life begins to play before your eyes…the times when you lied; the times when you gave blood for a friend; the times when you cheated on an exam; the time your child made you so mad that you slapped him; the time you lost your job and yes, the time when you received a promotion in your new job; the time you just knew that he/she was the one; the birth of your first child; the loss of your loved one. All of these images are indelibly imprinted on that space before you.

You respond “………………………………………………….”

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“Excuse me, sir, but I believe you dropped this.”

“No, I don’t believe so. It’s a book, isn’t it? I wasn’t carrying a book.”

“Is your name Richard Harrison Broadwell?”

“Why, yes, it is. Why do you ask?”

“Well, sir, that’s the name on the spine of the book…The Life of Richard Harrison Broadwell. I’m certain I saw the book fall beside you as you were walking toward me. You say you weren’t carrying a book, yet I saw it fall beside you as you were walking, and you say that the name on the spine is the same as your own name. Doesn’t that seem rather peculiar? My name is John Spooner by the way”

“Well, Mr. Spooner…”

“John, please.”

“I’m Richard…Well, John, I don’t know what to say. Would you mind opening the book?”

“No, not at all. That’s strange…the pages are all blank.”

“No, John. When you were leafing through the book, I saw writing on every page. Perhaps I should look at the book.”

As Spooner hands the book over, there is a slight blue arc of electricity that passes from one man’s hand to the other. Both jump back and the book falls to the sidewalk. Spooner is the first to speak.

“Ouch! What’s going on here, Richard? Look the book is open and the pages are blank.”

“No, they’re not; I can see writing.” Broadwell picks up the book, closing the cover as he does so.

The men stare at the book which now seems to glow in Broadwell’s hand.

“I think I need a drink,” says Broadwell.

“Sorry, this town’s dry,” responds Spooner. “There’s a Starbuck’s right there. We could have coffee and try to figure out this whole thing. C’mon; I’ll even buy. This is one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen. You must feel a bit weird, Richard. How many Richard Harrison Broadwell’s do you know?”

“Frankly, I don’t know anyone with that name but me, and not only is it strange, it’s just a little bit frightening.”

Off the two men go to get their coffee and to find a small table. For now, that concludes the preface to our little story. Put yourself in the shoes of Richard Harrison Broadwell. You’re sitting at a small table in a pleasantly aromatic café. A complete stranger is sitting across from you. He…or maybe it’s a she, has stopped you on the street and handed you a book. On the spine and on the cover are the words The Life of…and it’s your name. To this stranger, the pages were blank, but you saw writing as he was fanning the pages. When the book fell to the ground after giving both of you a shock, you couldn’t make it out, but you saw writing once more. Now the book sits facing you. Will you have the courage to read it? Dare you turn to the end? If this is your life in this book, will it also tell you when you die; how you die? What about your family… your Mother and Father, your sisters, Judy and Marion; your brothers, Ron and Gary? What happens if something tragic happens to them? Certainly, it will profoundly affect your life and would have to be mentioned. Do you really want to know?

Have there been times in your life that you’d just as soon forget; how about the times when something absolutely spectacular happened? What about the time you first saw the person who would become your spouse? Where was that? How did that happen? Did you know that was the one for you immediately? How about when Allyson, your first child was born? Will all of that be in there? How about the tour of Afghanistan; the second tour; the IED that killed six of your buddies and almost cost you your own life?

What’s in this book? Do you really dare to open it? What if it goes beyond where you are right now, sitting at this little table? What if it is not only your life, but what if it also takes you to the end of your life…is that something about which your really want to know?

I certainly can’t answer these questions for you. The only thing I can say is that when I walked into Starbucks, ordered a latte and a chocolate croissant, and found a small table, there was a book there. The pages were empty, but on the spine and on the cover, it read, The Life of Richard Harrison Broadwell. It’s really strange; a cover with about three hundred blank pages. Well, not my concern.

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