Reality Inspector, chapter 12

Copyright © 1982 John Caris

The morning sun shone through the bedroom window. Strong winds that had begun at dawn had pushed back the fog bank so that the sun now gently warmed all living things. For the past several days strong winds had pummeled the city. The winds came from the north and south, meeting each other over the bay, creating an arena of struggle and combat, as where river water meets and churns with ocean water.

Helen packed her bag, having spent the night at Mary's house, and now was ready to take her leave. The bag contained all her possessions. Many years ago she had put aside the normal encumbrances; she had released her grip on the things that people usually seek and, once finding, guard with all their might. Her attitude had slowly changed over the years. Possession worked both ways, and frequently people were more possessed than their personal belongings. She had seen it happen repeatedly; people were possessed by their houses, their careers, their cars, their bank accounts.

Helen smiled inwardly, filled with the joy that comes from having struggled with life and then made peace with it. Her life now was free from the daily woes and routine anxieties that most people experienced. The key to freedom, she knew, lay in the heart. Each person had her own path. The journey was sometimes rough and painful, but often enough it was pleasant and heartwarming.

She looked at the bag, noticing its wounds suffered from worldly use. The bag was seven years old and would need replacement soon. Weak places were beginning to show, spots where tears were going to happen soon. The bag was like her body; even though she kept it firm and healthy, life had taken its toll. Her spirit was strong and bright, she knew, and that was more important. It was her spirit that young people noticed. She was a guide beckoning to the later years, showing that the bounty of life could still be enjoyed. She was deeply touched when young people looked to her for encouragement, and she was thankful that she could offer them guidance. God was smiling on her, and she was thankful for that, too.

Helen left the guest room and went into the living room where Mary was drinking coffee and reading a detective story. Cresy, one of Mary's two cats, was curled up on her lap. She was a calico cat and was now entering her thirteenth year. Though her fur was showing spots of grey, Cresy's spirit was still vibrant. Mary looked up from her book. "Good morning, Helen. There's hot water in the kettle for coffee, and some fruit in a bowl on the counter. "

Helen placed her bag on a chair and went into the kitchen. She took the bottle of coffee concentrate from the refrigerator and poured an ounce of it into a cup; then she added some hot water. Mary used the cold water process to make coffee. That method eliminated most of the bitter taste. Ground coffee was soaked in cold water for twelve hours, and the concentrate was then drained off through a filter system.

With her cup of coffee Helen went back into the living room. She sat down in a chair beside the couch. "You played an excellent game last night, Mary; Sam Runner never had a chance."

"Thanks, Helen. I do feel very good about it. I've had a nervousness the last couple of days. Perhaps, the winds are responsible."

"There's a lot of hectic energy in those winds, like a turmoil raging about the Bay Area. It reminds me of the Santa Ana wind in Southern California or the foehn wind in Switzerland."

"Yes, those winds affect the mind. There's a jumpy quality to the energy, an undirected busyness. So, last night I stayed down in my quiet place. Even Sam was affected by the winds. His moves seemed to reflect the strange weather we're having."

Helen nodded. She spoke softly, yet firmly. "The quiet spot is home. It goes wherever we go. It is our constant companion and shelter; it comforts us and protects; it is a parent, a lover, a friend."

"Helen, last night I had an unusual experience. Several times I had a feeling that was like rubbing against the grain. It put my nerves on edge. And it was most intense when I took Sam's bishop with my queen. At first I thought that the move was wrong, that I was being warned against making it. But because the earlier moves, when I had that feeling, worked well, I went ahead and made the move. While Sam was studying his response, I suddenly realized that my last move had capped a pattern of play that won me the game. So I ended up with a feeling that's funny but leads to a win."

"The winds are telling us, Mary, as the voice of God they're saying to us, now is the time to change our path. For several weeks now I've felt that mighty changes were on their way. Who can say what they'll be? We'll just have to wait and see."

"And you know, that's how I felt last night. I wasn't put off by the funny feeling. I changed my path and went against the grain. For so long I've used the guide of smoothness. If the feeling flowed smoothly and easily, I followed it. I've always desired pure feelings. The funny feeling had several ingredients; it was a soup of different feelings."

"Mary, you have found the path of heart where truth reigns strong." Helen's eyes twinkled.

Cresy cat stretched her front legs and yawned. She jumped down from Mary's lap and started licking herself. Mary, thinking a moment, said, "As I relive that feeling and experience I had last night, I believe I like it. It's not really so strange; it's closer to life than my previous attitude. It's survival oriented. Yes, the path of heart; that's for me. I want to learn about that feeling and use it as a guide."

The bull stepped out of Helen and stood there while she firmly, yet quietly, asserted, "Now, Mary, first purify each feeling. Go back to the source and clean out the sludge and trash. Only then can you begin blending your feelings. The subtle feeling of rubbing against the grain comes from a precise mixing. Don't be frightened of it. Immerse yourself in it. Master it."

She sat in silence. Helen's words had rung a chord deep within her. Truth was there--in the heart; she could feel it. An image arose in her mind, an image of a well. She was down in the bottom of the well, cleaning it out. Several springs fed the well, and she wished to identify each spring and channel it so that she could mix the different waters.

Helen picked up her bag and went to the front door. Cresy cat was sitting by the door waiting to go out. "Od's trading store is a collection of many things. Well, have a good day, Mary, and praise the Lord."

After Helen had left, Mary went back to the image which she had given her. Od's trading store is similar to the well, she mused; it is a place where many things are mixed, are collected together. Hmm, Joanne and Sarah are working lunch today. I'll visit Od's store and see if I learn something.

She got up and went into the kitchen where she washed out the coffee cups and then put them in the drainer. She took an apple from the fruit bowl and munched on it while looking out the window. Her thoughts were jumping about, yet a strong feeling seemed to anchor her. It was as if thoughts were washing over her, though she remained calm. She saw Shalom, the youngest of her two cats, stretched out on the side lawn, sunning himself.

Mary thought about the striking difference between Cresy and Shalom. Although she loved them both, her feelings toward them were not the same. Each touched a particular part of her heart. Cresy was feisty and wanted to be loved only on her own terms. Shalom was even-tempered and loved to snuggle up close and purr and purr, yet even he had his own brand of independence.

She put the apple core into the waste can and went into her bedroom. Looking through her wardrobe, she selected a flowing, turquoise dress with vertical strips. Today, she felt fresh and ready for a new adventure. She stood in front of a full length mirror and appraised herself; then she combed her long, brown hair. She had not cut her hair for ten years, and it now reached her hips. It was fine hair that often looked more black than brown. She fastened the barrette and then put on a wool cardigan sweater. She liked the colorful, abstract design on the back of the sweater. It was both modern and primitive.

Once she was outside, the sunlight warmed her and the wind nipped her nose. Walking across Keystone Way and down to the corner at Ocean Avenue, she saw John sitting in his garden, drinking his morning coffee and smoking his pipe. She noticed that the dahlias were blooming in a variety of colors and the petunias were bursting with multi-colored flowers. John certainly has a green thumb, she thought, and his garden is an asset for the neighborhood. Ocean Avenue has its own mini-park. She smiled inwardly and then called out to him. After exchanging the morning's greetings, she went into the Trading Shop.

Fluorescent lighting lit up the interior. Od, seated at a roll top desk at the back of the store, was reading a magazine. Dressed in a tan sport shirt and brown trousers, he looked causal and relaxed. He seemed to be deeply absorbed in his reading, but she knew that he was aware of her presence.

She glanced about the shop. Shelves lined the walls, and tables covered the floor space. On the shelves and tables were many things--tools, appliances, cloth and yarn, toys, musical instruments, clocks, books and magazines, left-overs from yesterday and beginnings for tomorrow.

Many people, when first entering Od's store, were shocked by the abundance. The visual impact was chaos. Too many things were vying for one's attention. Where should one start? But the chaos was only a surface that Od had carefully constructed. Below lay a simple logic. For all the items were involved in making; they were all tools; they were extensions of human need and desire. And above those objects was the making of a trade, which, for Od, was the purpose of life. We traded crawling for walking; we traded childhood for adolescence, and adolescence for middle age, which we then traded for old age. We traded carbon dioxide for oxygen and food for energy.

Mary browsed while Od read. She listened to her feelings--a different one arose as she inspected each tool. The feeling attached to a spatula was distinct from that of a wood chisel or a needle, yet all were used for making. She became aware of the physical movement that each required. Her right hand stirred the air with a spatula while the left poked at the air with a needle.

Od looked up and watched her, fascinated by the way that she was using her body. Was she practicing some new hand signs? Mary had been attending a signing class at the Pentecostal church for six months now, and she was quite adept at using that language. Signing was a basic form of language; it was like miming; it was acting without using the voice. Good signers used their whole body and their emotions, not only their hands.

Mary felt Od watching her and turned toward him. "I'm making a marvelous discovery. Each tool has its own physical movement, its own feeling, its own identity. Each is different, yet each is a tool. People are like that too, different yet human."

"Some people seem to have lost their humanness."

"The wicked and depraved? l think they're still human but are trapped in a ritual that's lost touch with life."

"The walking dead?"

"Something like that. People can get stuck in dead ends and continue to repeat failing behavior. We can get trapped in our feelings, our intellect, and our physical mannerisms."

"Perhaps, life itself is a gigantic trap."

"It may well be. But we're here until our time is up, so we might as well do the best we can. I think Helen has figured it out. I mean, she has a hold on truth and allows it to guide her."

"She has heart; both she and Hank do. They're making it; we have good models." Od paused, and they both looked toward the front window. A woman and her daughter were peering in at them. They waved and then walked on.

"Janet Brown and her daughter Melissa--there's a good example," Mary said. "Going to City College while working full time after her husband died in that horrible auto accident."

"Melissa has a good survival model there in her mother." Od's features turned soft. He felt personal affection for Janet Brown; she was a dear friend. He looked dreamily out the window; then, abruptly, he said to Mary, "Did you want to trade?"

"Yes, experiences. I came in today to learn from your collection of tools. And I have; I've learned about blending feelings. I offer you in exchange a mind trip."

"A deal. What is it?"

"Hank told it to me a few days ago. It's a variation on the riddle--which came first, the chicken or egg?"

"I'm game."

"Which came first, the egg or sperm? Is the egg a tailless sperm? Or is the sperm an egg with a tail?"

Od laughed, his sharp features crackling.

"I told Helen the riddle, and she played another variation; she asked, "Which is Adam and which is Eve?" Mary knew that Od was turning the riddle over in his mind, savoring its flavor.

"Which is earth and which is life?" he rejoined.

"Here is the corollary question. Why does the sperm move toward the egg? For example, why don't they both move about?"

"Well, the sperm has a tail that gives it mobility. Maybe, its attracted by the egg's vibes." Od laughed again. "I see it now. Once upon a time there were two eggs living miles apart in the great, blue ocean. Each was lonely and desired a companion. Then one egg decided to swim about, looking for another egg. As it swam, its body became elongated. With this new form it covered more distance. Eventually, it spied another egg floating in the water. The floating egg saw the tailed egg coming toward it. Finally, it thought, an egg has found me. But what a strange form it has, not round as I am." Od smiled and opened his hands.

Mary giggled. "Once upon a time there were two sperms living in the big, blue ocean. Each was lonely and wished for a companion. So, each swam around constantly, looking for another sperm, but never finding one. One day one of the sperms was swimming through strange waters. There was a pleasant taste in the water, so the sperm stopped for awhile in that quiet place. Funny, it noticed that its head was growing and its tail was shrinking. It looked at itself and saw that it was now round. It began to bounce in the water, sending off waves. Pretty soon, it saw a sperm swimming toward it. The swimming sperm thought, what is that round-looking sperm doing, bouncing so? I'll swim over and find out."

Od clapped his hands. "Mary, that was a marvelous trade. If you stay in that mental space, you'll whip Sam Runner before the month is over. I was totally amazed by your playing last night. The queen sacrifice took us all by surprise, except maybe for Hank. He noticed the hole in Sam's defense right away."

"Sam was surprised, too. I've never seen him so shocked; he felt it deep down in his core. Thanks for the compliment, but I owe it all to Paul Morphy. You know, contemporary chess has become too staid; it has lost something. I call it the winning fix; we all want to win so badly that we've become overly cautious."

Od nodded. "We've lost the romantic flair. Few of us are willing to take chances; we're interested only in watching our bank accounts grow. That's not life; that's drudgery!"

"Really. Od, let's grab our cubic centimeter of chance and put more zest into life. You know, we should take the afternoon off and go to the beach. I'll go over to the Inn and pack some food."

"That's a wonderful trade," Od exclaimed, "an afternoon at the beach for one at the store."

"John's probably still sitting in his garden. Grab him on your way over. We'll meet in the parking lot." Mary rushed out of the Trading Shop and down Ocean Avenue.

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