for ala, from the ship
“Everybody’s lookin’ to believe something or somebody. In fact, two people hit on me the other night at that benefit, about Jesus. Jesus people. There’s a lot of Jesus talk going around in certain worlds.”
When the spring gushes forth, it does not know at first where it will go.
About three months ago, the world commenced to end. On May 21, at precisely 6 p.m. in each time zone, the Lord plucked up into Hebbin the faithful 3%, those who had managed to evade the snares of this world. And then He rumbled those left behind with an earthquake mighty, the first of many miseries that will plague the ungodly—yea, without cease—until October 21. Upon which date He will squash the planet like a bug. And that will be that.
Such was the plan, anyway. At least according to Harold Camping, an 89-year-old electronic preacher who had read him some bible, and found therein keys to all sorts of kingdoms. Camping had divined from his readings that the May 21, 2011 end-times festivities would kick off with an earthquake in New Zealand. And—yea, verily—there did indeed occur on that day an earthquake in New Zealand. As well as one in San Francisco, and one in Iceland. But these were mere rocks of the cradle, compared to the world-shaking thunderation that Camping had predicted. And today, nearly three months later, it is abundantly clear that, earthquakes or no, 3% of the world’s population—or about 200 million people—did not go floating way up in the middle of the air, there on May 21, as Camping had said they would.
Indeed, Camping himself is still earth-bound. When the day of judgement passed without apparent judgement, Camping pronounced himself “flabbergasted.”
“It has been a really tough weekend,” Camping said of that weekend when the world failed to begin to end.
“I’m looking for answers,” he added.
Join the club, bub.
But lo: the answers came for Camping quickly enough. By May 23, less than 48 hours after the end-of-the-world no-show, Camping had Divined what had Happened. Seems that Judgement Day really did arrive on May 21. But it was a “silent judgement.” Camping had somehow missed this detail, in his earlier readings. De Lord had in fact looked down upon de people on that day, and found them wanting. All of all, on Earth, were—are—doomed. Case closed. But, in one of His occasional acts of mercy, He has decided not to subject for five months all and every left-behind sundry to all and every manner of trial and torment. He will instead simply turn out the lights, all at once, on October 21. Camping and Co. will go up and play harps. All other earthlings will wink into nothingness.
So let it be jabbered. So let it be done.
In the days before the End Of Days, I tuned into Harold the Rapture Man a time or two. He wasn’t hard to find. Here in this annex of Hell, the radio dial, both AM and FM, is heavily mined with get-yerself-to-jeebus transmissions. It is hard to avoid them. Sometimes, in fact, it is impossible.
My friend S. once had to abandon as junk an automobile so filled with the Lord that the radio refused to broadcast anything but a Yahweh station. First the Jehovah-possessed instrument disabled its tape-deck function—any cassette thrust in there would immediately begin vomiting snarls of polymer. Then, no matter what radio button S. might push, the same come-to-Jesus station would sound howlingly from the speakers. S. put me in his car once to drive me around so that I might experience this possession for myself. Once I verified it as Real, I commanded him to pull to the curb, and then I exited the vehicle.
Shortly thereafter S. gave the car to a wino.
“Why didn’t you just replace the radio?” I asked him.
“It was too late,” he replied. “The whole car was infected. I could feel it through the steering wheel.”
So it was easy enough, here in a region that spawns cars like that one, to tune in Camping’s pearl-swining.
And, as I expected, Camping was one of these people. Whatever it was, he had an answer for it. He knew, and you didn’t. He actually encouraged doubters to phone in, because whatever the doubt, confidently he could erase or evade it.
One would-be wit told Camping that the Lord had visited him in his backyard, pulled him aside, and told him that he wasn’t going in the first big call-up, but would have to wait a couple more weeks before receiving Deliverance. Therefore, the guy said, he would like Camping to give him his house and his car; Camping wouldn’t be needing them, and the caller sure could use the stuff, in the weeks between.
Camping replied that The God In The Yard was, in fact, Satan. Camping knew this because he had divined from scripture that scripture alone is the word of God, and no one can add to or subtract from it. Including God Hisself. All He’d had to say, He’d already said. And Camping had read it all. Anyone appearing these days claiming Godhood and then presuming to speak, Camping decreed, is by definition a phony.
Here we see how Camping’s cosmology tracks quite nicely Antonin Scalia’s cosmology regarding the United States Constitution.
It’s tough to get an audience with God these days. Pretty much everybody discourages it. I remember one fellow who some years back determined to ascend on foot Mount Hood, and there wait out the Lord, until He agreed to converse with him.
Now, this could be some wait, since Yahweh is not known to have spoken to any living human being since He twisted off in shame, there in the whirlwind, after subjecting to a prolonged guilt-harangue Job, whom He’d tormented and tortured on a bet.
A few days after this seeker had shuffled off to the mountain, his family succumbed to a concern-seizure. They called in the authorities; for they wanted him Rescued.
It is true that Mount Hood can be a tough place—high, steep, glaciated, always snow—but the weather was then pretty mild, and the guy had climbed before. Nonetheless, the rescue bureau went in after him. They decreed him too barmy to avoid harm.
They found him sitting on a rock, contentedly waiting on a miracle.
He was not pleased, this seeker, with the “rescue.”
“I just wanted to go off to some place high and quiet, and talk to God,” he said. “But I guess you can’t do that anymore. What would happen today to someone like Moses? Before he could ever come down with the Ten Commandments, they would scoop him off Sinai in a helicopter.”
Another caller confronted Camping with the “day and hour” dictat. Meaning the scriptural passage wherein whoever the person or people were who pretended to be the disciple Matthew inserted into the mouth of the Jewish prophet Jesus of Nazareth the words: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”
So wherefore art thou, demanded the caller of Camping, getting off on picking a “day and hour,” when Jesus hisself said you couldn’t?
Rapture Man the Answer Man was ready for that one. You see, Camping explained, no verse in scripture can be considered orphaned, out there all on its own. Each has to be considered in context with all the rest. Every other verse brings meaning to the one.
Which is kind of cool: holistic, like.
However, and more’s the pity, no one really understands how all these verses illume one another except Camping, due to his decades of intense specialized study, and also because a “spiritual” interpretation of each verse is likewise required, and this “spiritual” divining ability has apparently been vouchsafed only to Camping. Thus scripture itself, read right, not only reveals a “day and hour,” but directs that Camping alone is qualified to first apprehend and then reveal it.
A tidy, bold ouroboros, the man has devised.
I didn’t have the opportunity to hear the Camping spin on the verse immediately preceding the “day and hour” dictat. In that un-Campinged verse, the people masquerading as Matthew filled Jesus’ mouth with these words: “Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.”
This verse has caused some problems over the millennia. The original Jesus people, the folks who had known him in the flesh, were convinced that apocalypse was now: the End Times were then. Them who knew him when would know him again thereafter. And thereafter would come real soon.
However, as the years passed, and the bodies of “this generation” began to fail and fall, first from bad acts and then from bad age, and still no End Times arrived, no Second Coming, alternative explanations had to be found. Ultimately some clever-boots came up with the Wandering Jew, a body most commonly said to have mocked Jesus on the road to Golgotha, which caused him to be sentenced to wander the planet until the Nazarene checked in again: he would be of “this generation” for as long as it might take.
This fit in nicely with the generalized Jew-flogging enthusiastically endorsed by Saul of Tarsus, the inventor of what is today known as Christianity. Saul he who sprung from his head, like Athena sprung full-grown from the head of Zeus, the resurrection, which he imported bodily from sun-king pagan faiths.
There at the beginning, Jews were—imagine that—partial to regarding Jesus as a prophet in the Jewish tradition. Rather than some sort of paganoid weirdsmobile of a rose-from-the-dead messiah. Saul, however, needed Jesus for a sun king. And so the Saulites whomped on Jews as Bad; some genius among them even strategized the lie that Jews put Jesus to death, and then scribbled that lie down, spreading it all and everywhere. This disingenuous shrewdery moved many among the 100 or so different Jesus sects roiling around in the 1st and 2nd centuries C.E to flow away from the “Jews for Jesus” crowd, and more towards the Saulites—’cause who the hey wants to associate with them that killed him?
The Saulites’ contributions to the roughly 40 gospels and 3000 other assorted Jesus tracts that were floating about in the end times of the 2nd Century generally included some sort of Jew-bashing: it was a political thing, a propaganda war, a struggle for control . . . and the Sauloids were definitely winning. And although Jesus had been well ripped away from the Jews by the time the books of the New Testament were more or less assembled, some 150 years later, the official compilers, in their unwisdom, included among them a number of the Sauloids’ Jew-bashing tracts. Though this was hardly necessary, as their purpose had long ago been served: the Saulites had won. And though those tracts would, in the fullness of time, ripen into the Holocaust.
Jesus, the Jew, long, long ago left behind, by the faith that had hijacked his name.
The Wandering Jew, meanwhile, post-Holocaust wandered into Walter M. Miller’s The Canticle of Liebowitz, a sort of eternal-recurrence End Times novel, where, in the final pages, the Second Coming is at last achieved, in the wake of nuclear fire, in the person of Rachel, the previously quiescent second head of a newly-dead mutant woman named Mrs. Grales.
Camping had previously selected 1994 as the year for World’s End. When the world appeared to survive into 1995, he was subjected to some mockery. Camping, undeterred, went back to his books, and, eventually, came out with the revised date of May 21, 2011.
The amusing thing is that Camping may have been right about the 1994 date. That is, if the proponents of the Potemkin Sun version of reality are correct.
The Potemkin Sun version of reality is part of the Secret Lore that is transmitted orally among initiates in some of the psychic institutes and outfits out there on the US west coast. I know about it only because one among those initiates Broke Vows. As I’ve related before, the Potemkin Sun version of reality claims that some time early on in the Clinton administration—that is, in 1994—the sun went nova, and the Earth was burnt to a cinder. However, no one on this planet noticed this, because of the efforts of the “good aliens” (the thinnish creatures best known for their attempts to protect people from the “bad aliens,” those no-good-’un grays prone to picking folks up off lonely interstates, playing with their gonads, implanting non-ordinary knickknacks in their brains, and then setting them back loose).
In this instance, the good aliens allowed human brains to believe that the Earth was still here. And so were the humans. The aliens kindly threw up into the sky a Potemkin Sun, so that humans could go on believing that everything was Normal. They did this, it is said, because during the Harmonic Convergence of August 1987 human beings apparently proved to be “worthy,” and “almost ready for the next step.” Which involves not needing bodies. The good aliens figured it would be a shame to allow everybody to burn off like bugs on a grill, just a few short years before they would no longer be bothered by such things as being confined to bodies prone to vaporization in roaring jets of molten flame.
The aliens will take down the Potemkin Sun, so goes the theory, when humans no longer need it. When, I guess, they will all sort of join together and swirl away as energy beings, a la the close of Childhood’s End. Some say this event can be tied into the 2012 thing, which springs not only from Mayan matters, but also from the information theory of oo-ee-oo people like Dr. Jacques Vallee, who claims that information began doubling every 18 months in the early 1990s, and will, by immutable Math Laws, at some point in 2012 start doubling a million times a second. Attaining a moment when humans will pretty much know everything, all at once.
I know, I know: it’s hard to believe such a thing is really nigh, in a world still setting sail by the boatload imbecilities like Microsoft Explorer, mayonnaise, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
And it should be noted that contrarian Science Men have recently determined that the commonly accepted 2012 Mayan date is off by some 50-100 years. These Science Men aren’t sure which way it is off—whether towards past or future. So it is possible that, tracking the Potemkin Sun reality, the Mayan Apocalypse Now has in fact already occurred.
In the Potemkin Sun version of reality, human beings are deemed worthy enough for passing aliens to pause in their travels to erect for said humans a phony sun, so they can for a time go on living in the only way they know how. Until they’re ready to proceed into the great wide open.
This stands in stark contrast to the Harold Camping version of reality, which posits that people are such loathsome and irredeemable creatures that, when the final curtain falls, come October 21, all memory of them will be forever erased from any and all cosmi, worlds without end, amen.
Camping, I came through listening to him to understand, really hates human beings. Hates them. In Camping’s reality, the rejection via crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth is a sin so toweringly vile and unforgivable that not even the slightest shred of memory of the planet upon which this crime was perpetrated can be permitted to survive. When the big bug-squash occurs, there on October 21, there will ripple through time and space a great shroud of forgetfulness, smothering every memory of everything that on Earth has ever been. There in Hebbin, Camping and the favored 3% will not even remember where they came from, what they had been about.
This is the kind of deeply disturbed weirdness you get when you go about inventing Protestantism. The opening of Pandora’s Box had nothing on the unwellness unleashed by Martin Luther—a stone lunatic convinced that Satan was personally and literally cramping his hand. When Luther started publicly urinating on the Pope, outraged because the guy wasn’t persecuting enough Jews, he drained upon the land a great cesspool, one that has flowed down through the centuries to wash up at our feet rank turds like Harold Camping.
They’re everywhere, these days, in the USA, these people. Crazed mutants of the sickness of Calvinism, convinced they’re of the elect, that all who are Not Of Them are Other and Damned. And, what’s more, De Lord ordained it that way. Rush Limbaugh, the most listened-to bloviator on any American tube, daily bellows through his blubber than if you’re not rich like him, it’s because that’s meant to be, and there’s not a damn thing anyone can or should feel moved to do about it. If you can’t pick yourself up by your bootstraps, well then, when you get hungry, you should just eat them.
Without Luther, there would be no Camping, no Limbaugh. For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church didn’t allow scripture to get out among the people, for fear they would go wild. The words were cabined to Latin, the province of priests; people who tried to translate the various books of the bible into vulgar tongues—well, for many centuries, they were regularly rounded up and set on fire.
But when every Tom, Dick, and Harold were at last allowed to start moving their lips to the sacred texts, you got wild-eyed fantasies like the Rapture, the Tribulation, and other assorted Figments. The Rapture and related nonsense seem to have been invented in the 17th Century by Cotton Mather. Teased primarily from out the hashish-visions of Revelation, a text that Sane People did not even want to include in scripture.
As a character in Robert Stone’s Damascus Gate puts it:
“Shouldn’t be in the canon. Not a grain of faith, hope or charity in the fucking thing. One long, meandering lunatic image after another . . . Amid the flaming swords and sparkling whirligigs and falling stars, we have a core of prophecy so nonsensical and non-sequitous as to defy interpretation by the maddest of mad monks. Actually, the monks left it alone, because Saint Augustine didn’t care for it and the medieval Church didn’t want the rabble reading it and going all funny.
“With the Reformation, however, every dork and yoik at every muddy crossroads read the fucker and swooned with insights meant for him alone.”
And thus, today: having devolved to the Left Behind series of books, by megabucks author Tim LaHaye, books which present, in the end, from out of the Reformation and Revelation and Rapture-land, a grim-faced, but glorying, vengeful Rambo of a Jesus of Nazareth, who goes out onto the field of battle, there at Armageddon, to personally slay unbelievers with his machine-gun.
In the container of my cranium, when I encounter the words ”left behind,” I think not of Jesus of Nazareth, LaHaye-like determinedly burrowing bullets into libertines and abortionists and Muslims and others of my karass.
Instead, I recall a small but Real slice of the television series Hill Street Blues.
Therein, a couple of world-weary foot patrolmen are dispatched to a derelict hotel to deal with a suspected demento who will not relinquish control of the lobby pay phone. The suspected demento explains to the patrolmen, in some agitation, that he is an extraterrestrial anthropologist who was originally assigned to survey a civilized orb, but was instead mistakenly deposited on the madhouse that is Earth. His people have since awakened to their error, and have dispatched a ship to retrieve him. He has been instructed to remain by this phone, there in the derelict hotel, in order to receive a call that will detail where he is to go, and when, in order to secure deliverance.
The patrolmen quickly tire of this worldtrack, and decide to take the extraterrestrial into custody, and escort him to the pokey. The extraterrestrial rips the phone from the wall—he will not willingly go into stir without it—and then, though unmoored from any earthly lines, the phone rings: it is his people: they are on their way.
When the extraterrestrial and his phone are placed in the cage, the phone, impossibly, rings again: his people stating that, given this new complication, they will lift him right out of the cell. He is relieved. And, when the earthly jailers come to check on him some hours later, he is gone. As is the phone.
A couple episodes later, a sergeant casually mentions that the extraterrestrial’s absence can be explained by the fact that he had “actually” been unknowingly picked up by a wagon of paddy from another precinct, and transferred to another earthly pokey.
But I know better. Because I know that extraterrestrial. And I know that the ship is indeed on its way, and that that extraterrestrial is going home.
One of the peculiarities of the Camping vision of the End Times that most gnawed at me was the notion that the Rapture would arrive, there on May 21, 2011, precisely at 6 p.m. in each time zone.
Now, it is true that Yahweh has never been particularly known for his good will, good cheer, good sense, good behavior. Heaving a couple of lovers out the garden, and inflicting upon them—and all of their descendants—every conceivable misery, solely because they ate the Wrong Thing. Petulantly flooding into the oblivion of death every living thing upon the planet, except for a mumbling inebriate, his immediate family, and a few animals. Angrily raining down nukes on cities, crisping all therein, because some people there had pissed him off. Sending not himself, but his son, down to the planet, there to be misunderstood, mocked, mutilated, mortified, mortalized. Etc. Etc.
That’s the guy’s record. A pretty ugly sheet.
Still, even for this fellow, rolling the Rapture through 24 separate time-zones, seemed, to me, to be particularly cruel.
Because what it would mean for the people of New Zealand, where the thing would all begin, is: no chance. When the Rapture arrived, there at 6 p.m. local time, you had either previously drunk deeply from the chalice of Camping, and thereby were gifted with the wherewithal to float way up in the middle of the air, or you were of the accursed, left behind.
Whereas the folks in the other time-zones—hell, they’d have plenty of time to get right, before the Rapture, on Camping time, arrived.
Because, in this age of instant intertubes communication, people would Know, from the moment of the 6 p.m. dawning of the rapture there in New Zealand, that the End Times had indeed, in consensus reality, Arrived. For all the cars would have been seen, driverless, to have careened, motiveless, around the freeways, as the drivers were lifted Above.
And thus all in all other time-zones potentially Left Behind would quite definitely Know it was quick-time to stampede to the nearest priest, collar the fellow, and demand last rites. Or bust down the doors to some Baptist edifice, to dive headlong into the baptismal font, crying “born again!”
Seems to me to be kind of a cheat. To be of the quick or the dead, depending solely upon which time-zone bears your being. Sorta like how an American pear-shape blithely bites down on a Big Mac, while a stick-child in Africa combs through feces for kernels of corn. Solely because the pear-shape was born in that world, and the corn-comber was born in the other.
Towards the close of the final book of that advanced extraterrestrial physics text known as Anathem, scripture authored, it is said, by Neal of Seattle, we are told:
The mystic nails a symbol to one meaning that was true for a moment but soon becomes false. The poet, on the other hand, sees that truth while it’s true but understands that symbols are always in flux and that their meanings are fleeting.
As twin commentaries on this bit of scripture, Neal of Seattle adds:
“[Some people] have a weakness, almost a kind of addiction, for the mystical, as opposed to poetic, way of using their minds. And there’s an optimistic side of me that says such a person could break that addiction, be retrained to think like a poet, and accept the fluxional nature of symbols and meaning.
“[The pessimistic side of me says] [t]hat the poet’s way is a feature of the brain, a specific program or faculty, that you either have or you don’t. And that those who have it are doomed to be at war forever with those who don’t.”
In this second commentary we arrive at a deep meaning of those (alleged, filtered through those scribblers-scrawl-lately masquerading as the disciple “Mark”) words of Jesus of Nazareth: “for ye have the poor with ye always.” For would-be mystics stuck fast 2000 years ago in a never-were past—folks like Harold Camping—are very poor indeed.
Two millennia after he briefly walked the earth, said some things, did some things, then died, his corporeal container laid forever away, Jesus of Nazereth is a blank slate. Anyone can scrawl upon him anything they wish. He is the fountainhead of innumerable worldtracks. Nearly none, would he recognize.
A gnarled, crabbed mystic like Harold Camping can cling to a dark thread woven for too many centuries through too many Nazarene worldtracks, and from there shake in the face of the world a dark, swollen, broody fetish, one of suffering, vengeance, righteous mass murder.
While poets like Nikos Kazantzakis, and, later, building on Kazantzakis, Martin Scorsese, can reach into the mist forever shrouding the Reality of the Nazarene, and bring forth, like a flower, an evolving understanding of the Nazarene flux, one that might assist the these-days people of the planet. Rather than, a la Camping, gleefully pronounce, and wallow in, their obliteration.
In Scorsese’s filmic illumination of Kazantzakis’ novel The Last Temptation Of Christ, Saul of Tarsus is a seamy carnival barker, a fast-talking con man, one who consciously, deliberately, rudely transmuted a Jewish seeker into a pagan sun king. In the scene rendered below, Jesus, having been tempted down off the cross by Satan (appearing in the guise of an angel; seen here as the curly-tressed blond gal), and rewarded with the life of a happy, contented, normal man—the “last temptation”—some years after comes upon Saul working the street, delivering his invented Christos spiel. Jesus, rightly, is appalled. Saul, in the film, as on earth, reasons that the Jesus he has invented, is, for his low purposes, superior to the real thing.
Do you see? The worldtrack that Jesus of Nazareth wanted, and needed, and deserved, was that of a happy man: fulfilled, content, growing into and contentedly old, in the pleasures of life.
While the pathology of Saul of Tarsus, and, after, his limitless train of true-believers, requires a worldtrack of Jesus of Nazareth from god become man become god, crucified and torn, who, in the fullness of time, will, of vengeance, take up a machine-gun, to mow down people who Deserve To Die. World unto end. Amen.
A man who just wants to live right and content and more or less anonymous and pretty much happy, he cannot be used to spur people to kill other people. A man who somebody says is a god, can.
Those who are wedded to the Nazarene worldtrack of suffering and death and resurrection are nearing a new place. For the advances in science and philosophy in our lifetime have made manifest the fact that this universe is but one of an infinite multiplicity of universes. In infinite progression through space and time. And in all of these universes teem life. In forms and qualities and quantities at present unimaginable to us. But they’re there.
And in the understanding of the multiple worlds, and the multiple dimensions of those worlds, all about us, is the notion that the Nazarene’s work will never end. For the planets, it is known, are innumerable, and so are the dimensional variations of this one. And every other. And so if salvation is indeed his calling, he will forever be busy as twelve bastards: for there are those who, by the faith(s) that has been invented around his name, will need saving, inhabiting every one.
There is a line contributed to scripture by the person or persons pretending to be the disciple John, that goes like this: “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” Particularly with our contemporary understanding of the word “mansion”—a grand and opulent residence—this verse has a quantum physics feel to it: how the hell are all these “mansions” supposed to fit into a modest ol’ “house”?
Well, the same way somebody can simultaneously be a wave and a particle. Or remain whole while also splitting to pass through two tiny subatomic “doors.” Or be both dead and alive, a la Schrodinger’s Cat.
The word that the King James renders as “mansions” is in the original Greek mone, which could be more precisely translated as “abode,” or “dwelling place.” That this “Father’s house” contains many “abodes,” or “dwelling places,” could certainly indicate that Jesus was envisioning a weary slog through a multiplicity of other hovels and holes, where various assorted knuckledraggers and mouthbreathers would likewise bollix up his message, and then drive huge nails into his body.
Some people, in seeking to bring more conventional “sense” to the passage, stretch the translation a bit and seek to render mone as “rooms” . . . which brings us nicely to Clifford D. Simak, one of the first science-fiction writers to play with dimensions, in his novel City, and who describes there the way dimensions are set up as a series of rooms, in a house without end. At book’s dawn, sometimes one can hear, in a muffled sort of way, what’s going on in the next room, but that’s about it. However, in the course of City, dogs, robots, and mutant humans manage to make the trans-dimensional leap: to this motley crew I would add cats, for their unnerving habit of fixedly staring at things that “aren’t there.”
That Jesus knew he would need to suffer and die limitless times in limitless “rooms,” or dimensions, brings new meaning to the phrase “Jesus wept.”
Of course, what is most probable is that in very few worldtracks do the nails truly await. For in the vast majority of all possible worldtracks, it is highly unlikely that Saul of Tarsus will often run his grubby paws over the Nazarene’s life and message. I choose to believe that, just as this solar system is flung out at the far arm of the galaxy, so too must Saul be a far-flung aberration occupying but a minute corner of the overall trans-dimensional Jesus meme. Most worldtracks, the Nazarene lives happy. In some he says things that some people pay attention to; in some, like most folks, he lives and dies unheard. But nobody needs to drive nails into his flesh. Most worldtracks, Saul finds something else to occupy his time (maybe flowers?) while Harold Camping potters perfectly content through a life devoted to peddling Pepto-Bismol.
If the Potemkin Sun version of reality is in fact True, if the good aliens did kindly apply a temporary reality patch because human beings had proved to be “worthy,” “almost ready for the next step,” I like to think my old journo companero Mikkel Aaland had something to do with it.
As he relates in his book The Sword Of Heaven, Aaland in the early 1980s was arest at a dinner party in San Francisco, when he was introduced to the tale of a Shinto priest who had received a vision, post-Hiroshima, that the world was in a truly bad place. Atomic obliteration was its fate, unless Something could be Done. A second vision compelled the priest to break an ancient Shinto relic, The Sword Of Heaven, into 108 pieces, then encase each piece in a stone block. These blocks then must needs be deposited, preferably into water, in various places around the globe. Through girding the globe with these relics, the priest believed, the nuclear fire might be snuffed a-borning.
Problem was, Aaland was told, the project was snailing. Not many blocks had yet been placed. And time was ticking.
Aaland, a writer/photographer who journeys the world from time to time, impulsively told the storyteller he’d like to get involved in the priest’s project. And then thought no more about it.
Those who did not live through those years really cannot conceive, and those who did live through them really can’t remember, just how nuclear parlous the planet seemed at the time.
Throughout much of that period, I was employed in chronicling the madness. And madness it was. I recall, for instance, when a 37-cent computer-part failed, falsely informing the military folks deep underground in the nation’s number-one bomb shelter, just outside Colorado Springs, that the Soviet Union had suddenly launched a massive first-strike of nuclear ICBMs. It said so right up there on the Big Board. So it must be Real. Fortunately for us, else we would not be conversing here today, the stars-on-the-shoulder-boards men then on duty down below decided to triple-check this Reality, before acting on it. This hesitancy was Against The Rules—they were supposed to respond like Pavlov’s dog, immediately, unthinkingly slingshotting to the USSR nukes in return—but they did it anyway. And so discerned that the supposed Soviet atomic-salvo was not Real at all.
In those days, the White House was occupied by a doddering old diwmit luluing along a worldtrack in which the Soviet Union truly was an “evil empire,” one that had to be confronted all and everywhere. And if, while the US and the USSR, and their various minions and proxies and factotums and fools, went about aggressively stepping on one another’s shoes, somebody got feisty enough to let rain the nukes, well, the old dodderer believed, that would probably be alright. For in his worldtrack the planet was anyway nearing a Camping-style End Times: any day now, good Jesus would be coming back around to hug to his bosom all good Americans. Would make no never mind, believed he, whether those Americans were crispy-fried, or breathing free.
Across the great water there in the Kremlin, people were cranky and paranoid and pretty much convinced that when the old nutter “joked” into an open microphone “my fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever; we begin bombing in five minutes,” he wasn’t really joking at all: that such a thing was inevitable. So the occasion of this “joke” was but one of numberless times when the Red Army was placed on high alert, the doors swung open in the silos, and the tumbrils of mobile atomic weaponry were sent rumbling across the land. Compounding the sense of crippling Fear in the Kremlin was the fact that the Soviet system was then suffering from a continuity problem, as premiers went tumbling into the grave like dominoes. As soon as somebody was appointed Head Man, it was like a death knell; inevitable he’d go worm-food in somewhere around 12-18 months, to be replaced by another doom-boy, similarly accursed.
August 11, 1984. Yee-haw. Good times.
Could’ve been the End Times, then. In some worldtrack or other, probably was.
It was not safe to go to bed, in those days, because there was no telling what that animatronic nimrod in the White House might get up to while you slept. That is why during this period the Lord manifested in mass quantities across the land cocaine. So that it was not necessary to sleep.
Anyway. Nuclear dread then cast a pall across much of the globe. As Studs Terkel noted at the close of his “The Good War,” it was not uncommon then for children to speak of “if I grow up,” rather than “when I grow up.”
There is today nothing really like that nuclear cloud. Oh, hyperexcited wingers ceaselessly toll their cracked bells, pealing out discordant carols of Fear involving “the West” and “Islam” locked in a fight-to-the-death “clash of civilizations.” The plains of Armageddon, coming soon. Meanwhile, over on the other wing, we are told that it is now inevitable that human-generated climate change will transform the planet into some awful and irreparable combination of the blasted heaths of Venus and a fetid dinosaur swamp.
Truth is, if you devote a slice of your life to perusing the pages of history, you’ll eventually discover that, at just about any time, any place, a fair number of people were convinced, for reasons spiritual or secular, or both, that the world was going straight to hell; things running down, getting worse; the End Times nigh.
A wise sage recently reminded me that not even as august a personage as Confucius, surveying what is more than 2500 years ago, proved immune to this sort of thinking:
1. He said that if you could understand the sacrifice/sacrament of music, you could rule the earth as though it were spinning on the palm of your hand.
2. He also said that the “new” music, hitting the charts in his day, was ruining the younger generation.
For millennia before Gethsemane, and in the millennia after, it has always seemed a circling round the drain to the end of the world, somewhere, to somebody. And, sometimes, for some people, it was. But for everybody, everywhere, pretty much all at once? Not yet. And not for a while. ‘Cause not on my watch.
It is entirely possible that the planet and the people on it are always circling the drain, that the End Times are in truth always nigh. And that it is only the determined efforts, or even just the presence, of individual human beings, that allow the planet and its people to continue to be so.
There is, for instance, a strain of Judaism which posits the Tzadikim Nistarim—36 people, male and female, who, rotating through life, occupy the Earth at all times, and thereby keep it keeping on. These people are unknown to each other, unknown even to themselves—they don’t know they are of the Tzadikim Nistarim—but, or so says the Talmud, “were it not for them, all of them, if even one of them was missing, the world would come to an end.” They rise; they fall; they are replaced; but they are always here, 36 of them. (People who know numbers know why they are 36.) They are not people profiled in the Washington Post, or spotlighted on Entertainment Tonight. They just are. They are what Andre Schwartz-Bart, in his novel The Last Of The Just, termed “the just.”
Schwartz-Bart was a Holocaust survivor; such a thing can color one’s world. And so Schwartz-Bart’s novel implicitly asserts that the Holocaust broke the chain of the Tzadikim Nistarim, that through it those 36 people no longer populate this planet. And there is therefore no reason, other than mercy (cf., Potemkin Sun version of reality), for this planet to continue to be.
Because this post has already strayed far outside the realm of readability, intelligibility, or even sanity, I am just going to go ahead and reproduce the final words of Schwartz-Bart’s novel, chronicling the cessation of the corporeal container of “the last of the just.”
And then he knew that he could do nothing more for anyone in the world, and in the flash that preceded his own annihilation he remembered, happily, the legend of Rabbi Chanina ben Teradion, as Mordecai had joyfully recited it: “When the gentle rabbi, wrapped in the scrolls of the Torah, was flung upon the pyre by the Romans for having taught the Law, and when they lit the fagots, the branches still green to make his torture last, his pupils said, ‘Master, what do you see?’ And Rabbi Chanina answered, ‘I see the parchment burning, but the letters are taking wing.’” . . . “Ah, yes, surely, the letters are taking wing,” Ernie repeated as the flame blazing in his chest rose suddenly to his head. With dying arms he embraced Golda’s body in an already unconscious gesture of loving protection, and they were found that way half an hour later by the team of Sonderkommando responsible for burning the Jews in the crematory ovens. And so it was for millions, who turned from Luftmenschen into Luft. I shall not translate. So this story will not finish with some tomb to be visited in memoriam. For the smoke that rises from crematoriums obeys physical laws like any other: the particles come together and disperse according to the wind that propels them. The only pilgrimage, estimable reader, would be to look with sadness at a stormy sky now and then.
And praised. Auschwitz. Be. Maidanek. The Lord. Treblinka. And praised. Buchenwald. Be. Mauthausen. The Lord. Belzec. And praised. Sobibor. Be. Chelmno. The Lord. Ponary. And praised. Theresienstadt. Be. Warsaw. The Lord. Vilna. And praised. Skarzysko. Be. Bergen-Belsen. The Lord. Janow. And Praised. Dora. Be. Neuengamme. The Lord. Pustkow. And praised . . . .
Yes, at times one’s heart could break in sorrow. But often too, preferably in the evening, I can’t help thinking that Ernie Levy, dead six million times, is still alive somewhere, I don’t know where . . . . Yesterday, as I stood in the street trembling in despair, rooted to the spot, a drop of pity fell from above upon my face. But there was no breeze in the air, no cloud in the sky . . . . There was only a presence.
The chemical composition of seawater is more or less identical to that of tears. It is not at all unlikely, at least in my cosmology, that the seas, from which life on this planet began, are formed of all the tears, shed by all this planet’s living beings, who have and shall ever live. These waters, transported via some temporal mobius strip, from all our ends, back there to the beginning.
And on those waters, we sail and we sail and we sail and we sail . . . .
The Holocaust troubled too the waters of Sigmund Freud. The latter Freud, the wise Freud, having long moved on from embarrassing ur-psychology like “what do women want,” having meanwhile apprehended, and applied himself to, the Reality that on this planet exists a struggle between Eros and Thanatos. Sussing out, trying to, how one might surmount the other. From 1933 on, until he died six years later, Freud, a stranger, in suddenly strange lands, where they were all suddenly and avidly about burning his books . . . and wanting to burn him. Concluding, in his final words, that Thanatos—the death instinct—might uber alles after all.
Previously, Freud secularly hewing to the vision of the 16th Century Syrian Kabbalist Isaac Luria, who communized and anarchised the concept of “the just,” asserting that it was not up to but 36 people to keep the world turning, but up to all. That for reasons unfathomable, at the moment of the creation of the universe the divine was shattered into innumerable pieces, and that it was therefore the role of every living being to, through righteous thoughts and deeds, gather up these broken pieces, and reassemble the whole. All are all involved in continuing and furthering creation. Eros this task. Thanatos the task to stop it.
This the worldtrack Mikkel Aaland eventually understood he had embarked upon, through the Shinto project of The Sword Of Heaven. As he moved deeper into involvement in the Shinto priest’s vision, Aaland understood that the placing worldwide of the stone blocks enabled the priest and his people to, on some other plane, meet with astral Eros swords the Thantaos weaponry of those who would be nuclear fire. The successful placement of each new fragment of the sword, he eventually understood, strengthened in these astral battles the forces of Eros.
Aaland, as he baldly relates in his book, resisted for some years full involvement in the project. As he rejected full involvement in his own life.
Few people were so naturally imbued with the era’s nuclear dread as was Mikkel Aaland. His father had worked for many years for Lawrence Livermore Labs: a worker bee feeding in the belly of the beast. In the weeks preceding the Cuban Missile Crisis, his father had constructed a snug fallout shelter in the family’s front yard. Later, this would become Aaland’s boyhood home: as a teenager, he lived there. And, as he approached more deeply the Sword Of Heaven project, this room would come to occupy his nightmares. Bringing it all back home.
People in Aaland’s karass locked onto the project before he did. After his impulsive offer of help at that San Francisco dinner party—Aaland is a nice guy; he not infrequently offers to help people—he pretty much forgot all about the Shinto priest who wanted to gird the globe with sword pieces heaved into water. Until he arrived to visit the family home in Norway, to which his father had retired, and learned that the village was abuzz with wonder that a package had arrived there for Aaland labeled “One Shinto God.” A block containing a piece of the sword. For Aaland to cast upon the waters. Because Aaland had, after all, offered to help.
Aaland hesitated to speak of this weirdness to his host, his father: a rationalist, a man of science. When he did, his father remained silent for some days. And then, matter-of-factly, related the Shinto project to Norwegian folk beliefs, that had sustained their people for millennia. And guided his son to the proper placement of that first “One Shinto God.”
Still, Aaland dragged his feet, for some years, in fulfilling his role in the project. Because dragging his feet was what his life was about. A natural-born photographer, compulsively Aaland snapped pictures of all and every arena of his life. On one occasion, a lover noted that in a photo shot of her and Aaland’s feet on a beach, both her feet were in the frame, but Aaland had held one foot back. Only one foot would he show. That, she decreed, was him. Always holding back.
Only after many experiences, through many years, through which you must read in his book, could Aaland completely give himself over to this project, to which he had so initially, seemingly cavalierly, committed himself to. And once he did, open himself wholly, it became easy. When he stopped putting up resistance, resistance disappeared. He ultimately deposited gods on five continents. He was key to the completion of the project.
And in his life, once he opened himself wholly, he was rewarded with the flower that would complete his life. Shortly after casting his last Shinto block, Aaland met a woman in Belgium, who he understood was his Platonic complement. Rather than worrying over this, letting it fall away astray, he acted. No more the guy with but one foot in the frame. He more or less upturned his life, and fairly swiftly, to lock together the pieces of the puzzle. And, later, when difficulties arose, as difficulties inevitably do, he, of will and strength, persevered. Today, he is a happy man. Of the same serene worldtrack of the most Real manifestation of that oh-so-occluded being we know of as the Nazarene.
Stuff that can legitimately be defined as magic, or at least oo-ee-oo, are contained in Aaland’s story. Such as when he, through a series of events seemingly random, tossed a Shinto god into the waters off Reykjavik. Shortly before, for no reason that any Sane Person could divine at the time, Reagan and Gorbachev arrived there to talk the worldwide abolition of nuclear weapons.
Towards the end of his tome, Aaland writes:
Did a Shinto priest save the world?
At moments, when I’m switched to Shinto channel, I think he did. I can clearly see gods all over the world battling in unison for world peace, making sure a missile isn’t launched here, helping tear a wall down there. But then, my rational mind, strong as ever, changes the channel, and I think all of it was just a lucky coincidence.
Except there are no coincidences. As Luria said: everybody saves the world, all the time. Or should. ‘Cause that’s what we’re here for.
So I like too, how Aaland recognizes, even after spending six years with the project, all stones deposited, that his work may not be over.
I wouldn’t be surprised that if the world suddenly got really dangerous, a package would appear on my doorstep with a note, “One Shinto God.”
Our little contribution, in short, to wit, is to help it all along. In whatever way we can. Eros. We do this approaching from the other side of Outerbridge Reach, the graveyard of dead souls. We do it from what Van Morrison has identified as Coney Island. Not “the perfect island,” because no island in this life is perfect. But the island where one may, as Robert Stone’s whiskey priest puts it in A Flag For Sunrise, achieve “Half moments. Glintings. A little rising of the heart.” This place:
i look at the side of your face
as the sunlight comes streaming through the window
in the autumn sunshine
and all and all the time we’re going to coney island
wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time
I was left behind, here. I know that. I’ve known that for a while. All of us were: left behind. I know that, too. I feel that strongly.
But left behind is not how I’m leaving. I’m leaving eyes wide open; holding hands; leaping into the great wide open.
So, humbly might I suggest, could you.
As Aaland writes, leaving The Sword Of Heaven:
As I write these last words, rays from the afternoon sun are striking my office window. The golden light is wonderful. I love this city, and I am so happy to be back. I can hear my daughter and her friends talking in the room next to me. I think about their future. The Cold War is over, and so is the nuclear threat of my childhood. My daughter won’t grow up in a bomb shelter but that doesn’t mean the world is not dangerous.
I want to tell my daughter not to be afraid, but I know that she will have her own fears and her own unique solutions. Instead I’ll tell her to be vigilant, and to look to her dreams and nightmares for clues and signs of progress. I’ll tell her to be open-minded about the spirit world, and if it feels right, to call upon the spirits for help. I’ll also tell her to seek out communities embarked on meaningful and noble acts. The acts need not be as large as the Sword of Heaven, for any act that makes the world a better place is worthy. Above all, I’ll tell her that all action, big or small, must always be accompanied by the opening of one’s heart. As the Sword of Heaven taught me, ritual only takes one to the door. To get through to the other side, there must be love.
The afternoon light moves from the end of my desk and for a moment illuminates the letters on my keyboard. From my window, I can see a huge ship passing beneath the Golden Gate Bridge on its way to dock. I lean back and take it all in. I wonder where the ship is going next. I wonder where the light will fall now.