Vulnerability v. It Ain’t Easy Being Green

16 Jul

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The Phil Mickelson Caveat

18 Jun

 

The Phil Mickelson Caveat

By L. Stewart Marsden

As expected, sports news talking heads are all abobble about one of the two major take-always from the 2018 U.S. Open Golf Championship at Shinnecock Hills Golf Course this weekend in Southampton, NY.

An aside: Wonder why the nation is not equally outraged by the golf course’s logo? It never came up, somehow.

One has clearly drawn the serious attention away from the other. Phil’s desperate antics on the 13th (ironic, no?) hole in venting his day-long putting frustration by whacking his putted golf ball that was clearly going to end up (oh, who knows where?) drew the commentating from how the PGA screwed up again with an unholy course, already difficult, and made three times more difficult by shaving the grass from the greens.

At least for the moment. While spewing venom at the game’s most likable pro, greens keepers flooded the greens at the end of Round Three after Big Guy Dustin Johnson unceremoniously slipped the balding slopes from what looked like an insurmountable four-stroke lead of -4 to a share of the lead by day’s end at +3.

“Cheater!” cried the pompous PGA elders.

”Horrible precedence,” they added.

So, without due process, Mickelson was hung out to dry. If only he had taken a knee instead of stopping his hockey puck putt!

Did you know that duffers like me make mince-meat of the rules of golf on a regular basis?

Ever hear of the 10-inch rule? According to my brother, you can move your ball to any point within a 10-inch diameter to improve your lie. You won’t find that one in the book.

Ever hear of the Mulligan rule? Or the reincarnated Mulligan?

Ever hear of the “within the putter grip” rule?

The PGA has spent a lot of money trying to get golfers to follow the rules.

Actually, Phil DID follow the rules. Ask any defense lawyer. He gladly took the penalty.

Was it the right thing to do?

Well, if morality is going to enter the conversation, then let’s talk about DJ’s reported dalliances. And what about … TW? How quickly we forget and forgive. Don’t worry, plenty more scarlet letters where Phil’s “C” comes from.

Did you know it’s thought golf was actually a drinking game? At least, the winners were afforded drinking credits. And even that it was banned and against the law to play it? Look it up. It’s on the internet. Gotta be true.

Here’s what would be fair in terms of the controversy over Phil’s sin:

Make him play the remainder of the round, and the next five tournaments in which he plays, right-handed. Now that should be tantamount to cutting off his hands at the wrist. Except Phil is actually right-handed, and I’m sure would adjust. Then cut off one of his feet. “I’m still playing!” Okay, then –– cut off the other foot. “I’m still playing!”

You live by the rules … you die by the rules.

You might look at Phil’s action from a different perspective, however. Isn’t he really saying, I’ve done this that you may be free (of the rules)? Kind of a golfing savior for the rest of us golfing wannabes.

Back to the real problem this weekend: while there was some nasty satisfaction at watching the world’s best golfers get massacred by those gatling gun greens, it was also sad.

PGA:
Please don’t ever do that again! Choose courses for The Open that are indeed challenging and have the respect of each golfer, but don’t make them impossible! I hated looking at the leaderboard this weekend. Don’t go back to Shinnecock Hills until they pledge to

  1. plant a few trees back,
  2. let the grass on the greens grow a bit.
  3. change their logo. How about a shield that has something representing a shin and something that represents a cock?

As it is currently, I’m sure most of the PGA golfers who played the course this weekend felt cuckolded –– by the course AND by the PGA.

 

Kicking the Tires

15 Jun

 

Kicking the Tires

By L. Stewart Marsden

My dad was an auto mechanic for years. On the weekends he and me used to work on an old jalopy he bought for practically nothing. Said it was his therapy. Well he musta had a severe case of the crazies on account he worked on that car till the day he died.

Sally, he called her. And she was the jumpin’ off point for many a life lesson I never forgot.

“Sally is just like a woman,” he said a lot. “She may be old, and may not work the way she did when she rolled off the assembly line, but she’s reliable and fixable. Not like the shiny new cars you see in the dealerships. No. And she wasn’t made for the smooth life of the highway, but the bumpy backroads.

“Once she’s back in shape, she’ll purr like a kitten and be the envy of every guy within three counties.

“Not like those fancy-finned gals with all kinds of gadgets. The ones what seems great the first time you take ‘em on the road, only to fall apart after not too long. The ones with built-in ob-so-lescence. Cosmetic crates, I call ‘em. Lemons with a fancy paint job.”

My dad’s ability to hone in on Sally as a universal roadmap to life was better than a lecture from a triple-PhD at some high-powered college or university. According to my dad, those guys had nothing but wind chimes for brains, which tinkled loudly whenever a fresh wind blew.

But Sally was the real thing. The true compass. From sex to marriage to being dependable and trustworthy as a worker. She was the rusted splotch-polished real McCoy example of how life should be, and once was.

“The thing about marriage is you are drawn by the sleek sexiness of a sedan or a convertible under the lights on the car lot. Never buy a new car at night, by the way.

“Oh, the shine and the new vinyl smell and the reflections of city lights as you cruise the boulevard make you think you’re in heaven! The AM/FM works just fine, and the steering is tight. The big rubber whitewalls grip the road on every turn, and you only have to tap your breaks to slow or stop on a dime. The clutch is taut, and the gears slide like butter from first to third.

“And there ain’t no crusted-over milkshake spills on the floorboard. The cigarette lighter is virginal, and the ashtray slick and clean. The visors hold where you place them, and the rear view mirror ain’t spotted.

“And it’s just fine as it can be, you say to yourself.

“But you worry. About the first bug marks on the silver bumper that won’t scrub off. Or a ding on the side where some jack-ass parked too close and swung open his door. Or the temperature gauge light popping on suddenly when you are miles from a filling station.

“That first slow leak from a nail in the road. Is that person going to stop at the light or not?

“It’s all a worrisome time.

“Plus your car needs the high-priced gas, not the cheapest leaded fuel, although you are tempted to ask the attendant to use regular instead, knowing your baby will eventually chug and shudder on the road –– right when you’re trying to pass a semi on a two-lane county back road with oncoming traffic.

“And you begin to try to save in other ways, avoiding the manufacturer plugs and points and air filters for the cheaper no-name brands. Less expensive motor oil. Maybe you don’t change the radiator fluid for a while. You quit hand-washing and waxing and zip through the new automats.

“Then it’s not too long before you hear the door hinges and springs creak loudly, and there is a crusted-over milkshake spill or two on the floorboard. The vinyl smell is gone. The cigarette lighter has turned gray-white on the coils, and the ashtray is dusted over and no longer shiny. Rust spots dot the bumpers and other chrome trim. And when you idle at a light, blue-gray puffs of lead-filled exhaust spew from your loud muffler.

“And you think to yourself, ‘It’s time for a trade in.’”

Don’t get me wrong. Dad loved Mom. And he always treated her like the fine Cadillac convertible he saw her to be.

But he was at his happiest when he worked on Sally. And he whistled. And he compared life to his life-long restoration project.

He and Mom stayed married sixty-seven years.

“Don’t ever forget, Son. You gotta kick a few tires to find the right one. And never –– ever –– buy a new car at night.”

Words to live by.

I hear voices

8 Jun

I Hear Voices

By L. Stewart Marsden

I hear voices. They come from out of nowhere like seeds borne by a dark wind, down into my ears and along the canals, edging further into my head where they take root.

That’s the best description I can give when considering how I come to write a poem, or a short story, or play, or argument about something.

Mysterious; elusive; inexplicable.

I hear the conversations between characters, who verbally spar with each other in my stories or plays. I hear the rhythm and rhyme of thoughts that spin into poems about whatever I’m experiencing. I see the stages where the works take place: an ocean, a mountain, a savanna, a city street. I smell the salt air, the pungent sassafras, the dry grass, the wet pavement. I hear the surrounding sounds of the background: a wave gently crashing onto the sand, the kree of a circling hawk, the rustle of the ocean of grasses, a distant ambulance.

Sometimes the voices are therapeutic. They worm into my subconscious and attack my fears and misgivings and self-doubt. They break the grip of things that seem to want to paralyze me and hold me back. And when those things are exposed to the light — as when Mommy bursts in to turn on the light during a nightmare — there are no ogres or monsters or creepy-crawlies under the bed or tucked into my closet.

Just the words. The poems. The stories.

My tinctures and salves are as imaginary as the ailments they address. Just words and thoughts.

Not all hear the voices. It’s both curse and blessing. Curse in the dead of night when they persist to prattle on until I eventually crawl out from my covers to tap them out onto the screen of my iPad. Blessing in when the effort is complete, and awaits the next step. I can fall back into my bed, deeply exhausted, and the voices are quiet.

You might think it’s madness. I suppose to a degree it is. There’s enough to surviving a lifetime than adding to it more things to read, to consider, to mull over.

But the voices don’t care about that. They want their day, whether they are read or not; appreciated or not; understood or not.

Me? For some reason I’m just one of the many vessels through which they choose to flow.

Next time you’re on a plane, or the subway, or walking a crowded street, or lingering in the shade beside a creek — listen.

Do you hear them?

I hope you do.

Looking for comments for Age of Descent

7 Jun

On my workbench is a 2-act play that follows Albert’s necessary life changes after the death of his wife of forty-five years. Although there are changes to be made here and there, I’m satisfied it’s ready for scrutiny.

Again, I’m not looking for a “like,” but comments.

The cast is three people, Albert, his daughter Missy, and Flo, his unexpected new acquaintance after being talked into moving from his New York home to the Honey Haven Retirement Community outside Orlando, FL.

The staging is very simple, as is the lighting.

Older readers should identify with Albert and Flo to some extent. Those with elderly parents should identify with Missy. This is not a play for younger people. I doubt they would appreciate it.

I thank you for reading this still-in-progress play, and for your comments.

L. Stewart Marsden

Click here for the downloadable PDF version of the script.

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Copyright, 2018. No reproductions may be made without my exclusive written permission.

 

 

 

 

 

Six of my favorite works of poetry

7 Jun

Below the six poems are my favorites and best written among my work in my opinion. They are in no particular order. I wrote them between 2011 and 2014. There are others I like, but not as well. There are some I should probably scrap, or start over again. If you would care to read more of my poetry work, select the poetry tab. I don’t mind a comment or two — in fact, I welcome them. — LSM

That Lion There

That lion there,
the one with splotchy, mangy hair
who lies in shade far from his lair
and pants last labored breaths of air —
Once was bold and fierce and strong
and where he walked the wary throng
of meaty prey gave way and long they
watched lest he should charge their way.
He once was young, a cub just born
who clung to mother’s teats and wore no
caution nor no wisdom yet —
essentials that would help him get to lionhood.
And if he could, that lion there
would soon return to those times where
his strength and youth were fresh and fair
and he could do whatever he would damn well do.

Copyright © 2014

 

Waiting to be called

Long laid low along the ridge
the Old Man rests, his crusty visage staring ever upward,
waiting, waiting, waiting to be called,
when he will rise to stand o’re all and look about,
the blue-hazed land rolling out to distanced watered shores,
and he will shake his grizzled beard, and wipe his gnarléd brow
and take his first stiff step, then more,
the residue of his millennialed nap falling to the forested floor
as he glides agefully away with the day’s last light,
his stately shoulders shrouded ‘neath the cooling night.

Copyright © 2014

 

Ah, Autumn!

The Snap! of cheek red’ning chill;
The Crackle! of gold and sable bills underfoot;
The Pop! of jeweled hills in the late day sun;
I love the first bowlful of Autumn,
Poured out and ready to be
Devoured.

Copyright © 2014

 

The Black Cat’s Tail

Crouched to pounce,
White paws afore,
The sleek black cat intently stares,
His lucent eyes, wide and fixed
Upon the object of his glare.
His tail betwixed the left and right,
A metronome of crescendoing beat
Precedes his jumping to his feet
To claim the prize on which his eyes
Have firmly locked.
And, oh, if that small morsel, white and pale,
Had just observed the black cat’s tail!

Copyright © 2014

I’m Sick Today

Today I didn’t feel so well —
My throat was very sore;
And Mama took my temp’rature
And stroked my hair some more;
Then measured out my medicine
Into a silver spoon,
With “down the hatch” she smiled at me,
And then she softly crooned …
“I love my girl, my pretty lass,
Who doesn’t feel so well,
You know I would — if I could —
Ring loud the healing bell!
“And up you’d jump and sing straight out,
‘My gosh! I’m ME again!’
And dance and play and laugh and shout
Until the long day’s end.”
But, sad to say, I’m sick today,
All nestled in the bed,
And I will sleep the day away
And rest my fev’rish head;
And dream wild dreams of Faerie lands —
Of castles, kings and queens;
Then of the prince who’ll take my hand
And fly to lands unseen . . .
Where he and I will rule with care
The lowly and the proud;
And when a subject isn’t well
We’ll ring the bell aloud!
And all’ll jump up and sing straight out
“Oh gosh! We’re US again!”
And dance and play and laugh and shout
Until the long day’s end.
Until the long day’s end.

Copyright © 2015

 

The Bone-Pickers

Down
Down
in lazy slow round circles;
their flight like narrowing funnels;
they light on soft-padded claws
Then bob and weave and haw
with eyes on carrion morsels:
the bits and pieces of once-vibrant things,
now nothing but bone and sinew and chunk-white fat
with red-brown meat, drying, lying like that in the sun.
The bone-pickers
ogle and waddle and gobble in order,
positioned by age and weight and strength,
Peck and tear at length till
what remains are bleached and white.
A gust billows, and hot pillows of grainy dust
Swirl and curl aloft – spin brief tornadic dances and die.
The bone-pickers stretch necks, preen feathers and cry to each other,
then wing their weary way back
up
up
in lazy slow circles;
shrinking in hot-sunned air
till barely there
until another sole soul
lies down with vacant stare.

Copyright © 2011

10 Easy Habits to Separate Yourself From the Pack

26 May

10 Easy Habits to Separate Yourself From the Pack

By L. Stewart Marsden

Below are 10 suggestions to form as habits that should glean unexpected positive results wherever you are. While not talents, I would classify them as definite skills you can nurture. It’s surprising how doing things as simple as listed below will separate you markedly from the crowd. Assuming you want to be noticed that way, of course.

  1. Address anyone older or in a position of authority as Sir or Ma’am. You don’t have to be Southern to say Ma’am. Observe anyone who has served in the military and most of the time you will hear “yes Sir” or “yes Ma’am.” That goes for your own home as well.
  2. Remember to say “Thank, you” when someone does anything for you, whether holding a door or serving as a host. A generous tip at a restaurant is a way of thanking your wait person, regardless of their level of service. Everyone has a bad day, and a well-placed and well-timed “thank-you” may make their day. You like it when people thank you, right?
  3. Practice good table manners.
  4. Use the word “please” often.
  5. When writing, know the differences between they’re, their, and there; also to, too, and two. Especially on Facebook!
  6. Offer to help.
  7. Clear your own plate.
  8. Avoid profanity.
  9. Offer guests drinks or food first.
  10. Listen more than you talk.

You don’t have to be a goody-goody to adopt these habits, and many of us struggle to overcome other habits that don’t present us well to others. And you may have heard it takes 21 days to form a habit. According to the Foundation for Economic Education (fee.org), depends what kind of habit you want to form:

Indeed, overall, the researchers were surprised by how slowly habits seemed to form. Although the study only covered 84 days, by extrapolating the curves, it turned out that some of the habits could have taken around 254 days to form — the better part of a year! What this research suggests is that 21 days to form a habit is probably right, as long as all you want to do is drink a glass of water after breakfast. Anything harder is likely to take longer to become a really strong habit, and, in the case of some activities, much longer.”

Regardless the length of time it takes to form the 10 habits above, I believe you will find the efforts will pay off in the long run.

And Now a Word …

23 May


 

And Now a Word …

By L. Stewart Marsden

I’ve been amazed at the quality and production value of TV commercials over the past few years. Especially the ones aimed at the national marketplace — though it’s difficult to tell, sometimes.

It used to be that various industries dominated the airways in attempts to bend my mind to buy their products. As a kid, that didn’t work so well. Most were aimed at Mom and Dad. Dinah Shore and Chevrolet (Burt must have liked those). Speedy, the animated drug pusher (although the Drop, drop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is part could have been used for a laxative product as well). Madge and her green “you’re soaking in it!” reveal. The incredibly mesmerizing Comfort Fit bra commercials (as close to skin as it got in the day and much better than National Geographic).

For me they were real bothers (other than the bra commercials), especially if the Lone Ranger was about to ride Silver into a canyon where there were about a hundred bad guys lying in wait. The cliff hanger.

And now a word … That part hasn’t changed. Then, no remotes to click on the “Last” button to toggle to another show. But even that has been taken into consideration today in a last-ditch effort by Madison Avenue, and most of the commercials seem to be synchronized to begin at the same time. I’ve actually surfed through several stations at commercial time and landed on the same commercial, milliseconds separation. Technology!

The only commercials I paid attention to were the rough and gruff cowboys who rode off into the sunset with a Marlboro stuck to their lower lips, the ash about 3 inches long (symbolism?). Or the Chesterfield commercials where doctors told me smoking was safe (https://youtu.be/TOKc6TNwlj4). At the time, a pack of cigarettes could be bought for a quarter from the cigarette vending machine tucked into the Men’s room of a local gas station.

Today, commercials are full of comedy, action, good writing and incredible acting. There are two times a year I look forward to a barrage of commercials willingly: the Super Bowl, and the Clio Awards. The first is an all-out competition between brands to wow and spin us about with ad producers’ incredible creativity and artistry. The second is an industry pat-on-the-back of its blatant efforts to seduce and manipulate.

My current favorite is the All State commercial where a teen enters his parents bedroom to admit a fender-bender (https://youtu.be/zBYTIklIodE) incident. I can identify as both the kid as well as the adult.

The arrival of the industry to this level of entertainment wasn’t overnight. Coca-Cola has been striving for years for the emotional prod for a long time. “I’d Like to Teach the World to Singhttps://youtu.be/ib-Qiyklq-Q” is iconic –– as well as the Mean Joe Greene commercial https://youtu.be/xffOCZYX6F8. If you don’t know of these, you are too young and need to be spanked and sent to bed.

There have been ads that leave you puzzled, like the EDS commercial Cat Herders (https://youtu.be/vTwJzTsb2QQ) An example of the medium overwhelming the message. It was banned by somebody or organization for some reason. Probably cat lovers. I don’t remember seeing a disclaimer that no cats were harmed or branded during the production of the ad.

While the tugs and pulls at our senses, sentiments, and savings haven’t changed, I’m glad the commercials have. Launched quite a few acting careers as well, like the I’m a Pepper guy (https://youtu.be/jvCTaccEkMI) who later starred in the best werewolf transformation film ever (albeit the budget must have caused the director to stop the film without the typical beast resolution — https://youtu.be/E7BmQc5QKVs).

There was a time TV was “free.” Of course it was underwritten through advertisers who used the programs to siphon from America’s money gas tanks. But still, it was free to the consumer. Now, alas, not so much (I recently begrudgingly wrote out my monthly cable service fees).

Commercial sponsors once ruled the day, and provided America with much-needed diversion from the day-to-day grind. Now we’re content to spend the big monthly bucks to see our fare without interruption. Or, as the Romans might have said, continuatam scilicet entertainment. And that decision has dire ripple effects:

  • On our bladders.
  • On fewer trips to the kitchen, hence less consumption of various foods (chips and sodas, which constitute two of the five major American food groups. Pizza and McDonalds and ice cream are the other three).
  • On our social interaction skills. There are also other entities currently mastering this demise: Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • On our ability to discern between night and day (if binge-watching).
  • On the advertising industry, which will be forced to lay off thousands of writers, directors, producers, actors, and Best Boys.

The result will be that whatever “free” TV remains. The commercials will be local, and you know what that means, right?

https://youtu.be/Gl6F12DWI7o.

Or, https://youtu.be/HqGsT6VM8Vg.

Sorry about that. Too much uninterrupted binging on The Walking Dead.

You get what I mean.

Don’t be a putz. Let’s save the TV commercial industry by giving up those expensive cable TV contracts. And by doing that, save the many careers that will inevitably be eliminated. And if they are, the only commercials we will see will be like the following:

 

 

 

 

It’s Just Music

21 May

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Just Music

By L. Stewart Marsden

At the risk of coming across very ego-centered (as opposed to plain ego-centered), sometimes I surprise myself in a good way.

Much of my married life I was told I am dysthymic. For those unfamiliar with the term, it basically means you live just below the surface of the water emotionally. Like Eeyore, Milne’s classic character of Winnie-the-Pooh fame. In fact, my Ender Wife presented me with a stuffed version of Eeyore, which I still have. I let the dog chew on him.

I’ve always thought the hyperbolic ups and downs of some people I’ve observed were good reason to maintain a more steady disposition, albeit just below the water’s surface. How they are able to tolerate the ups and downs of their emotional roller coasters befuddles me.

They are the Hare, and I am the Tortoise in that way. Yup, yup.

In addition to being dysthymic, I’ve been told I’m an avoider, and a procrastinator. But we can get to that later. None of the labels is very heartening, though.

My retreats are basically three-fold:

  1. I play Spider Solitaire and dive into imagined scenarios and conversations during play.
  2. I write and/or research for my writing.
  3. I play my guitar.

That’s it.

I get no personal satisfaction from playing solitaire other than the brief high from winning — which is not very often (I don’t play the easy versions). My mind tends to run the ravines of what I would like to say or do if I only had the courage. It gets a bit tiresome.

Periodically I write something I am somewhat satisfied with, knowing that ninety percent of writing is actually in the editing and cutting of stuff (boring as well as ego-painful). Writing is never complete, like learning.

But, when I pick up my guitar … something happens.

I absolutely lose myself either in a song I am learning and trying to perfect, or in random rifts with slight variations in notes and chords.

When I was a kid, I used to do the same sort of thing, except on the down-sized ebony Mason & Hamlin grand that was in the living room. I could sit and pluck out tunes and chords for hours.

In the flow of the music it matters very little how good I actually play. I don’t criticize myself on those counts. I am too deeply embedded in the song, whether playing my arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah (Jeff Beckley did not write it); or Georgia on My Mind by Hoagy Charmichael (neither Willie Nelson nor Ray Charles wrote this); or reliving my teen years playing America (Simon & Garfunkel).

I imagine sitting alone on a stage, a single spotlight illuminating a circle on the floor that encompasses me, and all else dark. I can’t see the audience, but I know they are there. I bend notes and gruff out a lyric with an impure voice — gravelly and frayed on the edges. Every line — every word — has meaning. All I’ve ever learnt from love … Other eyes smile tenderly … “Cathy, I’m lost!” I said, though I knew she was sleeping …

It’s not a high. There isn’t any euphoria. But it’s a damn good place for me, and when I emerge from however long I’ve escaped, I am ready to face reality, and being dysthymic, or emotionally frail, isn’t the portentous thunderstorm on the horizon that it once was.

Plus this process is thousands of dollars cheaper than years of counseling, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Do you have an instrument?

Do you have a song?

Do you have a place you can curl into (not a fetal position, mind you) and feel safe and snug? One that allows you to empty yourself and to breathe in renewal?

Sounds Zen, doesn’t it?

But it isn’t.

It’s just music.

 

 

 

On Death and Dying … a Conversation

18 May

 

 

 

 

On Death and Dying … a Conversation

By L. Stewart Marsden

“Are you afraid?”

“Of dying, or death?”

“Of either.”

“Of dying — well I’m a little wary of that part. I have a low threshold for pain, you know.”

“What about death?”

“That’s the easy part. Everybody before me, and everybody after me has and will do it. I think we have it wrong, though.”

“How’s that?”

“Most are convinced it’s a final destination. Like the beach.”

“The beach?”

“Sure. You think about your trip for months on end. You imagine the warm sun and the calming surf and the lack of hurry or care. All of that anticipation.”

“Ok.”

“You pack your car with everything you’ll need, and map out your route, then jump in and start the engine.”

“Right.”

“Along the way you might hit traffic, or a detour — maybe even a wreck or two along the way.”

“Uh-huh.”

“At some point you begin to smell it in the air. The salt. That first indication you are very near. And you get impatient to get there. Or to be the first person in your car to see the ocean.”

“Yes.”

“You arrive, and you get together with your family, who’ve all arrived from different places, traveling different routes, and you mill about and greet one another. Then the inevitable question: how long did it take you to get here?”

“I see.”

“Yeah. So in a way dying is like your trip to the beach, and death is arriving at the beach.”

“Does everyone make it to the beach? You mentioned wrecks along the way.”

“You mean the heaven or hell thing?”

“If you like.”

“Kind of where the metaphor breaks down. So the way I see it, the beach isn’t the destination.”

“No?”

“The better metaphor –– at least the way I see it –– is labor and birth.”

“Why?”

“Labor is what we conceive as our life. In labor, we ease down the birth canal, and there are trying times along the way. We are distorted and pushed on every side. It’s cramped, dark, and –– frankly, uncomfortable most of the journey.

“Then, towards the end, we begin to see a little daylight ahead, and that daylight gets brighter and brighter. So does the pain and the difficulty. Again, maybe we get stuck. But you see we aren’t with anyone else. It’s just us. Just me. Just you. Our individual gauntlet to face and bear. Finally, we emerge –– to the applause of those waiting our arrival. We are swept up and held close and cradled in the arms of Someone who has been patiently anticipating us.”

“And who is that Someone?”

“You want me to say God, right?”

“I want to know what you think. You can say whatever you like.”

“I don’t know the answer to that, only that I’m excited to find out.”

“So you aren’t afraid you’re going to end up in one place or other?”

“Let me ask you something.”

“Okay.”

“You believe in God?”

“I do.”

“And is God male or female?”

“I don’t know.”

“Loving or strict?”

“I’d say both.”

“So there’s room in God’s lexicon for the two to exist juxtaposed?”

“Juxtaposed isn’t a word I would use, but, yes.”

“So a loving and strict God can appoint my afterlife to either a heavenly or hellish eternity?”

“Are you afraid of hell?”

“Do you mean, am I sure of my eternal destination?”

“I suppose.”

“For a complicated and unknowable God, that question seems too simplistic.”

“Well, how do you see it, then?”

“More complicated, of course. I’m not so sure our heavens and hells are after we die, but before it. And I’m not so sure we have only one life and death.”

“You believe in reincarnation?”

“Not in the sense I come here as human, live and die, and come back as a caterpillar.”

“Then how?”

“Have you lived a perfect life?”

“Of course not.”

“But a good life?”

“I try.”

“Why?”

“Why try? I suppose it’s in my nature to do the best I can.”

“Is it enough?”

“Enough for what?”

“To get into heaven.”

“To get into heaven you must be born …”

“Again! Exactly!”

“It’s a spiritual rebirth. Not a physical one.”

“Are you sure?”

“I –– we’re talking about you, not me.”

“I’m absolutely fine with the rebirth thing. It makes sense to me. I was, I am, and I will be. Even the Bible says ‘you are gods.’”

“That’s not what it means.”

“No? Are you sure? When Christ said, ‘It is finished,’ what did he mean by that?”

“He meant that the battle between good and evil was finished. That his death –– his blood and his body –– were the atonement for the sins of Man.”

“And you believe that?”

“I do.”

“So it was a done deal?”

“A done deal.”

“Then why hell?”

“Beg your pardon?”

“That’s why I’m not afraid of death. God has something far more wonderful for me than I can ever imagine. IF what you say is true.”

“So you do believe in God?”

“What I believe … will it change anything?”

“In what way?”

“In terms of me living or dying. This body of mine is going to wear out. Built-in obsolescence.”

“It won’t change whether you will die or not. It might change how you live, however.”

“But, everything I’ve done up to this point in my life –– none of that will be undone? I can’t take the bad things back, right?”

“Right.”

“What if I could? What if this life of mine is like a slinky toy, and it spirals slowly, each circumnavigation a lifetime?”

“A slinky is analogous to reincarnation?”

“Crude, I know –– but it serves my purpose. Let’s add another element. Do you believe in the laws of physics?”

“What I understand of them.”

“Well, gravity is the easiest, I suppose. The apple from the tree thing. Are you familiar with the Law of Conservation of Energy?”

“That energy always exists in some form or fashion, never diminishing?”

“Close enough.”

“It’s a theory, I believe.”

“Ah, like heaven and hell? But you understand heaven and hell to be spiritual absolutes, and Conservation of Energy is an absolute scientific law.”

“What’s your point?”

“My point is that I –– me –– the energy of who I am –– will not dissipate nor diminish. Not ever. Not one iota. It may transfer to a different form, but it won’t be lost.”

“So you think you are eternal?”

“Have been for a very long time now.”

“And by that you are equal to the god who created you?”

“Didn’t say that. I am the product of whatever caused me to be created. I am energy. Like everything around us. By virtue of that, I –– or my energy –– will be forever.”

“Namaste.”

“Don’t be sarcastic. If you think about it, it’s hard to argue against.”

“So it’s black and white with you, then?”

“Explain, please.”

“Science and what you call incontrovertible fact or theory, versus the existence of an all-knowing, supreme being.”

“I didn’t say that. I’m certainly open to an omniscient being. But I’m also open to the thought we could be in the bedroom of a four-year-old who is controlling all of this! Which is less absurd?”

“You compare God to a four-year-old?”

“It’s the Old Testament/New Testament contrast. To me, after all of the stuff in the Old Testament, God grew up a bit. Like that bit with Abraham and Isaac. He didn’t know Abraham was going to be obedient and would actually kill his own son? How’s that possible? Was that for Abraham’s sake? Or did he figure The paparazzi was going to start showing up at these events? So he learned from his own creation, and looked over and chose his son to come down and make things right.”

“Hush your mouth!”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to offend. I mean, how could God ever learn something from his own creation? Is that outside the scope of possibility? I thought all things are possible with God.

“Seems to me there’s enough evidence –– especially over the millennia –– that humankind has been going through this very slow slinky toy evolution process. We are learning that our impulses for power and dominance over each other and the world we live in are not the ones to guide us –– especially if one rejects the concept of survival of the fittest –– which has usually meant the most physically powerful and aggressive.

“What if survival of the fittest meant mentally and emotionally and spiritually fit? What then?More and more of us are rejecting how things have been, learning from the results of those base and instinctive primitive impulses. Fear and hate of those different from us. Clear-cutting and ravaging the land and its resources.

“So you asked am I afraid of death? Just the dying part. Mostly because I’m a wimp. But to me, being dead is either going to be mental oblivion, or rebirth, and a chance to continue that progressive evolution trend towards something bigger and better and kinder and more satisfying. I can die with that.