I live in hallowed tree. Well …. You might think it’s an apartment but to me reality is not so well defined. I grew up needing glasses. Things to me were just blobs. I took on faith whatever anyone said they were seeing. I could see blobs of color and light; the beautiful lights filled my eyes with sparkles and sounds. Colors always made a sound to me, maybe my way of adapting to the reality I could barely see. I eventually got glasses when the school provided testing found me unable to read the big “E” on the eye chart. They thought I was kidding. I was accused of lying just to get attention. My life changed the day I got glasses. It was a good thing I think. So much more detail in the soundings and reality I lived within. I could see things that I had never seen before. Like the wires on the electric poles along the road. And leaves in the trees not just blobs of color that broke into leaves to fall in autumn. I was seven or eight years old then. It was incredible looking back that I survived life that long not being able to see. I had to be within 30 feet of an object to see it as clearly as you standing 300 feet away. I must have been a sort of mystery to my folks. During my first phase of life, I was nearly blind and certainly challenged doing everyday things that involved seeing at a distance. I find it difficult to go there now. I also lost my ability to hear the sounds of colors. A sacrifice I suppose. My point of view, so sacred, so rich in metaphor and wonder, now asunder on the altar of consciousness. And I held the knife, a simple pair of glasses. I would never be the same.
Finding a spot for my self in this enhanced view of reality would be fun. I did well at school but was mostly bored. I loved interaction and was certainly an extrovert. In seventh grade everyone discovered how smart I was. The class was seated by IQ rating and the last 10 of 18 chairs were scrambled to prevent any losers from happening. I had the first chair and the boy in number two spot hated me for that. I was a year younger than everyone else in the class. IQ tests are age sensitive and so he felt I had an unfair advantage. I didn’t even know that there was a battle going on let alone that I had somehow won. Three years from then, I would fall off a cliff ledge and forget everything that ever happened to me as a child.
I was still very capable of faith based reasoning and living. The thought of living among people seemed disgusting and crude to me. I loved the idea of God and wanted to spend the rest of my life exploring God. So I joined a semi cloistered order to become a priest at ninth grade. I was greeted by my ‘big brother’ the person who would help make the transition easier. His first words to me were. “I thought you’d be some kind of athlete instead you’re a scrawny little kid”. So I buried myself in books and made friends with some other kids who also were considered less than desirable. We were younger than the others and smarter too. A terrible combination. And we didn’t like sports too much either. The school had an indoor pool that I used most every day. I loved to swim and dive. I even played football, basketball and baseball. But getting hit by a ball in the face was not my idea of fun so I only played when I had too.
6-12 of us used to go on five to seven mile hikes a lot. There were abandoned quarries with stone ovens and kilns that we explored. There were stone tunnels everywhere and exploring them was a favorite pass time. There was also a nearby school for girls that one of the upper classman liked to visit. He would go there for a few hours leaving us without supervision, free to explore the quarry and anything else we found. Generally, we were not included in school social interactions. We were allowed, even encouraged, to ‘get lost’. We discovered a great place, in the steeple of the church. The door was hidden and clearly no one had been up there in a while. So we made it our secret hiding place. It was the perfect place to view the fall colors on the trees and the morning mist and silvery fog on the grassy fields.
Winter was so special. From the steeple you could see the snow covering everything. The lovely silver thaw, ice covering everything glistening in the sun. The quiet sound of falling snow while watching cars come on visitor Sundays. Our parents lived to far away to visit so instead of having a picnic on the grounds we had lunch with the priests and others whose parents couldn’t come. I learned to play ice hockey and enjoyed it far more than other sports. Shortly after Christmas break everyone got cabin fever. Well, not everyone. We still had our steeple but without heat it wasn’t very comfortable. We did learn to leave the door open which caused a warm breeze to exit through the steeple openings. It also resulted in our being caught. We weren’t punished badly as the priest knew our torment by the others but they did add a lock to the door.
It was spring finally, with monthly visitor weekends and hikes to the quarries. The blooming flowers and trees was beautiful beyond words. Spectacular fountains of color and freshness. Soft and luscious life oozing out of every pore of ‘God’. I lost my innocence there. I did a lot of growing up during that first year. I discovered things that I didn’t know existed. It felt very much the same as I did when I got glasses. It was a revelation of the obvious. And it changed me.
In May a traditional school outing was planned. It would be the last one before summer break and everyone wanted to make it the culmination of a first year journey into priesthood. For some this meant exploring and finding a place to contemplate the past year. To others it meant exploring and discovering. And to some it presented an opportunity to harmlessly gain vengeance for a year of torment. We were determined to hassle a group ‘the’ click’ by tossing leaves and debris down on them from our vantage point on an upper trail. There were three of us and a whole lot of them. We would be in horrid trouble when we got back. Unless we could somehow stay near a priest who wouldn’t be our shield from their torments. I guess we didn’t think about the consequences. Drunk on our position of power and strength over our enemies and tormentors. It felt right and fair. No one got hurt until we found ourselves at the top of a steep hill. The upper classmen below us had moved into an alcove. The rock formation is called horse shoe canyon in Starved Rock National Park (IL). We had lost our advantage.
A very foolish idea was considered. There was a two foot ledge at the bottom of the hill and we could stand on that and toss stuff into the alcove. The ledge was 40 to 60 feet from the rocky floor of the canyon. So … two of us began to climb down the hill which was covered with last falls leaves. Instead of a graceful descent we began to slide uncontrollably. He was able to hold onto the tree at the bottom. The hill was also 40 to 60 feet and getting the tree at the bottom became imperative. Unfortunately, I was only able to grab branches. Like a log covered with leaves and twigs, I rolled off the ledge and began my fall onto the rocks below. I was spinning around and could not deem to focus on the ground below me. I had nearly two seconds to contemplate my life before hitting the ground. I bounced upon impact to a height of nearly 12 feet. I am not sure what I hit. The brain shut down rather quickly. Maybe to relax the body before impact? When I hit the second time I felt warmth and pain in and around my body. The nearest phone was at the park entrance more than a mile away. A student was sent to call for an ambulance. I was on my feet and looking at my right arm dangling by skin at the elbow. Both bones broken and protruding through the skin. My left hand a jumble of bones fingers floating in the center of the hand. Tendons and ligaments all loose. They applied a tourniquet to my right arm and proceeded to give me the last rites. It was very profound. I could no longer sustain consciousness and died. I was taken to a hospital and my parents were called asking permission to operate on me. There wasn’t a great chance that I would live but if I did they felt as interns it would be a great experience for them to see if they could repair my arms and hands instead of amputation. I am not sure what my parents thought when they got that call. I am grateful the interns worked on my arms and hands. I can type and play piano today because of their efforts and kindness. They did not charge my parents for my ten to twelve hour operation.
When I awoke I found a totally different reality than the one I had left. It was built of the same basic stuff, atoms, molecules and such. But the forms and structures were alien to me. To make matters even more interesting someone else had been living in my body for more than 40 years. Ever since the fall. How often does that happen? So here I am a 14 year old boy and a 40 billion year old creature sharing the same 52 year old body. Okay, so maybe that seems a bit weird. Imagine how I feel, I experience it :)
All kinds of philosophical questions arise. None more profound than “who gets the bodies’ soul?” It or me? Which according to It, doesn’t exist. And my knowledge of the soul is entirely faith based. I suppose I’ll have to name It something. It took care of the body while I slept and even taught it music and painting. Forty years is a long time to sleep. And not be able to ‘feel’ life. I would have thought the creature actually just a dream had it not been here all comfortable when I awoke. And why did I awaken after forty years. Would I have not been better off dreaming life? Well, that is moot cause now I’m here and awake again. I will have to learn how to navigate in this new reality. And it will be fun.
A story about being and the sense of self. Biographical in nature.