Anticipating Early Death

       My voice quavered when I finally spoke into the silence. "Am I going to die at thirty from a fall?"
       Instantly, the pendulum swung in a wide arc--forward, back, forward, back, forward, back... yes... yes.., yes...
       It slowed nearly to a stop. "Are you sure?"
       Instantly it swung wide again-forward, back, forward, back ... yes... yes...
       I sat there numb. The pendulum had worked exactly as the class instructor had said it would. And it had confirmed my premature demise.
       A jumble of everything I'd heard about death rumbled through my mind. I concentrated on the new information I'd been learning.
       Since I know in advance, there's no need to fear. My soul won't be surprised. It will simply slip from this body and go on to a plane where I can sort things out and evaluate where and how I need to grow in my next life to get things right.
       Fearing the terror of falling, I meditated. Was what I experienced as a toddler what I had to look forward to when I was thirty? But I was a child. Wasn't that fall from a former life?
       Thinking that the childhood fall was past and that the other fall was several years off comforted me until I wondered, Did I deal wrongly with the fall in my former life? Do I have tofall again because of karmic debt? How can I be sure I'm ready for it this time?
       The falling situations needled me at times. Worrying won't delay my demise, I reasoned. I have seven years to live. I may as well make the most of them.
       But how! Los Angeles was full of professional radio announcers. As a beginner, I couldn't land any better radio job than the parttime one at the automated adult easy listening station. Since I hardly spoke over the air, I wasn't getting much experience that would move me into bigger and better jobs.
       I'd met Susan, a beautiful, petite blonde, while in broadcasting school. She came to California to be near me and soon caught my enthusiasm about reincarnation. When we talked marriage, I warned her about my predicted death at thirty. She shook her head. "Maybe it's not for sure. I'll wait and see."
       "What other kind of work could you enjoy?" she asked one evening over dinner.
       Just the thought of leaving radio sent waves of nausea through me. The reaction surprised me. I thought about previous jobs. "I haven't really liked anything I've done until now. Only went to work to keep eating. Used every excuse I could think up to skip a day." I grinned. "Yeah, body surfing always cured what ailed me when I called in sick"
       She grinned and raised an eyebrow. "I can believe that, the way you love the beach."
"Hm-m-m, I've been in radio nine months now. I love going to work! Haven't missed a single day. Haven't even wanted to."
       "That tell you anything?" she asked.
       "I guess the question is, do I live where I want to live or do 1 work at a job I enjoy?"
       At home, I asked the pendulum, "Shall I stay in radio?" It swung a deep forward -back are -- yes.
       Susan's parents urged us to come to Ohio. We packed our belongings. I landed a job at a small station in Oxford, just outside Cincinnati, and moved into an apartment in an old building that used to be a church. It was the closest I'd been to a church in several years.
       Susan and most everyone else thought I was crazy to consider the seven-days-a-week job. But the general manager shrugged off such concerns. "Ah-h-h," he said when he interviewed me, "since you'll only be working a six-hour air shift on Saturday and Sunday, that'll be almost like having those days off." And I had checked the job with a pendulum. It was right. I tackled it with the enthusiasm of a beginner who planned to make it to the top of the radio world in short order.
       I loved the job. I immersed myself in accomplishing every aspect of it as perfectly as possible. As news director, I wrote and read the early morning newscasts. Late mornings I traipsed the community selling advertising. I disc jockeyed from 1:00 to 7:00 every afternoon. After that, I'd record commercials then go home about eight or nine and collapse into bed.
       When I had a few moments of energy left, I read radio trade journals cover to cover. I especially enjoyed interviews with successful programmers. Could that be the niche I ought to work toward?
       Working in radio excited me so much I hardly noticed the wages and schedule -- eighty dollars a week, eighty hours a week, and seven days a week. After eight months on the job, the company splurged and gave me one day off -- the day after Susan's and my wedding.
       A few weeks later the manager called me into his office. "Jay, you know we've been struggling financially. We just can't keep going as we are. We've got to eliminate a salary."
       My throat went dry.
       "We've got to let you go. You've done us a fine job. We don't want to do it. But we just don't have any choice."
       I sighed.
       "But don't worry about eating and paying the rent. I have a friend who's a building contractor. I called him and he needs a hand. He told me to tell you that, on my recommendation, you're hired." He inhaled deeply. "I'm giving you two weeks notice now. You can start with him two weeks from tomorrow."
       My thoughts swirled. Finally I found words. "Thank you for finding me work. I really appreciate it." I sighed and shook my head. "But I can't do that. I love radio. It's got its teeth in me and isn't about to let go."
       "I'm with you, Jay. I don't blame you a bit. And you can count on me for a good reference. You've worked really hard for us. You've done a super job. I wouldn't let you go if there was any way I could keep you."
       It didn't take long around radio to figure out I'd need to move to bigger stations and more responsibility if I wanted a decent wage. But no large and popular station would hire me with my limited experience. I decided that, in the six years I'd have, I'd work toward repeatedly moving to slightly larger stations. Hopefully, I'd work into the big time.
       My next move was to New Castle, Indiana. My daughter Jodi was born there. When I held her for the first time, my heart melted. I looked at her tiny face and wondered, Have I known you before in a past life? Or are you someone new I've had no karmic experience with?
       Even before Jodi was born, Susan and I began grating on each other's nerves. The rumblings at home added to the pressures at work were discouraging. But I can make it, I told myself. I only have a few years. I didn't fear death, only the pain I might experience just before it. Death might even be a relief. Besides, I was eager to learn if I had been responding properly to my karmic debts. My only frustration with dying young was leaving my daughter. But before her soul accepted this body, I reminded myself, it knew her father would die at thirty. It chose this situation because it would provide opportunity for needed spiritual growth.
       I was offered a job doing the midday show at the most popular station in Muncie -- WERK. Maybe the change would be good for Susan and me.
       As with most decisions, I asked the pendulum. "Should I take it?"
       It swung forward and back -- yes.
       The announcer I replaced on the 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. show had been extremely popular. Early my first afternoon on the job, when I slipped out of the studio to get a drink of water, I overheard someone sigh and say, "No one will ever take Mark's place. Everyone in town loved him."
       I gulped. They weren't criticizing me, I tried to convince myself. I took a deep breath. No, I can't take Mark's place. But, I vowed, I'll carve a niche of my own.
       Mark had hosted a talk show at 10:00 every morning. It was mostly a "feel good" type program. When a caller complained about a pothole in front of their house, Mark would commiserate, then give them the name and telephone number of the city official to contact. When a listener made a controversial statement, Mark neither agreed nor took issue. It was an open forum -- every subject and every view was wonderful. As the talk show host, Mark provided opportunity for listeners to state their opinions, but he remained impartial. Thus, he remained popular with people of varying persuasions.
       I continued his format. "Good morning, Muncie. What are you thinking this morning? The Hotline is ready to take your call."
       Sometimes the phone lines were busy. Other days it seemed we couldn't buy a call. What does a talk show host do when no one telephones? Hemming and hawing over radio doesn't increase the listening audience.
       The first change I made was to choose a "topic of the day." "Good morning, Muncie. This is The Hotline. The topic this morning is city parks. What city park do you use most? Are the parks maintained adequately? What changes would you like to see?"
       Some days the phone lines lighted up before I finished the introduction. Our discussions wandered from potholed streets to school busing to women's liberation. It didn't take long to figure out that the more controversial the topic, the more calls came in. Before long I began stating a controversial opinion up front -- sometimes my own opinion, sometimes only stated as such, but always designed to pique listener interest. The Hotline's audience and popularity grew.
       Though I tried to plan the topic ahead, one morning when I arrived at the station I still didn't have the slightest idea what topic to discuss on The Hotline in twenty minutes. I desperately scanned the newspaper. Nothing caught my attention in the first three sections.
       Suddenly a thought crossed my mind. I lowered the paper and stared at the blank wall.
       No way' I love my job. I love Muncie. I'm not ready to be run out of town!
       I picked up the paper again. The ads aren't going to help. I leafed through the pages quickly then looked at the clock again. Two minutes! I looked back at the front page. Nothing.
       I still didn't know The Hotline topic when I folded myself into the studio chair.
       Should I? I wondered.
       What choice do I have? I asked myself. Besides, it's an opportunity to help some people understand.
       My chest felt tight, my throat dry. "Good morning. This is The Hotline. Most Christians believe that we live one life on this earth. If we accept God and Jesus and live according to God's dictates, then we get to spend an eternity of bliss. But, if we don't do exactly what He wants, we spend an eternity in excruciating pain ... suffering the fires of hell. Does that make sense to you? Is that a loving God?"
       "On the other hand, there is a philosophy that says that we have more than one life ... many lives, as a matter of fact. It's called reincarnation. It teaches that everyone has many opportunities through many lives to perfect their souls ... and then we enter heaven."
       "What are your thoughts? Is it one life, then eternal happiness in heaven or eternal suffering in hell? Or is it eventual perfection through reincarnation, leading to an eternity of happiness with God in heaven? Call me at The Hotline."
       My pulse pounded in my head.
       Several times before I'd considered reincarnation as a topic. But I'd always squealed the mental tires getting away from that idea. Just because I was convinced of reincarnation didn't mean the 75000 people in this midwest town were ready for it. Why take the chance of flying in the face of organized religion?
       And now.., as I launched into the topic I could see a mental image of the front page of tomorrow morning's newspaper -- a huge photo of thousands of shouting Muncie citizens surrounding the station waving hundreds of placards that read, "Away With Jay," "Reincarnate Jay Into Unemployment," and "Burn Hotline," Would tomorrow morning's local headline read "Popular Hotline Host Fired?"


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