Successful but Unhappy


       I pulled myself back to the task at hand. "Good morning, you're on The Hotline"
       "Good morning. Hey, I can't believe your topic...."
       Here it comes! I worried.
       "I've been reading about reincarnation. Makes a lot of sense to me....."
       The tension in my shoulders eased slightly. I hoped the listeners didn't hear my sigh of relief.
       He continued. "Goin' to heaven when you die and livin' happy ever after sounds good. But what if you make some mistakes along the way?" He paused long enough for a breath. "Then you burn forever alongside the neighbor you never got along with here. That'd be hell all right - to have to put up forever with some of the jerks I've known."
       At least this day's not a total disaster! Why, now there's only 74,999 to march on the station demanding my hide!
       Another caller asked, "So are you saying I lived another life before this one!"
       "Tell me," I responded, "do you believe that you'll continue to exist in some way after you die? That your soul or spirit will go on?"
       "Yes."
       "If you'll go on to another life after this one, why couldn't your present life be after a previous life?"
       "B-b-but ..." Her voice trailed off.
       I let the silence hang for several seconds. "If there's more than one life, who says there couldn't be several? Maybe many?"
       That caller didn't have much more to say.
       "But the Bible doesn't talk about reincarnation," a man who called later insisted.
       "The Bible was changed to take out all the references to reincarnation," I told him. "Fortunately, a few texts that speak of reincarnation were missed. For instance, if you're familiar with the Bible, you remember the story of Jesus seeing a man who was born blind. And Jesus' disciples asked Him, 'Who sinned to cause this man to be born blind -- this man or his parents?' Remember that?"
       "Yes."
       "How could the blind man have sinned before he was born if he didn't live a previous life?"
       Silence.
       "Furthermore," I continued, "if the man hadn't had a previous life, that would have been a perfect opportunity for Jesus to straighten out their theology. But He didn't."
       Another caller: "I know I've had previous lives. Through hypnosis I've regressed into several." He described them enthusiastically.
       Another: "This is all new to me. What is 'karma'?"
       "Karma is the way a soul can work off the bad in its past. If you did something evil in a previous life, you can balance that by having the same thing done to you in your present or future lives. In fact, the Bible supports this. It says, "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
       Next caller: "But I couldn't have lived before. I don't remember it."
       "Most people don't consciously remember previous lives. But, deep within, your soul -- your conscience -- knows all that it has learned in past lives and knows the schedule for this life."
       "But why can't I remember it!" the caller persisted.
       "If the experiences of previous lives were part of your conscious thought, you might do right things for wrong reasons. True goodness means you do positive things and avoid negative behavior because you are good, not because you want to advance yourself. Reincarnation isn't worried about a superficial list of dos and don'ts. It's concerned with the inner person, the true motives. When your soul truly lives out love and goodness, you'll be ready to advance to a higher plane where every soul is truly good and loving."
       One caller argued, "But you're describing reincarnation differently than I read about in ..."
       "No problem," I responded. "It's different things to different people because the spirits who watch over us and our progress know how much we can understand. Perhaps the authors whose works you read have more advanced understanding than I. Perhaps I'm more advanced than they. Disagreeing doesn't mean one's wrong. It just shows the two parties are at different levels of growth."
       "But isn't there a standard?" she asked.
       "Yes. Advanced spirits know the standard. They communicate to us what we can understand."
       By the end of that program, I wanted to shout for joy. I'd found people who appreciated the reassurance that reincarnation brought. And I'd answered every objection that came up -- apparently convincingly. All my worry was wasted.
       In fact, reincarnation became one of the most popular topics on The Hotline. Some callers were just curious. Some agreed. Some disagreed respectfully. Some lambasted me. And the ones who condemned me the most, telephoned with a list of Bible texts. I noticed they never included the ones that said "Love your enemies" or "God is love." I felt sorry for the Christians with their limited understanding of spiritual realities. Maybe, I thought, if I keep discussing reincarnation, they'll learn to love God too.
       Rather than being run out of town for discussing reincarnation, women's rights, racial discrimination, and most any other controversial topic on The Hotline, the talk show ratings inched higher than ever before. Success!
       Before long, I couldn't say "Good morning" to a service station attendant or grocery store clerk without them or someone nearby recognizing my voice. Some wanted to run me out of town, but many fans praised me. Even radio professionals congratulated me.
       With all this success, why wasn't I happy? What was missing?
       I was still no celebrity with my wife. Finally Susan left ... with our eighteen-month-old Jodi.
       As Susan walked down the sidewalk, Jodi faced me from her mother's shoulder. My daughter's eyes got smaller with each step her mother took toward the waiting car. My heart sank to the soles of my shoes. Jodi's little hand waved bye-bye. But my eyes locked on her face. Especially her sad eyes, wide with question. She stared at me. Like she was trying to get a good picture in mind so she wouldn't forget her daddy. My gut wrenched. Her eyes drilled into mine. Her little hand kept waving.
       When their car disappeared, I forced myself back inside and collapsed onto the couch. Life had never felt so dark.
Did I divorce Susan in a former life? I wondered. What awful thing could I have done to deserve losing my daughter? She was the sunshine of my life. What horrid thing could she have done in a previous life to deserve to lose her father? Television couldn't hold my attention. I couldn't relax enough to meditate. I was so befuddled I couldn't even form the jumble of thoughts into questions for a pendulum. It didn't matter. I couldn't muster the energy to move from the couch to the table anyway.
       Questions multiplied. Answers didn't show up. Evening dragged. Night seemed to last three weeks. Only one thing made any sense at all -- my determination to remain a part of my daughter's life.
       I dragged myself to work the next morning -- life must go on. Days turned to weeks, weeks to months. I treasured the visits with Jodi. Between them I poured myself all the more into radio. To survive, I focused on my spiritual life.
       Unfortunately, the pendulum I'd depended on began adding to my frustration. Repeatedly, it answered significant questions by swinging left in a wide circle or stopping dead center -- "I don't know" or "I won't tell you." I got more and more I-don't-know's and I-won't-tell-you's and less and less Yes's and No's.
       On The Hotline I occasionally brought up another of my favorite subjects -- Charles Lindbergh. I could talk about him all day ... whether or not I got any calls.
       My fascination about Lindbergh had started early. As a child, I spent every hour I could at a seaplane harbor near my home, watching the float planes taxi and take off, circle and splash down. Sometimes I nosed around the mechanics. "Hey, Mister, what ya doin'?" "How come you're doin' that?" "Why'd you twist that?"
       "Mister," I asked a charter pilot one afternoon when I was ten, "how much would you charge to take me up for a ride?"
       We settled on seven dollars for half an hour. I went home and started hunting odd jobs. A dollar for raking the neighbor's leaves. Thirty cents here. Fifty cents there. I saved for weeks. Seemed like eons.
       Finally I delivered the seven dollars -- three dollar bills and a pocketful of change. The moment we climbed into the plane, I felt at home -- like I'd flown before. We skimmed the lake at full throttle, then lifted away from the lake. I thrilled while we wandered the sky over streets, parks, and lakes. We even flew over my house. I dreamed of barnstorming with Charles Lindbergh. I didn't want to ever land.
       But one plane fascinated me more than all others -- Charles Lindberghs Spirit of St. Louis. I read every book the library had about it. Mom and Dad bought me his book, We. I read it so much we had to patch the cover.
       Even at school, when I was supposed to be studying verbs, prepositions, or multiplication tables, I was more apt to be drawing the Spirit of St. Louis. And in the pictures the details were right -- license number N-X-211, NYP on the tail, the extra long wings, and Spirit of St. Louis written proudly across the side of the cowling.
       Through the years, whenever I heard about Charles Lindbergh or Charles Lindbergh, Jr., I felt an odd sense of empathy that puzzled me. Curiosity drove me to read, watch, and listen to everything I could find about them. Maybe someone would call The Hotline with a detail that would help me fit it together.
       But reincarnation was the hottest topic. One morning while discussing it again, a caller named Marlene reported, "The weirdest thing happened at our house the other night. It scared us half out of our wits. But now that you're talking about spirits from other planes, I wonder if that could have something to do with it."
       "What happened?"
       "I needed something in the attic. My neighbor came to visit, so she went up with me to help get it. Just after we'd walked through the door, colored lights started flashing all around us. Some just flashed on, then off again. Others swept around the room -- all over the floor and ceiling.
       "Just tiny little blips of light?"
       "No. Bright lights! So bright they nearly blinded us."
       "Any sound?"
       She cleared her throat. "Huh-uh. No sound at all. At least I didn't hear any."
       "So what did you do?"
       "We just stood there. Silent. My heart was pounding. But the lights didn't quit. Finally I caught my breath enough to say, 'Lets get out o' here!' and we backed down the stairs as quickly as we could." She paused. "I was terrified."
       "So, have you seen anything unusual since?" I asked.
       "No one's been back in the attic!"
       "Has there been anything unusual anyplace else in the house?"
       "Nothing. And believe me, the way we've been tiptoeing around here and watching for anything weird, we'd have noticed it if there were anything."
       Just considering the opportunity Marlene had, my heart beat faster. "If the spirits are trying to talk with you," I suggested, "you might find out wonderful things if you went back up there."
She caught her breath loudly enough that I heard a whoosh over my headset. "Not on your life! My neighbor made it plain she's not going up there again. And I'm sure not going up there alone!"
       "Do you know anyone that might go with you?" I asked.
       "Not a soul. No one I've mentioned it to wants any part of it." She paused briefly. "Hey!" she exclaimed, "Would you?"
       Late that afternoon, anticipation filled me as I parked my car in front of a gray house with white shutters. I double-checked the house number and turned off the engine. "God," I whispered, "please let the spirits come. I need some spiritual encouragement!"

 

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