Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Conversation: A Short Story

It was 1999. I knew Cameron well back then. We weren’t friends, but I certainly knew him. More to the point of this story, I knew his type. But all that changed in 1999. After that incident, that circumstance, that event, Cameron became someone else. He grew, he inspired, he transformed, he achieved. He seemed to have shuffled off whatever demons had hitherto lived inside of him. But it wasn’t until he nearly died, that he began to live.

He doesn’t see it that way. To him, life moved forward and seeds took root, not because of the event, but because of what he remembers vividly as “the conversation” that came from it. From that point on, he was forever a changed man, and forever for the better. The seeds produced a tree, the fruits of which to this day and every day nourish those around him.

I sat and listened to his version of “the conversation” in wonder, wet eyes, and amazement. Something in him died that day, that’s for certain. And at the same time, it seems something else was born in him, or maybe reborn. The semantics don’t really matter. It’s the ‘feel’ of “the conversation” that matters, that invigorates, that inspires.

What can possibly be so life-changing about a conversation? Lots of us have deep conversations quite frequently, but they don’t seem to alter our lives, our spirit or our being?

Some of you will get this “conversation.” Many of you will not.

It was on a Cruise in 1999 that Cameron fell ill. The medical professionals assumed it was food poisoning as was so common on Cruises. But it was not. It was a rare spider bite that caused serious and dire medical consequences. The misdiagnosis led to the wrong medication, to which Cameron had a severe allergic reaction. Between the medication and the original spider bite, Cameron’s condition turned almost immediately for the worse. He slipped into a coma.

He says it was during the coma that “the conversation” took place: The conversation that altered his life path. It wasn’t an easy breezy conversation either; at least not from Cameron’s position.

He doesn’t remember tunnels or bright lights; he just remembers waking up in a strange but at the same time comfortable place. He was sitting on a rock, with all mental comforts of being at ease, but emotional anguish as well, more than likely from his body fighting for its life. But he didn’t feel that way. Just across and perpendicular to him on a grassy knoll he could see the profile of a young lad. He seemed quite virile, alive,curly-wavy,dark hair. Cameron could only view him from the side and his view was blocked because of the height of the knoll.

But the young man gave off an allure of strength, just by sitting there. He looked off into the distance as if sunning himself. But there was no sun, no sky, in this place. But you wouldn’t have known that by drinking in the sight of the young lad.

He seemed quite content soaking up whatever was in that distance. He appeared to be chewing slowly and gleefully on a long weed, like so many country boys would do, while sitting in a quiet meadow examining their thoughts or watching clouds go by. It was a strange setting, but not so-strange all at the same time. The whole environment surrounding “the conversation” would be filled with paradoxes, where things were and were not, all in the same moment. It was definitely different than physical existence, whatever it was.

Cameron asked, “Is this heaven?” to which there was no reply.

He asked again, “Hey, is this heaven?”

The young lad glanced over at Cameron and casually, and with little interest engaged him. He answered. “This is whatever you will end up feeling it to be. For now, you could consider it a waiting room, or even more appropriate, consider it a classroom.”

Cameron pondered over the comment. If it was indeed a waiting room, he presumed he knew what that meant. But the classroom comment confused him. This environment did not look or feel like a classroom; at least none that he had ever conceived of. So he queried, “So you are the teacher then, I suppose?”

The lad answered, “You suppose a lot, don’t you? I am whatever you feel me to be. Perhaps you are the teacher. Perhaps I am. Here it doesn’t matter much about what labels you attach to such things. It matters more what and how you end up feeling about them.”

The lad speaks in mystery and at the same time makes sense. He is exactly the paradox of the whole place. It made Cameron uncomfortable. Cameron didn’t want to be a part of this at this point. He did not want to entertain what this may mean about his mortal life. He asked, “Straight up, why am I here?”

The young man looked and paused, not so much because he didn’t know what to say, but because he didn’t want to waste an investment in saying it. He replied, with no urgency or interest in Cameron: “First off, you know nothing about being, 'straight up' so try not to use phrases here that are bigger than you are. Next, why you are here, is up to you, not me. I have no idea why you are. The bigger question for now is, how did you get here?”

Cameron proceeded to begin to tell the young man about his Cruise and becoming ill, not yet knowing why or how. All Cameron knew was, it was totally unfair, and not his fault. But the young figure seemed to take little interest in these facts.

Instead he queried Cameron, “Why a Cruise, what appealed to you about a Cruise?”

Cameron answered, “well I’ve always loved the water, and love being around it. And as much as I like the beach I never want to go. So this is the next best thing.”

The poised image seemed to take an interest in this comment. “Why would you avoid the beach if you love it, and love the water?”

Cameron answered, “I never like being seen in shorts or a bathing suit. My calves are too small, and I don’t like the way my legs look either. And it’s too bad really. I love the beach. I guess it’s a lot like why women tie a sarong around them, while at the beach; to hide what they’re ashamed of, you know, a wide waist, cellulite, fat, whatever. Same idea, just self-conscious I guess”

The image looked sternly at Cameron, almost as if searching his eyes for clarification. “And this seems rational to you, what you just said?”

Cameron was insistent. “It doesn’t have to be rational. It’s the way a lot of people feel.” He protested, “There’s nothing wrong with that!” “What would you know about it anyway?”

The young man seemed eager to reply: “About that kind of insecurity and shallowness I know very little. But I recall now by your question, that in my own life, people remember me a certain way. And the irony is that when people picture me or my image in their minds, I’m usually wearing shorts.”

Of course, that had no immediate meaning for Cameron. How could it? But still, Cameron became irked by that comment that he perceived to be a poke at him. He muttered a sling of his own at the young lad. “Well so what, you are young and strong and wear shorts or go to the beach without apprehension. Don’t pretend you know me unless you’ve walked a mile in my shoes.”

The image responded, “I would gladly walk a mile in your shoes, as long as I don’t have to lace them with that attitude.” He was obviously trying to provoke Cameron now, or at least that’s how Cameron perceived it.

“Just forget it,” shouted Cameron. “Who are you to judge me?”

The image smiled a knowing smile, and replied, “This is a classroom. There is no judgement here. All there is, is truth in observation. You can’t get away with that emotional spin and drama here. It doesn’t work here, because here is not there, where you come from. But I know your type all too well: Apprehension about wearing a bathing suit or going to the beach. The problem with emotionally immature people like you is that the only things you take seriously are seriously unimportant things.”

Cameron was/is proud and wasn’t going to take that from a stranger: “You don’t know, is all. My whole life has been like this. Even this illness or whatever, happened to me. Why me? My whole life has been like that from as far back as I can remember, so maybe that’s why my not going to the beach may seem like an unimportant thing to you, but still matters to me.”

“Well then, do go on,” replied the young man. “But I expect this won’t be anything I haven’t seen, heard, or witnessed before. So why don’t you start at the very beginning then. What was your childhood like, your interests, your memories?”

Cameron was only too pleased to respond. His favourite topic had always been up to then; himself. “Well my mom was an alcoholic, and my dad was a workaholic. I was left alone a lot. My dad seldom made it to my ballgames, my recitals or my school plays. I guess maybe that’s one reason I am, the way I am now, about the beach and whatever.”

The image interrupted. “Man you people sure come here full of it, don’t you? So it starts there, with your parents, and what they didn’t do for you? Yet forget the fact that they seemed to provide for you the freedom and abundance to play ball, take part in recitals and school plays. I guess that accounts for less in your weak eyes of perception. A generation or a social class ago, you would not have had any opportunities to do any of these things. You would have maybe not even been able to go to school because you would have had to work to help keep the family viable and alive. Had you lived in those times, you would now be here lamenting on your lack of opportunity in life.”

Cameron was quick to retort: “But I didn’t live in those times, and I wanted a dad, not just a father.” I had to go to all my games with David’s dad. He was a dad; always there. I wish my dad would have been more like that.”

To which the young man calmly replied. “Yes, it stops there for people like you, doesn’t it? You never try to entertain the realities of where your father or mother may have been coming from, what factors of their own lives and family histories may have influenced their choices and ideas. No, for you again, it’s about what you didn’t get, not about what you did get. You employ self-absorption, but not empathy. And you use and employ David’s dad as some kind of comparative standard with no knowledge or facts behind that other than your own opinion. An opinion you formed by the way, in your childhood. That’s another issue with you “grass is greener, on the other side,” people. You fail to go the distance in your fantasized thinking. You fail to realize that even if the grass is greener over there, it still has to be mowed. So, many of you focus only on the dark years, wherever they may have been in your life, and you choose to believe the lies you told yourself then, to be some kind of lifelong truth.”

Cameron was not used to what he was hearing. People didn’t talk to him this way. Ever. He couldn’t yet consider that it may be the literal wake up call he needed. He was just slightly intimidated by the truth that was confronting him.

“But with a little more support maybe I wouldn’t have been so hell-bent on proving myself and trying to measure up. Isn’t that what parenthood is supposed to provide?”

Cameron knew maybe he should have taken that back before he even said it, but it was too late.

The young man was only too ready to answer: “Well you sure started with this victim stuff early on, didn’t you? No wonder it became your default thinking position for your life. If only your parents were more to you, and for you. Yes that must be the answer. I guess the symbolism is lost on people like you that even Superman, was raised by those simple, plain-folk in Kansas. It didn’t seem to retard him at all. Listen, parenthood is not about giving kids a person to lean on, it’s about making leaning unnecessary. From anything you’ve told me so far, you received that and even more. You choose victimhood.”

At that point Cameron is quick to try to steer opinion. But he still hasn’t realized, what he hears here is not an opinion from someone else, but a reflection of his own truth. He’s not quite ready to feel that; at this point in the conversation.

So he fires back, “So I suppose this illness or whatever brought me to this place is my fault then?”

The young man does not waiver even for a moment. His Presence is now being felt heavily deep inside Cameron. The young man knows this and so changes his tone slightly: “I only know of what I can speak. There is much to be gained by acknowledging this victim-itis, so common to your era; to learn more about spiritual economics, and finally to truly know personal triumph. Your generation has the most abundance of any in history. Every time an innovation is created to make your lives easier you go out and consume it. And yet with all the ease and comfort this affords your life, you still whine about limitations, and lost opportunities. Do your whining in front of a mirror. Talk about your limitations in front of a mirror and start to feel, what you feel inside when you do so. All these creature comforts of your generation have led you to falsely believe you have a right to the results of persistence, dedication, hard-work, and expectations. You don’t have a right for the results of these things; you have a responsibility for them. This is basic spiritual economics. Your culture of entitlement blinds you to what is worth knowing and having.”

Cameron is clicking-in, that he is way over his head with his own rationalizations on life, and his position in it. But he is still curious. This is after all a young man in front of him. No way is someone that young that wise. “How do you come to presume to know all of this Cameron asks?” He is now non-confrontational, but sincerely inquisitive. “After all you seem so young.”

The lad explained it this way. “The image you see is how I came to be here. It has no meaning in this place. Here, there is only awareness. I am allowed to access the awareness and ideas of all others who have also came here to this level of awareness. Here we access what it was within each of us; that brought us to such a place of understanding and meaning. There are no attachments to anything here, only truth.”

Cameron was shaken to the core by that reality. No doubt now he was experiencing something profound. He started to ‘feel’ the depth of the conversation, just as the young lad said he might when he first arrived there. It was no longer about words with meaning, but about feeling the Presence.

The words were merely for this descriptive purpose. It intimidated him to his core, and at the same time enthralled him to no end; once again representing the endless paradox of this strange place, and this young representative, who was so knowing, so experienced, so deep, and paradoxically also seemed so obviously innocent and naive all at the same time.

Cameron begged, “Then tell me more about “victim-itis?”

“Surely, he replied.” “Well as we see with you it starts with a perception that can go way back. It’s a false reality. It can be physical, mental, emotional, or all various combinations of perceived limitations. You all come here with your various lists, “my depression, my divorce, my stress, my medication, my bad back, my bad knee, my thyroid condition, my busy life that leaves no time, my lack of money, my ulcers, my colitis; I mean the list never ends with you people. But you employ the word “my” because you so badly need the ownership of your victim status and limitations.

Cameron inquired, “So none of those realities are legitimate to you then?”

“It doesn’t matter,” the young lad replied. He continued, “Many will go out and have their limitations legitimized by professionals. It’s kind of a stamp of approval why they can’t achieve a goal, or do a thing. They seek out legitimation for rudimentary things as a resource of viable and plausible reasons to not be all they can be. It’s become like a way of life for people. If it’s not that, then it’s at least a pattern of existence. Your issue is not that you don’t have actual chances, opportunities, good fortune and abundance. You’re problem is you’re afraid to admit you have them all around you. You avoid embracing them so you don’t have to give up your convenient excuses for where you are, and who you are.”

“But,” said Cameron, “surely why I am here beside you right now, is legitimate, is it not? How am I responsible for this?”

The lad didn’t skip a beat. “One way or the other,” he said, you will find this out soon enough.” Then he said, “Life is a simple equation. It is this, circumstance + response = Outcome. You victims love to focus on circumstance, as outcome. It's incomplete, it’s not true and it’s not real. For every legitimate limitation or excuse out there in the mortal world, there is someone else who has faced the same limitation and still succeeded or achieved some desired goal. It’s a perspective. You are either a victor, or a victim. The problem with you people is you are soulless. You live life from the outside-in, rather than from the inside-out. You don’t realize it’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s what happens in you that matters.”

Cameron was becoming a little embarrassed now as situations from his life were streaming through his head at warp speed. But he was seeing them differently now. He asked, “So how do you become the victor?”

The young man as usual made no bones about perspective. He said by way of metaphor. “Where some people see a limitation, others see an obstacle. Those who perceive limitation, manifest that reality, those who perceive an obstacle, are motivated by it, and challenged by it. In the end, the victors develop a conscious decision in life, that if you can’t climb the wall, then you find a doorway. If you can’t find a doorway, you make one. Excuses of victims become just that, fancy rationalizations for stagnation or failure. As Richard Bach said, “Fight hard enough for your limitations, and sure enough they’re yours” “You own them.” “It’s amazing that in the fight for your limitations, you only seem to create a drama out of circumstance, rather than a challenge.”

He continued, “It takes actually reaching toward possibilities to access the power to nullify limitations. You people that live life from the outside-in, lead your life acting according to circumstances. People that live life from the inside-out; lead life acting according to vision. Which type do you suppose is most likely victorious?”

For the first time Cameron was less interested in himself, or how all of this effected him. He assumed out loud, as part question and part commentary, “Then I supposed you achieved everything you set out to do in life, and that’s why you are here as a teacher; because you know victory?”

Patiently, the young man replied, “No not all. You couldn’t be more incorrect. I did not know or taste victory. Not the way you mean it anyway. I actualized something much deeper and something much greater. But to answer your question, no is the answer. I had a goal. I didn’t reach it. I failed and failed by a large margin. And in that defeat I didn’t just lose the battle, I lost the war as well. But cradled in defeat, I actualized something greater than wins and losses, successes or failures. I actualized personal triumph. That is why I am here.”

This confused Cameron even more. Just when he thought he was starting to understand and learn, he was back to confusion. “How does anyone know triumph when cradled in defeat, as you put it?”

The young lad politely admonished Cameron. “You are still perceiving things as outcomes, results, as outside-in merit or non-merit. Knowing triumph is far more abundant than experiencing victory. It’s why I am here. There are far more accomplished and more talented souls in this place than my own. I floated to this level of awareness, so they could access my awareness of personal triumph, and know what that truth is like, as an idea, as an experience, as a truth. In turn I am allowed to access all the ideas and truths and accomplishments of those here with me. Some of their eloquence I am using to communicate with you.

Cameron now had to ask, “What is so abundant about a personal triumph? I do not understand,” he stated.

“To triumph beyond circumstance is to be and to know that a good dream, sincerely lived and honestly pursued, supersedes the weight of your personal history. My personal triumph is one that is still celebrated all these years later, here, and there. Triumph is not about reward or achievement, it’s much deeper a thing. And it connects deeper as well. It resonates, it echoes, it speaks to ears tuned in to its own high frequency. And it speaks in harmonies that cross boundaries. That is the symphony of triumph. Defeat cannot stop it, loss cannot contain it. It transcends mind and emotion and sings directly to one’s own heart, and often and everywhere, to the hearts of the common man as well. And we are all common men.”

Cameron was dumbfounded. The words sounded like poetry coming from the young man. Cameron didn’t so much hear the words anymore as feel them. At that moment he again understood Presence.

I have to ask, said Cameron, “is this about courage then; is that what you are talking about?”

“Well, said the young man, not by the word you mean when you say it. It’s not a display. But I can tell you from being here so long that verbal courage is a lie, physical courage is very common, but spiritual courage, that is a rare thing in the world you come from.”

Cameron now wanted more. He wanted to feel this experience, more than just understand it. “Please elaborate for me. Help me to know what you are talking about.”

The young lad continued in all honesty, truth and sincerity, the quality of which Cameron could feel as well as hear:

“At some point, you realize that all moments are each moment. Every one, this one to that, is the same. Visions and dreams are not born out of experience, but out of vision, not of limitations, but of possibilities. It’s not a matter of looking around you, but of looking inside you. Direction is a matter of character, not strategy. Your state of being will determine your state of doing. Not the other way around. Strong character is bigger than any circumstance or experience. The mission is to look inside and examine what an experience or circumstance means. Meaning is not what a situation gives to you; it’s what you give to the situation. To live life forward from this point of inner direction is a path to knowing and experiencing triumph. This is to know living from the inside-out.”

“And for me, what does that mean, asked Cameron?”

The lad responded, “You need to journey inward, not just to learn new meanings, but to re-examine old ones. You should look to examine more deeply not just what you know, but more importantly, ‘what you know that just ain’t so.’ In the end you will find what you know means little, what you demonstrate means everything. Spiritual power is not like the physical body. It doesn’t just grow and mature on its own into some kind of spiritual adulthood. It has to be nurtured and developed and earned in experience. This is why you seem to feel like much is missing, when nothing is missing at all. Inside of you were experiences, potential happy memories that are now holes, where smiles should have been. Look at your memories more closely and examine them, not with emotion, but with spirit. You cannot “possess” an experience or memory, and neither should you be possessed by them either. Perhaps when an experience does not turn out as desired that may have been the whole point behind the experience to begin with. Not something to mourn or lament, but something to recognize for its value and then let go of. All things and meanings can exist at once. They do not have to be either/or in terms of knowing what they bring to you. An experience can break a heart, and open it all in the same moment.”

Cameron was now weeping. He was feeling every word. In fact the words expressed were no longer verbally communicated, but felt to him, in a profound way he had never before experienced. He was beginning to understand, and to learn. And sadder for him still was a realization he had. Cameron was beginning to fully grasp that while he was physically alive, he was living spiritually dead. And now that he may be physically dead, he finally knows what it means to be alive. He is overwhelmed by his own sorrow at the truth of this. To think moments ago he was defending why he avoided beaches, as if it were some true cause and effect: Seriously unimportant things indeed.

All he could utter to himself is “what can I do?”

And even though he was asking this question of himself, the young man still took it upon himself to answer. “You need to inhale some soul into your life, and then exhale some life into your soul. Perhaps that is the purpose for your journey here. But you can’t stay any longer. You will have to go back.”

Cameron realized what this meant, and he was filled with glee and ecstasy, but emptiness and regret at the same time. That paradox again, of ‘go, but stay,’ both in the same moment.

He had an intense sense that this time here in the classroom was coming to an end, and then it dawned on him. “Wait a minute, he cried. Who are you?” Cameron could not conjure a likeness of someone who was known by an image people have of him in his shorts; someone who knew triumph in total defeat. Who could that have possibly been? And would it matter?

The young lad replied, “This you know by now; here, in this place, I am no one. I am everyone.”

“Ok then,” Cameron declared in a state of relative desperation for meaning. “Please, who were you? I want to Google you? Maybe I can understand more of this personal triumph you talk about, and the paradox of knowing triumph, in the grips of total defeat. I want to feel and share and know such an experience, if possible.”

The young lad glared strikingly at Cameron, and innocently asked, “What’s a Google?”

This time it was Cameron’s turn to grin knowingly. Perhaps it may have even been a set up. Cameron doesn’t know and doesn’t care. But one thing Cameron surmised is that if he could find this young man, or information about him, he would never take Google for granted again. He would never assume anything about his own life again either. So he answered. “Google is one of those tools you talked about to make our lives easier. It may help me to find out more about you. Please who were you?”

The Young man replied with all sincerity, humility and no pretention at all:

“Well if it may help you, then of course I will donate to you my name and my truth. In life, my name was Terry, Terry Fox.”

And what Cameron surmised became his own truth about his experience. The Conversation, changed his life because it became part of him, in each moment of his life from then on, from one point to the next, all newly lived from the inside-out. Cameron would never again measure his existence by whatever life throws at him. Instead he made the decision to live from the inside-out. He knows that the quality of existence is not about what life throws at him; but rather, it’s about how much of himself, he will throw into life.

He began to live in triumph, not circumstance.

In fact, the last time I saw Cameron, “was at the beach.”

Some of you will get it, some of you will not. Usually I tell people to comment on my Forums, which I hope you will, but feel free to comment here as well.