Saturday, December 31, 2011

Two Short Stories, Nigeria and Betsy Ross

Happy New Year Everyone.  Today's posting starts with two short stories about the hereafter.  Then, there a piece about the Christmas church bombings in Nigeria and the American Flag.  While Sid and Harvey have been generous with their contributions of stories and poetry over the past year, I earnestly ask our other readers to submit their contributions.  It all gets published (unless it's libelous or pornographic).  You're talented.  It's time to show it off!

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Sid Bolotin

(Recently I watched a movie on the Shalom TV network via Comcast ON Demand.
The movie “All I’ve Got” is about a seventy five year old grandmother who’s just died, is about to enter the Hereafter, and is offered the option of becoming twenty three again to spend eternity with her then boyfriend who died in a car crash fifty years ago. The caveat is that she would have to give up all memory of her husband, children, grandchildren. Here is my
similar-themed story that I created for a writing class that I attended back in 2004.)
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“Three people you meet in heaven” was the assignment given out in my writing class. What
3-people? Is there a heaven? If I suppose that there is, whom would I want to meet? Father I never knew? Mother? My own original ancestor at the dawn of time? Leonardo DaVinci? Ben Franklin? Some person whose life I touched? Looking back, there have been hundreds, if not thousands of contacts and influences…

The last thing that I remember is lunging for the wide, crosscourt tennis shot that Lou smashed toward me. Well, not really the lunge, but the stabbing pain in my heart as I lunged and then nothing till now.

Where is now? I wondered. A forest surrounded me as I stood at the shore of a lake that seemed strangely familiar.

As I walked first left and then right, I came upon an old man with a fishing pole in his hand who was staring at me with that familiar, toothy grin, like Teddy Roosevelt’s.

“Zaydah?” I asked. “Is that you?”

“Of course it is,” he chuckled. “Who’d you expect? Moses? This is my heaven…my lovely lakes, my fishing, my memories of you at my side.”

“Why am I here?” I asked.

“Because of how happy you made me as a child. Your visits helped to ease the pain of your father’s sudden death. He was my only son, and it was only a few years since he escaped Russian servitude by coming to America. He loved your mother and adored you. Teaching you about fishing, farming, raising chickens, worm farming softened my agony of losing him. The summers you lived with me in Plymouth, MA were like heaven to me, and so here I am.”

The scene shifted from the bright, sunlit lake to a dimly lit shed-like structure with a dirt floor. A single, low wattage bulb dangled from the exposed wooden rafters and cast an eerie glow over the vintage car that straddled a pit dug in the floor beneath it. As I strained to see, I suddenly realized that it was my 1955 Volkswagen Beetle, and that there was a man in the pit holding a trouble light.

“Jim? Jim?” I called out. “My God, is that really you?”

“Yup, sure is.” the familiar drawl floated up from the pit’s darkness. “You remember this, don’t you? When we became friends at General Electric where you were in The Apprentice-training Program, we bonded so well that you became like a younger brother. I loved your interest in theology, philosophy, and cars. We shared so many hours together that after my sudden heart attack at 39, I asked for a heaven that replicated those happy times. So, God was very kind. He set me up here in my old garage with your Volkswagen to putter with…as well as my old Saab. Moreover He’s arranged for this place to become a hangout for some of the greatest spiritual teachers…Moses, Plato, Meister Eckert, etc. They drop in now-and-again like at Socrates’ meeting place in ancient Rome. You touched a lot of people, Sid. I’m here because of you.”

As I pondered Jim’s words about my touching many lives, the garage faded, dissolved, and I found myself in a swirling mist. As I strained to see into the opaqueness, two figures took shape, and I gasped, “Mom? Dad? Is that you?”

Smiling gently at me they said in unison, “Yes, our darling. It’s truly us. We learned of your arrival and asked to be one of your three greeters. It’s wonderful to see you again. Of course our age differences are awkward as you can see.”

I was flabbergasted to realize that they were each being presented at their ages at death…dad at 27, and mom at 72.  “Don’t you find it awkward to be 27 and 72?” I blurted out in my stunned amazement. “Are you sharing a mutual heaven, or are you each in your own, like Zaydah and Jim?”

“Sadly, we’ve each been in our own.” My mother answered softly. “But now that’s all going to change. We’ve asked for a special consideration to share this with you…if you’re willing.”

“Willing? Willing for what?” I asked. “I don’t understand. How can we share?”

“Well,” my father continued. “We’ve all been so unhappy since my untimely death, and mom and I loved each other so deeply, that we’ve proposed to God that we three be given another go at it by living here in heaven as a family once again. He’s agreed on condition that you agree to it. You and mom would regress to your ages at my death. She’s willing; but, are you willing to go back to being 22-months old?”

“What are my options? What will my heaven be like if I don’t?”

“That’s the rub, Sid,” he chuckled. “You have to decide without knowing. This is another one of God’s quirky conditions about His heaven.”

“So God is asking me to buy a pig-in-a-poke,” I muttered. “A heaven based on my 71-years of being a son, husband, father, grandfather, and basically a good human being versus going back in time to when we three lived idyllically…or so mother always told me. He sure likes to play with humans as if they were His personal toys. I truly don’t know how to make the decision.”

As I stood pondering what I saw as God’s malicious humor, I felt a jolt, saw the mist fading, and heard shouting:
 “The defib worked! It worked!”
“ Thank God!”
“ No, no let him lie there. Just keep him warm ‘till the EMT’s get here.” 

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Nice story, huh?  Well, I was in that same writing group with Sid and I well remember the assignment.  It was based on the late Mitch Albom's novel "The Five People You Meet in Heaven."  If you liked Sid's story, go get the book and read it.  Here, just to complete things, is the story I wrote for that assignment.
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                                                        Jack Lippman

“You think we know what is going on back there, don’t you?  I bet you imagine we spend our time looking down at what’s happening, right?  Well, you’re wrong”!

I looked at him and tried to figure out what to say next, but words came out of my mouth automatically, without my even thinking them out.

“You mean that when you die and go to heaven, you get don’t get the ability to look back on people back down there who are still alive”?, I heard myself asking incredulously.

“That’s correct,” he replied, lighting a cigarette and placing it in a holder.  “Yes, we all die sooner or later, but once we do, we don’t have any more information about the who, the what, the when and the where of what’s going on back there than we did when we were alive.  Only the Big Guy knows the score, and frankly, none of us gets to see him.  In fact, I don’t even know where he hangs out up here.  Actually, we look forward to running into someone like you who just got here, so you can let us in on what’s been going on back on Earth.”

I looked at his face carefully.  He looked vaguely familiar but I couldn’t quite place him.  I was sure that some divine plan had resulted in my running into him when I showed up in heaven. 

“Do I know you from somewhere”?  I asked.  “I mean are you someone who I should remember from when I was alive?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I’ve been hanging around just inside the Gates for a couple of weeks, or months or years … I forget how long, not that time makes any difference up here … seeing if I could grab someone to talk to who was just coming up, and you were the first one who ever bothered to come over when I waved.  I guess the others were too confused about suddenly being dead and all that.  I really appreciate your taking the time to talk to me.  But let me introduce myself.  I’m Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  I was elected President of the United States four times, saved the country from going down the tubes and if Harry Truman turned out to have half the brains I thought he had, I probably led the United States to victory in the Second World War as well.  I died before I could finish the job, though.  I’ve been looking for Harry up here, but I’ve never been able to find him, or anybody else who died since I did for that matter, until you were nice enough to stop and talk with me.”

I straightened up, coming to what I remembered from my Army days as the position of attention, and replied. “It’s a pleasure to meet you Mr. President.  I never expected to have the pleasure.”

“Thank you,” FDR replied.  “But can you fill me in on what happened since I passed away.?  Last thing I remember is a terrible headache.  We lose track of time up here.  How long has it been, and what has happened since.  You’ll have to do it fast, though. because we’re really not supposed to talk to newcomers like you.  If the Big Guy catches us, there may be a problem.”

I took a deep breath and started talking.  “Mr. President, let me fill you in generally, and if you want me to get more specific on anything, just interrupt, okay?”

FDR nodded.  “That will be fine. You know, come to think about it, the Big Guy has to know we’re having this conversation, so it must be okay with him.  So start talking before he changes his mind”!

“Well, when you died of a stroke, everyone in the world mourned your passing. They buried you in Hyde Park, and ultimately, Eleanor and Fala were buried next to you.”

“That’s nice,” FDR smiled.

“We won the war, but Truman had to drop a couple of atom bombs on Japan to get it done quickly.  You knew about the bombs, of course.”

FDR nodded.  “How long ago was that?  What’s happened since then?”

“Well, that was in 1945, and I died early in 2005, so it has been sixty years since the war ended.”

Roosevelt sucked deeply on his cigarette holder and looked at me.  “Did the world remain at peace?”

“Sort of,” I responded.  There have been small wars all over the place over the years.  Mostly offshoots of our ”cold” war with Russia.   We had a stand-off situation with the Communists which never quite resulted in a “hot” war.  We did end up fighting their surrogates and lost 45,000 men in Vietnam.  But that’s all history now.”

“I never trusted Stalin, or any of them.  I suppose he had an atomic bomb too, and I can see that’s what caused the stand-off.  But what’s this Vietnam place,?” he asked.

“French Indo-China,” I responded.

“I bet the Frogs pulled out, and left us to solve the problem, right?  I never trusted DeGaulle either.”

“You got it, Mr. President,” I answered.

“But how is the country doing?  Who’s President now,”? he asked.

“Well,” I continued.  The President now is a Republican named George W. Bush.  He just got elected to a second term.”

Roosevelt stroked his chin. “Bush,?” he mumbled.  “From Connecticut, maybe? I knew a Prescott Bush, a blue-nose Wall Street Yale Republican from Greenwich.  Nice guy though.  Helped me in the war.  Ran the USO for a while.”

“Yes.  I believe the President is his grandson.  His father, Prescott’s son, also was President for a term.”

“From what you are saying, son, it looks like the same crowd which we threw out in 1932 is back again.  Have they gotten rid of the New Deal?”

“They’re trying, Mr. President.  They’re trying very hard.”

His eyes twinkled.  “Tell me more, please.”

“Well, they’re screwing around with Social Security and Medicare for one thing, and they’re running up deficits like you can’t imagine.”

“Republican bastards,” FDR mumbled.  “What’s Medicare?”

“Health insurance for retirees on Social Security,” I explained.

“Great,” FDR chuckled.  “I had that in the back of my mind.  Glad to see that it happened.  I certainly hope they don’t mess it up too badly.  But look, I’ve been asking you a lot of questions.  The Big Guy won’t let this conversation go on forever, so go ahead, ask me something, if you want to.”

“Okay, Mr. President,” I continued, taking a deep breath. “Remember during the war when Albert Einstein, Bernard Baruch and some others were telling you about what Hitler was doing to the Jews in Europe?  By the way, Mr. President, Hitler committed suicide in his bunker as the Russians moved into Berlin.  Thought you would like to know that.  But as I was saying, remember how they asked you to do something to stop the Holocaust?”

“Too bad we didn’t catch Adolph alive, but this Holocaust thing, what’s that,?” Roosevelt asked, looking puzzled.

“Mr. President.  After all was said and done, the Nazis murdered six million Jews, mostly in gas chambers.  That period has become known as the Holocaust.  And many Americans wonder if you knew about it, and why you did nothing to stop it.  And there was a ship, the St. Louis, with Jewish refugees which wasn’t allowed to dock in the United States.  It was sent back and many of the passengers died in the gas chambers.  How did you allow that to happen?”

FDR’s face turned ashen.  “I did indeed know what was going on.  I didn’t do anything about it though.  It was a matter of priorities.  If I had it to do over, I would have done it differently.  I would have let the St. Louis dock in Miami.  I would have bombed the railroad tracks leading to the extermination camps.  But I didn’t.”

Roosevelt looked downward and continued, his voice now trembling. “It was a matter of priorities.  Nobody is perfect.  And now I see why the Big Guy has let this conversation take place.   He wants me to know that I didn’t arrive here with as clean a slate as I thought I did, and that he remembers, and will never forget, what I chose not to do while I was still alive.”

Roosevelt turned to me, and raised his hand to his forehead.  “Excuse me.  I have this terrible headache, and I want to close my eyes and lie down.”

And suddenly there were clouds and fog and smoke and a funny aroma filled the air, and FDR wasn’t there any longer, nor was I.

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Political Drek - The “Betsy Ross” Flag

I have a “Betsy Ross” American flag hanging from a stand on my front lawn, you know, the one with thirteen stars in a circle on a blue field with thirteen stripes of red and white.  It is generally believed that George Washington had Philadelphia seamstress Ross, who also did some personal tailoring for the Father of our Country, design and make it up to replace the many different flags our new nation of thirteen former colonies were flying at the time.  It is the first truly American flag in our history that looks like, except for the number of stars, our present day flag.

The other day a repairman came to my house to do some work and as he left, he commented that he was glad to see that I was flying the “Tea Party” flag in front of my house.  I explained to him that this flag is known as the “Betsy Ross Flag” and that the “Tea Party” has no more claim to it than any other American or group of Americans.   

By claiming this old flag as their own, the “Tea Party” people are trying to say that many of the things our country has accomplished over the years which to them are manifested by the growth of government, are bad, and they wish we could revert back to the days of the Founding Fathers and emulate those who objected to unfair English taxation, (which they liken to present day taxation) by dumping cases of tea into Boston Harbor. 

Most “Tea Party” believers advocate minimal government involvement in our country’s economic and social activities because they are gullible enough to be easily manipulated by those whose prime interest is preserving the financial assets of America’s truly wealthy.  Such people are against any hint of wealth redistribution, which, in a necessary and relatively painless way, taxation to support Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment Benefits, and any kind of economic pump priming, actually is, like it or not!   Once again, I refer you to my August short story, “The Meeting,” which can be accessed on this blog by using the search engine at its lower right.
Jack Lippman
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Islamic Extremists Bombed Several Churches in Nigeria on Christmas Day 

While it is very bad to believe that whatever you believe in is “the only possible true faith,” it is even worse to try to eradicate beliefs other than your own with such acts of violence, including murder, as were committed in Nigeria.  

Believing in your religion in this extreme manner is a disease.  The Roman Catholic Church was so diseased when in the name of its faith, it persecuted and murdered millions during the Inquisition.  Islam is diseased when its adherents murder and wage jihad against those of other faiths.  All of those who believe in a religion of one kind or another in this extreme manner are evil people, and that includes clergy of the highest rank in all faiths, if they support such beliefs.  It includes those Ayatollahs in Iran who issue “fatwahs” demanding the death of those who offend their religion, and who fail to recognize that they themselves, the Ayatollahs, are actually the evil ones, because of their horrendously misguided defense of their faith. 

Some extremists of all faiths do not go quite so far as to routinely sanction murder in the name of their faith.  Nevertheless, the religious police in Saudi Arabia or the Ultra-Orthodox in Israel still manifest a strong intolerance of other faiths or of the less observant within their own faith.  They are almost as evil as extremist murderers. In Exodus, the Bible says the punishment for insulting one’s parents is death. Anyone who believes that literally and tries to carry out the penalty is criminally evil, regardless of what his faith commands him to do.

Some religions include the personification of evil as the Devil.  Well, if we are seeking a personification of those extremists of any faith who would resort to violence in the name of their faith, it is indeed that same Devil.  And it is up to all the religions of the world to cleanse themselves of the extremist Devils within them.  And that includes those who bombed churches in Nigeria.  

As mentioned in the previous posting on this blog, Frederich Schiller in his famous “Ode to Joy” stated it well when he wrote “Alle menschen werden bruder.”  Yes, all men will be brothers.  The sooner, the better!
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