Sometimes I imagine a breaking free, an unrestrained way of being, a way of living immersed within a beautiful and timeless feeling, and my heart soars. It is the sensation of climbing onto the back of a great and powerful bird called Peace, whose wings are as vast and wide as school buses, and vaulting into the air to glide endlessly over a deep blue sea. I am filled with warmth. I am the exchange of warmth (with everything). The presence of Jesus is all around, and time feels as though it is stretching and wobbling like hot taffy. I am on the verge of walking away from everything I ever knew, to give up on being a person and become a pure feeling instead, to remain close to Him. Is this vain imagining? Is this a taste of what is real? What am I supposed to do when this moment cools and I solidify back into myself?
In my closet I have a shoebox. It is filled with artifacts I have accumulated throughout my life. When I was in kindergarten I wrote a letter to Santa Claus like all the other kids in my grade. My mother kept it, and years later returned it to me, and now it is in this box, along with photos of school plays, yellowing report cards, drawings that are surely waterproof so profusely were the waxen colors spread, and sheets of paper with words scribed in a bulky, scarcely intelligible hand. There is a first attempt at cursive that consists of a continuous and unbroken row of curly-cues from one side of the page to the other. There is another letter as well. Ten years after my correspondence with Santa Claus, having glimpsed a world to massive to contemplate, I had shrunken to a tiny, defensible perimeter, and I wrote a letter to God asking Him to come find me and take me back. But I never mailed it. It is in the box, too.
Funny thing is, so is the response.
* * * * *
There was nothing inside of the response but a white card, (that is as shiny and brilliant today as it was the day I received it), on which was written an address: Return Processing, Suite 4, The Way, Cincinnati, OH. Below the address, a tag line: All are invited.
In all these years since, I’ve never been. That may sound crazy to you, but the first thing you should know is that the letter didn’t exactly arrive via United States Parcel Post. It was simply resting on my bed pillow one day when I returned home from swim practice. I was never able to conjure a rational explanation for that one, certainly not one suitable for the rigors of adult conversation, and I refused to allow the feelings its arrival had inspired within me to be picked apart by a hovering flock of logical vultures, however well-intentioned they espoused to be. So, it became my secret, and I was further cleaved in two. The person I presented to the world was the best I could do, but was merely the shade of the notions being continuously spelled out by an inner teleprompter.
Living with my family, two brothers and a sister, in a small fishing village near the Pacific Ocean, I would have had to ask my parents for permission (and the money) to go all the way to Cincinnati- a three day trip by rail. The issue of the letter notwithstanding, this was a big ask that would require more than a passing explanation. A few times, still in the glow of the letter’s arrival, I had worked up the gumption to at least ask, having fabricated a motive that had seemed plausible enough to myself at the time, only to be stymied by a sudden lump in my throat that felt like I’d attempted to swallow an entire hard-boiled egg in one gulp, like a snake engulfing a rodent.
There is an unbridgeable difference between imagining how something might sound, in the best possible conditions of good will and distraction on the part of the listener, and the sudden realization of how it will actually sound to a person who has fixed you with an intent, narrow-eyed gaze and has noticed the oblong shape of an entire hard-boiled egg caught in your gullet. This is what I mean by cooling and solidifying. This is the gap between an inner secret- an inner longing still too nascent and sensitive for inspection- and what you are actually able to muster for the world’s review.
If you want to turn yourself loose, you will have to return the world’s narrow-eyed gaze; not with defiance, and not with the righteous glare of triumph, but with the soft look of total acceptance.
* * * * *
It has been seventy-three years since I received the letter, and it is in my coat pocket right now, still as vibrant and white as ever- the color of a mastodon bone bleached by the desert sun for the better part of a millennium. The issue of rail travel has been rendered moot by the passage of time and the ceaseless bootstrapping of human ingenuity. I am wedged into the seat of an aircraft, my small handbag faring even worse than I, I’m afraid, in the rammed-shut compartment just overhead.
It has taken this amount of time for me to commit completely to answering the question that has smoldered quietly inside me throughout my life. Don’t ask me why this day, right now, is the time- for I cannot say. I simply know that it is no longer practical for me to be contented with the stale marriage I have made to this world. I can no longer be satiated by sneaking secret visits to this Love within, behind closed doors and a clever disguise. I cannot justify the discrepancy any longer. It is time for me to tell the world my secret, of the person I have become within. I sincerely doubt the Return Processing Center is still in existence, if it ever was, and this has become the other secret I must let go: the fear that I have failed in my delay. I fear I have missed the opportunity presented me, and will be caught in this half-life indefinitely. I shudder to think about all the years that have gone by in which I failed to mount a serious effort to crack my outer shell. I feel as if I have used this Love inside me, manipulated Her, turned to Her in times of need, in desperation, only to receive Her help and then perpetuate the guise of my own personal ingenuity upon the world.
I wonder if the Offer once extended me still stands.
* * * * *
I have a GPS my nephew gave me a few years ago, but I’ve never learned to use it, and I’m spry as hell for my age, so I take a taxi to the center of town and set out on foot. I am filled with butterflies, anticipation, the occasional panic, and the odd moment of sunlight breaking through the clouds in illumined columns when it feels as though everything is precisely as it was intended.
I wander down streets, around corners, past bakeries and jewelers and haberdasheries. Initially my senses are on edge, and I scour the streets with a hungry sight. I inspect each door, straining to see through its outermost coat of paint, certain the clues I seek, had they ever been real at all, would surely by now have been buried beneath the City’s massive expansion, the way nails and barbed wire are absorbed by trees over the years of their growth. I nearly ask passers-by if they have heard of Return Processing, but I do not. I am certain they are all too current, part of the time and place I’m walking around within, and not from the one for which I am searching.
I am looking for a living artifact.
My initial, so-called “spry” enthusiasm dampens as the day unfolds and my legs grow weary. The enormity of the task descends upon me like the realization men have in search and rescue missions when the fuel gauges wind down towards zero. You don’t want to let it sink in, but you cannot deny realism its place indefinitely. I crumble, and see the world has been right about these things. What folly it is to dream that a particular light is searching us out, even as we seek for it. What a madness has gripped me! The world will never let us find such places, places outside of its bustling domain, and certainly not people like me who have waffled for three quarters of a century and failed to summon the requisite, impenetrable Knowing.
I am consoled by the notion that it has been a glorious madness, at the least, and that I will never forget the feeling that letter gave me so long ago. I may have missed my window, but the feeling is ever with me. It is a treasure I will always keep.
* * * * *
Walking off in search of a hotel and a hot meal, relaxed and free of all intensity, I see the sign in a window, and pause, wondering if I had seen it earlier and simply interpreted it differently. How did I miss it? It says, “We will process your return in minutes.” I feel certain it is the window display of the local accountant, and unrelated to my endeavors.
It is Sunday afternoon. The door is open. I step inside.
* * * * *
A thick film of dust lies over every surface. Most of the lights in the ceiling are burnt out. The others, long fluorescent tubes, flicker intermittently, emitting faintly audible electric crescendos. There are heavy steel desks with faded green typewriters resting upon them, indestructible office chairs with real leather padding, plastic floor mats to protect the thick, speckled green shag carpeting, and shelves full of books along the outer walls whose jackets are illegible beneath the gray film that has grown up on everything.
I turn back to the door. Light is pouring in from the street in sufficient quantities to fill the space with a dim glow. I turn back to the room, letting my eyes adjust. The sounds of the street are entirely absent, as if I have stepped into the mind of a sleeping god who dreams without sound. There are four or five desks in the open space I have entered, and a darkened hallway that leads to a space beyond. I make my way to the hallway as the realization that I have stepped into a space that seems to have been passed over by the passage of time surfaces within my mind. I pass a wall calendar and look in disbelief- well, not in complete disbelief. The year is 1940. I chuckle.
I move along the hall and see there is an office just ahead on the right, its door cracked, a plane of hot, white light pouring through and disappearing into some void beyond, as if there are no surfaces beyond this doorway to reflect that light- only a gaping maw of darkness. I step into the office, and there, on the desk, is another letter, propped up on a cup of piping hot coffee. I sit down and have a sip, warming my hands.
Then I pick up the tiny packet and carefully sever the flap of the envelope from its crusty seal. I feel as if I am melting into myself. I tremble with a sudden relief in knowing that somehow, someway, the truth inside of me has kept this doorway open.
The letter is completely blank.
It is profound. It speaks to me with a clarity I could never convey to you in words. It is a coded transmission. Both ends of my life have been revealed, made plain, and I realize that I have become open-ended.
I feel that lightness of being you never want to be without, and as I stare at this gleaming sheet of virgin parchment, inside of me, my entire history is re-colored. My past whips past me, and everywhere that I see my half-self acting out its part in a gray line tracing, like a partially finished cartoon, I see all the holes fill in with vibrant color. The gap between the pure feeling within me, and its expression in my life, dissolves entirely.
This is acceptance. It is the beautiful merging of emptiness and fullness.
I move to set the paper down, and discover there are two sheets.
The second one has words. They say simply, Thank You.
* * * * *
I sit most days early in the morning and look out my kitchen window, sipping tea, and I revel in the knowledge that I have become a pure feeling and a real person both. Jesus is inside of that feeling with me, where He has always been. And there are others, too. All of us.