Sunday, August 18, 2013

JUST THE WEIGHT OF GOD

(wrtten in an attempt to clarify my own beliefs and trace the path to them)

         I know people who have had spiritual experiences--experiences which affirmed for them in some small or large way another reality--more real than the here and now. Whether an out of body experience, or one of being directed, guided, saved or found, they were left to come off of the proverbial "mountain top" or out of Plato's cave, to live by and share what they experienced.  I do not doubt that people have such experiences, but I believe they can be misinterpreted based on the individual's life experiences leading up to that moment, as well as on their natural inclinations, personality, locality, family, cultural and spiritual traditions.
     Certainly, such an experience would call for changes in a person's life and acted upon based on the interpretation (or misinterpretation) of its meaning, and I believe that very often, a person may be so sure of its meaning that a misinterpretation is not considered.  The experience may convince a person that he has the absolute truth and is now qualified, not only to share the found truth, but to judge others who may in fact have had their own very different spiritual experiences and insights.
     I myself have not had an identifiably powerful moment when all became clear to me, but there have been many other moments of intution and insight which have led me to my present state of spirituality and belief. I don’t feel, however, that I have the truth for anyone else.  I still have many questions and doubts, and I must ultimately, as Martin Buber suggests, endure the mystery of life, its ambiguity, paradoxes, and recurring moral dilemmas. I must take my collective life experiences, which include influences from the religion I was brought up in, as well as my formal and informal education; my own questions; my research, the study of other religions and cultural traditions.  Also taken into my consideration are psychological, sociological and anthropological perspectives of Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung and Erich Fromm to name of few. In short I must reconcile Faith and Reason, and do not see a compelling conflict between the two, as do others who favor faith over reason.
      I suppose I sense the spiritual when I hear it in others’ intentions, words and actions and observe it in nature.  I have also felt it reading both sacred and secular texts, and seen it manifested in "the ordinary" in so many remarkable and sometimes stunning ways.  These realizations have functioned as "mini-revelations" in which certain principles of life became clear to me, which I must strive to live by. These principles are broad and general enough to be inclusive, not exclusive, as they are truths not the truth.  After all “the brain is wider than the sky," and there are so many complex, diverse, subtle, nuanced and mysterious elements of creation in nature, the cosmos and the human being. I believe that, while the source may be One, the expressions and emanations of the One are infinite.
     Joseph Campbell asks, as he sees the root is one, the branches are many, “Are modern civilizations to remain spiritually locked from each other in their local notions…” and traditions of these myths/stories/religions, which essentially drive us “diametrically apart?” It seems so to me, at least for now, that we often focus on our differences, rather than our similarities in both faith and reason, which causes all manner of conflict and pain.
     A Jewish friend of mine told me that in Judaism, when someone says he does not believe in God, he is asked, “What kind of a God don’t you believe in?” That really gave me perspective on the individuality of spiritual experience and beliefs. In my case, I don’t believe in a “personal,” patriarchal God who has His eyes on everything, controls and brings about or thwarts things with anger, revenge, kindness or conditional love. I do not believe in a God who created humans so that He can be obeyed and adored and has created a pre-determined "elect," while others don't even have a fighting chance. This kind of God I can even begin to imagine; therefore I cannot and do not take the Bible or any other sacred text literally.
     Fundamentalism of any kind narrows and limits one’s view in all directions. I do believe the Bible (and other sacred texts), as well as world mythologies are imaginative pictures, which contain the principles or essential elements to lead a moral life. We can look to many sources for “significant if unverifiable truths” that are full of wisdom and even practical insights to live by.  Some sources, perhaps more true than other provide guidance, but literal interpretation are absurd to me.  Do I even have to mention, for example of story of Noah whom, we are told, took two of every living thing on board a boat.  Did that include bacteria and dinosaurs and the millions of species of insects and other animals, not to mention that there is no evidence of a world-wide flood, but there are stories extant with a Noah-like character in them written long before the Noah tale.  Here is only one example of how reason and common sense must trump faith.
     Also, in Genesis, an omnipotent God would have known when he created humans that they would disobey his one caution not to eat the fruit of one particular tree.  It would have been part of his plan, but, taken literally, the humans committed a “sin,” which would be a stain on humanity thereafter.  They were punished for disobeying and taking independent action from a God who knew and planned for them do so.  Does anyone really believe that it could have been otherwise, that we could all be living in a Garden of Eden right now?  Does anyone really want to live in a Garden of Eden and give up all that we are and will learn and experience from our earthly experience from which we are meant grow in our humanity?  
     Aren't these and so many other stories throughout the world rather metaphors of spiritual, as well as psychological principles?  After all, our ability to distinguish between good and evil is generally considered a virtue! I believe the Garden story reflects the wisdom of a parent who wants to shelter his childlren, yet knows they must and will take independent action at some point to find their own way through struggle, pain, and a deepening sense that love is redemption.  It is disobedience which set Adam and Eve (and us) on a journey toward freedom, using experience, an open and searching mind, and reason to establish morality.   Authoritarian dictates, as Fromm suggests (“Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem”), are the “internalized voice of authority,” which we may obey out of fear or guilt, but if we are to be adults (fully human), we must act out of our own experience and knowledge of good or evil. Then, and only then are we moral in freedom.
     I don’t believe that human nature is “fallen.” Again, I understand the Bible story as metaphor (which is nevertheless true in its meaning), that is, when Adam and Eve “disobeyed” or took that independent step, which began humanity’s evolution toward consciousness and conscience, which we are hopefully moving toward as a species. It also represents our own individual arduous journeys toward such. The New Testament, although still open to wide and subjective interpretation, speaks of becoming "one with the father.”  Isn’t this none other than coming to that knowledge of good and evil for ourselves (seeking guidance and wisdom along the way). In this way, we have a more full  understanding of what we are capable of as humans beings and what is expected of us--uniting with the Father principle in freedom is coming full circle, just as we often come round to the things our parents taught us, after making mistakes, suffering the consequences and making morality our own, not because a parent's, minister's or other mediator's dictates.  
     Fundamentalism necessarily dictates a particular interpretation from which there can be no deviation, not even Reason, which is suspect, rather than understood as a gift from the Creator. My efforts to reconcile faith and reason tell me that I must act from the inside on those simple, yet hard-to-live truths of which Christ speaks, for example: to love our neighbor as ourselves; to not judge, least we be judged; and that what we do to the least of our brothers, we do to Him).  I grapple with the moral dilemmas, both my own and those presented to us as part of society and the world.  Although I am not always able to resolve the dilemmas, or live those truths at every moment--far from it, but those are the ideals I strive toward and try to live by.
     Christ, I understand to be representative of man, precisely because He came among us and experienced life as a human.  He also taught us in the most imaginative, abstract way, mostly through parables, leaving very broad, but difficult principles to live by. One cannot interpret literally the parables in a concrete way. I believe that is why He used that form of teaching, and even when his diciples asked Him why he taught in parables, he answered with another parable, again emphasizing the imaginative, abstract, rather than rigid, concrete way--so that we have to take an active, independent part--be the fertile soil to the parable seeds. In His own words, we must live by the spirt, rather than the letter of the law.
           "Our task now is to learn that if we can voyage to the ends of the earth and there find ourselves in the aborigine who most differs from ourselves, we will have made a fruitful pilgrimage....We [will] have to come to the end of a  long journey and see  that the stranger we meet there is no other than ourselves, which is the same as saying that we find Christ in him." (Thomas Merton)
     As a believer in the essential teachings of Christ, I am more in line with the Renaissance Humanists--who thought “man is the measure of all things,” the crowning glory of creation because of his intellect and ability to reason with growing consciousness and conscience. I am not inclined toward the “cult of personality” mostly seen in fundamentalism, where the focus is on Jesus, rather than on the Christ, so that He is worshiped almost like a rock star and sung to and about as an adolescent might sing to or about a lover.  I have to be lifted up to the sacred, rather than pull it down to me with melodrama and sentiment. I can see how that pathos may be more attractive and more accessible, as it appeals to the emotion and pop culture of the day.  I can more readily imagine and feel the spiritual in Gregorian chants, or the requiems of Mozart and Faure, which embody and evoke the majestic, the profound, and sublimity of the spiritual world, as well as the human experience of life and death (without words).  
     I believe that the people in our lives are the ones we came here for and with, teaching and learning being reciprocal. We are not here to be obedient, or even to worship, but rather to strive to become fully human (developing our higher selves), which involves our effort to understand, to reconcile reason and faith, to be aware of all that we have been given and to treat everyone with abundant compassion. Our guidance and wisdom can come from a specific or a combination of the world's spiritual teachings.  We must, however, search, be open, flexible and willing to live with ambiguity, paradox and mystery, striving all the while to "live" the essential truths. While I have the cultural and personal conditions to be grounded in Christianity, I can also see the Eightfold Path of Buddhism as an invaluable support to live those essential teachings, doing so without fear or guilt. Accepting Christ for me means knowing that Christ is Love, pure and simple, but not so simple to live, as it is a process, not an event or a moment in time, though a direction can come from spiritual insight or experiences. 
     Truth is truth, no matter where we find it, and it can be found in sacred texts, as well as world literature/mythologies. If taken literally, however, we forfeit reason, as there is no room to challenge in any way.  The response to any challenges to a literal interpretation of a text, results in accusations of blasphemy, ignorance of “the truth” and worse, all of which means the person challenging is the lesser." Questions and challenges may be felt by fundamentalists as persecution, which becomes the “battle cry” because, according to some sacred texts, persecution is what can be expected from infidels or non-believers, that is--anyone who believes differently--even those who consider themselves a member of the same religion.  A different interpretation threatens to unravel the whole fabric of belief, exposing the sometimes self-delusional, self-deceptive, defensive, ethnocentric and egocentric tendencies and ways of getting around ourselves that human beings are prone to. We see these responses and tendencies in all religions, ranging from disagreement, to persecution, to violence and atrocities, as the various sects and denominations "stand their ground" for their interpretations of "the truth."
     It is a kind of circular reasoning: the more extreme the fundamentalism and absurd the claims (which always provoke challenges and riducule), the more "believers" feel persecuted and justified. Case in point: the proclamations from evangelist Pat Roberts (and others) that some natural disasters are punishments from God, or his prediction that, if they were ever in need, God would not help the claimants who brought a case against their school board who had voted that intelligent design must be taught. The conservative judge (appointed by George W. Bush, an advocate of teaching intelligent design), after hearing the case, ruled that intelligent design is not science and was "religion in disguise" (“Judgement Day” Nova available on You Tube). Then there was the extremist________who went to rallies for gay marriage and carried the sign "When a fag dies, God laughs."  These, of course are not the most extreme, ironic or harmful examples of actually going against the essential teachings of Christ, but they do show how fundamentalists claim persecuted because rational people of all persuasions call them on absurdities, ironies and hypocrisies.
     Too often, it is denigrating the "other" that distracts us from living those essential teachings, shifts our focus and engenders a compulsion to judge.  For example, if Christian, we may be distracted from loving one another as Christ loves us, or really caring for the least of our brothers.  I must conclude that this is the case in the above examples and other instances of quoting or interpreting sacred texts, such as has been done to support slavery and the submission and opression of women. Immigrants, those of other ethnic or cultural origins, and those who are disenfranchised out of circumstances they were born into: these are our brothers and sisters and not to be judged as sinners or takers. These and other worse examples extremism, I would suggest, are not really out of belief a higher being and a literal text, but of the lower self which often seeks to feel superior to others, much of it at a subconscious level, and often with little reason or wider education, other than in said texts, conveniently interpreted to discriminate, engender hate and even violence.
     How can we conveniently ignore that It is not up to us to judge, or denigrate. Can we not let God do the judging in His own time?  We cannot understand all the circumstances and reasons why there is apathy, evil, depravity, corruption, violence and social problems. We can, however, as many do in all faiths and traditons, work toward change wherever it is needed without exclusion and demonizing, which creates only discord, rather than the peace and understanding that may come if we imitate Christ or seek to see the Christ in others, as Merton suggests. 
     I think of the sacred books, as well as the great literary epics and mythologies, as maps which can guide and direct us, but never reveal the many detours and vistas, byways and hidden paths, nor people we can meet as brothers along the way. In their essence, they contain all we need to know, but we also must use and expand our minds, hearts, and souls through other knowledge and experiences, rather than following only the clearly marked major highways of dogma and doctrine.
     Reason also tells me that there is no one book that can be taken literally, especially considering that throughout the history of humanity, many of the same themes, motifs, stories, images and wisdom can be found in many traditions and cultures, with local variations. They are either all right or all wrong. Here is where faith and reason must be weighed and balanced. Those who take any text literally are nevertheless “interpreting” it influenced by a particular sect’s or denomination’s understanding espoused by their leaders/teachers, or by their own experience and temperament, as well as cultural/geographic aspects, and psychological needs and idiosyncrasies.  
    Literal interpretations do not involve proven facts through scientific inquiry, study and research gleaned over hundreds of years from the natural and cosmic worlds.  Therefore, astronomy, geology, archaeology, psychology, sociology, and anthropology and logic in general, are suspect. They are not sources for consideration and information. This certainly narrows and limits not only our perspective, but also our imagination and even our livlihood and vocations. Those who believe they have "the truth" verbatim must then take on the impossible task of fitting everything in the universe into what they already believe, rather than starting out objectively toward inductive logic (as does science) while still holding the mystery of creation and the spirt of the law. 
     Then, there is the circuitous, historical evolution of texts with multiple, alternative translations, the selection of certain ones over others to become part of a Cannon. For me, it is just too open to error, corruption of original intension of a spiritual leader, such as Christ, not to mention the personal, political and cultural manipulations.  How an anyone believe that through it all, somehow God saw to it that that whatever text we have is His absolute word.  I prefer to adhere to the spirit of the law, rather than the letter of it, not because it is easier or less moral, but because it more demanding and requires resourcefulness and cultivation of virtues in our development toward becoming free, moral beings
     It has been said that if we knew the good we would do the good. What is the good? While we may not be able to ultimately define good, or truth for that matter, I am sure that growing to know it and do it involves Love, Compassion, Kindness, Fairness, Charity, and many others virtues/states of mind or being, including adversity, pain, sacrifice and suffering and, yes, contradictions and ambiguity. It is just that it takes much practice and discipline, insight and openness to develop, sustain and enact these virtues toward others, especially toward those who do not believe, look or live as we do. 
     One would have to admit, taking facts and reasoning into account, that all of these texts were written by human beings, inspired, maybe, but also bound by geo-political, cultural/local time and place, with inherent prejudices and perhaps with “misinterpretations” of their own spiritual revelations. I think this is most evident in the portions of texts that are opressive and dangerous to women.  Certainly women are the portal for life and thereby have a kind of inherent power in the ability to bring it forth, and also, by the the nature of the sexual drive, women arouse desire in men. Feeling their own power challenged and their own desires aroused, men felt that it is women who are to blame for their urges--not the inability of men to control themselves.  Therefore woman had to be (and still do) tamed/suppressed. Reason should tell us that these portions of “the truth” which discriminate and oppress are no more than psychological projections, but, nevertheless are still at times acted upon to the detriment of women and others, including whole societies. 
    If the world religions in their fundamentalist, extreme forms and followers have shown us anything, it is that they are divisive and sometimes destructive. They foster suspicion and superstition, a sense of superiority and spirtual pride, and, in their most extreme forms, can limit or take away civil rights, human rights and dignity. We have seen these attempts, sometimes successful in our own country’s history and certainly presently in other countries, so that The "other" becomes the enemy (the infidel, the devil incarnate, the anti-Christ) and in the worst cases are marginalized, oppressed, imprisoned, brutalized, and murdered by the thousands.
      Having been present at my parents' deaths—at the moment when time and place no longer existed for them, when spirit departs from the body, I saw that life and death are sacred and profound mysteries. I felt that the essence of who we are does not get snuffed out with the last breath. Though I do not believe in the traditional descriptions of heaven and hell, I do believe that we must in some way account or be aware of all that we did or did not do in our time on the earth.
     Seeing the body only, without the individual spirit that animates it is the ultimate affirmation that we are not our bodies—and that we cannot be ultimately confined in one bodily sheath any more than our minds, hearts and souls can be defined by or contained in one book, philosophy or religion. 
     Our essence and our mission here is greater than the body or mind can comprehend or imagine, greater than our individually-lived lives can manifest and are as infinite as the universe, which is to say, "just the weight of God.
The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
For—put them side by side—
The one the other will contain
With ease—and You—beside—

The Brain is deeper than the sea—
For—hold them—Blue to Blue—
The one the other will absorb—
As Sponges—Buckets—do—

The Brain is just the weight of God—
For—Heft them—Pound for Pound—
And they will differ—if they do—
As Syllable from Sound (Emily Dickinson)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

ANCIENT INJURY


(excerpt from Soul Biography)

In the evenings, he would read to her or they would tell stories about when they were children, living in towns not far from the one another.  They were usually funny stories, but some involved moments wherein the soul of the other was revealed in sacred exchanges.
  
As a boy, he had made and played with bows and arrows, aiming at targets of all kinds.   Once, he saw a small owl, was able to sneak up on it and snap an arrow off the bow at close range.  He wasn’t prepared for what happened next.  The arrow went into the bird, and a drop of blood appeared on the white breast feathers.  The bird’s bright eyes fixed on him, and blinked once before it fell over.  His boy’s heart pounded, as a feeling came over him he had never experienced.  He and the beautiful living creature had been so close they breathed the same air, and then it was gone, but not the image of fixed eyes nor the memory of awakening his conscience as sharply and unexpectedly as a deadly arrow.

There was another story he told once, and only once—of an experience leaving an even deeper imprint.  As a marine in Vietnam, where one was always in danger, vigilant for snipers and hiding places from which anyone could and did spring at any moment (for such is the nature of war), he noticed a strange area on the ground ahead, and a heard a movement.   A part of the terrain had been disturbed, and a dug out spot covered over. Not taking any chances, he fired his rifle into the opening.  As the other members of the detail gathered round, they looked in and saw bodies.  They helped him pull them out by their ankles—two women, whose weight he feels still. His fellow marines thanked him for saving their lives, and later he received a medal for his deed; he never showed it to anyone, except once to her, then hid it away, like he had the faces of the dead women, whose images became a blood red stain on the pure white of his heart.

Nothing could ever change what happened that day he had set out a young man and returned that night as something else he could never again quite recognize, so he didn’t look. But some images never fade; we all have our precious store of sorrow to stare into, and the ways we learn to blot them out, avoid them, tuck them safely away, or bear them only inwardly—thorns piercing us with shame and regret, even when we aren’t looking.  Then, at 
unexpected times without warning, those images loom up before us.  If we are lucky, we have someone to hold us in silence. 

That is what true lovers have ever done when a sacred exchange has taken place. They silently give over to the others’ innermost being.  Even if unaware of, or unfamiliar with that innermost part, each asking the other to protect and nurture it throughout all time.

Willy is my child; he is my father
I would be his lady all my life.
He said he’d love to live with me
But for an ancient injury which has not healed (Joni Mitchell)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

SHIVA'S TABLE


She turned her head as the sound of gentle rain became sleet and pelted the window behind her. Weary and chilled, she pulled a wooly throw over her, only her two hands uncovered to hold on to a bag of chips and a Coke bottle. She settled on the sofa to watch the new show everyone at work had been talking about featured as, “two young women living and loving in Brooklyn.” What was meant by “living” she also wondered.
The TV screen lit up with the swirling psychedelic colors, shapes and patterns of the show’s introduction. Then, the five-minutes of pre-show commercials blared out for Viagra, Volkswagen and Kraft macaroni and cheese. “Good combination!” she said out loud.
The scene opened on a lovely courtyard. A slim, beautiful woman sat at a little table with her coffee—picture perfect. Something dropped from above, past the branch of a tree, as her eyes followed it to the ground. “It’s a condom!” the woman shrieked, but she didn’t seem too surprised. Her roommate opened a sliding French door, peeked out, with a little grimace—glancing at its landing place. Then began to discuss their jobs; one was a waitress, the other a financial advisor. The subject turned to men and innuendo about a date the night before for one woman, and an upcoming one for the other with banter about newly bought underwear and allusions to Fifty Shades of Grey.
“This is a bunch of crap.” Reaching for the remote she surfed through the shows: pawn shop dealers, rattlesnake hunters, political analysis, and cooking competitions. She threw it across the room, disgusted at the taste of “some people,” and more so that she had eaten all of the chips and drank half of the litre of Coke. Licking off the salt around her lips, she dropped the bag and bottle to the floor. She passed her hand over the little roll of flesh above the waist of her pajama bottoms, “Oh, God!”
She stretched her hand to the side table to grab her reading glasses. She placed them on the tip of her nose and picked up  Love on the Subway beside her, which she had been trying to get through since last spring. After three pages, she slammed it shut and threw it on the floor. “This is crap, too!” Jumping up, she tipped over the vase of holly she had placed there for a little Christmas spirit. It landed on the Coke bottle. Picking up the book, the vase, and bottle, she stomped to the kitchen and tossed them in the waste can. When she got back to clean up the spills, she pricked herself on the holly leaves and screamed, “What the hell?”
Though she had held it in all day, now it burst forth in a flood: tears flowing and breath coming in short gasps.  As if in a fog, through misty eyes, she picked up her phone, to call her best—her only friend now. “Hey, it’s me, Jessica,” not recognizing her own tremulous voice between sobs, as she blurted out her anguish at that morning’s revelations, with confessions of self-loathing, guilt and shame.
“I'll be right over—hold on," came the familiar voice with it’s comforting Italian accent. Near hysteria, she felt her mind wavering between what she had wished for, and the reality she now had to bear.

Life was not as she had imagined it would be when she first arrived in New York two years ago. “I’m here, Ma; I’m good. Everything's gonna be alright, so don't worry." She wanted to believe it herself, and it was alright, at least at the beginning. "I registered for classes today. I've gotta do this.” She did not want to return a failure to that wretched town.
Acting was, or so she thought, her reason for being. Before she even arrived, she had registered for classes at The Studio, a well-known, successful neighborhood theatre, and a week later took a job as a hostess at a corner bistro a few blocks away. She felt her new life had begun.
Jessica had escaped from that dreary Ohio town in winter to bustling Brooklyn. The few things she had brought with her, she positioned in just the right places around her tiny, ground-floor apartment: the little French, marble-top nightstand went under the window facing the alley; the white cushioned chair in the corner near the exposed brick wall; black metal floor lamp with a bright yellow shade on one side of a faux fireplace. Near the sliding door to a small patio, she placed a plant stand holding a dark-leafed plant dotted with tiny pink flowers (how it managed to keep blooming in the low light, she didn’t know); and a small, red side table (awaiting a sofa) against the wall facing the “fireplace.” She had been ecstatic each time she was able to add something new and needed. 
Her favorite addition was found among the props being discarded at the studio to make room recent donations of more desirable pieces. She rescued the round, glass-top table with bronze legs in the shape of tree branches. Months later, she still hadn’t sat at it, not having found the "just right" chairs, though she kept searching everywhere.
  Walking from the bus stop on a balmy spring evening, with the fragrance of lilac in the air, she noticed two white chairs. Up close, she noticed vine and leaf carvings on their backs .They were placed one on top of the other under one of the blossoming cherry trees lining the street. As she awkwardly picked them up, she noticed that across the street, a striking, dark-haired man leaning against a porch post watching her intently. When she saw him, she waved, feeling a little embarrassed caught in the chair rescue. He did not wave back but, rather, just kept his gaze on her. In the raking light cast by early evening sun, his white shirt stood out so brightly against his face and dark wavy hair.     She quickly turned and walked away at a brisk pace, awkwardly holding the chairs in front of her. The image of the man remained with her as she made her way home —those piercing eyes seemingly looking through her,
Cleaning up her finds that evening, she noticed vines carved into the wood were in silver leaf on one of the chairs and the gold on the other. ”There!" she sighed, with an extraordinary sense of pleasure and satisfaction. Now the chairs had found a home across from each other with the little table that stood alone for so long.  She felt it meant something, maybe that she was going to feel settled in at last, and that good things were in store for her.
She had planned to study a script for an upcoming audition, make a cup of tea and sit at the table for the first time, but she felt such a drowsiness coming on. Instead, she went straight to bed feeling totally drained.
That night in a dream she was sitting at the table. The windows above it were open, the wind howling outside and the driving rain coming in. The front door blew open, and the dark-haired, mysterious man came in and sat across from her. They looked into each others’ eyes in silence. His were deep, dark and penetrating, expressing a longing, like her own yearning for love and intimacy. When she awoke the next morning, she looked around her room. She could not remember having actually gotten into bed the night before. She felt a little unsteady as she opened the bedroom door and peeked out, half expecting to find the him sitting at the table waiting for her.
As her sleepiness faded the dream remained vivid, even though she knew dreams can feel so real and images and feelings of the dream can linger for a time, maybe even for days.  Then they fade with time, but for the rest of the day the dream remained with her, and she began to wonder if there were some hidden message or portent in it. On her way home from the Studio that evening, she felt compelled to walk past the house with the porch, but no one was there. In the following months, she walked that way at least once a week. The dream never faded, but was in her thoughts—day and night, even though she never saw the dark-haired man again.
She was certain that her dream did mean something until a whole scenario formed within her. She often had to stop herself from believing that she would see him again, be with him, make love, marry him, have his child by saying out loud over and over, “Stop, no, no. This is not why I came here. What’s wrong with me?” She, but she had no answers and she  couldn’t shake it off.
When the weather began to turn cold, she tried to be more practical, took the shorter walk home, avoiding that street, that house, and the man who wasn't there. Strangely, though, everything in her life was on the upswing with good fortune and coincidences (or not), all of which she attributed to the dream, the dark-haired man and his increasing “presence” in her life.
At the bistro the manager had given her raise, “Hey, J Lo,” the manager of the bistro, who had a nickname for everyone, called her aside. "You gotta way aboutcha, and customahs love ya.” The extra money was enough further adorn her living space: a bright Tibetan carpet; framed photos of the Bowery, the Brooklyn Bridge and Gramercy Park. She bought several figures of Hindu gods and goddesses and placed them where they could watch over her, or so she liked to believe. Shiva, creator and destroyer both held pride of place on the half shelf above the front door.
  Also, she there was a circle of friends from the The Studio who met at a pub in the Village after classes. Her life was falling into place, but still with a feeling that there was more to come!
  It got even better. Less than a week after she had finished reading The Merchant of Venice, there was an open audition call posted at The Studio for an off, off Broadway production of it. With the encouragement of one of her instructors and several of her friends, she auditioned. Weeks later, when she had given up hearing anything back, she got a call and was offered the role of Portia, which she felt had nothing to do with her talent. It was destiny!
  The good news spread quickly, and another friend put her in touch with Gena, a more experienced actor, who also had landed a part in the play. They arranged to meet for coffee and immediately clicked, although they were nothing alike. Gena was laid back and laughed a lot. ”Isn’t it funny. I got the part of Jessica, and you're Jessica in real life?”
  Jessica, being more serious and cynical thought, Whatever real life is, but said, "Yeah, ironic! Hey, did you get an invitation to the director's pre-rehearsal party?”
Gena laughed the answer to Jessica’s question,”Yes, I did, and I’m so excited about it. Why don't we go together? Can’t wait to meet the director. Hope he’s not tyrant.”
“Sure, yes, we can go together, why not? I don’t think he’ll be a tyrant…not sure why, but….”
“Great, what are you going to wear?” Gena asked. 

From the moment Jessica got the part, she began to imagine the director was the dark-haired man who had arranged everything exactly as it happened and would happen—world without end, amen. She learned that his name was Leon Lorenzo. She asked and searched everywhere for an image of him, his address or any personal information but found nothing. Around the same time, she took to reaching up to touch the little golden figure of Shiva above the doorway each time she left or entered her apartment, like dipping her hand in holy water at a church door. She remained on the threshold for a moment each time to remind herself that she was standing on the brink of…something.
All of her free time was devoted to memorizing Portia's lines, reciting them in the shower; during lulls at the bistro; in elevators; on the subway and late into the night.      Anticipating, yet apprehensive about the upcoming party, she began to plan for it in every way. She envisioned how she would look, how she would smile and speak when she finally met him face to face--her mentor, her lover, her all. She lost five pounds, splurged on a short black dress with tiny silver sparkles in a small swirl around one shoulder, and a pair of black boots with grey patent leather dots around the top—perfect!
When the night finally arrived, she spent hours at the mirror, applying make-up (which she didn’t usually wear), and straightening and arranging her normally frizzled hair. All the while, the practical part of her knew she was out of control. The director was not, could not be, the dark-haired man. But the deepest part of her did not believe the other part. 
Ready  to go, she wrapped herself in a magenta mohair shawl and left to meet Gena at the subway station, who stood waving crazily when she saw Jessica approaching. Jessica waved back, as she picked up her pace and took in Gena's appearance:  white leggings, a pale blue silk Indian tunic, a blue and white veil over her head, all embroidered with darker blue, and silver and white filigree designs. The street light shone behind her head, like a halo, as snow flurries began falling around her. 
Gena looks beautiful, like the Virgin Mary. “Mother of God, it’s cold!” she shouted to Gena, as she hurried toward her. “You look heavenly, Gena!”
“Thanks, Jess. You too— be-ooteeful.”
“Neither one of us is dressed for this weather, though.” Jessica shivered as they joined arms and stepped onto the escalator down into the depths of the city.
After manic small talk and alternate expressions of fear and humor, they arrived at the mid-town apartment.  Not wanting to be the first, too-eager guests, the women walked around the block, laughing, freezing and looking forward to the evening with mixed feelings of dread and awe. Back at the building, they squeezed into the small foyer and rang the bell on the nose of a brass gargoyle. 
Stepping into the elevator, Jessica thought she would be sick, felt a gurgling in her lower abdomen, and when she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirrored walls, she didn’t recognize the reflection. I’m overdressed. I look ridiculous! Even Gena looks better. At least her outfit has conversational value. Whatever confidence she had was dwindling into self-consciousness. What am I doing here? How did I get this part? I want to go home. And she didn’t mean to her apartment in Brooklyn.
When the elevator doors opened, the women turned left, but from the other direction they heard voices and music spilling out into the  black and white tiled hallway. They backtracked to 933, and entered the candle-lit room with the open door, unnoticed at first. They made their way amidst small groups of the guests—some looking as “put together” as she had hoped to be. Others were in jeans and tee shirts, and plenty of were outfitted for at least as much conversational mileage as Gena’s get up. Everyone had drinks in hand and smiles on faces. Some immediately directed exclamations, congratulations and questions toward Jessica, knowing she had a lead part.
A glass of wine was put into her hand by a short man with dark blue eyes and flowing grey hair. He called her Portia and identified himself as Shylock, her stage adversary. He took her around to meet the cast and crew, but she was distracted, looking past shoulders and heads into every corner of the room for that one face and those eyes. She began to sense“Shylock” was scrutinizing her. Was he reading her thoughts and the wild expectations and fantasies crunching themselves against one another in her mind forming into what she wished for, not what she knew to be true. 
Her imaginings were interrupted when he insisted on getting her another glass of the “excellent Pouilly Fuisse.”
“The what?” she whispered under her breath, already feeling a bit woozy. She continued to scan the room, anxious and disheartened. When Shylock returned, she blurted out, “Where is Leon, the director? You'd think he’d have the courtesy to appear and introduce himself by now, don’t you?”
“My dear, Portia, the merciless, I am Leon; I thought you knew,” Handing her the wine glass, he clinked his to hers,”Salute." Then he took a little silver spoon out of the breast pocket of his black velvet vest and tapped it on his glass to call the guests to whatever order was possible. He welcomed everyone, handed out play books and made announcements about the rehearsals, none of which she heard. She only saw the evening blurring and dimming her foolish hopes. On the way home she was silent, ignoring     Gena’s chatter as she had the sense that knowingly or not, Shylock had exacted his pound of flesh.
That was one year ago.
Now, on this evening, as she attempted to calm herself before Leon arrived, she tried to remember how she once had imagined her life would be. Maybe acting was not the reason I came. She hadn't gotten any callbacks for other parts since Portia, even though the play had a successful run, and she had received good reviews. In reality, she had gone to very few auditions, despite encouragement and references from Leon. Her group of friends had fallen away one by one. Have I isolated myself from them, from everything? She wondered. 
Her hours at the bistro were cut back. “Hey, business ain’t what it useta be, J Lo,” her boss told her. My turning up late and calling in sick too often might be the real reason? Maybe she hadn’t come to New York for the right reasons after all. Now this! I’ve been tricked by flying too close to what I thought I loved?” She sat staring at the blank TV screen, the sound of sleet against the window pane.
Jessica refused to totally give up the idea of the dark-    haired man’s influence on her life. Despite the disillusionment of Leon’s being the director, they had become good friends during and after the production of the play. From the first night they met, she felt he could see through her, which somehow was reassuring, but threatening at the same time. She had never confided in him (or anyone) about her secret thoughts and crazy imaginings—not until minutes ago when she called him, and through burning tears, told all, including the grim news she had heard only that morning.
She recounted for him that, just the night before, she found herself on the street where the dark-haired man had stood on the porch watching her that spring evening. As she approached the house, she saw yellow crime-scene tape stretched around the sidewalk and porch. Oh, no, she thought, someone must have hurt him or killed him! She rushed home, frantic to watch TV, to scan sources for any news, but there was nothing. She turned on the radio next to her bed to the all-news station, sleepless off and on most of the night.
  She awoke the next morning trying to make sense of what she was hearing. On that street, in that house, there was a victim, a boy, and a perpetrator. She ran to turn on the TV to see a man being taken out in cuffs. He was not a victim, but a criminal, not a mysterious, handsome lover, but a predator, a monster who had kidnapped a young boy, locked him in a cage in the basement and abused him for over a year. 

Now, she waited at the door to hear footsteps and a knock..“Leon” The sleet had turned to snow, dropping lightly to the earth below. When Leon entered, she reached for him, inhaling the cold of the flakes in the folds of his jacket. He held her close with empathy, aware of the tragic revelation, shattering a fantasy she had created and clung to for so long.
"I am so ashamed, so crazy; that boy....Could I have done something, anything? And… I…I…” she sobbed to incoherence.
“My dear, Jessica,” Leon whispered, “it is you who must now have mercy on yourself. You couldn’t have known, how? When illusions end, life can begin. Now come, sit with me.” Jessica held on to him, as they walked to the table.

There she sat for the first time, across from Leon, in silence, she on the silver chair, he on the gold. And, from time to time, she cast her gaze to Shiva above the doorway, dancing in a ring of fire.