November 14, 2019

The Beginning (not really but close enough)


It was a dark stormy night. Well, maybe not so stormy. In fact I’m not sure it was dark, or for that matter nighttime.

Hmm, okay, let me start over.

It was a winter’s afternoon, the setting sun was low on the horizon.

Ah yes, that’s better - though in mind’s eye it was still a dark stormy night. I can call it how I remember it I guess, this entire endeavor has been a story in the works for nearly fifty years now, and it’s my story.

Well wait, that’s also not entirely true. It IS my story, but it’s more than that, I cannot tell my story without telling the stories of the lives of others who have interacted and influenced my story. I guess what I am saying, I cannot tell my story alone, as my story has been written not just by myself, but by those people who’s lives I’ve known. I’ve told my story in segments over the years, often with an emphasis on a single moment, or event really in my life, but really, the story of my life is better to remember the journey part, not just the destination. We love arriving places, though this I think is also not entirely true, we love the idea of arriving, but the reality is we love the going as much as we love arriving, in fact for most of us, for me at least, it has always been the journey. The point of destination is ultimately an act of ending, once reached, the getting there cannot be re-enacted.

This is the story of one man, whose life has been created by the people along the way, family, friends, lovers, enemies, strangers, historical figures, fantasy figures, hope, despair, loneliness and community. I’ve been always on the journey - the arrival for me is something I’ve yet to really discover. Sure, there have been lots of little road markers along the way, indicating to me moments of arrival, moment of “oh, so this is where I am going” which are inevitably followed by, “and now, next?”

Such hubris to think that my story, my journey out of billions is interesting enough that someone else will want to travel along with me, if only in written word. But funny enough, when I start to tell about my story, my journey, most folks tend to say, “hey, that’s an interesting story, you should tell it.” So here I am, ready to tell my story, mostly.

This story will be the brave act of remembering and a practice in really working hard to be honest, remembering context, an attempt to give narrative to my story and fill in the gaps (which as you can imagine, in fifty years, there are lots and lots of gaps. Look, I cannot promise “exactitudes” in my journey, but I can promise it will be as accurate a representation of my story as possible. Fortunately a lot of my journey is documented in pictures, notes, journals, other folks retelling (thankfully a lot of people I still know today were part of my journey) and I shall of course pull upon the historical epigenetic power of my Irish roots, the gift of gab (also maybe a dash of malarkey - I am mostly Irish after all).

So let’s go back......

It was a dark, stormy night........ yes I’m sticking to this version.........it was a dark stormy night and following long hours of driving hundreds of miles on icy, winter blown roads, my parents and I were ready to arrive. We had traveled these last few days from Steamboat Springs then via Denver to that remote, rural part of Missouri, for here we had traveled, arriving at a monastery, a place set in the rolling hills of Missouri, a cathedral of worship surrounded by corn and soy dedicated to the quiet work of monks and the education of young men who wished to be dedicated to the worship of the Christian god.

You know how some memories seem super implanted on the brain? Like the first time you touched a hot stove, kissed a girl (or a boy, or another person), like when you got pulled over by that cop for going 45 in a school zone and you just knew that you were going to get a ticket even if you showed the cop your chest........ yeah, that kind of memory. This was one of those for me, pulling up on that dark stormy night, at the monastery in the middle of no where, I remember.

It was getting dark, and the grounds of the monastery were littered with the last leaves of summer, their golden color fading into memory, leaving only the brown of winter decay in their veins. We, my parents and I, had been driving for nearly 12 hours from the Queen City of the west, to the heartland. As we struggled to read our maps (this was 1988 after all) we searched an unfamiliar country for a sign post, an indicator that we were on the right path. Finally, after a few miss stops and turns along the way, we fell upon the monastery.

It’s not as hard to find as you might think, after all, in the backroads of rural Missouri life is mostly about corn, soy, cows and farming. In this part of the Midwest, it was the only such structure and institution of its kind. But, finding this place, in the dead of winter, set against the pressing cold of an anticipated January, was not so simple. So as we did find the monastery, the memory was set. As we pulled onto the roads that led to the property, the first thing that appears, rising like a monument was the main church, a huge building built in the baroque style, two huge towers framing the entrance to a cathedral, looking very medieval in it’s design, and unusual moment lying on a hill in cornfield literally in the middle of nowhere Missouri, seeming to have been built just for me.

The soft crunch of stones beneath tires still to this day reminds me of the arrival. In cold air, perhaps because it was dusk, sounds seemed to weigh heavier than normal. There was a quiet ferocity about the place, the grounds, accented by the chill pressure that winter was breathing upon us. This and the darkness settling upon us, and the fear that we were not where we were supposed to be. The challenge of a place like this, a monastery set in rural Missouri, is that signage, great lighting, and knowing what to expect in a place that is already 100% unexpected, well, the quiet bore down upon us in our car. We seemed almost afraid to speak for fear that we would disrupt the freeze that was coming, and the stones we drove over seemed to be screaming beneath the wheels, “hey, this cannot be right.” But then, the journey and arrival were promised by the many people who told me, told my family, we had to be there. I had to be there.

And so we went, the dark stormy night now no longer a literal thing, but truly a literal comment on the feelings that settled over me as we drove past the soaring cathedral monument dedicated by generations of monks to the worship of the son of god. We circled the grounds for a bit, my father nervously asking me over and over where we were supposed to go. And I, eager, excited, nervous, feeling the full effect of the dark stormy night, had my face pressed up against the nearly frozen glass of the car peering out into the darkness of grounds of my future home for four years whispering to my father, “I don’t know.”

Finally, as if created by a dime store novel, the night opened as we found a better lighted small parking lot just past the cathedral, surrounded by several smaller buildings, sensibility built in a practice manner. It was here we pulled in, turned the car off, looking at one another, shrugging to one another hoping that where and what we should do would be revealed. And again, as if written, we spied a smallish man, wearing long black robes, a hood pulled up over his head protecting his ears from the swirling cold. He had to be a monk, or at least some rando who was into cosplay in rural Missouri. I fairly leapt from the car upon seeing this first person that night, and as I fled the relative warmth and safely of my parents car called out after him as he quickly sped by, “Father, father, wait I think we’re lost.”

This small man, who was almost elf like in his stature, short, slim, narrow faced, dressed in the black robes of a monk, a hood covering his head and ears, turned towards the sound of my voice, a grating noise in the context of the silence of the monastery.

“Brother.” Was all he said as he slowed his near running walk pace so that I might catch up to him.

“Brother?” I stammered as I drew close to him.

“Brother Aaron.” No further expounding narrative would follow.

Oh, right, not all men of god were priests I reminded myself, for as a young man I’ve been around other monks before, Trappists who were living in the mountains near Aspen, Colorado. “Ah, oh sorry Brother, my name is Thomas Burkett and I am a student at seminary college.

Brother Aaron glanced at me curtly, “Fine.” His face was like a statue, no hint of emotion showing there.

“Um, well yes, my Mom and Dad and I are kinda lost, we were supposed to be here earlier in the day but because of the roads we were delayed a bit, I’m afraid we don’t know where to go.”

Brother Aaron, looked up at building he had been headed towards in his flowing, speeding walk. His hooded eyes glinted in the fading light, I think he might have smiled beneath his frown, then motioned with a nod that I should follow him. Glancing back at the car where my parents were still extracting themselves, I caught my father’s gaze, he waved and they quickly followed Brother Aaron and I as he lead us to a small wooden door set in the side of the practical building. By now the darkness was no longer a narrative element that I am using to tell a story, but was genuine and it was hard to see. But when we arrived at the door set in the building, the open door poured a golden light out upon his face and mine, and I could see him now. A middle aged man, thin of build with steel grey eyes set in a pock marked face, youngish but not young. The brother held the door and simply indicated with his eyes we should enter the room.

And then, for the first time I stepped over the threshold of a door that would lead me down a path that to this day defines me. To this day haunts me. To this day was the greatest moment of life and worst moment. My parents, right behind me, seemed to disappear in my mind and the smiling, round face of another monk dashed up to us. He smiled at me, looked at my parents, and simply said, “You must be Thomas. Welcome to Conception, I’m Father Kenneth.” As we stepped in suddenly I noticed we were in a dining hall, quiet literally as a church filled with monks, sitting at several large tables, eating a meal in silence while another monk sat at the head of the room reading something to them all.

This moment, stepping fully from the cold darkness of winter’s night into the dining room of monks was the step of a journey I had been on for a long time prior, only I was I was not aware that the journey had already begun, in my mind this was the start of my journey.

This retelling of my life shall be an attempt to reconcile the true start of my journey in life with those moments that stand out in my life like a hand on a hot stove.

This is my account of my dark stormy night. This is the story of a boy born into a world of gods and priests, myths and legends, and how upon that journey I found “god”, lost “god”, found myself, lost myself, and now am just going back to assemble pieces of who I was, who I am and who I shall be.

It was a dark stormy night indeed.

September 06, 2017

Prologue - Happy Birthday



Mom - February 1970 (not an actual photo)


Sitting on the 3rd stair from the bottom she tugged gently at the sleeve of the yellow dress she wore.  She glanced for the millionth time at the clock….. 10:13 p.m.  Her water had broken just an hour or so before, nothing major, but it was time.

The contractions had started shortly after her water broke.  Looking at the clock, and judging from the intensity of the contractions, she knew it was only a few hour until the baby came.  The contractions at this point were about 15 minutes apart, but still, this not being her first baby, she knew was a sign the baby was coming fast.  She sighed and stood up.

Her little hard backed, plastic pink suitcase sat by the first step, aligned in perpendicular fashion with the step, the small plastic handle resting lazily on the top of case. The silver edging on the seam of the suitcase shone brightly in the dull hallway light, reflecting back to her the stress of being nine month pregnant.

10:30 p.m. - already?  She glanced again at the hallway clock, it’s large wooden, radiating arms flaring out from the center of the brass center, numbers dark and black, proclaiming the hour proudly.  Minutes were a bit harder to read, and seconds whizzed by, imperceptible really on the brass back ground.

Then suddenly lights flared in the drive way, flashing across the living room, next to the stairs. making the blinds reflect shadows on the wall, for a moment looking like a prison cell.  Eagerly, she pulled herself to her feet, flex picking up the suitcase, hanging from her right hand, left hand clutching her right wrist, suitcase hanging before her knees like a plastic shield.  

On the other side of the door the rustling of keys jangled like wind chimes in a storm.  She thought she heard cursing.  Her lips pursed in a tight line she stared at the door in the dark hallway, anxiously waiting.

The door swung open, following its arching shadow was the smell of viceroy cigarettes moved, at least to the nose, as fast as the shadows.  Grumbling about keys, his voice echoed across the small entry way.  Fumbling his hand hit the light, and for the first time it seemed he saw her, standing in her little avocado dress, red hard back suitcase in hand, he mumbled, “Ellen?”

“Bob,” matter of fact, “I’m in labor, we have to go to the hospital.”

For a moment, one of those rare moments when time seems to stop, the clock’s hand seems to move, backwards: he clutched the keys in his hand.  The cigarette in his mouth suddenly was too hot, too smoky, too bitter. He choked back a cough and said, “What?”

Not her first pregnancy, her lips belaying a patience not really present she muttered, “I’m in labor.”

Through this news the gin fog that soaked his frontal cortex faded and the reality of his wife’s condition finally hit.  “Ellen!” he exclaimed “We have to go to the hospital.”  He looked down at his clothes, a suit he had worn all day, “I have to change.”  He shot up the stairs, brushing past his wife in her  avocado dress, the stair handrail groaning under his weight leaning against it as he propelled himself up.

She looked at the clock, grimaced as the start of another contraction rose into her body.  She sat down on the steps again, knuckles white against the handrail, which groaned again.  She closed her eyes, a tear seeping out and resting on her cheek.  This pain, rising up from her groin and across her belly wasn’t unfamiliar, but it was felt again like the first time.  As the contraction tightened her muscles she remembered to breathe through it, gasping as her belly tightened around the uterus, the as of yet to be born baby slowly, imperceptibly moving into place.  In the pain, during the contraction, time seemed to stop, breathing was its own reward The contraction faded and she looked at the clock again, 9 minutes since the last one, and this one lasted nearly 30 seconds.  They had some time, but she knew not much.  The pain lingered across her belly, she wiped the tear away and glanced up over her shoulder at the top of the stairs where she could her him rushing to get changed.  She crinkled her nose at the smell of the cigarette that he burning in his lips, the dull haze of smoke clung to the air like the tension of labor.

He appeared at the top of the stairs, gasping for air, the cigarette still burning on his lips.  He looked down at her head, she was still sitting on the stairs her hand clinging to the rail.  “Ellen, I’m ready let’s go!”  He started down the stairs, his Florsheim shoes bright under the hall lights.

She looked back up at him, pulling herself upright with the hand rail.  He paused as she stood.  A light smile tugged at her lips.  He waited, cocked his head and noticed the smile, “What is it?” he asked.

The tugging became a full smile, “Bob, before we go to the hospital I think you should put on some pants.”

His face flushed and he looked down.  “Shit”  and ran back into the bedroom.  He jerked his slacks up over his shoes, flicked his cigarette with the aim of a marksman into the adjoining bathroom toilet, and fumbled with the belt, hopping into the pants as he headed back to the top of the stairs.  She was still standing at the top, the little suitcase in hand, waiting.  “Ellen let’s go” he barked as he lumbered down the stairs.

It was cold outside, February in Denver generally was, cold and dry.  The air was quiet, only 19 degrees, but the car was still warm from his earlier outing.  She climbed into the seat next to him, the suitcase resting at her feet.  She knew another contraction was due soon, it had been nearly six minutes from the last one.  He pulled a cigarette out from his pack, pushed the car lighter on, turned the key and the car rumbled to life immediately.  He looked at her, “ready?”  She nodded at him, her hands folded together in her lap, little black gloves protecting her fingers against the winter’s cold.  

They backed out on the street and he gunned the engine.  The lighter popped out of the dashboard, and without even a thought he lighted his cigarette, the acrid smoke immediately filling the car.  She coughed a little and he glanced at her, “sorry” and rolled the drivers window down a crack, the winter’s air a fridge breathe of relief.  The streets were quiet, it was a Wednesday night at nearly 11 p.m.

She gasped as the beginnings of the contraction hit her.  He looked at her, panic flashing across his face, the cigarette on his lips standing to attention from the pursing of his lips around it.  The car began to accelerate, it was a 1964 OldsmobileF-85 DeLuxe, a big car with lots of power, and like new.  They were in Littleton, but the doctor they were powering towards was a couple of miles away in Denver.  She groaned as the pain tightened, and he pressed harder on the accelerator.  A stop sign blew past, unnoticed and forgotten, except that behind them appeared the familiar red flash of a cop car its siren screaming into the winter’s night.

The cop’s siren seemed to make the onset of the contraction worse, and she clinched her teeth as the pain clutched her belly, the shifting muscles pushing the unborn closer to escape.  Bob muttered under his breath, “Shit.”  He slowed the car, flipping the turn signal on from habit, and the car rolled to a stop, engine still running, cigarette burning, its ember light lost in the flashing lights of the car behind them.  His grip tightened on the wheel, the creaking of his tendons audible in the cold night.  Even in her contraction she glanced at him and offered a grimacing smile, “It’s okay Bob.”
The cop pulled his car behind the Oldsmobile and looking through his wind shield he noted in his log the license plate number and make of the car.  He opened his door, the fridge February air enveloped his skin quickly and he gasped.  He could see the heads of the couple in the car before him, not moving really.  He noticed the car was still running. He debated using his car loud speakers to tell them to turn it off, then shrugged, probably a couple of kids out drinking.  No big deal.

He ambled to the car in front of him and got to the driver’s window, with the butt of his flashlight he tapped the glass, which was already partway down, “Sir, roll down your window and turn off the engine.”  He turned the light to shine it into the car for a better view.  It was a young couple, a woman in the passenger’s seat and a guy, looking very nervous behind the wheel.  He could smell cigarettes from the car and maybe gin.

Bob rolled the window down, his hand shaking, and glancing at his wife who was in a full contraction, he started to stutter at the cop, “This is an, a, uh, well, damn, a, um, this is AN EMERGENCY.”  His voice became fever pitched and the emotions of the night carried in his tone.

The cop clicked his tongue, leaned into the now down window, and managed a forced smile, “Sir, what emergency?”  He was focused on the driver, who it seemed was either drunk or something else.

Bob stammered, waving his right hand towards Ellen, “My wife, she’s pregnant!!”

The cop looked more closely at the woman in the passenger seat. He noticed she had her head back, her lips were tight, and her hands were clutched her full belly.  She was indeed pregnant.  He looked back at the driver, “Sir I can appreciate that but…….”

“Damn it man!” Bob yelled, “She’s in labor right now!!!” 

The cop looked back at her and noticed she was gasping, in distress.  He stepped back and stood upright, looking back at his car.  He could call an ambulance and they would take care of this.  He looked back at the driver, “Sir, you say she’s in labor?”  Bob nodded.  “Miss, miss, can you hear me?”  The woman nodded, just barely as she breathed through what appeared to be a severe contraction.  

Bob had it, he reached through the window and grasped the cop’s arm, “Look bud, we can debate this all night, but I”m not sure we’ll make it in time for you to call an ambulance, we’re going to hospital and you can arrest me there, but we’re going unless you want to deliver a baby!”

The cop sighed, he looked at them both.  He had only been on shift an hour or so, so this was already more excitement than he had seen all month.  “All right sir, I can’t have you running stop signs and speeding, and no, I don’t want to deliver any babies, so tell you what, you follow my cruiser and I’ll get you to the hospital.  Deal?”

Bob nodded, his cigarette’s ash falling on his coat.  “yes, let’s go, Porter Memorial”

The cop nodded, pleased at himself and jogged back to his car.  He picked up his CB radio, and dialed into dispatch.  “Dispatch, this is unit 99, over.”  

“Go ahead 99, over.”

“Yeah, um, I’ve got a 10-59, a pregnant couple urgently need escort to hospital, location Porter, Denver County.”

“Roger 99, to confirm you’re 10-59 to hospital, Porter, Denver County.  Please be advised 99 it’s out of jurisdiction, over.”

“Roger, I’ll escort and get out of there- over.”

“10-4 99, over.”

The cop smiled, flipped his siren back on, pulled out in front of the couple’s car, waiting for them to assume position behind him, and he floored it, lights and stop signs be damned.  He nodded, hell this was kind of fun.

They had been close, and the drama of an escort was minor, but Bob pulled into the hospital’s emergency parking, the cop was on his heels, “Sir, let me help.”

Bob glanced at him nodded, “just grab a wheelchair I think.”  The cop nodded and darted into the hospital, emerged moments later pushing a small wheel chair to the car.  He noticed the couple were out of the car, and the woman seemed to be okay, she was clutching with on hand a small pink suitcase, and the other holding on the man.  He wheeled over to them.  “Folks here you go, good luck.”

Bob smiled at the cop and helped his wife sit down.  He glanced at the cop, “Thanks for everything, be safe.”

The cop nodded and watched them disappear into the building, their breath seemed to linger behind them in the cold.  He slid into his cop car and shook his head.  Babies and drunks.  What a night.  He pulled out and headed back into Littleton.

Later, several hours, they rested in the room, the baby had been delivered.  She stroked his little face, dark features, everything was completely normal.  He was nestled against her breast, asleep.  She sighed when she looked at his little face and nodded with a smile, “Hi Thomas.”

And thus I was born.

December 22, 2015

The Faith of Mars - Chapter 13

Train on Mars

“Listen young man, Bishop West himself commanded I review the next train to the Lowell Crater.”  Don glowered at the young man operating the Electrotrak to the southern pole of Mars.  “You won’t have it on your record, because as I told you, it’s confidential.”

The man, nearly a boy, cleared his throat and looked again at the computer pad in his hands.  “Sir, I understand that, but I have been given instructions, I believe from your office, that no deviation to protocol is allowed without express written permission signed by you and by the Bishop himself.”  The young man wiped his brow, a bit of sweat appearing there.

Don rubbed his eyes and adjusted the pack on his shoulder.  “Look kid,”  he squinted at the boys name patch, “I mean Master Parks,” Don smiled feebly, “I know the rules but you also know I am your commanding officer.”  Don looked back over his shoulder down the corridor, no lights were on, they were alone.  “There is an emergency at Lowell, the new site we’ve begun digging and it requires my immediate and in person attention.  This time we have to break protocol.”  Don put his hand on the boy’s shoulder.  “Have I ever asked you to do anything you shouldn’t do?”  Don smiled at him again, trying to look fatherly.

The boy’s eyes shone in the harsh artificial lights of the floor and ceiling, “No sir.”  He shifted uncomfortably.  He looked at the pad again.

Don sighed, he had trained this young man several months ago.  This was Parks’ first assignment, and his first time off Earth.  He would do anything he could to prove himself faithful first to the Bishop, second to Don.  Don weighed his options carefully before his next words.  “Master Parks, you have a long career ahead of you but there is something that every soldier needs to able to move forward.  Do you know why we don’t staff our outposts with Robots?”

Parks raised his eye brows and looked up at Don.  “Sir?”

“Robots boy, do you know why we don’t have robots doing the job that you’re doing right now?”  Parks slowly shook his head.  Don smiled a bit, “Because they lack the ability to make abstract decisions.  They will always follow their programing, to the T, to the letter.  They are perfect in that fashion. ”  Don cleared his throat a bit, “the issue is no one else in the entire known universe does that, that is follow the rules to the letter.”  Don removed his hand from the boy’s shoulder, allowing it to drop down by his pistol.  “If you were a robot son, I’d have to deactivate you. I’d turn you off.  That’s how important this mission is to the Lowell Crater.  But son, you’re not a robot, right?”  Don looked into the boy’s eyes.

Parks shifted nervously, considering what Don had just said.  He glanced again at Don, noticing that Don’s right hand was on his side arm.  Sweat flowed more freely.  He swallowed visibly, his voice catching a bit, “Sir I am not a robot, Sir!”  He snapped to attention, both hands clutching the computer pad, his own side arm ignored.

Don nodded.  “That right Master Parks, you’re not.  You also won’t need to be deactivated.”  Don slowly lowered his hand from his holstered pistol.  “Parks I am going to submit a note to your record for outstanding service. ”  Don looked at the entrance to the Electrotrak.  “Now we’ve delayed this transport long enough don’t you think.”  he glanced back at Parks.

“Yes sir.”  Now the stress of that moment, of breaking orders had passed, Parks assumed a new disposition, one indicating he was going to follow Don’s orders.  He dropped the pad into the satchel he wore and turned to the door of the Electrotrak typing in his security code.  The lights flashed green around the entrance handle, indicating they were unlocked.

Don struck the boy just at the base of his neck with the butt of his pistol, knocking him unconscious.  “Sorry Parks, but you’d report this immediately after I left I have no doubt.”  Don bent down next to the young man and felt his pulse, it was strong.  Don shook his head, he’d have hell to pay, but he would worry about that later.  His rank and experience would likely result in a demotion, or at worse, a reassignment to one of the small colonies on Mars.   Don rolled Parks away from the door and turned the handle to open the entrance to the Electrotrak platform.  The rush of the super cold and stale air from the corridor rushed around his feet and he looked worriedly at Parks, who began to moan slightly.  “Damn” he muttered.  He bent down and lifted Parks chest up off the floor by reaching under his arm pits. He slide him into the corridor and shut the main door behind them.  He could see through the glass the metal frame of the Electrotrak car, a lone yellow light blinking on it.
The trains were largely automated, the only function that wasn’t was the launch sequence, usually initiated from the platforms.  This particular train had been loaded by the robots and Parks job had been to download the shipment manifest, confirm the train number and shipment contents before hitting the all clear and sending the auto train on it’s way to the miners at Lowell Crater.  It was the last unmanned transport to the crater until next week and Don knew he had to be on it.  He reached into the satchel and pulled out the computer pad.  He flipped it on and scanned the contents.  Mostly tools, some water, a hydrogen cell, rations and…… Don’s eyes widened.  He looked down at the young man at his feet, still mostly unconscious.   He then looked back at the main corridor, good, no lights on.  He bent down to one knee to be near the boy, while moving near him, pulled Parks’ gun out of its holster and placed it in the jacket pocket he was wearing.  Don reached down and grabbed Parks face around his cheeks.

“Soldier!” he growled, “wake up.”  The boy moaned, “I know you’re coming to, I didn’t hit you that hard.”  Don shook the boy’s head a bit, eliciting more moans, “Wake up soldier, you have work!”  For a moment Don thought the boy would pass out again completely, but then the boy’s eyes fluttered open.

“Si.i……rrr,” he stammered.

Don didn’t have time for this.  “Look Parks, I’m taking the train, and unfortunately you’re going to have to go with me.”  Don pulled the pad out, “Tell me where these came from.”  he pointed at a line on the pad.

The boy couldn’t focus, he shook his head.  “Sorry, sir I, I can’t….”

Don dropped the pad and grabbed the boy by his lapels lifting him close to his face, “Tell me why there is a thermonuclear warhead on this train!!!”

Parks squeezed his eyes shut, “Sir, I don’t know, sir.”  He muttered.  “I just verify the train’s contents, I don’t know why they are there.”  Don dropped Parks back down from his lapel holding.

“Bull crap boy,”  he leaned down to be centimeters from the boy’s face, “It didn’t occur to you to ask someone, your immediate superior, about a thermonuclear device on a train on Mars?”  He gritted his teeth, “FUCKING robots know better.”

The boy pushed himself away from Don as much as he could, “Sir, I was given direct orders to not ask questions and to make sure this shipment makes it to Lowell Crater.”  His eyes were widening as he looked at Don’s face.

“Who?”  Don leaned closer, their noses touching, “who gave these orders?”

“W-w-est, um Bishop West sir!”  The boy was awake now.

Don almost fell backwards.  He leaned back onto his haunches, “Did you actually speak to the Bishop?”  He looked down at the boy.  The boy didn’t say anything, he only nodded.  “When?”

The boy looked at the door to the main corridor, hoping perhaps someone would save him.  No lights were on, no one was there.  He looked back to Don’s face, “sir, please, I’m just following orders, I can’t say anything more!”

Don sighed, he reached down the to dropped pad, placed it in the satchel Parks still wore.  “Alright, look, I’m taking the Electrotrak, we’ve got to get the damn thing moving before we arose suspicion.”  Don stood up, his hand on the butt of his holstered gun.  “I’m guessing you’re not going to give me any trouble?”  the boy shook his head.  “I thought not.”  Don looked at his wrist monitor, “okay I figure we’ve got 5, maybe ten minutes before someone comes to check on you, on why the damn train is still sitting here.”  He looked back at the boy, “Did you verify the contents yet?”

Parks, still laying on the floor, half propped up nodded, “yes Sir, just a moment before you arrived.”

Don nodded.   “Good.  I take it this train has environmental systems, enough to take it to the Lowell Crater?”  Parks nodded.  “Good.  And are their any robots?”

“Sir?”

Don glared at the boy, “Are there any active robots on the train?”

“Oh, yes, yes sir.  Two.  One is a general maintenance bot, the other is a war bot.”

“A war bot?  What’s its primary directive?”

Parks cleared his throat, “to guard the warhead.”

Don groaned.  “Shit son, this didn’t cause you concern?”  Don walked towards the end of the connecting corridor, to the entrance to the train.  For a moment forgetting the boy on the ground.   He leaned his face against the thick glass leading to the train.  “What in the hell is going on here?”  He started to turn back to the soldier, when he was struck.

The boy was on him, suddenly very awake, and very strong.  he had hit Don, but his timing had been off as Don turned just as he swung.  As a result the blow glanced off Don’s chin.  He didn’t stop though and threw his full weight into Don’s midsection, knocking the wind out of him.

Don fell back against the wall, for a moment surprised, but he was a soldier, and had fought before.  He brought both his fists down on Parks back while bringing up his knee. He allowed the wall to leverage his balance and center of gravity.  This combination forced Parks to fall away from Don to his right.  Don had a second, “Parks stop!”  the boy was up again, fists swinging, and suddenly he had a knife, surely pulled from his boot.  “We don’t have to do this, you must know there is something wrong here!”

 

Parks shook his head, grimacing at the pain in his neck, he slashed the knife at Don, who side stepped, “No sir, the only wrong doing so far is that you attacked a soldier.”  He trust the blade at Don again, Don jumped to the side, sliding along the wall.

“Parks, stop, you cannot best me!”  Don’s gun was out and he leveled at the boy.  “STOP!”

Parks saw the gun, shook his head and grimaced, “Sir, you won’t shoot me.”  He started to step towards Don, knife in the lead.

The roar of the gun was amplified by the small space, deafening.  For a moment neither man moved, then, as if in slow motion, the knife fell from Parks’ hand to the ground.  Parks looked at Don, his other hand reaching to his stomach, blood welling out.  “Sir?” he muttered as he dropped to his knees.  He fell forward on his face, his head hitting the top of Don’s boot.

Don slowly lowered his weapon, a bit of smoke drifting from the barrel.  He slid it into his holster.  He slide his boot out from under Park’s head, which thumped on the cement floor with a sickening sound.  Blood was pooling under Parks’ body.  Don quickly reached down and pulled the satchel and computer pad from Parks’ lifeless body, slipping it onto his shoulder.  He stepped over the body and went to the door leading to the Electrotrak platform.  He entered his own access code and the door to the train slide open, even colder air poured down.  Don reached behind him and pulled the hood of his coat up around his face, activating the protective cover.  He pulled it, like a ski mask and the seal on the neck magnetically activated, protecting him from the immediate air of the surface.  There was atmosphere on the platform, but it wasn’t intended to sustain breathing for more than a moment.  Don walked to the door of the train, the yellow light still blinking.   Don entered the door code and the light above the train blinked green and slowly the door of the train slide open.  he activated the timer to launch the train in two minutes.  Don looked back at the body of Parks, laying in his own blood, which was already beginning to freeze as the warmth of the corridor was compromised by the platform’s freezing Martian air.  He shook his head and stepped onto the train, leaving the door of the platform room open.  He knew that when the seal from the train was disengaged the Martian atmosphere would completely freeze Parks’ body. That would buy Don a few hours time probably before a manhunt was launched for him.  Enough time that he would make it to the mining colony at Lowell Crater.

He activated the door code and the train door began to close.  A red light flashed and the body of Parks slide behind the closing door.  The train became pitch black.  Don activated his mask’s light and turned to look into the train.  It was filled with crates, each marked with numbers.  Don knew that the computer pad he carried would tell him what was contained in each crate.  He looked around and spied the main console for this train car.  Walking to it, he activated the car’s lights and environmental controls.  A claxon alarm sounded, scaring him, then the train threw itself into motion.  The sudden and forceful acceleration threw Don to the floor, and he nearly broke his arm trying to soften his landing.    “Damn,” he said out loud.

He allowed himself to stay on the floor for a moment, his body, his hands were shaking. Not from the fall but from the fact that he just murdered a soldier.  “Shit” he said.  He took several deep breaths, placed his hands palm down on the train floor and stood up.  For a moment he couldn’t catch his balance, then it occurred to him that there was no gravity enhancement on this train.  No wonder he felt so light, and no wonder he was having trouble staying upright.  “Computer,” Don called out.

“Computer active,” came the response.

“Computer activate gravity controls.”

“Unable to comply, this train is not programed for artificial gravity.”

“Damn.”  He said out loud.  “Computer, what is the estimated time of arrival at Lowell Crater?”

“Our estimated arrival time is 22:00 hours, Martian.”  Don looked at his wrist monitor, good, nearly 4 hours.

He looked around the train again, now with the lights on.  “Computer what is the oxygen and ambient temperature in this car?”

“The oxygen level is 21%.  The temperature in the car is 12.6 degree Celsius.”

Don smiled, reaching up he opened his hood and released the magnetic clasps holding it in place.  The car air was cool, and smelled stale, but it wasn’t cold and it was breathable.  Satisfied he took the satchel off, removing the computer pad.   he dropped the satchel and turned on the pad, “Now where was that…..”  he flicked the screen with his finger nail, scrolling the roster.  “There!”  The code was listed as TN911TERM.  Only a soldier of his rank even knew that code was for a high yield nuclear device.  They had been banned after the war, but of course the Church was the only power to enforce the ban, she still had the weapons.  These devices were the size of a water melon, and could yield enough force to destroy 350 square kilometers of area.  They had one purpose, to completely destroy a target.  Released in a cavern, like the mine at Lowell Crater, well, nothing would be left.

The device was listed in crate number 2304, train car number 6.  Don looked around, “Computer, what train car number is this one?”

“This is car number 4.”  Don sighed.  He had to get to the crate and see the device himself, but he knew there was a warbot waiting for him.  “Computer” he said again, “In which train car is the maintenance robot located?”

“Maintenance bot 6453 is located in car two.”  Don nodded and said aloud, “Then it’s off to car two I go.”

December 04, 2015

Knife's Edge

Grave Stone
This is a tough post for me and I've debated writing about this topic in a public fashion, but for those who know me, and if you're learning about me here or on social media, I'm a fairly open book.  There are no secrets here.


I think as a child, a catholic child specifically, is when my fascination with life really took a hold. I should clarify, my fascination with what happens to life after death.  I have to remember all these years (like almost 40 years) have passed between when I was a little boy and today.  In that time my curiosity about life and death have evolved, thinking back now as an adult trying to remember my thoughts,  my experience of life and death as child, well they are very different.  All the same though, my curiosity on the topic remains.


All this aside, I have always wondered that question, which I suspect many of us do, does life truly end at death, or does this strange phenomenon of awareness of self continue beyond the experience of death?  I don't know the answer, but in growing up in the Catholic Church I was given many answers to this question, most of which said resoundingly, yes life goes on.  Not only does life go beyond death, but it's better than life here!  It is perfect living, especially if you are not a "sinner" (whoa such a qualifier) and even more especially if Jesus Christ is your lord and savior.  Now as it was I was indoctrinated into that faith, I never was given the option to choose it so while as a child, and even as a young man I would have said if asked, "Yes, Jesus is my lord and savior."  This answer though was meaningless because I had no idea what the alternative was, and in fact did not know that there was an alternative.


Funny stuff this immortality given as  a gift only after one dies.  Heaven is described as perfection.  It was there that we were taught that in heave there existed: no suffering; no fear; no loneliness; total union with the divine; perfect knowledge.  And as a young boy I wanted this.  I wanted all those things, they sounded so amazing.  Yet a caveat existed, you couldn't go to heaven if you committed a mortal sin, and self harm to the point of death (suicide) disqualified you.  The act was anathema.  And so we had to wait for the gift of heaven until we got old and died, got cancer and died, hit by a car or shot by a bullet and died.  No way that was coming to us in the state of knowing that we were (or are) currently in.
lancelot-and-guinevere-1360638489_b
I like the darkness.  My entire life I have always wanted to be the hero, the noble knight, the heroic cop, Superman.  Yet for all that longing, I always found myself feeling more empathy with the fallen knights like Lancelot (stealing Arthur's wife); the bad guy who fell into crime because of social and economic situations; I'm more Batman than I will ever be Superman.   I remember reading the stories, fables really, of Lucifer, Satan, and thinking, "Well I can understand his jealousy of mankind.  I always suspected that the stories of the bible, regarding the "bad" guys, or evil, had been biasedly written from the perspective of the good guy, and I always thought that likely this perspective was subjective rather than objective.   Bad guys probably weren't as bad as good guys said.  Evil probably wasn't the force of destruction as much as the good guys said. I mean after all, my entire life I was told that the best football team in the world was the Denver Broncos, but I'll bet that if I grew up in Dallas, I would think that the Dallas Cowboys were the best.  Oh dear reader, see how much I like darkness.....I used a sports analogy!
denvervsdallas
I had a nice life as a child. I played quite a lot, though I was truly a loner.  I had no more than two or three close friends my entire childhood; Chester my cousin; Daman my junior high friend; Marc, Chris and John in high school.  That was it.  As a little boy I most often played alone.  Creating in my mind entire universes; whole worlds that better or more closely looked like this heaven I had been promised in church.  In my imagination, heaven was  my play time.


But there were those times, evenings often, when I wasn't playing anymore.   I would sit alone in my room, surrounded always by my hundreds and hundreds of stuffed animals and wonder then what was heaven really like.  My wonder actually was more along the lines of, what is death?  So often I would think of this, and wonder that I began to imagine that it might be okay if I died.  I began to tell myself that death, in all it's scary "unknowingness" was so tempting, so much a desire, that I was less afraid of it than I was of living.    Play into death was as tempting for me as play in life.
Death Dancing
So there, alone, in darkness I wondered and debated.  If my imagination created such a wonderful life, full of adventure and mystery, fulfillment and fun, then too wouldn't the experience of heaven past life provide this even more, and more completely, fully immersed?   And thus my first thoughts about ending my life crept into my very young mind.  I was probably eight or nine years old.  And my conflict was that I was afraid of the affect not of death, but that if I died at my own hand, I could potentially be neglected the experience of heaven.  Now I didn't experience much in the way of teachings about hell.  It was brought here and there, mostly in context of sorrow things like, "oh those poor souls in hell," or occasionally in referencing truly awful people like Hitler, "he must be in hell."  Now, I didn't want to be associated in this fashion, and I thought, no surely, someone like me, even if I brought myself to death I would be spared hell.


But  I didn't want to risk it.  Not at first anyway.


Now please know, I was in no way neglected or unloved by my family.  My mother was a very caring person (still is).  She fretted over us, kept us fed, loved us, sang to us.  I did have joy in my life, and I wasn't exactly depressed.  I did brood (I still do), I did like reading about dark things like dragons, evil wizards, devils and demons, but I also loved bright happy things too.   I played for hours with my legos, hot wheels, swords and things.  But many times, I would imagine myself dead.  Gone, wandering into the next life whatever that life may be.


One memory, so clear for me, is of an evening when I was alone in my room, maybe around 1979. I had a small Swiss army knife, the old kind that had only a few tools and blades.  It had one larger blade, and this one was pretty dull.  I pulled myself under the blankets in my bed and took out that little knife.  I remember holding it in my hand.  The sensation of the red plastic case at first cold, then warming to the touch of my skin.  I remember flipping open the largest blade, gleaming under the flash light and snapping it shut, time and time again.  Then  I remember taking this blade and pressing it against my stomach, point into my flesh. I remember pressing it, hard enough to push the skin in deep without cutting, and thinking to myself "press harder, you're so close."
IMG_5031
Fear.  I was afraid of the knife, not of what it would do, but what if it couldn't do what I wanted.  At so young an age I didn't know what that meant, hurting myself, desiring to know what lay beyond the veil of living into the veil that we all are finally in, death.  I think I knew that the little Swiss Army knife couldn't have possible killed me, or I was just very, very afraid of the possibility that everything I had been told about death was not true, that there was no living beyond dying.  Or part of the fear was in me that if I hurt myself to the point of death, the promise of heaven would be lost to me because self harm, suicide was a mortal sin, it killed you not only on this plane but in the next.


I didn't come so close to death again for a long time after that.  Whatever held me back in that moment kept the thoughts of dying at bay for many years.  The thought occasionally came into my mind, flittering from time to time, sweeping in like a little humming bird, buzzing around my brain tempting me with, "death just like sleeping, don't you like to dream?"
Anna's Hummingbird
It's funny, I'm not a depressed person.  I rarely am low, I don't have many bad habits, I don't usually mull too much over things.  I think my friends would describe me as happy, carefree even, most certainly silly.  But as we have seen in life, those high moments, which is where I usually reside, can lead to dark lows.  Dips in my mood are severe, but they are fleeting.  I'm not a manic depressive, at least not clinically.  If you meet tomorrow and then run into me in three months randomly, you'll find me in the same mood. I'm consistently consistent.  So this fascination with death isn't one that boils up because I'm hopeless or lost, but rather it comes from this place of pure dream.  It's a fantasy, a dark, dangerous fantasy.  I suppose I would say that if I am depressed I'm an odd bird, because for most days I value the experience of living and I'm quite happy.


But there somewhere in my mind are whispers of a darker desire, hints back to my childhood begging me to explore life and it's natural end.  Now that I've studied death myths, legends, theories of heaven and afterlife I do not believe there is any type of continuance of existence beyond what we know.  I believe that at death I simply cease to exist.  Our lives, our consciousness are like light switches, once flicked off, we simply cease to shine.  So the fascination with death for me has lost the appeal of escaping into a better existence.  But funny, this thought of dying, death has become such a close friend of mine, it's hard to let it go.


There was a time in 1993, January, when I stood on the edge of a rooftop on a building in Rome, some ten stories tall and looked down at the paving stones below and nearly leapt.  Now this was a time when I was depressed. I had been living in Rome then, studying to be a priest, struggling with my sexuality, struggling with being an atheist, struggling with a realization that the Catholic Church, which had become my home, my lover, hated me.  So standing there on the roof of the Pontifical North American College, looking down in the darkness at the road below, I stood; toes dipped over the edge of the building, the wind buffeting my back, encouraging me, daring me to fly - for a moment - to kiss our earth - to stop being me.
collegio_americano_del_nord
I remember the guilt of such dark terrible thoughts. I remember wondering what would my mother think?  My father?  Would they have to come to Rome to get my body or would they ship it back to the USA?  I stood there that dark evening, chilled in the Mediterranean winter air, and once again, for a moment heard my inner voice whispering to me "step over the edge, you're so close."  My own sense of self preservation kept me anchored to life that evening, but I was closer to the edge than I ever had been.


There have been other dark moments in my life and those random thoughts have popped up for me thinking how much easier it could be for me if I just allowed myself to slip into the great sleep.  In all these years, with therapy, the right friends, and maintaining a more firm grasp on reality, I've not stepped off the edge, but what my ever present struggle with thoughts of death and suicide have brought me, are an absolute lack of fear.  I've known pain, physically with surgeries, a bout with cancer, broken bones.  I've known pain in loss of loved ones, death of friends, end of relationships, heart break.  I've known pain in feeling insignificant, unimportant, unable to affect change in the world.  So yes, those dark thoughts have crept up in my mind, and the faint whispers of my old friend death hisses in my ear, ".....you're so close."  And because my old friend death is an ever present part of my personal darkness, I've come to not fear him at all.
Death and the maiden
So where am I today dear readers?  Well I'm happy, living and working hard at bettering myself.  I'm trying to learn more, discover more, love more. I'm trying to complain less, seek the bright parts of life and living while acknowledging that life isn't a matter of heaven and hell.  I am trying to remember that death too is not a matter of heaven and hell.  Rather, this life, my existence, my awareness, is an incredible gift of great fortune brought on by the power of stars.  The alignment of "knowing", that is consciousness awareness, seems, at least to humanity now, to be rare.  We are special, at least in this corner of the infinite universe.  And knowing this, acknowledging this is enabling me to better appreciate and respect the uniqueness of my experiences of life.  Every moment is special, powerful, unique for what it is.  My existence is so quick in the grand scheme of things that I realize the desire to end life, my life, is pre-mature.  It would be like going to a movie, picking the perfect seat, ordering my popcorn and soda and then walking out when the previews start.  I'd be missing the point.  So I've buckled down, accepted that the temptation for relief of the great sleep is real, at least for me, but that I shall not give in.  Rather I am focused on building up within myself the temptation to stay, to thrive, to live.


I'm happy to discuss this topic and post with you or anyone - leave a comment or send me a message.  I've lost friends to suicide.  I've lost friends and loved ones to early death, and to death after a long life.  And that loss is real.  That loss is painful.  That loss is hard to bear.  I know my life will one day end, hopefully not for a long time, I'm learning there's lots more living to do and I'm only getting started.  So in  the meantime I'm going to keep growing, keep learning, allowing myself to fail, but always allowing myself to get back up after a failure and try again.  I know that death is always close, lurking around the corner but my movie has only just started and I don't want to miss the ending.


I wrote in my "Thoughts Along the Way" journal about this a few months ago.  Here are those musings, "I am, for this rather insignificant moment in space and time, aware.  Based on the incredible rarity of life, especially life aware of itself, this is the importance of being.  Our existence itself seems to point to the meaning of life itself."
Thoughts along the way
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide ask for help.  In the USA the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is an amazing resource.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1 (800) 273-8255
www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

December 03, 2015

Ants

 
 
As a young boy I admired ants - their singularity of focus, scurrying from place to place.  Today as I scurried to work, single in focus, I realized I and the ant are so nearly the same.

December 02, 2015

Virtually


How has our socially, virtually connected reality affected the "how" in our abilities to experience those difficult to achieve in-person moments of one's truth

Why

 
I still wonder about the why of evolution, that is awareness of self. By all accounts life existed quite nicely without knowing itself. Then somewhere on the plains of Africa our ancestors knew of themselves. I wonder to what end?  WHY

November 27, 2015

Subway cat


It occurs to me that I have much for which to be grateful.

I saw a young man sitting the other day at Grand Central on the subway platform with a cat on his lap. The man was asleep and the cat quite calmly and peacefully was cleaning herself, ignoring the screeching trains and people.

And we were ignoring them.