ADVENTURE THE 51st: A PASSAGE TO MONTENEGRO
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Since the purpose of this blog is to be an ongoing thriller, simply removing the previous chapter to alleviate confusion is not an option – since no one coming to the series after the first chapter had been removed would be able to follow the story line.Therefore, if you scroll down or visit the archives in future months, you will be able to read this continuing drama in the manner and order it was intended to be read.
For this reason and purpose each subsequent adventure in the ‘Eddie Mars’ serial will be marked by a number. If you follow these numbers marked at the top of each chapter in their numeric order - eg ‘Adventure the 1st’ - you will be able to follow this continuing saga.For those savvy to the blog world – this disclaimer may seem redundant, and for that no apology is made.
This disclaimer is meant to better acquaint new readers in how the entries in this blog will be posted and how best to follow the series from this point on. And now…
ADVENTURE THE 51st:
A PASSAGE TO MONTENEGRO
Into the mirror darkly thrust,
a face cautiously emerges,
granite to the enlightenment
untold, guarded -
secretive and silent.
Short, a crop of thick dark hair
perching atop this stoic egg,
yet loose and dangling
before dark, windowless eyes,
displeased by the march of years.
I witnessed nothing then,
so many Godless years,
wanting, unknowing, desiring…but what?
to turn proud nose,
strong chin unbowed.
Until today…as sharp blade to skin,
decapitates virile stubble yet again,
I suddenly burst forth to myself,
fully formed, and quite unbound.
I used to think life was the cruelest joke one human being could bestow on another. In theory and in practice, generalizations aside, there didn’t seem to be any point to it. The daily oblivion of childhood that suddenly was raped by the onset of youth; the mindless quest to make sense of a world I hadn’t helped to create; and finally, coming to that painful realization - that whatever steps I had taken there was an unholy assignation at work against all best laid plans. The fates were somehow stronger then, more determined to have their way with me, however inconvenient the circumstances might otherwise be.
I used to be a cynic. I’m not anymore. Why? I can’t say. I’m tired; that much is for certain. But I don’t care less. In fact, I care more; more than I might have only a few months before; much more than I thought I was capable of.
It’s Monty. He see things differently. He hasn’t been preachy or high minded about it. He hasn’t tried to convert my ideology to his although he’s succeeded in changing the way I see the world…the way I see my place in it. And something more…I’m not ashamed; unafraid to look beyond the mirror and see what the years have brought. I don’t fear what they might bring tomorrow. I’ve lost my fascination with death.
My legs are no longer the measure of manhood. Were they ever all that I ascribed them to be? I cannot say. It doesn’t matter. I only know that I’m a person of substance now, in tune, fit company in my own mind and spirit for the first time in my life.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m still me; still Eddie Mars. I’m not ready to rove the earth a motorized chair, preaching the gospel in sack cloth and ashes, but I understand now the true power of forgiveness and it’s more liberating than I could ever have hoped for.
I see Father Montague regularly on Wednesdays and Saturdays. He comes to me around noon, not asking of my soul, wanting nothing of my mind, but peering into my heart just the same and finding more goodness and light to restore me to myself each time. He always has an answer – though perhaps not the one I’d wish to hear. He respects me enough to forget my feelings and that takes sincerity and guts.
“Do you think I’ll go to hell,” I ask him one afternoon as he pushes me through the garden.
It’s hot, yet neither of us seems to mind. The sun is on my face, but I don’t shield it with large hands or the protective barrier of dark glasses. It feels sincere to stare into the sky and return the gaze – if any - from the man upstairs.
“Perhaps you have been in it for some time,” Father Montague tells me.
“I think I see the exit,” I suggest.
“Perhaps,” Father Montague reasons with a wily grin, “But don’t be too eager. The steps to enlighten also bring us closer to death.”
“And a creator,” I say.
“Only if you believe,” Monty explains.
I’m not sure I like that. It scares me, because I’m not entirely certain I do – believe, that is. Even after all I’ve been through and survived. I don’t know if I can sign up for the full body/mind/spirit botanical wrap and spa treatment in that eternal Garden of Eden beyond the rainbow.
“You do believe?” Monty inquires.
“Oh, yes,” I reluctantly say, the words thick and unconvincing in my throat.
“No, my son,” Monty replies with a small chuckle, “Not yet. But I believe that you can.”
. . .
Two Sundays later I force myself to take up Monty’s challenge. I attended the first mass I’ve been to since I stopped being a choir boy. The sermon’s in Latin and has no meaning for me outside the soothing tonality in Father Montague’s voice – deep baritone majestic vocalizations he uses to spread the good word to his flock. Flock…funny how I used to think of them all as sheep…
Still, I’m fascinated by the paintings overhead; naked baby cherubs sprouting wings from their back, casting playful dispersions on the mere mortals below who sit and contemplate what is never theirs to fully know.
Is there life after death? Why bother? To what purpose? And eternity has such an unfathomable desperation about it. Until this moment in my life I always knew which direction my train was headed. But after the last gasp of air leaves my lungs and I slip the bonds of this careworn frame, what will I leave it for and how will I know the measure of time on the other side?
These are all questions to which Father Montague hasn’t any answers. I find him more cryptic than unsettled by the fact that theology is powerless to suckle my cares away.
“We were not meant to understand,” Father Montague reasons.
“That’s not helpful,” I tell him.
“No,” he admits as he pushes my chair through around a fountain courtyard one lazy summer afternoon.
The rain earlier that morning has left its potent perfume upon the earth and flowers. Filtering sun through dense foliage tickles its way under the woven blanket my nurse tossed across my outstretched legs before we left the hospital.
Everything feels good. In fact, I’ve been aware for some time that I can detect warmth upon these crippled limbs that stubbornly refuse to move.
“I don’t want to know it all,” I lie to Monty, “I’d just like some assurances.”
Father Montague politely smiles as we take our refuge under the shade of a large gnarled tree.
“I don’t think I’d want assurances,” Monty reasons, “An assurance would mean a promise. And, being only a man, and therefore unable to keep my promise to God, I should also lose whatever assurance He made to me.”
“But He forgives us,” I reason.
“He does,” Monty admits, “But he does not forget. We were never meant to understand His will because we misplace our thoughts easily among the mire of this earth. We are occasionally blinded and lost and alone with only our thoughts. What today we value, tomorrow we would surely trade for the next best thing.”
Monty pauses a moment to wipe the streaks of sweat from his large wrinkled brow.
“But let not your heart be troubled, my son,” he adds, “For, we never fall too long, and each time that we do the hand of God is extended to us, to help up from our stumbling, dusting off the clumsiness of our incalculable lack of good sense; reminding how very small in the hollow of this earth we are, yet how very great to be so valued in consideration for that world beyond.”
I’m not sure I feel so valued there yet; knowing full well that I’ve done little to merit such affection and understanding. Still, I seem to rate both these attributes very highly in Monty’s eyes…Dr. Bartelli’s too.
Only a week later, after an absence of some time, Dr. Bartelli comes to my room one rainy afternoon to tell me good news. There is a clinic in Montenegro that would like to perform some highly experimental tests on my spine. Unhampered by the dire red tape that strangles pure research back home, these Balkan physicians have pioneered a preliminary stem cell treatment.
The procedure is hardly foolproof, so I’m told, and not without risk of more extensive damage to my nervous system. In a perfect world, if I am deduced to be a prime candidate, a surgeon will spend almost one full day, cutting into and reattaching the damaged nerve endings inside my spinal chord, injecting a serum that could restore mobility to my lower limbs. It could also leave me paralyzed from the neck down, blind me, cause a stroke or send me to that other world prematurely if infection sets in.
Following this treatment, I will be airlifted to Bled Castle; an elite retreat located in the center of a pristine lake that the locals refer to as an ‘ornament of heaven’. There I shall remain for months, if not a year, convalescing and preparing to walk again.
It’s a tempting offer. It satisfies both my waning ego’s urge to stand on my own two feet once more, but also that sublime desire to shamelessly return to the life that was stolen from me not so very long ago. Why I still should possess these flashing visions of desire for a most base previous existence is beyond me. I cannot help myself. I still daydream of that shabby little apartment on DeLuca Street.
Will I tempt fate? Shall I see if fate is that ethereal spirit of personal conscience readily hypothesized in the Bible or is she more the disfigured hag Shakespeare conjured to mind, bow-legged and stirring the caldron?
“I’m afraid,” I honestly confess to both Dr. Bartelli then and to Father Montague when he comes to visit me later that afternoon.
“As you should be, my son,” Monty replies, “But…in fear there is a heightened sense of awareness. You wish to walk again. For this, no one, least of all Him can fault you. But have you considered where your legs took you when they were well. Not here. You would not have come to us then, my son. You would not have come and we would not have met. Knowing you as I do, I believe that you would have run the farthest from this place. Perhaps, you now have those same thoughts of leaving us again.”
He knows me too well.
“I don’t know,” I lie, “Maybe. Yes. But not to leave what I’ve learned behind. Not to forget what the strength of conviction has meant to me; not to cast off the moments spent into the dust bin of a dead memory. No. I cannot forget a kindness such as yours. I never will. But to walk again…”
My mind is already made up. Monty knows it too. He bows his head a moment, shading his eyes from the sun. We’ll take the Orient Express then; ride all night and all day, and fantasize about ‘maybe’ and ‘perhaps’ and ‘what if’; the intangible temptresses who corrupt men in their own vanities; that all they desire might belong to them one day soon…or never again.
EDDIE MARS will return in his next adventure:
THE TIME OF ANGELS on Aug. 10th 2009.
@ Nick Zegarac 2009 (all rights reserved).