Don’t be shy, step aboard. Mind you, this is no ordinary bus, but neither is our chauffeur. The fare? Why, you need only touch the tip of her unfurled hand to experience a most extraordinary voyage— a wondrous itinerary filled with enlightenment that will tingle the very core of your psyche.
Me? Oh, I’m a regular; been with her a while. In fact, the arm hairs still stiffen thinking about the uncanny moment we’d met. It was pure happenstance, a random act with no reason to suspect my hither-dither years of early adulthood were about to change. But oh, was I ever wrong.
I remember like it was yesterday. I was three months shy of twenty-one and had left the nest to be on my own. I'd secured a job and rented a cheap room in a rundown walk-up at the base of Beacon Hill, its crest, the gold-domed Capitol overlooking Boston Common. The Back Bay area is also home to Paul Revere’s North Church, Faneuil Hall, Old Ironsides, quaint taverns of yesteryear, ethnic delis and restaurants, Chinatown, and dozens of retail stores within the heart of Boston’s hub. Curious, and my first time living in a big city, I was anxious to explore this new urban turf.
I awoke to a sunny Saturday morn, perfect for a casual stroll through Haymarket Square where dozens of Italian vendors hustled meats and produce from push carts and open stalls. After sampling fresh fruits and delicious, char-grilled Italian sausages, I moved on, crossed the Common, and turned north onto ritzy Charles Street. I was content with window-wishing for exquisite things in a dozen high-end curio and antique shops when I ambled upon a fusty used book store— ah, things I could afford.
The place was a potpourri of print, shelves crammed with books filled every nook and cranny. I leisurely browsed looking for nothing in particular, when suddenly, I was infused with an odd sensation— as if some unseen, but gentle force was guiding me to a certain bookcase. I didn’t resist, and without hesitation or distraction, I went straight toward it and stopped. There, just above my head about mid-shelf, I spotted a two-volume set: Isis Unveiled.
I reached for One and thumbed it open to a photograph of H.P. Blavatsky taken in 1888. Something about her eyes— the most intense, piercing eyes I’d ever seen. They were beyond alluring, more like bewitching when locked with mine. The eerie sensation seemed to intensify as if I'd come under the spell of a mystic, perhaps a true Gnostic who’d been dead for nigh on a century.
Whoever she was, I seemed to have heard her voice, an enchanting voice whispering to me. She held me captive. I had to have those books though I had never heard of Isis, or dozens of other names like En-Soph, Osiris, Kabala, Sanskrit, Vishnu, Bhagavad-Gita, and the like. I couldn’t shake the strange sense of intrigue when glancing at subtitles and content, but understood enough to know I’d been shanghaied, destined to be her newest disciple for a wondrous voyage back in time— way, way back in time to the cradle of civilization and perhaps beyond for a privileged peek at the roots of cosmology.
The weeks ahead were spent slowly but methodically getting acquainted. The miles clicked away, but the initial going was no easy jaunt trying to grasp even the most basic of tenets. I was mesmerized by the sheer magnitude of her work. It was incomprehensible how one person could locate, decipher, cross-reference, and unravel the core meanings of so many ancient documents, arcane wisdom, and mystic symbolism's. Yet somehow, she had managed a monumental synthesis of science, religion, and philosophy— all marching to the beat of a single drum.
Though I never expected to fully comprehend much of the scenery, I nevertheless had embarked on a fabulous journey that would ultimately rule much of my persona. The more she fanned the flames of dormant curiosities, the more I began to see things with my heart and not my eyes. Cobwebs of confusion and customs were swept aside, the mind cleansed of childhood indoctrinations. Hordes of abstruse questions roiling within since high school were satisfied. After having devoured Isis Unveiled, I switched gears and laboriously chugged along with The Secret Doctrine, one of her more difficult, esoteric works.
Weeks later, a complete change of venue from civil engineering to the fast and frenzied world of the Board of Trade sent me to Chicago. Oddly, less than a month after settling in, another incredible meeting would shift the bus into overdrive.
I took the el-train into Chicago’s loop every day, often keeping company with Blavatsky during rush hour commutes. One afternoon, I was seated next to a middle-aged woman who had noticed my travel companion. We chatted and soon learned we lived only a half-block from each other. Shortly thereafter, she invited me to tea at her place, a nicely appointed condo shared with her elder sister. I was stunned to discover both were advanced scholars of Vedic astrology, metaphysics, and had logged more miles on this cryptic bus than I could fathom. They readily adopted me as their student, I savoring the tutelage as we rolled along.
What were the odds of such an encounter considering the millions who ride the CTA? Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t corralled into becoming a crusader for some cult or other, nor was I a pious zealot or repentant lost soul claiming rebirth. In retrospect, I was not averse to wine, women, or song and likely could have been branded a heathen at times, but never in lieu of shunning ethics or compassion for my fellow man. I simply gave and I received. On and off the bus, I meandered through life as it came until five years ago when one of its blind curves wrought unexpected tragedy— I lost my son.
The bus wrecked; my world turned upside-down. I wasn’t prepared for that treacherous stretch of tarmac, yet the winding road ahead had more surprises in store. Two weeks after the funeral, I spotted the wife standing atop the stairs, looking down at me with a kind but forlorn face. It was only a moment, but seemed like an hour we stood eying each other in silence. She spoke naught, yet so much was said with love in her eyes. She was worried about me, my grief. I too welled with emotion. My god, what if I’d lost her?
The death of a child can send one spiraling into an abyss of despair. Yet for me, it was also an eye-opener, for only then was I able to fully grasp how deep an espousal love can be. I am convinced true soul mates transcend mortality; an eternal union enjoined by a divine golden thread that reverberates with each beat of a celestial heart— such as what has always pulsed between us.
The burden of grief lightened. That night my subconscious was again wakened by the soothing chant of a siren: ‘you are to write; it is to be a novel, an epic ride.’ The bus had returned and we were off again.
This time, we motored headlong into the uncharted realm of the literary craft. Dubious and nervous, I hesitated. I feared inadequacy if adjudged by seasoned talents, exposing me as a rank amateur having never been down this road before. But the impulse to write remained strong. The following day, the opening pages of Tree of the Great Long Leaves were penned, its multi-layered themes preordained to reflect the depth and consequences of human relationships no matter how casual or intimate the ties.
Months zipped by when another unexpected detour spawned Beaches of Belmont. Sans the gore and dry dust of history, the novella was a fresh look at an old subject inspired by, and dedicated to, a WWII veteran who had befriended me, and of whom I had come to admire as my own father. Sadly, I had to set aside ‘Tree’ to devote every hour in a rush to finish his legacy, but I was too late. Dad died of a sudden illness two days after I’d placed the rough draft on his sickbed.
Here I am today, my mettle tested but hungry for more after forty-three years on this caravan. I’ve been uphill and downhill, through thick and thin, grief and glories— and still no end in sight.
Carl Sagan once said something akin to: “one glance at a book and you’ll hear the voice of another person; to read is to voyage through time.”
How apropos. Yet, to be chasing whales with Captain Ahab or to fall in love with Rhett Butler is one thing. Such excursions may prove entertaining and memorable, but they’re finite in contrast to this ride of perpetual surprise and reverence.
Who would have thought I’d be a passenger into ancient history, recondite lore, or visit every ‘ism’ on the planet; my mind opened to freely question, to refute hypocrisies and to seek knowledge of things lying latent within the subconscious that would mold my character, cause me to cherish people as I do, or set in motion karmic events that would forever impact lives around me?
Now, Blavatsky's bus is quietly idling at the curb within WDC, destined for who-knows-where or what-lies-ahead. I don’t have a clue either, but having laid bare the sheer fabric of my being, I stand before you metaphorically naked. You now see me as I am; my thoughts, my style, my themes— all gleaned from such travels, stamped and documented throughout my port.
So, what do you say? Care to kick a tire to see if either of us is for real? Take her for a spin. Whether for a block or trek around the planet, our chauffeur may not be for everybody, but she certainly has been right for me. Come on; step aboard; it's literally the voyage of a lifetime.