Inspired by Carl Sagan, a literary journey that will tingle the core of one's psyche
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 destined to tingle the very core of your psyche.
Me? I’m a regular, been riding this coach for years. In fact, the arm hairs still stiffen when thinking about the uncanny moment we met. It was pure chance, perhaps a wisp of cosmic fate 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; my first time ever living in a big city. I had secured a job and rented a cheap room in a rundown walk-up at the base of Boston's Beacon Hill where at its crest, the gold-domed Capitol overlooked Boston Common. The city's Back Bay area is also home to Paul Revere’s North Church, Faneuil Hall, Old Ironsides, Chinatown and a multiplex of ethnic delis, restaurants, retail stores, and quaint taverns of yesteryear all within walking distance in the heart of Boston’s hub.
My first work week behind me, I awoke to a sunny Saturday morn. I felt giddy as a ten-year-old on Christmas day, anxious to explore my new urban turf beginning with a lazy stroll through Haymarket Square where dozens of Italian vendors peddled fresh produce from push carts and open stalls. After munching on fresh fruits and a delicious char-grilled Italian sausage on an English muffin, 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 even 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 had pervaded my mind and guided 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 Volume One and thumbed it open, landing on a photograph of H. P. Blavatsky taken in 1888. There was something about her eyes— the most intense, piercing eyes I had ever seen. They were beyond alluring, more like bewitching when locked with mine. The eerie sensation seemed to intensify as if I had 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 Osiris, Kabala, Sanskrit, and the like. I couldn’t shake the strange sense of intrigue when flipping through pages, glancing at subtitles and content. I may have been clueless, but sensed enough to know I’d been shanghaied, destined to become 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 may have clicked away, but the 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, let alone cross-reference and decipher the core meanings of so many arcane documents and symbolisms. Yet somehow, she had managed to collate 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 secular customs were swept aside, the mind cleansed of childhood indoctrination. 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 chance meeting required a complete change of venue from civil engineering to the fast and frenzied world at the Chicago Board of Trade. Oddly, less than six months of moving to the Windy City, another incredible chance meeting would shift the bus into overdrive.
I took the L-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 for 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 understudy, 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 hardcore heathen at times, but never at the expense of shunning ethics or compassion toward my fellow man. I simply gave and I received, meandering through life as it came until five years ago when one of its blind curves wrought unexpected tragedy— I lost my son.
I was a wreck; my world had been turned upside-down. I wasn’t prepared for that treacherous stretch of tarmac, yet little did I know 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 eyeing 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 bound 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 had eventually lightened when one night, my subconscious was teased by the soothing chant of a siren. Even in my dreams, I could hear her whispering to me. Again her message was clear and insistent: "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 felt lost and feared inadequacy if adjudged by seasoned talents exposing me as a rank amateur having never been down this road before. But the supernal impulse to write remained exceptionally strong. The following day, opening pages of Tree of the Great Long Leaves were penned, its multi-layered themes choreographed 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 and love 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 placed a rough draft of the manuscript on his sickbed.
Here I am today, my mettle tested but hungry for more after forty-seven 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 white whales with Captain Ahab or pining for romantic rendezvouses with Romeo and Juliet is one thing. Such odysseys 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? Such excursions have encouraged me to travel with an open mind, to freely question profound matters of course, and to gently massage esoteric instincts lying deep within the subconscious. I have also learned to embrace life with fervency, leaning into its many twists and turns that not only has helped mold my character, but permits me to truly respect and cherish people as I do.
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 quirks, style, and 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? Whether for a spin around the block or a trek across the globe, it doesn't matter. Our chauffeur may not be for everybody, but she certainly has been right for me. So don't be shy. Once aboard, you too may detect her subtle whispers hinting of an enlightening voyage from here to eternity.