A Matter of Life and Death (Part one)

HCH-2-HANNAH-ARENDT-STRASSE-EYAL-STREETT HCH 2 January 2015

 

A Matter

of Life

and Death

Brian Streett

Copyright © 2015 by the author. All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction. Although some characterizations may be based in part on real people, details are the product of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.

This is dedicated to the memory of Tova and Clara.

It is much easier to love after you have seen it done.

Contents

Part one:        There are many tales

Part two:        Though only one at a time (To be published in HCH 3, March 2015)

Part three:     Yet all together (To be published in HCH 4, May 2015)

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Part one

There are many tales

1

Gradually I began to realize that something wasn’t right. Instead of a cushion of love in the house, there was kind of a fog. My parents still loved me, and I still loved them, of course, in a one-year-old sort of way, but between them there was antagonism. This was frightening. Until then I had been a happy little boy. I didn’t lose all of that happiness, but fear crept in. If my parents could stop loving each other, surely they could stop loving me also.

Of course, they had their faults, they were human. But so was I, and I needed them to transcend their fears and to reassure me that everything was fine. I guess this was beyond them, though. They each individually continued to show me love and affection, but that wasn’t enough. I needed to take control and make sure that they would not stop loving me and taking care of me. I learned how to manipulate them really well, and could always get them to do what I wanted, but there was very little satisfaction in this, and I could never be sure that they would keep loving me.

In school and with friends I used the skills I had learned at home in order to manipulate teachers and the other kids, and I got away with doing a lot of things I shouldn’t have done, and with not doing things I should have done.

Somehow I made it through high school, with a diploma and with my mind and body intact. And then I joined the army. I needed a complete break from everything and everybody, and the army seemed the best way to get one. For the first time since I was one I didn’t really have to think about anything except doing what I was told. This was what life was about; this is what survival was about. I was a good soldier, and was liked both by my officers and by the other soldiers.

Our unit was sent into combat, and we got to use many of the things we learned. And they really did save our lives, on more than one occasion. This was a wonderful life, full of excitement and meaning. We all belonged and we all worked well together.

One day I had a pain in my chest. It felt like something was stuck in there. I did my best to ignore it, and eventually the feeling went away. Whenever it came back I knew that I could just ignore it, and it would eventually disappear. Then I started to have other complaints. I lost weight, I itched all over, I would sweat at night and wake up totally drenched when it wasn’t even hot out. I ignored everything. I was a soldier, and all this stuff was totally irrelevant; I had more important things to deal with. Even when I had a fever and was so weak I felt like I could barely move, I kept the information to myself and tried to function normally. Some of the other soldiers noticed that I looked under the weather, but I just shrugged and told them that I was fine.

But the fact was that I couldn’t function well, and while marching through the jungle, I collapsed and couldn’t get up.

I was in a large hall, filled with people. I wouldn’t have imagined that a field hospital looked like this, but what else could it have been? Still, there were some very strange looking individuals around, and some of them certainly didn’t look like they belonged. There were some medics, or something, walking between groups of people. They looked like they knew what was going on. When one passed by I latched onto him and asked, “Hey, bud, what is this place? How did I get here? What are all these other people doing here?” He replied calmly that he would be back in a little while to talk with me, but that right now he was busy with people who needed him more than I did, would it be okay if I waited a few minutes until he was free? I assented.

And he did come back, after what seemed like a few minutes, and sat with me. He smiled and asked me where I thought I was. I told him that it must be a field hospital, though I didn’t remember how I got there. He replied, “No. This is a reception hall for the newly dead. You died shortly after you passed out.”

This was not what I expected to hear. I looked around. Some of the people were yelling and screaming at some imaginary disaster, others acted as though they were enjoying a swim or a picnic, others seemed quite calm and comfortable even though their faces were bashed in and blood was dripping all over them. What right did he have to bullshit me? “All right, cut the crap. I’m not really in the mood for comedy. What is this place? What am I doing here?”

He still sat there calmly, and he had the audacity to repeat what he said before, adding that he was serious. “And I suppose that makes you some kind of angel,” I said. “We’ve been called that,” he replied.

“I can think of better names to call you,” I shot back, “and I’m about ready to start screaming them at you now.”

“Look, don’t get upset. Right now you’re between lifetimes, just relax and choose where you want to go next,” he said.

“I can tell you where you ought to go, you crazy son of a bitch. And don’t pass go, don’t collect $200!” He stayed calm and spoke again, softly, “This is your chance to determine what you want your next life to be like. Tell me where you want to be sent, within reason, and you’ll be sent there.”

I screamed back, “Just get me out of here – any place!”

2

I was an active little girl, always with something to do, someplace to run to. My parents thought I was cute, though I was very thin, and they didn’t like that. They had a candy store, and saw to it that I got lots of things to eat which were supposed to fatten me up, but no matter how much I ate I didn’t gain weight.

I fell in love with a wonderful man and brought him home to meet my parents. They liked him, but didn’t like that he was 30 and I was 18. They made me promise not to commit myself to him until I was 21, and I agreed. Unfortunately, by that time both my parents had died, so they couldn’t be at our wedding or get to meet their grandchildren. They would really have loved that, and so would I.

Times weren’t always easy, but our love provided us with the strength we needed to go on. We had two wonderful sons, who we loved very much. As they started to grow up, they didn’t need me around all day, and I took a job working for the state as a statistician. For some reason, people who heard what I did always asked if it was boring me to tears, but I found it interesting to record employment trends and to get a feel for the economy. And I also enjoyed the company of the other ladies in the office. We would celebrate each others’ birthdays with a lunch and maybe a show, a tradition which we kept up even after retirement.

After the kids grew up and moved out, I had even more time available, and began to do volunteer work for several different organizations, local and national, where I felt I was able to do my part to help out in the community and in the country. I also made a lot of new friends among the volunteers.

When my husband died I was devastated. We had lived together for more than 40 years, and I had never thought about what would happen if that would no longer be possible. But one day, after he had been bothered for more than two years by digestive problems, it was discovered that he had pancreatic cancer. Two weeks later he was gone. I guess it was better that way; no long, drawn out period of suffering, and no time for me to think about what I would be losing. But I missed him, and couldn’t really get over it. I went to visit my children, and play with my grandchildren a lot that first year; it gave me strength to go on. And I did even more volunteer work, serving on committees and spending I guess 20-30 hours a week on volunteering.

I started thinking about my own death. I didn’t think I would mind it so much, but I sure as shootin’ didn’t want to be an invalid or live in a home and be a burden on anybody before my time came. I dreaded that possibility. As I became more forgetful and had to learn how to adjust to not remembering events or words, that was one thing I never forgot. And I almost got my wish.

One morning as I was putting in my contact lenses prior to going out to do some volunteer work, I keeled over. My younger son was in the habit of calling me every morning to see if I was all right. He rang several times, but I couldn’t answer. Eventually he showed up and took me to the hospital. I had had a stroke. My older son flew in to be with me also. When it became clear that my days were limited, they looked for a hospice for me, and when they couldn’t find one, they decided to bring me home and give me home hospice care. I preferred that anyway, being in my own house, although it bothered me that I was such a burden.

I regained some of my mental faculties, though I could hardly speak. I did get a chance to say goodbye to my children and to some of my grandchildren in person, and to the others on the phone, as well as to many other friends. Within two weeks my life was over.

There I was in a large hall, filled with people. I had no idea how I had gotten there, but it seemed that many others there, maybe most, didn’t seem to realize they were in a hall at all. Some yelled and screamed at some imaginary disaster, others acted as though they were enjoying a swim or a picnic, others seemed quite calm and comfortable even though their faces were bashed in and blood was dripping all over them. And then to each individual or small group, somebody would come over and start talking. I couldn’t hear what was said, but the reactions indicated that it must have been important.

After a while, somebody came over to talk to me, a nice looking young fellow. He smiled and asked if I knew where I was. I told him I didn’t have a clue, nor did I have any idea how I got there. He said that we were in a reception hall for people who had just died. I don’t get angry easily, but I must admit this got to me somewhat. “Aw, go ahead,” I replied, “you shouldn’t try to fool an old woman like that.” He said he wasn’t fooling, that I had died from the stroke and now I was being processed before being sent on to my next lifetime. I guess I believed him. “I never thought it would be like this,” I said. “What am I supposed to do now?” He said I could “debrief” and clean away the residue that this lifetime had left behind, and then pick a new life and start over, that he would explain everything I needed to know. Then he asked me what I’d like to do in my next lifetime.

Well, I had certainly never thought about that, but I guess I had to now. After a while I told him that I had liked the volunteer work, it would be good if I could help people. And that what I most wanted was to be with my husband again, so we could regain what we had lost and live many happy years together. He said he would see what he could do, and sent me off for the “debriefing”.

3

I think the most wonderful person in the world was my mother. Maybe all kids feel that way, but even so, I think my mother was really special. She was always there for me, no matter what, and without getting in the way. Even when my parents’ marriage fell apart, she wouldn’t let that affect our relationship. And she never said one nasty word to me about my father, regardless of what he did or said.

I probably wasn’t all that easy a kid to bring up. I was very sensitive and not at all strong, both of these characteristics being unsatisfactory for boys. Even so, I was well liked by both the boys and the girls my age. Maybe this was partly due to the fact that my mother always had a large supply of goodies on hand for anybody who came to visit me, but also I think that my friends could tell that I really liked them, and that generated similar feelings for me. This was also true for all the animals in the neighborhood, whether cats and dogs, or snails and worms. My mother and grandmother were always shocked by the relationships I had with any of the animals I came across, whether they knew me or not, whether they were friendly to others or not. They were just “my” animals, and both they and I knew it.

Early on I decided that I wanted to be a veterinarian, though at first I thought this meant that I could fix anything wrong with any of the animals, even if they were already dead. At some point I realized that this wasn’t the case; still, the animals were my friends and I wanted to do whatever possible to make them better. It didn’t occur to me until much later, too late, that a large part of a veterinarian’s job is to put animals to sleep. I doubt that I would have become a veterinarian if I had realized this at a young age, but as an adult it still seemed like this was a way to have the animals suffer less.

I also liked traveling a lot, meeting people (and animals, of course) in different places, with different ways of approaching life. But I had to stop traveling around after my mother got her stroke. She didn’t want me to, of course, but how could I leave her on her own? She would never have left me. And even though it upset her that she was causing me to alter my lifestyle, I’m certain that she was happy to have me there for her.

The stroke left her paralyzed in most of her body and incapable of speech. She was also easily confused. At first she was very frustrated by all this, but over the years she adjusted to her condition, and to its effect on my life, and she grew to accept the situation. Or so it seemed to me; she couldn’t really communicate anything beyond the basics, so maybe I was interpreting a loss of the will to live as acceptance. I hope not. I often thought that she would have had more enjoyment in life if there were grandchildren around, but I just couldn’t take the step of finding a partner to share this life with. Don’t misunderstand me, I loved my mother and didn’t once consider putting her in an institution or finding some other way to return to my previous life, but I wouldn’t have felt right to invite someone else to join me in the life I was now leading.

After more than 30 years of living this way, my mother died. By now I was advanced in years myself, and quite set in my ways. It was difficult for me to fill my evenings with anything but reminiscences, which became quite boring. When death finally came, I think more than anything else I was relieved.

There I was in a large hall, filled with people. I had no idea how I had gotten there, but it seemed that many others there, maybe most, didn’t seem to realize they were in a hall at all. Some yelled and screamed at some imaginary disaster, others acted as though they were enjoying a swim or a picnic, others seemed quite calm and comfortable even though their faces were bashed in and blood was dripping all over them. And then to each individual or small group, somebody would come over and start talking. I couldn’t hear what was said, but the reactions indicated that it must have been important.

After a while, somebody came over to talk to me, a nice looking guy, clean cut. He smiled and asked if I knew where I was. I told him I didn’t have a clue, nor did I have any idea how I got there. He said that we were in a reception hall for people who had just died. I was somewhat skeptical, but I hoped it was true. I had had enough of life. “So, what now,” I asked, “where do we go from here?”

“Now there is the debriefing. After it’s complete, you’ll get a chance to go back for another lifetime. Is there anything in particular you’d like to set up for yourself for next time?”

In truth, I still wasn’t sure I believed this, but I played along. “I seemed to miss out on a lot of the pleasures of adult life this time around; I’d like another chance to enjoy wine, women and song.” He said he thought that could be arranged, and would I follow him please to the debriefing rooms.

4

Don’t you just love babies? They act naturally, and everybody falls in love with all the cute things they do. Usually by the age of two this quality starts to disappear, though. As they get more of an understanding of their surroundings, they become less and less cute. In my case, though, I managed to hang onto the naturalness and the cuteness, and people just seemed to like me and wish me well all the way to adulthood, and even as an adult. This was a great feeling; I liked making people happy, and I liked the special way they treated me.

[ I never learned about discipline or boundaries. I would go to parties and get totally wasted, and I didn’t know there was another way to act. And my sexual exploits were the stuff of legends. You may think that this was wonderful; I did at the time, too. But the day came when it all caught up with me. My body wasn’t strong enough to withstand the treatment it received, and my health began deteriorating years before it should have. And once the deterioration started, it advanced rapidly.

I was scared by the state of my health, and I began to diet and exercise, and of course to go to all sorts of specialists, who suggested various treatments. Unfortunately, as I hadn’t learned discipline, the diet and exercise didn’t last for long. I was dependent on the skill of my physicians. They eased my deterioration somewhat, but life became more and more sedentary.

After a while my lack of discipline kicked in here, too, and I started ignoring all the instructions, as well as the advice, given to me by my physicians, and I got to the point where I was bedridden and unable to derive any pleasure from life. I considered this a horrible punishment, and told myself that if I had known that it would come to this that I would never have done the things I did in my youth. This was a lie, of course, I would certainly have ignored any good advice I received which would have gotten in the way of my lifestyle, but it was good to be able to blame ignorance rather than a lack of discipline.

So, not with a bang but a whimper, aliveness, and finally life itself, oozed from my body.

I found myself in a large hall, filled with people. I had no idea how I had gotten there, but I found that I could get up and walk around. I joined a group and started talking to some of the people there. They totally ignored me, as though I didn’t exist. This was disconcerting, to say the least. I walked over to talk to someone else, but he seemed totally in a daze and also unaware of my presence. I tried a few more times, but it seemed like everybody was caught up in his or her own experience; they didn’t even seem to realize they were in a hall with other people. Some yelled and screamed at some imaginary disaster, others acted as though they were enjoying a swim or a picnic, others seemed quite calm and comfortable even though their faces were bashed in and blood was dripping all over them. And then to each individual or small group, somebody would come over and start talking. I couldn’t hear what was said, but the reactions indicated that it must have been important.

After a while, somebody came over to talk to me. Finally, someone who would relate to me! He asked if I knew where I was. “Some hall,” I replied.

He continued, “All right then, this is a hall, a reception hall for the newly dead.” Well, of course it was a shock to hear this, but I instantly knew that it was true, and that I had been here before.

“Go on,” I said, “I’ll need to know more than that, won’t I?”

“Now there is the debriefing. After it’s complete, you’ll get a chance to go back for another lifetime. Is there anything in particular you’d like to set up for yourself for next time?”

This didn’t make sense to me. I asked, “Have I been asked this question before? Is this the life I chose for myself this time around? I find that hard to believe.” He said that it was very possible, and that the lives we chose didn’t always play out the way we thought they would. I was in shock. If this was something I had chosen, it seemed to me that it wouldn’t have been worse just to leave things to chance.

“So how can I choose better?” I asked.

“Apparently that’s not so easy to do,” he said. “You can defer your request until after the debriefing; maybe you’ll have a better idea then.” I agreed.

I don’t know how long I was there, time had no meaning. But after my “debriefing”, whatever that was, I met up again with the person who interviewed me. I told him, at least it seemed to me that the person was male, though I wasn’t really sure, that I thought the most important thing was to have parents who loved me.

5

I guess the best place to start is when the radiologist said, “There’s something in the chest area, you need to go to the emergency room and have it checked out.” Maybe I could have started with when I first felt there was something there, or with all the stuff which probably caused it to be there in the first place; or later, when it finally sunk in that my life would no longer be what it had been. But for me, the point where I started to become someone else, something different, was when she said those words. And then when she followed them up by telling me there’s no need to worry yet, though she looked like she was going to cry.

Of course I didn’t go to the emergency room. I was a soldier, and the army doctor ordered me to return to the base with the x-ray, and for a soldier it’s hard to disobey a direct order, even when in shock. Maybe, especially when in shock. So, I went back to the base, where the doctor called in another couple of doctors and they all debated whether to stick me in bed there or send me to the hospital emergency room, while they ignored me and the fact that I was sitting there suffering, and not far from panic. So I pulled out my cellphone and started calling friends. But that wasn’t very helpful; they were more upset to hear the news than I was, and I had to console them.

Eventually the caucus of learned gentlemen came to the conclusion that I should go to the emergency room. And so the tests began, and instead of being a 20-year-old, soon to be a civilian, with my whole life in front of me, I metamorphosed into A Cancer Patient, the most dreaded of all humans – walking mortality. I know, everybody is always sympathetic, but what they’re all thinking is, “My God, if it happened to her it could happen to anybody!” or, more precisely, “There but for fortune go I!” Don’t misunderstand me, I know that my friends and family all loved me and their thoughts were all for me; but at the same time, I instantly looked different to them, a threat somehow.

So there I was, in shock and drowning, not knowing what to do and not being able to do anything anyway. The next bit is pretty much of a blur: The Almighty Doctors telling me what I Absolutely, Positively, Must have to do, as though I were a lab rat. Family and friends coming up with all sorts of Suggestions and Things People Told Them which maybe I should try. My constantly looking for Why Did This Happen to Me?

After a while a few things began filtering through: The doctors, with all their knowledge and certainty were killing a lot of people with similar conditions to mine, and healing a few. People’s suggestions were sometimes good, sometimes not worth much, and it always took a lot of time and effort to find out which was true in any given case. Why Did This Happen was not so important; what was important was What could I do about it, what could I learn from this?

I’m not going to tell you about all the horrible and/or wonderful things that happened: all the expressions of love and support, all the fear and lack of understanding. Let’s just say, people are caught in their own stuff, and when they can transcend it, it’s great being around them; when they can’t, it sucks. As for me, I had to find a way to keep my head above water. I had somebody paint pictures on my skull after my hair fell out, then after my hair grew back and before the next round of chemo I had it dyed shocking pink. I went to music therapy classes. I did a lot of Reiki and had a lot more done to me. I spent a lot of time with family and friends, and I let my doctors know that they were my employees, not my masters.

The doctors did their best, but chemo didn’t heal me, a bone marrow self-transplant didn’t heal me. The only thing left on their list was a bone marrow transplant from somebody else. I had befriended several young people on my visits to the hospital who had done this. All of them suffered, all of them died. I refused to subject myself to this torture, and decided the time had come to get on with my life.

I still visited the doctors occasionally for checkups and meds, and I continued with Reiki and other alternative treatments, but I changed my lifestyle completely. Stopped being Ms Patient and started living a “normal” life. I enrolled at the local university in the BA program for musicology. The other students and the teachers saw me as just another student. Okay, not too many girls my age were bald, but they assumed that this was my preferred hairstyle and not the result of illness. What a relief to be around people who didn’t pity me or want me to try all sorts of treatments. On the other hand, I couldn’t be completely at ease with them, because I had a secret. When people would talk about waiting a year or two before getting around to doing something, certain that they had many years of life in front of them, well, I just could not relate to that. But I loved being caught up in something which did not remind me of the growth in my body, and I loved spending my days feeling normal. During the winter break from studies, I went abroad and met up with my brothers and their wives and my nephew. We rented a villa and had an incredible time.

And that was my last vacation. Shortly thereafter things got worse, and I had to cut back on my activities. I continued to live my life as fully as I could, having friends over, playing with my nephew, telling jokes. But moving around became more and more difficult; even going to the bathroom was a major chore.

And then, poof, it was over. I still didn’t know what it all meant, but with a loud sound of meshing gears, my existence shifted.

There I was in a large hall, filled with people. I had no idea how I had gotten there, but that seemed to leave me in better shape than most, who didn’t seem to realize they were in a hall. Some yelled and screamed at some imaginary disaster, others acted as though they were enjoying a swim or a picnic, others seemed quite calm and comfortable even though their faces were bashed in and blood was dripping all over them. And then to each individual or small group, somebody would come over and start talking. I couldn’t hear what was said, but the reactions indicated that it must have been important.

After a while, somebody came over to talk to me. He smiled and said I looked somehow more connected than most people, did I know where I was? “Some hall,” I replied. “Yes, but anything more than that?” No, that was all I knew.

He continued, “All right then, this is a reception hall for the newly dead.”

Well, of course it was a shock to hear this, but I instantly knew that it was true, and that I had been here before. Many times before. All of a sudden everything was familiar, and I recalled events from hundreds of diverse lives, all jumping out at me. In particular, I recalled the last hours of my most recent life – difficulty breathing, the need for quiet, the people around me, the entire lifetime passing in front of me – and the first minutes of my afterlife, when I was still sitting in that room, wearing that body. A great sadness followed by a great release, followed by a great amnesia. Followed by sitting here talking to my interviewer. Did any of this make any sense? What was the purpose? The interviewer had been through this countless times before and knew to let me just sit there and unwind my thoughts. Finally I was ready to listen to more.

“Now there is the debriefing. After it’s complete, you’ll get a chance to go back for another lifetime. Is there anything in particular you’d like to set up for yourself for next time?”

“I really loved my family and friends; I’d like to be around them some more,” I replied. He said he thought that could be arranged, and would I follow him please to the debriefing rooms.

I don’t know how long I was there, time had no meaning. But there I was after my “debriefing”, whatever that was. To me it felt like a bubble bath of the soul; I guess that’s the best way to describe it. Luxuriously allowing the dirt to dissolve and disappear. I was greeted by my interviewer, who told me that I was in luck, my brother and sister-in-law were moments from conception, did I want to go there? All of a sudden my consciousness returned to the hall before debriefing, and everything rushed in. “No,” I replied, “I’m not ready yet. Nothing makes any sense to me. I’ve got to have some time to sort things out.” The interviewer smiled, and led me to a lounge, where I could use the computer and stay as long as I wanted.

So far so good, right? But the fact is that I had no idea what I meant. Why did sense need to be made, and out of what? It was all very confusing, but somehow I knew that instead of just jumping back, there was something else I had to do first. And so I sat, manipulated the computer, meditated, relaxed, reflected on innumerable events from innumerable lifetimes, lost my concentration, and then started over. I understood nothing, and still don’t understand anything from this time. But eventually something way below the level of consciousness told me that I’d done enough for now; it was time to move on.

My interviewer found a host for me. Both parents knew me in my previous existence, and we had been friendly, and many of their friends had also known me.

6

I was a cute little boy, no pretense, going where my emotions would take me. When I was happy, everybody around me was happy. When I was sad, everybody felt bad for me. Maybe I was too delicate, too afraid of everything. But my older brother helped with that, beating me up whenever he felt like it, so that I had to get stronger. People liked me, and I liked them, though sometimes I came on too strong for babies and pets, and sometimes people came on too strong for me. Still, there were a couple of people who I was really crazy about, though there was no reason for it. Unless of course you knew that they were close to me in my previous life, which I didn’t know at the time.

I loved music. I loved to sing, to dance, to hear music. Music would always carry me away, to someplace wonderful, albeit indescribable. And so, as I grew up, I stayed with music more and more. I learned how to play a number of different instruments, wind, string and percussion, and got quite good. Mostly I liked keyboard instruments. I never got the chance to play one of those enormous church organs, but I dreamed about it a lot. All my friends were musicians, and as we got more experience playing together we formed a band and played at parties. Eventually someone offered us a recording contract, and we recorded several albums and spent most of our time touring. We never reached the upper echelons of the music business, but we loved what we were doing, or at least I did. For me the music was all I wanted, though of course I never turned down the alcohol, sex or drugs that came along with it. Then one day one of the guys in the band had this incredibly bad trip, which just kept coming and coming, and scared us all totally. We had to cancel a series of concerts, and we actually never quite recovered from the experience. We went our separate ways. By this point I had enough saved so that I could buy a little farm, far away from civilization, where I could walk around and watch things grow, and play music every evening. When I got bored or started feeling like the money was running out, I called my agent and got him to arrange me a couple of gigs. Sometimes I’d bring a woman or two home with me, but nothing serious.

Then one day I woke up. This was all fun, but I was missing something, something important. I didn’t know what it was, but it was time to do something about it! I told the foreman that I was going away and he was in charge. And then I just left, driving west until I found someplace I liked. I got out of the car, found a small place to rent, bought some stuff, and sat down trying to figure out what I had done this for. I had a couple of insights, which seemed really important at the time, but the truth is I had no idea.

Eventually I had enough of sitting, so I decided to move around, traveling all over the world, coming across many beautiful and strange places and lifestyles, and feeling like maybe this was something I was supposed to be doing.

On a too warm, overcast afternoon halfway around the world, I crossed a street and got hit by a car.

There I was in a large hall, filled with people. I had no idea how I had gotten there. Some of the people yelled and screamed at some imaginary disaster, others acted as though they were enjoying a swim or a picnic, others seemed quite calm and comfortable even though their faces were bashed in and blood was dripping all over them. And then to each individual or small group, somebody would come over and start talking. I couldn’t hear what was said, but the reactions indicated that it must have been important.

After a while, somebody came over to talk to me. She smiled and asked how I felt and if I knew where I was. I told her I felt strange and disconnected, and that I’d been in weirder places. She said, “You’ve just died and you’re in a reception hall for the newly dead.” Well, of course it was a shock to hear this, but I instantly knew that it was true, and that I had been here before. Many times before. All of a sudden everything was familiar, and I recalled events from hundreds of diverse lifetimes, all jumping out at me. In particular, I recalled my most recent lifetime, and the task I had set for myself. And failed. Sure the music had brought a kind of understanding, but when the music stopped the understanding stopped. There was a kind of memory of having understood, but that wasn’t enough. I needed to be more focused and to come up with something which made sense ongoingly.

“All right,” I told the interviewer, “I’m ready for debriefing, and after that I’m sure I’ll need some more time in the lounge before deciding where to go next time.” She smiled again, and I went off for my bubble bath. This time I went through the debriefing more in touch with who-I-am and my mission-in-lives, and afterwards, in the lounge, I had more connection to my purpose in being there, though I still didn’t have all that much clarity. And then, after I began to feel like I was going around in circles, the time came to stop, and to move on.

I had a plan. I would lead the life of a holy man and understand “enlightenment.”

7

My first memories were of the howling wind, which provided background music to everything. My father’s monastery was on a mountaintop far away from civilization, and the winters were cold. This was a perfect place for me to grow into my task, once my teeth stopped chattering.

Conditions were stark, and this was somehow both meaningful and acceptable. My family and the resident monks were all very loving, and I was happy to be around them.

I began my studies, going slowly at first, not being rushed into anything, but having my questions answered honestly. Which led to more and more questions, and I gained some basic ground of understanding of how life made sense to these people, and it made the same sense to me also.

As the years went by I got quite an advanced education. Then, when I was 11, my father asked me to accompany him on a teaching tour throughout the country. The experience of even the big towns and the smaller cities, not to mention the larger ones, was more than I could handle. Somehow I was able to maintain some composure during the teachings and when I was asked questions by the students, but I was totally blown away by the totality of sensual experience, unlike anything I had ever imagined before. Sure, we had a computer at the monastery and I had been exposed to modern life, but in a trickle, not in such a raging, uncontrolled blast.

I sensed that I had to appear to have some control over my experiences or I would be sent back to the monastery, and it would be a long, long time until I got another chance to leave it. So even in my conversations with my father I held back, acting as though it were difficult for me to assimilate everything, but that I somehow managed to be in control of the situation. I wasn’t, however. My senses kept screaming at me that what seemed so true in the world of the monastery didn’t necessarily apply in this brave new world.

Instead of sleeping at night, I spent long hours debating with myself the philosophy of life in the big lake vis-à-vis life in the small pond, and was not able to resolve whether or not that which held in the micro also held in the macro. Of course, my father expected this confusion and was confident that eventually I would be clear that the rules still held, and stronger for having had the experience. I suppose he went through the same thing when he was growing up, and his confidence was based on his own experience. Unfortunately, this limited him somewhat in being able to see what I was going through. Or maybe fortunately, because after the tour was over and we were back home, he indicated that I had been successful in some rite of passage, and there was a clear implication that I would be accompanying him on future teaching tours.

I felt misunderstood, that there was no-one to talk to who was capable of understanding me. Maybe no such person existed anywhere, even in the enormous world outside the monastery. So I would have to work out my confusion on my own. I presented myself with several theories, attempting to test them on subsequent visits outside the monastery, testing them one by one, until I reached the point where I became clear that I was incapable of understanding life in the macro. Even so, given any specific problem I could apply the rules I had learned at the monastery and give assistance to whoever requested it. I did this so well that I was ready to head a monastery of my own, even though I was still quite young. A suitable place was found for me, and I thrived there, returning to see my parents and friends only occasionally. As I developed a name for myself, I was invited to teach at many places throughout the country, and sometimes even in other countries. My fascination with the juxtaposition of monastery life and city life never ended, and I eagerly accepted the invitations. After each travel session, when I returned to the monastery I went into a period of seclusion in which I attempted to get a new understanding, but never really succeeded in doing more than assimilating some of the experiences.

This went on for many years, and then in the fullness of time I could feel death coming on. I gathered my closest students around me, chose a successor, and bid them farewell.

There I was in a large hall, filled with people. I had no idea how I had gotten there. Some of the people yelled and screamed at some imaginary disaster, others acted as though they were enjoying a swim or a picnic, others seemed quite calm and comfortable even though their faces were bashed in and blood was dripping all over them. And then to each individual or small group, somebody would come over and start talking. I couldn’t hear what was said, but the reactions indicated that it must have been important.

After a while, somebody came over to talk to me. He smiled and asked how I felt and if I knew where I was. I told him, “No, but I feel comfortable here somehow.” He said, “You’ve just died and you’re in a reception hall for the newly dead.” Instantly I knew that this was true, and that I had been here before. Many times before. All of a sudden everything was familiar, and I recalled events from hundreds of diverse lives, all jumping out at me. In particular, I recalled my most recent lifetime, and the task I had set for myself. And failed. I had gained some understanding, enough to be of assistance to those who requested it, but surely there was a deeper understanding I could have attained. I needed to be more focused and to come up with something which made sense regardless of the conditions.

“All right,” I told the interviewer, “I’m ready for debriefing, and after that I’m sure I’ll need some more time in the lounge before deciding where to go next time.” He smiled again, and I went off for my bubble bath. I was able to sort things out much more clearly than while wearing a body, but not nearly as clearly as I would have liked. Eventually a kind of understanding came to me, and I requested that in my next life I have a chance to devote myself to giving assistance to people.

8

I was the fifth of six children, and a girl at that. Who needed me? When I cried, I was smacked. When I annoyed my parents, I was smacked. When I spoke though not told to do so, I was smacked. When I didn’t do my household chores properly or didn’t take proper care of my younger brother, I was smacked.

I had a learning disability and didn’t do well in school, so at the age of 16 my parents married me off to somebody. He was good enough to look at, and okay in bed, but he saw me as a maid and showpiece, not as a companion, in fact not really even as a human being.

This didn’t change even after our kids were born, a boy and a girl. I took care of them, and of him, and he did whatever he wanted. What he wanted was to play cards and get drunk every night. He hardly noticed me except to have sex with me or to beat me. I didn’t mind that so much, but it bothered me that not only didn’t he help me with the kids, he never gave me any money to buy them things, nor did he buy them anything himself.

I was brought up to do what I was told, but eventually I figured out that this wasn’t working. It seemed to me that it would be easier for me to take care of myself and the kids without him around. So I decided to get a divorce. Everybody opposed this – my husband and his family, of course, and also my family, not wanting a scandal. But I went through with it. I got no alimony, I got no severance pay after leaving the job at my ex-husband’s family’s business, and I didn’t know how to make ends meet, but this was the right thing to do.

Still, I had to support us. So I started cleaning houses, but that didn’t pay enough. I then also would make popcorn and go to the parks around town and sell it. This still wasn’t enough, so I decided to apply for a job as an orderly at the hospital. I walked into the cancer ward and asked for the head nurse. I told her that I wanted to help people and asked if she had a job for me. Somehow, she was impressed enough to hire me.

I liked the job, chatting with the patients and their families and making them feel at least a little better, fighting the bureaucracy to get things done, and generally being helpful. And I was good at it. After a few years, not only the patients and their families, but also the nurses and doctors came to me to help get things done. I also learned a lot about what was going on medically. It got to the point where I could read the patients’ files and understand what I read, and even catch mistakes, some of them quite serious.

Maybe I got a little out of hand, though. I got really upset when a doctor would order painful and complicated tests on patients who clearly had little time left, or when a course of treatment which would be debilitating was given to someone so fragile there was little chance the person would survive it, and every chance that the quality of life would suffer. It really bothered me that these things were the norm. In fact, on more than one occasion I got really angry and screamed at the doctor, “If she was your mother you would never order such a treatment!”

I got friendly with many of the patients and their supporters. When they had difficulties with the treatments, sometimes they would just want me to sit with them, which seemed to make them feel better. And when it was time for them to leave this life, they waited until I could be there with them. It sometimes happened that when I was on vacation they would remain alive, perhaps in a coma, until my vacation was over, and then die the first morning I was back.

And that wasn’t the end of it. I would often walk the corridors and suddenly feel the presence of patients who had died in the past months or years, and would have imaginary conversations with them, asking how they were and what they needed from me.

This was all rather difficult for me, and I looked for someone who could make it easier. I read a lot of philosophy and psychology, and oriental religions. But it all sounded like a lot of words to me. I’m sure it was meaningful for some, but to me it spoke to the intellect, not to my experience.

There was a volunteer in the ward who seemed to have a similar relation to the patients that I did. We spent some time swapping stories and discussing the parts which were hardest for us. The relationship blossomed, and we got married and remained good companions, supporting each other with all the difficulties for many years. After he died it was hard for me to go on.

After seeing the suffering of all those patients for so many years, I was very clear that when it came time for me to die that I wanted to go in my sleep, with no warning and no pain. Fortunately, this is what happened.

There I was in a large hall, filled with people. I had no idea how I had gotten there. Some of the people yelled and screamed at some imaginary disaster, others acted as though they were enjoying a swim or a picnic, others seemed quite calm and comfortable even though their faces were bashed in and blood was dripping all over them. And then to each individual or small group, somebody would come over and start talking. I couldn’t hear what was said, but the reactions indicated that it must have been important.

After a while, somebody came over to talk to me. He smiled and asked how I felt and if I knew where I was. I told him I didn’t have a clue. He said, “You’ve just died and you’re in a reception hall for the newly dead.” Instantly I knew that this was true, and that I had been here before. Many times before. All of a sudden everything was familiar, and I recalled events from hundreds of diverse lives, all jumping out at me. In particular, I recalled my most recent lifetime and the one that preceded it. I had set myself a task, and then forgotten it totally. I was in shock. I needed to weave together my two most recent lifetimes in order to make some sense out of them, and this wasn’t easy. And it was harder still to understand how I had spent my entire previous lifetime totally without memory of what came before. I needed to work some things out.

“All right,” I told the interviewer, “I’m ready for debriefing, and after that I’m sure I’ll need some more time in the lounge before deciding where to go next time.” He smiled again, and I went off, looking forward to my bubble bath. I was able to sort things out much more clearly than while wearing a body, but not nearly as clearly as I would have liked. It seemed so wasteful to me to have gone through an entire lifetime not remembering what I was there for. So what should I do next?

At first I couldn’t think of any appropriate way to spend my next lifetime. I wanted understanding, but my experience told me that complete understanding was impossible, and that I’d gotten as close as I could get to it. I wanted to be helpful to others, so that they could live their lives to the fullest, be happy and have understanding for themselves; but my experience told me that there was no way to be totally helpful to others, there was no way anybody could be completely happy or have total understanding.

Then a crazy thought entered. I tried to push it out, but it wouldn’t go. So I examined it, and it kept making more and more sense. I decided that this was what I wanted to do.

I sought out my interviewer and told him, “I want to work in this hall, interviewing the dead.”

9

I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but my interviewer looked shocked. He stammered, “No, no, you can’t do that.” I asked why. He took some time to get back his composure, then he answered: “People from your planet are not built to do this. You will go raving mad instantly and then you’ll be put into another lifetime at random, and all the work you have put in, all the progress you’ve made, will be swept away.”

I thought about that for a while, and then replied: “That may be so, but the progress has led me to a dead end, and an endless string of random lifetimes doesn’t really seem to me to be substantially different from anything I could choose, so if there’s any chance that I wouldn’t go crazy, I still want to do it.” He said that maybe there was the slimmest of chances, but practically none at all. I said that I still wanted to give it a try. He said he had to check with his superiors.

Eventually the reply came: I would be allowed to begin a training program. I could opt out at any point and then I could choose where to go next, but if I went mad I would be shipped off immediately to the next available lifetime. If somehow I completed the training, I would be an interviewer. I did some more soul searching and realized that this was indeed what I wanted, and I let them know that I was committed to go through the training and become an interviewer.

I was then warned again that the first step in the training process was likely to cause me to go mad. This step was to open up all my memories of all my lives simultaneously, so that in dealing with interviewees I would have every experience available for me to call upon. I could see that this would likely be difficult; certainly the cacophony of countless channels all playing at the same time would not be easy to deal with. Still, it seemed to me an exaggeration to say this would cause madness.

But I was wrong – it was no exaggeration. What happened was that when all the seals were broken, and the memories were released, those memories which raced to the forefront of my consciousness were all the ones I had suppressed most strenuously. So starting with my most recent lives and then moving back I was attacked on all fronts by all the pain, physical and emotional, that I ever had. If I hadn’t been able to somehow hang on to the importance of my becoming an interviewer, I’d certainly have been a goner.

But I was able to hang in there, howling and sobbing through all the broken bones, lost lovers, dead babies. Through all the stupid things I’d done and hidden from everybody, through all the insults I’d received, through all the discoveries of having been deceived and lied to by people I loved and thought they loved me. Hardest of all was to face up to the lies I told and the acts of cruelty I committed, sometimes quite randomly, to people and animals.

I almost lost it pondering how horrible I had been. Even in my most recent lives there were instances of my having tortured siblings and kittens, acting irresponsibly, and quite horribly, in matters involving sex and money, and lying about all of it – to others and to myself. Of course I never mentioned any of this when I was telling you about some of those lives; I did my best not to think about it at all. But when this all hurled itself into my consciousness now, I felt so evil, so unworthy of being an interviewer that I almost gave in to the madness.

What saved me was a strange thing – the suppressed memories of earlier lifetimes. As more and more lifetimes unfolded, and more and more suppressed memories hurled themselves into my consciousness, I began to see that although I had been looking at these things as being a part of Me, they were only a part of the particular me that was living that individual lifetime. How else could it make sense that in one lifetime I could be so ashamed that I killed someone, even justifiably, without feeling any remorse, while in a different lifetime I was ashamed that I felt remorse for killing, and in yet another lifetime I was ashamed that because I was “too soft” I didn’t kill someone I should have killed?

I was able, slowly, to disassociate Me from the persona of any individual lifetime and to view even my deepest, darkest secrets as something apart from and not connected to Me. I should tell you, though, that even now these suppressed memories have some power over me; I still have to work to separate Myself from the intense outreaching of the person from whichever lifetime in which they occurred.

But I was able to do so, and, as a result, I gained a new clarity both as to who Me is, or at least who Me isn’t, and to the interviewer’s job. If I could neutralize all the poison being shot at me by my own suppressed memories, then I could also do the same for the memories of the interviewees.

I guess my training had begun in earnest.

10

Of course it wasn’t quite as simple as that. There was an enormous distance between being able not to go mad when the memories come into my consciousness and being perfectly at ease when that happened. In fact even after I became an interviewer, I never lost the knee-jerk reactions to some of the memories. Fortunately I was able to hide this, because otherwise I could never have been an interviewer. There were times when I talked with one of my interviewees and I remembered some lifetime I had in which he or she played a significant role, either hero or villain, and I had to hold myself back and gain control.

How to do that was also a major part of my training. Interviewers all appear to the interviewees in familiar forms, suitable to the time, place and inclination of the interviewees. In fact, though, interviewers have no body of their own. The appearance is totally an energy creation of the interviewer. It was not too hard to learn how to do this for any given interviewee, but to appear simultaneously to each of the interviewees in the hall in a form conducive to their successful absorption, to project mannerisms appropriate to each, and to do all this at a subconscious level, so that I could focus on the interactions with the person I was dealing with at the time – this was far from easy. I needed a lot of teaching and a lot of practice before I felt I was making any progress at all. Then a good deal more of the same before I felt I was ready for a trial run.

My trainer, however, was not at all convinced that I was ready for a trial. My experience of nearly going mad previously had shown me that my trainer knew a lot more than I did about what was needed in the training process, but I still felt that it would further my education to get out of the classroom and do a simulation. Eventually my trainer agreed that this could benefit me, and I was put in a simulator where I would be the interviewer for a group of experienced interviewers acting as interviewees. They all both knew me well and knew what kinds of experiences could be most difficult to handle for an interviewer.

My impression is that I failed miserably to do the job; I was absolutely hopeless. My trainer said that he was pleased, that it was a successful exercise because he could see exactly where I needed further instruction and practice. All I saw was that I was a long, long way from being an interviewer, and that I had better keep quiet in the future if I ever felt ready to move ahead a notch, and leave that distinction to my trainer.

So when I was told that another simulation had been set up I was surprised, and felt that I probably would fail miserably this time, too. However, the interviewers taking part this time were much gentler, I suppose my trainer had asked them to be, and provided situations more similar to what I would normally find, rather than a series of particularly difficult situations.

This time I did pretty well and actually started feeling comfortable after a while. My trainer called a halt to the simulation, thanked the participants, and then explained to me that he had arranged the first simulation to show me how little I really knew, even though I thought I knew a lot. When he saw how downhearted I was at realizing how much I didn’t know, he arranged the second simulation to let me see that I really had made some progress. The real state of my training lay somewhere in between.

At first I felt that I had been tricked, but before long I could see that I had been taught a first-rate lesson, and very clearly taught at that. My training continued with me totally trusting the trainer and clear that there would come a time when I would become a successful interviewer, able to ease the pains of the newly dead and to assist them to move forward in the direction most appropriate for them to go.

11

And so there came a point when I was ready to meet the interviewees as an assistant interviewer, together with my trainer. Maybe you would say that I was nervous, but to me it didn’t seem nervousness so much as a need to be totally aware of everything that was going on all around me, especially the little things that were hardly noticeable – including observing someone a short distance away trying to overhear our conversation, as well as taking in every twitching of every muscle which could have been rooted in some sub-subconscious uncertainty, and any change in wording or tone that could indicate an emotional shift. Clearly my focus was more on doing the job right than on expressing my compassion for these people in the most effective way. My trainer said that this would certainly change, and ultimately the two things were the same anyway, but I was not convinced. I took another meditation break to look at what I was doing. What was so special about me that I was the right person to do this job? Wouldn’t these people all be better off being interviewed by real interviewers?

I could see that at some future point when I would be comfortable as an interviewer there would still be a difference between the way the others all did the job and the way I did it. I had a background the same as all the interviewees and therefore was able to understand them in a way in which none of the other interviewers could. What I couldn’t see was whether that was a positive or a negative quality. Would I be better as an interviewer because of having a similar background with the interviewees, or worse? If my objective was to assist these people in the most difficult part of their existence, wouldn’t it be better for me to just leave the work to those who did it best?

I was confused. I discussed this all with my trainer, who laughed and said that at least I could be certain that my motivation was correct. Then we got into a discussion about differentiating between an understanding which would be so sympathetic as to have the interviewees feel justified when they made a mistake and an understanding which would cause the interviewees not to make mistakes. Theoretically the distinction was clear, but I was far from certain that I understood it practically. However, it did seem both to me and to my trainer that it was right for me to continue learning to be an interviewer.

And so we went back to work, sometimes just the two of us, sometimes with interviewees. There were occasions when I showed astounding stupidity, and then came close to despairing of ever doing this job properly; but these occasions became fewer, and my ability to interact with the interviewees improved considerably.

Eventually my trainer was satisfied that I could interview on my own, as long as the appropriate interviewees were picked for me. There were no major screw-ups, but I could feel the presence of my trainer always on the alert. We would then discuss the interviews, and I would get pointers on where I still needed to improve, and then I would do another interview.

Gradually I became better at what I was doing and more types of interviewees were open to me. I would still make mistakes, but almost always would be able to correct them by myself seamlessly. As I continued to be more comfortable with what I was doing and better at it, my similar background to the interviewees became less and less something to worry about. Clearly, now that I knew more precisely what my job was, being able to empathize more with the interviewees made me a better interviewer than what I would have been otherwise. This was somewhat surprising to my trainer, and there were individuals we discussed more for him to learn than for me to learn, and he shared with the other interviewers this new-found knowledge. There were even cases when I was asked to interview someone, or to take part in an interview conducted by someone else, not because I needed to learn something, but because I could get results where others did not always succeed in doing so.

By this point my training had been completed; I was in no need of babying – I was totally an interviewer. True, sometimes I asked others for assistance when necessary, but sometimes I was also asked for assistance. This was the way we worked.

And I do believe that I was accomplishing my goal. The work I did with these interviewees was truly an act of compassion bestowed on them in their greatest hour of need.

12

Then one day there was a shift in the way my coworkers related to me, and I was asked to come to the office of my trainer. I felt a great deal of confusion. As you may have guessed I was pretty sensitive to the energy around me at this point, and it felt like I was an outsider being ostracized by those who had so recently seen me as one of their own. This made no sense.

Of course my trainer knew that I felt what was going on around me, and he attempted to put me at my ease. We talked about some of the training experiences I had and how I had evolved into an excellent interviewer. Then he dropped the bomb. “It’s been decided to end activities on your planet, so you’ll need to be retrained to work with different beings.”

After all the training I had received and all the work I’d done, I thought that nothing could shock me, or if it did I could cover up the shock so that nobody could see it. But I was wrong. I sat there paralyzed and in total shock for quite some time, before replying, “Are you saying that there won’t be any more Earth? Everything and everybody will just disappear?”

“That’s about it,” he replied. “Of course you are one of us now, and will continue to work with us.”

As the shock subsided I was flooded with questions. “Why? Can’t there just be some correction so that things can continue successfully? When? How?”

The trainer replied, “Relax, this happens all the time. There have been several corrections shifting the population in the desired direction, but now things have arrived at a dead end. The present-day population has been consistently resistant to any shift which would allow a healthy existence. People are far too caught up in their individual existences, their petty desires and goals, causing damage to their habitat. The damage has reached the point of no return, and before long the planet will cease to exist.”

“How do you know that the point of no return has been reached, maybe there’s still a chance to change things? How much time is there?”

“You’re seeing this much too personally. Don’t forget, you are an interviewer now. In your work with all the interviewees haven’t you seen how different you are from them?”

“Yes, I’m different from them, but I’m also different from all the other interviewers. Don’t forget my motivation in becoming an interviewer was to assist all these people. I guess this means that I’ve failed; now they certainly need more assistance than ever before.”

“This is not your failure. You’ve performed excellently, and with a degree of compassion impossible for any of the others of us to have. These things happen; it’s time to accept it and move on.”

“No, I can’t do that. Please answer my questions: Is this definitely irreversible? How much time is there before this happens?”

“All right. Critical mass has been reached. In all previous cases when this has happened no correction has ever been able to stop the destruction of the planet, or for that matter of the solar system it was in. Is it possible theoretically? I don’t know, but I doubt it. The amount of time until destruction varies, there might be one or two more lifetimes before this happens, maybe less.”

I sat for a while and digested the information. Then, “My goal was not to become an interviewer. My goal was to help these people. I’m going back.”

“You can’t do that! You’re an interviewer. You’ve given these people everything you could give, there’s nothing more to do. The time has come for you to express your compassion towards other beings.”

“Maybe so, but I’m also one of them, and I’m not convinced that everything has been done to help them. You remember that before my training began I was told that I could opt out at any time and go back. I’m opting out.”

“That’s ridiculous. Your training has been completed for quite some time, the opting out was meant to be during your training period. Surely you can be more helpful to all beings by continuing as an interviewer than by perishing along with what was once your planet.”

“It’s still my planet, and even though there’s hardly any chance, I need to try to save it. Please send me back.”

13

I just got into the first available vehicle headed in the right direction, without paying any attention to the details. I suppose this was a silly thing to do, but I was caught up in a sense of urgency. While in the fetal state I became aware of my surroundings. My mother was a junkie and prostitute who had had five children already. My father was just a vague memory for her. Three of the children died from withdrawal shortly after birth and were wrapped up in newspapers and tossed out. The other two were sold to a baby broker. After all the work I had done as an interviewer, as I said, nothing shocked me, but quite frankly, the life my mother was leading was horrible. My heart went out to her. Even so, I considered whether it would be better for me to die and choose a host more wisely, but I kept coming back to the fact that any change that I could make had to occur at the grass roots level, so maybe there was something I could learn here that would increase my chances of success. And maybe my concern for her would make a difference to my mother’s life.

I survived birth and withdrawal, trying not to cry too much, as this bothered my mother and sent her back to the needle more quickly. After a few days I was taken to someone who brought me to my new mother, a young woman who wanted a baby very much but was infertile. She was single and for various reasons deemed unacceptable by the adoption agencies, so she found her way to the black market, and to me. She lived alone in an apartment building and wasn’t particularly friendly with any of the neighbors. She worked in a cubicle in a large office building and wasn’t particularly friendly with any of her coworkers. Even so, she put on weight, wore loose clothing with pillows placed strategically and made a show of being pregnant for a couple of months, then went away for vacation, telling all who asked that she was going to her mother’s house, and came back with me. Her acquaintances nodded when they saw her and congratulated her on such a cute baby.

For my purposes this was a continuation of my education. As an interviewer I met many people with approaches to life similar to those of my two mothers, but my focus had been solely on compassion. Here, in addition to the compassion I felt, my focus was also on being able to bring about a change, not just at the individual level, but for humanity. I had a world to save, and still didn’t have the slightest idea how to do it.

All my memories from past lives were accessible to me, and it was somewhat frustrating to wait for my body to mature sufficiently for me to function and communicate adequately. On the other hand, the first couple of years of this life provided a time of observation and planning which were invaluable to me.

It seemed that I needed to get respect as an individual and for what I wanted to tell everyone, and that I needed to get through to virtually the entire population in order to be credible and to have sufficient influence to bring about a radical change in the way people saw themselves and their world. In order to do so, I formulated a plan of action which, though far from perfect, seemed like it had a chance. I would need to achieve a high level academically while socially being active in all reasonable causes which aimed to bring us closer to each other and our habitat.

I strived to be popular with the other children at school and to participate in social activities, while at the same time excelling in classwork. It was my intention that the other children would see my academic success as somehow their success, which would make me closer to them, rather than set me apart. I didn’t see this as an attempt to manipulate them, rather as a desire to enroll them in what would be to our mutual benefit. To enroll successfully would be a good start on the project I had set out to do; to manipulate successfully, I was convinced that this would not work. It seemed to me that if something seemed to be genuinely beneficial, people, and certainly children, would stay with it; on the other hand, anyone who felt manipulated into thinking something was good sooner or later would catch on and rebel.

As a result, our class in particular, and the entire school in fact, had an outstanding scholastic record, and we were also active in community affairs, collecting money and food for those in need and visiting the old and infirm. I was interviewed, alone or with other children and our teachers, on several occasions, and we always were able to get the message across that giving assistance to the community was to our mutual advantage.

It was determined that my IQ was very high and that I was mature for my age, so at the age of 14 I began attending university. In my early twenties I completed my university studies with doctorates in sociology, psychology and communications. During the entire time I was studying I continued doing volunteer work in the community, also working with children who were doing volunteer work.

So after completing my studies very successfully, it wasn’t all that difficult to get backing to produce a chain of organizations dedicated to both assisting those in need and promoting human dignity. My plan was to build neighborhood groups connected to a municipal organization, which was in turn connected to other organizations, reaching national and international levels. It seemed to me that the neighborhood groups would provide leadership for the municipal organizations, and those would provide leadership for the levels above. I believed that this would work, and when the confederation of organizations got big enough the concept of assisting each other with dignity would seem perfectly normal and natural, and a world transformation would have begun.

Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way. I discovered that the small groups, with limited numbers of participants and activities, tended to work really well; but when the numbers grew, problems grew exponentially. In the small groups, everyone worked well together, and if anything the workers would be hesitant about taking money for expenses and extremely careful not to overspend. In those groups where there was responsibility for a wider range of people and projects, the same individuals who performed so well and honestly at the group level, for the benefit of all, suddenly developed suspicions of their fellow workers and petty jealousies. Expense accounts were padded mercilessly, and sometimes totally fabricated.

This phenomenon was quite curious, I certainly hadn’t expected it. I checked the literature and had many conversations with my colleagues, but could find no solution.

This led to an impasse – could I build an organization to lead humanity into a new era of connectedness with individuals caught up in the me-first syndrome? I didn’t know, but what other possibilities did I have? I could think of none. Perhaps we could find some way to control and limit this competitive and selfish behavior and still succeed in shifting the way we humans saw things and acted.

But this was not to be. Using all the skills I had learned as an interviewer and all the techniques recommended by my colleagues, I still had no success. Maybe my trainer was right, and no correction was possible.

No, I couldn’t think like that! I had to do something; this just wasn’t the right thing to do. The organizations continued to function, but I began focusing on finding some other plan.

14

The only thing that I could think of was that I had to get through to everybody. But how could I do that? I wasn’t a celebrity, and didn’t see how I could become one in any reasonable time frame, if at all. But I didn’t feel that I could just pick some celebrity and convince him to do the job for me. I wasn’t certain I could do it, how could I expect anyone else to succeed?

After I eliminated all the other wild schemes I had, I was left with this one: write a best-seller telling my tale, and give interviews to whoever would be willing to interview me. Would it work? I didn’t know, but it was the only option left, so without questioning further, I started writing.

Writing and editing took me a couple of months, and then when I thought it was sufficiently presentable to show to a publisher I started researching which publishers would be willing not only to publish a book such as this, but also to promote it vigorously. Then I looked for people I knew who could intercede with the publisher on my behalf and talked to them about the book. A friend and teacher of mine from university was sufficiently intrigued to read what I had written, and was actually quite enthusiastic about it. She arranged a meeting with a vice president at the publishing firm.

The three of us met in his office, and my friend actually promoted my work better than I did. The VP was moderately intrigued, and took the manuscript to evaluate its potential. Maybe we were getting somewhere. When he called to set up a second meeting I was very happy; it looked like this was going to work after all.

After the preliminaries were completed and we’d had our coffee and tea, we got down to business. He said that everyone who had read and evaluated the work thought it had tremendous potential. But it was important that the book be listed as fiction. If I wanted to claim that the book was non-fiction they wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. I had anticipated this, and told him that this was okay with me, but that when asked I would say that although the book is fiction, the message is still important to us – we’ve got to work together for the benefit of humanity and the planet or we’re heading toward destruction. He said that I needed to tone that down still further – we’ve got to work together for the benefit of humanity and the planet. This was too watered down for me. In the end we settled on – we’ve got to work together for the benefit of humanity and the planet or we’re in serious trouble. Further, if I were asked by anyone from the media if the planet was in danger of being destroyed, I needed to say that the book was fiction, but if we looked at the state of the world today we could figure out for ourselves that unless some changes were made, and soon, our world would be in danger; and I would be very happy if this book inspired people to begin making the necessary changes.

Once we agreed on this, we could move on to money matters and publicity. For me the money was of secondary importance, except as far as the budget for publicity was concerned. I wanted nothing spared. I expected the publisher to generate enough interest that I would be lined up for interviews for all the media, and would need to travel throughout the country and much of the world in order to get people to read the book and want to do something to help make a change. If I were successful in this, then I wanted my profits, excluding a living allowance, to go to beefing up the institutions set up to make these changes and allowing them to handle a massive influx of new volunteers. If readers wanted to give money to these institutions, I would certainly be happy for them to do so, but what I wanted was not their cash, but for their time, their efforts, their enthusiasm, their passion, their souls to be involved.

The VP tried to tone down my enthusiasm, and reminded me that the publisher was interested in making a profit even if I wasn’t, and that we would have to see how things went, but that he would do what was necessary to get things rolling, and then it would be pretty much up to me, although they would continue to assist me, and hopefully sales would continue to fund activities.

And so, an agreement was drawn up, I was introduced to an editor, who was enthusiastic about the book, and we got started working.

15

The publisher did a wonderful job marketing the book, even before it was published. There was no need for me to try to drum up interest; instead, what I had to do was channel the interest so it would go where it needed to go. After all, there was still a world to be saved, even if I declared the book to be fictional.

For months I criss-crossed the nation, stopping wherever there was media interest in the book, which was virtually everywhere there were newspapers, talk radio and television. I declared the book to be fiction, but an important vehicle for social change, as was, for instance, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, which brought about significant changes in the early 20th century. In the case of this book also, I requested readers to consider that changes needed to be made or all humanity and the planet would suffer. Those media people who had read or knew something about the book would try to get me to talk about the time spent between lives – where had I gotten the idea that it was like this, did I believe in rebirth, did I believe in heaven and hell, etc. – and about how and when I thought the destruction of the planet would take place; but I was evasive, just saying that the book was fiction and that the ideas had come to me, but any thinking person could see that the time had come for change, regardless of whether or not we were on the brink of destruction.

There were positive results from all this activity. Money and volunteers poured into the institutions which had been working to make the changes which we so needed, and the feeling was “yes, we can bring about a better world.” I traveled briefly abroad and drummed up interest world wide, but this was much more difficult than at home, and the institutions needed my constant attention, so I decided to concentrate as much as possible on activities close at hand until such time as I felt that I could leave the organizations to run themselves, and only then would I attempt to expand the work internationally.

Another interesting reaction to what we were doing was that many educational institutions and religious organizations of a wide range of affiliations became interested in the work and wanted to join in. I decided that it would be best not to let them act as units, but rather to have the individuals divided among several different groups so that their primary affiliation would be to the groups in which they worked. This entailed, however, setting up another set of support groups within the educational and religious frameworks so that these institutions would also be served. By and large this worked well.

The important thing is it looked like we were really going to accomplish something.

16

And then interest slacked off. Somebody came up with something new, and it grabbed all the attention, and people stopped thinking about the need for change. Gradually, but certainly, there were less volunteers, less contributions, less requests for me to speak. And the work bogged down; things were looking not very different from before the publication of the book.

Now I was really at a loss as to how to proceed. Had I made a rectifiable mistake? Were there other avenues I could pursue to get the message across? Although I was ready to pick any and all brains available to me, as well as my own and all its lifetimes of experience, I could think of nothing. I had reached a dead end. The planet and all its life would be destroyed. And I along with it, of course, unless I escaped before the event occurred, but my potential personal demise was a good deal less bothersome. I was filled with sorrow not for my own fate, but for the fate of us all.

I couldn’t function. I went off to a retreat of undetermined length. I ate and slept and bathed and shaved and every so often cut my fingernails, but other than that I was alone with my thoughts. Part of the time I sat hoping that I had missed something which I was just about to stumble over and would still save the world; part of the time I convinced myself that the task was impossible, we were indeed at the end of the line and nothing could change us/save us.

These conflicting thoughts, and the depths to which they entered my being, together with the lack of human interaction, I suppose, caused me to lose my grip on reality. Of course, my memory banks contained previous instances of this having happened, so I wasn’t particularly upset or worried by this. I did see, however, that my sanity was getting very fragile. There were people who worried about me and came to see me. I thanked them for coming, via messenger, but refused to see them. I was not ready to be argued back to sanity, or loved back to functioning, or anything. I was doing what I had to do, and the time had not come to get up and leave this retreat, even if my sanity depended on it.

In fact, visitors had the effect of making me more morose; the sadness that these people who I loved on this planet which I loved would all be no longer, and that nothing could be done to change this I felt as an even greater weight at these times. Yet, what was there to do? How horrible it all was.

After the retreat entered its second year, visitors began coming much less frequently. The world was forgetting me as much as I was forgetting the world. Gradually the thoughts of hope diminished and the thoughts of the inevitability of destruction grew. I came to accept that nothing would happen to save the planet.

17

And then I got the joke. Maybe I was totally crazy by this time, or maybe I had rushed to a new sanity, I don’t know, but finally, finally, FINALLY, I got it.

Sure we had set up our own destruction. The flip side of our drive to survive is our selfishness, and the way we’re wired, the need to survive – the selfishness – takes precedence over everything else. But something in our selfishness doesn’t allow us to see, at least not very clearly, our race’s need to survive, our planet’s need to survive. When there’s a conflict between our individual survival and our planet’s survival, we feel that we as individuals have to survive first or the planet will not, so in order to save the planet, we do things which will destroy it.

Maybe I’ve done a poor job of explaining this, but believe me I was very clear that our need to survive was causing us to be unable to survive, and as such there was no way we could continue on this planet. Destruction would have to come, nothing else made sense. Hopefully on some other planet some other type of being had a different blueprint for survival which would avoid the paradox we had reached, but it was impossible for us to avoid that paradox, impossible for us to go on.

So, what about all the beings who were going to be destroyed when the planet’s time was up? Hopefully for some the very action of the destruction would bring about the completion of their education. Those who still had things to learn would need to find new homes to go to. Other planets, other types of beings, other consciousness, but the same rules. Live, die, be reborn. Hopefully learn something in the process.

At first all I could do was laugh. Sometimes laughing at Fate, sometimes at my thickness, my not having understood anything for so long. Those who felt that I was sane until now began to revise their opinions. But after a few days of this I began to fill up with energy and a desire to return to the world. To do what? I didn’t know, but that was where I belonged.

I returned home, began calling friends and family and seeing them. Of course they wanted to know what I had been through, and I told them, to the best of my ability. Some certainly still thought I was crazy, but that was okay. Others could at least understand vaguely what I was talking about, and could accept me. Others were just happy that I was back.

When it became known that I was back in circulation, there were some requests for me to speak again, perhaps because I had been out of the public eye long enough for nostalgia to set in, perhaps because they had heard of my retreat experience and wanted to compare the “after” picture to the “before”. At first I refused the requests, but eventually I felt comfortable enough with myself and my surroundings to speak briefly and answer questions.

I didn’t plan my speeches, I just looked at the audience and got a feel of what they needed to hear, and then I talked. This was easy, due to my experience as a between-lifetimes interviewer. I had no special agenda in speaking, no special agenda in answering questions, and yet people responded in a way much more powerful than they had on my “book promotion” tour. I guess people prefer plain talk to preaching, at least when it was I doing the talking or preaching. Surprisingly, somehow, more than ever people seemed to get the message that a change was necessary and possible, and if it happened we could continue to live our lives on this planet and learn what we needed to learn here. If we weren’t ready for it, then it wouldn’t happen, but this too would be all right. Somehow those who accepted this invitation to choose were more deeply committed to living their lives in a way which could bring change. And those who declined, well, that was all right too.

18

So now that I had given up on our ability to bring about a change powerful enough to save the world from destruction, it looked like maybe it was possible to do just that.

But does it matter? I don’t know, but I doubt it. I’m just telling people what I’ve got to say. Thanks for listening, and the best of luck to you, but my time has passed.

And in fact it did pass. I died, and the world still carried on.

There I was in a large hall, filled with people. A strange place, but I knew how I had gotten there. Some of the people yelled and screamed at some imaginary disaster, others acted as though they were enjoying a swim or a picnic, others seemed quite calm and comfortable even though their faces were bashed in and blood was dripping all over them. And then to each individual or small group, somebody would come over and start talking. I couldn’t hear what was said, but didn’t really have to.

After a while, somebody came over to talk to me. He smiled and asked how I felt and if I knew where I was. I told him, “Hey, it’s me; you remember.” Then he recognized me. “Why don’t you go debrief, and then we’ll talk. I’ll tell your trainer that you’re here.” “Great,” I told the interviewer, “it’s bubble bath time.”

The debriefing was short, and afterwards I met with my trainer and the interviewer who received me. The latter welcomed me back and then returned to work, leaving my trainer and myself alone. “You’ve surprised us again,” he said. “You’ve done excellent work on your planet. It looks like destruction has been avoided, at least for now.” That was great news. “Now what?” he continued. “Have you come back to us?”

I should have been ready to answer that, but I wasn’t. Was I ready to come back? It seemed to me that I had done more for mankind, and the rest of the planet, in one lifetime on earth than I had done as an interviewer here. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have been able to do it had I not been trained as an interviewer and had not received the information about the future of the planet which I got here. Where could I do the most to alleviate suffering? I didn’t know. Where did I want to be? That one surprised me; somehow I felt that I belonged to humanity, and that I should be on earth.

Finally, I gave my answer: “No, I’ll miss you, but this isn’t where I belong. Send me back to earth, please.” “Are you sure? You won’t have total recall the next time. If you’re going to live there, you’re going to be like everybody else.” I understood that, and told him so.

“Well, goodbye,” he replied, “it was a real experience knowing you and working with you.”

I chuckled. “I’m sure it was,” I said. “Hardest you had to work in eons, I’ll bet. I can’t say I’ll never forget you, because I certainly will in an instant, but what I learned from you will somehow stay with me.” Holding back a tear, I added, “And now here’s something else I don’t think you’ll understand. I love you.”

19

I was the fourth child in the family, the first girl after three boys. I was a little princess, practically worshipped by my parents, who were like servants to me. Even more so as I was sickly as a baby and needed constant attention. My brothers were upset that I was taking up so much of our parents’ time, although they understood that I had special needs.

But by the time I was three I had become fully healthy, and was just one of the clan. I liked my life, and had a good relationship with my parents and brothers. I grew up feeling that we all belonged together. I also had a group of friends with whom I was very close. I felt that all those close to me would do anything for me, whatever was needed; and I felt the same way about all of them.

After I started school my circle of friends widened. Somehow it was easy for me to make friends, and close friends at that. I attended several different schools as I grew up and made great friends at all of them, who continued to be a part of my life after I changed schools. I was also a good student and took enriched courses in a wide variety of topics, in both sciences and arts.

When I was in high school my parents separated, and later divorced. At first this was really difficult for me to handle. I lived with my mother, and I was angry at my father. But I understood that both parents still loved me and I still loved them, and I came to accept the situation. And after my father found a new girlfriend I continued to visit him and them, and we all had a good time together. I was still sad that my parents had divorced, but realized that they had their own lives to lead.

After I finished high school I went into the army. It was a good place to be while I figured out how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. And I got to make a lot of new friends.

Then one day everything changed. I don’t really know how to talk about this. I guess the best place to start is when the radiologist said, “There’s something in the chest area, you need to go to the emergency room and have it checked out.”

Have I told you this story before? Somehow it seems familiar.

BRIAN-HCH-B&W Brian Streett

Part two: Though only one at a time (To be published in HCH 3, March 2015)

Part three: Yet all together (To be published in HCH 4, May 2015)

TO READ IN PDF (pp. 42–84): HCH-2-REVISTA-ENERO-2015