Noah & Margo

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was in the days, in the early morning of time, when kids didn’t listen to their parents and generally stayed out with the family horse well past curfew.

In the evenings, after the hummingbird races in heaven, God would look down at the earth and start to get a headache. People were picking too much food and hoarding it. Some went hungry while others watched their stockpiles rot because they hadn’t invented preservatives. And God knew that when humans did get around to inventing preservatives, they’d cause cancer.

By now, most of the politicians and magistrates were on the take. Even when they did get caught, these powerful crooks would retire rich and earn even more money by publishing memoirs commemorating their decadence.

Not much was going right. One gender of humankind was bossing the other around for no rational reason, so God was toying with two ideas.

The first idea was to change all the hormones over night. This would reverse the aggressiveness in one gender and put the shoe on the other foot for a while.

The second idea was to change the languages between the sexes. Instead of bossing each other around, they’d have to work hard at communicating to overcome the loneliness. In the end though, God decided to wipe the slate clean and start a new human race.

On the morning when God was about to open flood gate number five to the big dam to wash the earth clean before starting a new humanity, God saw a black man named Ham walking down the road. An ostrich was strolling along behind him. Black people were God’s favorite color. To God, variety was the spice of life. But along with everything else that humanity had messed up, it had been decided by a small town council, up in Northern Mesopotamia, that yellow people were going to be the preferred color. From then on, the blacks, the reds and the whites were thought of as “inferior.” The more God thought about it, the more angry God became.

Right when God was about to reach for the lever to the dam, this Ham fellow started God laughing. He had on a pair of weird sun glasses with strings looping down and going behind his head (as if it would catch them if they fell). He had a shirt that looked like it had been used as a paint rag and his baggy shorts were made of feathers which perfectly matched the ostrich walking behind him.

God was laughing so much at Ham’s creative apparel that God decided a bit of this craziness must be carried over into the next try at humanity. Some of these humans were really good sports, despite their mistakes, so God stopped Ham and asked a few questions.

In no time, God found out that Ham came from a nice family. His dad was a black man named Noah and his mom, who was red, was named Margo. God remembered having a few walks with this young couple who were in their late five hundreds – the prime of their life. In addition to their son Ham, who had tried out for the priesthood but had flunked the dress code, there was Shem, an accountant and Japheth, a jazz musician.

With the incredible luck that only the Creator could have, Noah and Margo’s three boys and their wives had put off having children until they were in their two hundreds when their mortgages would be paid off. They were the only family clan in the human race without young children. The Almighty knew little ones would not be able to handle what was coming.

Right then and there, God decided to save Margo, Noah and their sons and daughter-in-laws so that there would be a few people with a little imagination – preventing the next batch of
humans from turning out like the ones before. And God felt good about the decision.

When Noah was told to start building a cargo ship in the middle of the desert, instead of laughing he said, “Why not!”

You see, in Noah’s high school yearbook, most people scribbled things like, “Good luck – you’ll need it.” His class voted him “The person most likely not to succeed.” He barely passed his courses and the only thing he was ever interested in was wood shop.

“Have I got a project for you” God said, but the worst part of it for Noah was telling his wife Margo. So he didn’t. He just started in on it.

“What are you building now, honey, a 450 cubit long wooden patio?” she asked.

Within thirty seconds after Noah’s answer, Margo’s face went pale, then transformed to an absence of color only later to return to red.

Just her luck. Her husband was asking her and the kids to pack up and move again. Another one of his harebrained schemes to go to the new world and seek his fortune. This time, it is supposed to be the end of the world and everyone is doomed.

Margo began to laugh, not at her husband’s latest project nor her son Ham, who was coming up the driveway. She was laughing at the collection of animals trailing behind him. Not only were her husband and sons building a boat in the middle of nowhere, they were collecting animals for the trip. Of course Ham had a great time being in charge of animal gathering. She knew he was all thumbs, when it came to carpentry, but he was taking some pride in meticulously gathering two of every species he could find.

Margo somehow forgot about the circumstances and counted her blessings. She realized that this was probably the funniest thing the earth ever witnessed and it was her privilege to be entertained right in her own back yard. “Thank goodness I didn’t marry that boring fellow who was going to invent collecting postage stamps” she thought.

Margo pitched in with her husband, sons and daughter-in-laws and passed her time trying to make the inside of the boat livable. She figured that if the water never came, they would at least have a nice summer house.

The neighbors had became a problem. They bribed their friends at the courthouse to rezone the neighborhood prohibiting arks. “It’ll lower the value of the property” they argued. It wasn’t long before their friends stopped coming by. All this talk about the end of the world and a flood was getting a little fanatic. And with his obsession with boat building, Noah had really let down his bowling team. His absence made them short-handed so the team came in last in the league.

Early one evening, when Margo and Noah were sitting on their back porch in the shadow of their nearly finished boat, Margo said, “Suppose you’re wrong? Maybe you misunderstood what God said. You know, I can’t even send you to the store to get a simple list of groceries without you coming back with the wrong things. Maybe God said that WE are going to be destroyed and everyone else is going to be saved.”

Noah looked at his wife – she always was a worrier. He paused, with a concerned look on his face but finally said, “Nah! . . . But even so, it sure has been fun building this boat. Did you see the stained glass window I put in on the upper level today? I think it’s a nice touch but I’ve got to figure out what to do about the rest room facilities.”

The days passed quickly and the clan busily prepared dried food for the boat. They gathered grains for the animals that were accumulating in their back yard. Despite all the problems they were having with the neighbors, the animals were the best behaved.

The lambs were napping with the lions. The giraffes didn’t seem to mind the monkeys climbing up their necks. Sure there were some household spats about someone being allowed to take along more than others on the trip. These family arguments were nothing, however, compared to the abuse they had to take from the townspeople.

The police were serving summons daily for disturbing the peace. The family was considered so weird for their boat building and animal gathering that the neighborhood children were prohibited from playing near the property. There were even casual tunics for sale which said: “Vacation on Noah’s Desert Love Boat: No Seasickness Guaranteed!”

On the afternoon they finished piling the sacks of grain into the boat, Charlotte, Japheth’s wife, was up on top of the boat nailing down the last roofing shingle when she felt a few drops of rain. Noah was over in the orchard picking a few limes for dinner.

Suddenly God came up to him and said, “Noah, this is it! Plan on having dinner on the boat tonight and have Ham get all those animals on board. Oh yea, don’t forget the ostriches. I would hate to have to figure out the design on those again.”

That afternoon, everyone got on board and thought Noah was only testing the suitability of the living quarters. At the most, they thought they were having a picnic inside the new house boat. After the storm, they would all go back home and play a few games of pinochle.

The rain kept coming down and the back yard turned to mud. They had to shut the door to keep from getting wet. After they closed themselves in and lit a few candles, Noah said, “This is it!” in his most authoritative voice.

For a minute, everyone almost believed that this funny talk about the end of the world was true. Perhaps Noah had done all this boat building and animal gathering for something other than a summer lark.

An elephant whinnied and one of the parakeets landed on Margo’s shoulder. Shem, who was up on the next level looking out of the partially opened stained glass window, called down and said, “Holy Mackerel! There’s about two hundred people slopping through the mud coming toward the boat. Better lock that door, dad!”

Right after they slipped the bolt tight, the knocking began. Just to have the last laugh, Noah climbed up to the window and yelled out into the rain, “Thought I didn’t know what I was doing, eh? Well the word they’ll invent for my expertise is ‘archeologist.’” Nobody outside laughed, so Noah shut the window.

To try to take their minds off the knocking and the sounds of angry voices, they all went around and checked to see if the pitch was keeping the boat watertight. It sounded like chaos outside. Because of the darkness and the rain coming down in torrents, little could be seen through that upper window.

The first five hours of the trip were a lark. Everyone was congratulating Noah for his foresight. Ham fed the animals and talked about their distinguishing marks. The rest of the clan eventually managed to begin a few hands of cards when Ham called out from the animal section, “Oh no! I’ve got two female Amadillians. They’ll become extinct.”

Everyone tried their best to cheer him up. Margo’s joke got their minds back to the cards. She said, with as much seriousness in her voice as she could muster, “And its too bad the snakes can’t multiply.”

“Why can’t the snakes multiply?” Ham said falling for it.

“Because,” Margo continued, “they are only adders.”

All went fine for the first evening but when it was time for bed, things started going down hill. No one had figured out how to assign the chores of the houseboat. It became overwhelmingly obvious that someone had to clean the animal stalls. Later that night, you never saw a more grouchy, tired and unsociable group of relatives in your life. By the next morning, none of the people or animals had managed to get a wink of sleep and everyone was at each other’s throats.

The food wasn’t right. Things were damp and musty. No matter what you put into your mouth, it all tasted like elephant trunk or birds’ wings. Probably the only thing that kept Margo, Noah and their sons and their daughter-in-laws alive was their hatred. As they heard the rain relentlessly pound on the roof over the top deck, each of them secretly planned ways to get even with their in-laws for taking a favorite spot, stealing their dessert or snoring.

After several days of this, they were all so exhausted that they looked at each other through bloodshot eyes. In fact, they all got a little punchy and stayed that way for the next several weeks. They told jokes to pass the time. In no time, they began to laugh at anything. Even comments like “pass the salt” would start a round of laughter. They would tell themselves, if they could survive this, they could make it through anything.

From sitting in their cramped quarters, constantly hearing the complaining neighs, chirps and roars of the animals, they spent a lot of time asking themselves philosophical questions. “What are humans that God is mindful of us?” Noah asked out loud one evening as he was getting nudged by a horse’s hoof while scraping parrot droppings off his toga.

A lot of things transpired during these weeks of deplorable conditions. Poems were composed. The bag pipes were invented. Shem’s wife Rachel came up with the concept of ice cream but unfortunately she forgot it before she wrote it down. Noah discovered that a few mosquitoes had gotten into the boat and everyone was depressed about it except the birds. Everyone experienced transactional analysis, mid-life crisis and self-actualization.

As the weeks went by, everyone had several significant emotional experiences. There was enlightenment. There were petty feuds. Weeks transpired when one refused to talk with another. There were crying jags and laughing fits. Everyone got religion and lost it several times. In the end, though, there was cooperation because there was no choice.
Stories. They all took turns telling stories. Out of their weariness came beautiful tales of ages long ago when unicorns romped on the hills and when the children of Queens and Kings unconsciously played with village folk as a matter of course.

Suddenly, in the dead of the night and after weeks of this, there was a loud scraping sound on the bottom of the boat.

Everyone jumped out of their hammocks. It seemed that the rain had stopped and their craft had rubbed against land.

“Land” someone said.

“October 10th and the rain stopped and it’s my birthday!”

Margo announced from the corner as she looked at the calendar she had drawn on the wall.

“No it’s not” said Wendy, her daughter-in-law. “Don’t you remember? You forgot to mark the weekends and I told you about it but you never listen to me. Your calendar is way off.”

And with that, Margo and Wendy got into one of the most physical fights yet seen in time. It took all four men to pull them away from each other. You see, when they hit land, it riled everyone up and they were not prepared to even hope.

Noah stuck his head out of the window and saw that there was nothing but water, except for one little piece of land. “Must be the top of a mountain” he called down to the others.
After each person had taken their turn looking at the small island of earth, they decided that good times must be coming.

They celebrated by going out on the roof of the boat. Wendy and Margo hugged one another. For the first time in weeks, it was not raining so they all danced like children. They didn’t know what to do with the fresh air and the only animals allowed on the deck were the birds. The doves went through the window and flew around for a while. Finding no place to land, other than the boat, they came back inside.

Life got better for everyone, now that the rain had stopped. There was the outside roof of the boat and a chance for sunbathing. The doves flew away one afternoon and were presumed drowned after a week. To everyone’s surprise, though, they finally came back.

One day, when everyone had slept in, one of the doves, which had been away for several days, flew in the opened hatch and landed on Noah’s face. Most everyone had experienced, one time or another, waking up with difficulty in breathing because an animal was sleeping on their face. To everyone’s amazement, this dove had a branch in its beak.

Everyone rushed to the roof. It was too good to believe. There was land all around them. Most of it was mud, but it was beautiful mud with beautiful muddy trees and muddy bushes and muddy mountains.

On Noah’s six-hundredth and first birthday, and no one dared to dispute Margo’s calendar, everyone jumped off the boat and had the longest and funniest mud war in the history of civilization. Even the animals stumbled out and rolled around and frolicked in the mud. It was quite a sight. For weeks these humans and animals had been cooped up in that wooden crate and you could not tell one from the other. Everyone was covered with mud and stunk to high heaven. Everyone was smiling. “Land ho!”

In a few hours, they all settled down on top of a hill about a thousand cubits from their boat. The animals tottered off in different directions, wandering just far enough to graze. Most of the animals were sick of the junk food the people had been feeding them. Everyone was too grateful to speak. It was a profound moment.

It was also a sad moment. All they had was each other and that rotting, dilapidated boat. Nothing remained in their former houseboat that didn’t smell like the elephant house at the zoo.

This was the moment that God picked to show up and greet the disembarked passengers. As God came up the hill to where they all were sitting, Noah called out, “Nice to see You, . . . and by the way, thanks! We’re glad You didn’t leave us behind.”

God smiled and started to talk about how this sort of thing was never going to happen again. About how they are all going to have children – which was no surprise to them. And God talked about how they were to start over being vegetarians because the earth needed every living being to reproduce – not to mention eating meat was bad for them.

And just to do something really special, God pointed up at the sky. In doing so, God waved a hand across and created this bright colored cloth or ribbon up in the air. It was beautiful. Here they were, sopping wet with mud and gray and surrounded by earth tones and God was painting colors in the sky.

“Wow!” Margo said. “How did You do that?”

God said, “It’s called a rainbow. I’m going to hang one of those out in the sky after every rain storm as a reminder that this won’t happen again.”

In a way, it gave Noah a nice warm feeling to see the rainbow up there. In another way, it made him a little uneasy. If God needed that rainbow as a reminder, suppose God didn’t happen to look in the right direction or had something else in mind and forgot. What if everyone would be finished off again? But from the look on God’s face, Noah knew he was wrong to worry.

That evening after the stickball game that God had organized, God sat with them around the campfire and gave them a whole list of suggestions on how to start their new society.

“You’re going to have to skip the rule, for a while, about not marrying your cousins. You haven’t got any choice about that” God pointed out. “You’re charged with a new beginning of humanity.

Learn from the wrongs of the past. Do the best you can. Make life fun. Make life fair.”

“And oh yea,” God continued, “happy birthday Noah . . . six hundred and one, I believe.” And with that, God started everybody singing happy birthday to Noah.

In a few minutes, things settled down and became even more reflective. Noah looked at God and said: “How are we going to start over? We’ve lost everything.”

God looked at him and said, “No you haven’t. You still have everything you need.”

Noah was about to start an argument with God about that one, and so was everyone else, but God just stood there and smiled with God’s unique knowing look. And because God was so beautiful and so mighty and wonderful all at the same time, they decided they shouldn’t get into a tiff about that one. After all, they were standing on land.

A little later, God was going for a walk down on the plain with the animals but Noah kept thin king about their situation. “Everything we need?” Noah mumbled to himself. “God calls this everything? I’d like to know how God thinks I can make a go at things without any hardware stores. And I’d like to know how we’re supposed to have vacations if we don’t even have careers. And the pension plan – what’s going to happen to us when we are in our 900s?”

But then Noah looked over at Margo, sitting nearby. She had a smile on her face because she was watching her boy Shem rolling down the hill, with his wife Rachel, like a couple of kids. She was thinking about children. Noah saw the sparkle in her eyes and delight in her smile. He saw the pink tones of the far off sunset were reflected in the softness of her face.

Noah remembered that just before the flood, they had celebrated their 586th wedding anniversary. He still remembered his awkward proposal for marriage when he was fifteen – or was it Margo who had proposed? It had been some life, so far. They had a lot of history with each other. The kids were only one hundred years old but they’d grow up one of these days. And somehow reading her husband’s mind, Margo scooted over next to him and settled back into his arms. They watched the sun go down, knowing that it would return on the next morning. It probably would never rain that much again.

“I think God is right about that” Noah said almost unconsciously.

“Right about what, Noah?” asked Margo as she continued to watch the kids from within Noah’s arms.

“About having everything we need” he answered as he slowly stroked her hair. She relaxed against him as he continued. “It took me six hundred years but I’ve finally realized what’s most important in life.

It’s not the job or the bowling team (but never tell anyone I said that). It’s not the flood or the ark. It’s not even about surviving.” And with gentleness, he looked in Margo’s eyes and slowly said, “It’s about making life more fun and fair for you. Being with you is all that matters.”

God happened to be walking near – just below the hill where they sat. God smiled. For once, at least some of them, had finally gotten the point of it all.

And it was evening. And it was morning. And life started up again.

Merry-go-round

He was alone. Last year, he wouldn’t have guessed that things would turn out as they had. And here it was again, the holidays. The calendar told him it was 2012 and his life had dramatically changed.

The change went deeper than a turn in the seasons or aging another year. It went under his skin and pervaded soul.

Life was like that, he thought. Everything could be stripped away in the blink of an eye. Yet everything could be restored. Things change.

He knew that now as he remembered his wife handing him the ticket.

For Michael, his life had hit bottom. His relationship with a colleague at work had violated his relationship with Michelle, his wife and his professional boundaries. He knew it was wrong and things went from bad to worse. Had he been in any other career than clergy, he might have been able to work it out.

The denominational officials thoroughly investigated and found no predatory behavior on his part. Just a brief and stupid consensual interoffice affair. Michael took full responsibility for what he did, resigning from the church and the denomination.

The Bishop, however, wanted to make him and his behavior an example and prepared to bring the whole matter to a public ecclesiastical trial. To save Michelle from further public humiliation, Michael defrocked himself from the ministry.

It also didn’t help that the denomination fired the Bishop. Somehow there must have been clerical consensus that though clergy screw up, they can find the redemption they proclaim but now two clergy were unemployed.

Some fitting career ending for the owner of a Doctorate of Ministry degree who had once gone on a book signing tour with his new work on the equality of women and men. Michael even had to quit his adjunct lecturer position at the university. No more feminist lectures there. “You want fries with that?” Michael was guessing to be included in his next career communication.

It did help, though, that he knew his way around computers and networks and was able to land a job. What really needed help, though, was Michael’s remorse. He had made himself and Michelle victims of nothing other than his own mindlessness. As often as he had tried to figure out his insular mindset that irrationally separated his life from his wife and the community – there he was – himself, the hypocritical Elf.

Through the months, Michelle had forgiven him. That was miraculous in itself. But nothing could get rid of the remorse that lived within Michael. Nothing could exorcise this dark visitor inhabiting his soul. Michael knew he had committed the unpardonable sin – to violate the quiet, sacred, loving trust of his soul mate. He knew too much to rationalize otherwise.

When Michelle handed him the ticket to the merry-go-round ride at the local Zoo, he laughed, a little confused.

“Here,” she said, “you need to take this ride. You’ve always been a merry-go-round freak!”

The next day, Michael stood in line at the merry-go-round. As parents corralled their excited children, he saw the unabashed joy on the parents’ faces as they watched their children fly through their air on their painted horses. They looked like cherubs.

Their joy, though, contrasted with the despair Michael felt. He was not standing next to his wife now, as they once had done in watching their daughter years ago. He was alone, in line, waiting to get on a merry-go-round like some kind of homeless outpatient looking like he was in between prescription refills.

The carney, boarding riders on this circle of brightly painted horses, looked a little rough. His beer-sculpted gut and missing tooth suggested he had experienced hard times of his own. Yet he cheerfully boarded the cherubs, their parents and Michael as the calliope music began.

Michael stood beside one of the stationary horses, choosing to stand and not sit as it began to move. He had always loved carousels. The movement. The colors and antiquated steam-driven calliope music from another time and land.

The carney was now standing in the unmoving inner circle of the carousel. As Michael looked ahead in the counterclockwise moving platform, the calliope music sounded like an old Public Television Masterpiece Theater song.

When the tune suddenly changed to the old Rolling Stones Song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” Michael thought something was wrong. Yet the parents and children in front of him didn’t seem to notice. He saw no one reacting to the shift in the music.

Michael turned around and looked behind him and then when it hit him. Seeing the fronts of their faces, . . . they all looked familiar. He somehow knew these people. He was looking back in time.

The one closest to him, riding on the next horse behind, was MaryJo. MaryJoe from high school. The first love of his life. Michael remembered how he dated her for months, only for her to declare she was interested in someone else. It broke his heart and he drove home, that night, crying and feeling utterly alone.

He walked over to her and saw the joy on her face as she looked ahead past him, as if he wasn’t there. He could see scenes into her life beyond high school. She had married a football star who became a business owner and politician. He saw scenes of her collecting her children from the private schools. How she helped her husband on his campaign trail of conservative values and fiscal integrity.

Michael was glad she had found happiness for herself and he understood. He was happy for her.

Michael was wondering if he was dreaming this magic ability to see people of his past and how their lives unfolded.

“No” the carney said, instantly appearing next to him, answering his thoughts. “You’re on this ride and I need your ticket. But keep looking behind for a while” he said as he took the ticket from Michael’s hand. He quickly stepped back into the carousel’s inner circle and disappeared in the arc of the moving ride.

Michael looked further back and saw his parents. They were in one of those brightly colored fixed benches.

Michael remembered when he was five, they had left him behind at his grandparents’ house, driving off and leaving him crying in the driveway. He remembered feeling abandoned, crying outside on his grandparent’s steps. When they soon came back to retrieve him, they were laughing, saying they were trying to teach him to be more prompt when they said it was time to leave.

As Michael moved closer to his parents, who couldn’t see him either, he saw snapshots of their lives. The distance between them. Their preoccupation with their jobs and he felt sorry to see their futile attempts to control so as to appear good enough by those around them. Michael forgave them.

Michel was just starting to grasp the magic of this dream-like ride. As he looked to the center of carousel’s hub, he saw the carney laughing as he looked over at him.

The carnival music tune changed to the Sam Cooke’s tune of “Wonderful World.” He moved further back and found a tall European-looking man he remembered to be Chris. He was the vice principle of his high school who had violently slapped him in his face for running down the hall into class.

This administrator never knew that Michael would feel the reverberations of his slap as it woke him from dreams decades later. But Michael also saw Principal Chris’s suffering from traumas of his own military experiences. He felt compassion and forgave him.

One after another, figures from Michael’s past appeared on the ride.

The calliope played on with the tune of the national anthem. This time it was the college Army ROTC sergeant teaching the class. He was explaining how the Army was placing artificial animal dung bombs along the Viet Nam trails to blow off the legs of hapless villagers. Women, children, hard-working and honest farmers. The sergeant said, “War is a nasty business and we’ve found this to damage their spirits so that we would gain a psychological advantage in the conflict.”

Like the others, Michael saw the Sergeant had eventually liberated himself from his career. Michael forgave the ROTC instructor.

When the music tune changed once again, it was now playing the tune to Tracy Chapman’s “The Promise.” This time, Michael saw a dejected figure sitting on a bench. Unlike the others in his past life, this figure was sitting sideways with his feet on up on the bench with his head turned away, held by his hand.

“There’s one more person to forgive, Michael” said the carney’s voice beside him. To his surprise, it wasn’t the carney standing next to him but was his Michelle. She put her arm on Michael’s shoulder as they both walked closer to the seated figure. “It’s why I gave you the ticket” she said.

The calliope organ softened and changed to the violin in the original Chapman song. Michael could hear the some of the words. “I’ll find my way back to you” were gently sung as they moved closer to the figure. Michael leaned over to see the face of the figure. It was himself. . . . “Please say you’ll be waiting . . . ”

Michael stood, looking at himself. He realized that he could forgive all of the people in his own past but he couldn’t come to terms with himself.

Michael sat down next to his own image. Scenes from his own life were already within him. He felt a gentle hand on his shoulder and then his wife’s warm embrace. She encircled his head with her arms. He felt the place where his own remorse had lived so many months had been vacated. Through her forgiveness, he had been released and could forgive himself. The waiting for forgiveness was over.

The music ended and the ride slowly came to a stop. As Michael and Michelle turned to exit, the carney said “Come through here” leading them both to the inner circle of the ride.

“But how do we leave?” Michael asked, looking at the carney and Michelle.

The carney had now changed in appearance, looking more like a kindly uncle. He said, “It’s not a matter of how you leave but how you return. You can come here whenever you want.”

Suddenly, Michael and his Michelle were surrounded by all the others who had been on the ride. As if participating in a centuries-old laying on of hands ordination ritual – each one reached out their hand and touched Michael. As the calliope started again, the carney said to them, “What is sacred in this dimension is how we are connected. It’s forgiveness that heals us and makes us whole.”

Immediately Michael found he was standing off to the side of the merry-go-round, watching parents and their children enveloped by the joy. He knew Michelle was back at home, waiting for his return.

As Michael drove home, he couldn’t wait to thank her for the carousel ride and for everything else she had done.

TTL

Moonset

Back at the end of the 20th century when the human genome was sequenced and mapped, genetic and biological scientists had made amazing gains in understanding human life. They came to master elements of human growth and death through the DNA sequencing. This enabled us to dramatically increase our knowledge of the human longevity.

By 2030, medical science could implant a small biometric device that counts down how much time remains for a person to live. The device was composed of miniature DNA biofeedback transducers that are attached to the skin’s surface but connected to the subdural cellular DNA material of the body’s central nervous system. These plasma diodes provided a tiny digital readout on a skin-like mesh, showing the date when the individual will expire.

The medical research teams, that first configured them, called them “TTLs.” They derived the name from the computer term TTL meaning “Time To Live.” It was the hop limit on our computer mechanisms that measured the lifespan of data on our devices. The inventors initially thought the term would soon change but for some reason, it stuck.

Today, with TTLs, no fortune tellers or spiritual guides are needed. The embedded biometric chip indicates the exact date we will expire. You’ve got, say, exactly 17 years and 14 days left to live. For your sibling, it might be only 8 years and 27 days. Your time remaining shows on the digital readout on your skin’s surface at your clavicle (hidden just under your neckline).

~

By 2035, a TTL marketing plan rolled out and with it came an enormous uproar. The influential people from organized religious circles decried it a fraud. They did so until several of them, in their dying moments, created death-bed videos, admitting they were wrong.

At this point, a few entrepreneurs begin marketing software which was said to hack past the human biological countdown mechanism. In their product launch, they “guaranteed” an extended warranty on the lifespan limits, amounting to an additional five or more years of life. While these surgical implants initially cost above 3.2 million dollars for insertion, these life-extenders, when added to the TTL implants, would add years to life and modify the digital end dates. But these biological extender implants were cost prohibitive and were kept from the public knowledge. Most people could only watch and wait out the count-down on their TTL digital readings.

Within several months of the introduction of the TTL life-extender devices, the FTC exposed the fraud. These “life-extension” add-ons were only a programming modification of the logarithm of the TTL biometers, temporarily replacing the true expiration date for a later one.

After all the hoaxes and con artists were prosecuted, most people slowly began to adjust to the reality of knowing the true brevity of their lives.

~

Initially TTLs were a boom for the life insurance industry. Their sales soared or dipped according to the number of years remaining on people’s TTLs. Eventually, though, people stopped purchasing life insurance altogether and the industry collapsed.

Yet people are reluctant in accepting the inevitability of their death. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross correctly suggested in her 1969 landmark book On Death and Dying.

Most people tend to avoid looking at their TTL readout. It is only when their TTL date enters the last decade of their life span that they actively make some changes their lives.

As expected, many quit their careers and ventured into entirely new fields. Currently, on all corporate resignation forms there are check boxes to indicate “Approaching TTL Date” under the reason for quitting.

In their final decade, some divest themselves of unneeded wealth while others gamble their life’s savings away, just to see how much they can accumulate.

Some abuse drugs and alcohol and venture into dangerous experimental nihilistic lifestyles. Many self-medicate and prematurely die of liver failure. To whatever extent that people shorten their lives through neglect, their TTL is a constant and fixed date.

Many flock to religious institutions and groups, seeking meaning for their lives as they near life’s end. After all, NOW is the only meaningful event or tangible commodity that seems to matter. Most of the population is exclusively focused on who they are with and the quality of their relationships. Medical offices frequently have Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” as part of their standard office Mosaic® playlist.

In the last TTL decades, some engage in risk-taking. Some try skydiving, scuba diving or mountain climbing while others try to brave public speaking. Comedy clubs find that their ‘Open Mike’ sessions have hundreds signed up well in advance. One club in San Diego calls itself “I’m Dying Up Here” and broadcasts live performances.

With the deployment of TTLs, the travel industry has skyrocketed. Thousands seem to be fulfilling their ‘bucket list’ as they travel around the world. There is considerably less worry about traveling to suspected terrorist-affiliated countries. If your TTL still shows a number of years remaining, you book your travel, knowing that it won’t be during this coming trip that you expire.

~

TTL specialists typically give Ted talks about achieving excellence in focusing on the present moment. They’ll frequently admonish their audiences to direct compassion toward people in need – particularly those who struggle in coping with their coming endpoint.

News reports have turned from what a particular national leader is threatening other to more positive stories. The focus is more on the things the TTL people are doing in society to make a difference for the better. Awards and honorariums change to TTL behavior which brings society new methodologies of physical, social or spiritual healing. Award nominations are no longer based on box office revenues or the numbers of previous popular nominations.

For recent years, “TTL Specialists” have appeared on talk shows explaining their theories about overcoming the drawbacks of death. Doctoral theses, accompanying books and programs have proliferated on the subjects like “Managing Our Endpoint.” New social science fields teach why we should no longer be anxious or striving. Doing so, it is said, robs us of energy and focus on the being present with the remaining life that is before us. Those who used to say “have a blessed day” more commonly say “have a precious present.”

Faith-based organizations have migrated to new leadership of the laity. Almost as if they are ad-hoc gatherings of passengers on a sinking ship, organized religion has become characterized by open sharing sessions instead of liturgy and fixed readings. Life stories and philosophical learnings are regularly shared, giving speaking priority to those with quickly approaching TTL dates.

Out of those faith-based gatherings have emerged groups who called themselves “Visitors.” These are TTL-mindful people who simply visit people. They come to be with those in prison or they eat their lunches at the soup kitchens with the homeless and indigent. Members of “Visitor” groups share how they have divested themselves of their excess resources, sharing with the needy and compassionately treat others like brothers and sisters.

Young adults, with several decades remaining until their TTL date, stop aggressively competing in the office for the manager positions. Instead, they personally try to become the technical support and customer service center for all of their colleagues as well as their clients. They intentionally try to empower their colleagues around them by sharing their own talents and knowledge to help them excel in what they do. They display marvelous levels of creativity and innovation – just for the joy of it.

~

The TTL readout on our clavicle bone has been the start of new social consciousness that is transforming our society. The social change has begun because it is unmistakably clear that we can’t take things, money or power with us beyond our own TTL date.

For the most part, those within the final decade of their end date, tend to be uninterested in how much money or power or social influence they have. Instead, they tend to use their energy and resources in trying to make life somehow better for those who suffer. They spontaneously grab a hammer and nails and join the neighborhood kids in building a treehouse. They create a website for the folks in Brentwood who are trying to save the Coral Trees. They transport some wheelchair-bound seniors across the street from their rest home on Ocean Boulevard so they can see the exquisite Palisades Park view of the ocean. They buy them an ice cream cone when taking them to the Prominade.

~

In time, societies benefitting from the TTL readouts will continue to evolve. Segments of society will become known as the ‘Places of Paradise.’ They will be countries and cultures known by the current generations as the most favorable places in which to dwell. That is because no matter what is going on in the world, the people who are most conscious of their time to live will be more fully living in the present. They, and the communities they create, will be considered the most elevated humans ever to inhabit the earth.

Near large shopping centers, unneeded automobiles and previews of the available homes are on display. Anyone needing transportation or shelter is able to access these regional auction centers which distribute homes and cars donated by those with expiring TTLs. Homelessness has largely disappeared. Automobile and home prices have plunged.

In proximity to the auction centers are also so-called “Final Word Studios.” The studios are be staffed by volunteer camera crews and set designers to help people record their final parting words before their death. One franchise calling itself “Finally” has as many locations as McDonalds or Starbucks. These studios work with soon-to-expire people who want to create a final last-words video for their family, friends and posterity.

A person nearing their TTL date are able to sit down and work with the studio crew on creating their final video. People can say their last words from their favorite mountain top view, in the comfort of their own home or with almost any background set of props they can imagine.

They can write and choreograph the scene as they imagine but producers and writers are available to help with them with their script. Volunteer actors and actresses are also on hand to add to the production. They can do a final monologue or soliloquy. They can narrate pictures from their own family scrap books. They can read their poetry or curse at their Ex. They can get out whatever it is they wish to express, knowing that this is what they are leaving as their sign post of their life’s experiences. The only stipulation is that at the time of the taping, their TTL reading must be within the final few weeks before their expiration date.

~

This author’s TTL device now shows only hours remaining. So I simply wish you a precious present, hoping you live your remaining time with the fullest mindfulness of the incredible beauty that resides within you and those around you. Know that as your remaining time transpires, all that you are and have been has been part of the height of humankind’s universal beauty and celestial nobility. Good job.

… Philip Siddons

Your Way

It was 12:50 and church had gone over again. Michael pulled into Burger King. He was starving and with church letting out late, he
had to throw something down the hatch before he quickly changed into his jeans. He had to get back to church to help. A few of the guys were putting together a wooden Noah’s ark for the children’s nursery.

“One of these days God ought to do that again with the flooding” Michael said out loud to himself as he pulled into the restaurant’s drive through lane. He had just seen a lot of people in casual clothing coming out of the Blockbuster
Video store across the street.

“It’s clear they never darken a church door” he muttered as he waited in line with the others in the drive through lane. “They live like there is no God and if they ever really knew they’re going to be coming up short on judgment day, they’d be
shakin’ in their boots, dying to get into church – but it’ll be too late.”

What Michael didn’t know, when he was about to place his order, was that the voice coming out of the intercom would be God’s. That’s right, the Almighty was sitting inside with
the earphone and mike, taking orders. God had never done that work before but was giving it a try, . . . actually helping out one of the workers who had gone home ill a little earlier.

“May I take your order” Michael heard through the intercom, surprised that the voice wasn’t as crackly and artificial as usual.

“Yes, I’d like a double cheeseburger and an Adventure Cappuccino . . . and make it quick. I’ve got to hurry to get back to church” Michael said, surprised that he told this minimum-wage person why he was in a rush.

“Admirable” said the intercom attendant with some warmth. “Since this is Burger King, we’ll treat you like a king and you’ll have it your way, of course.”

“Yea, that would be the day” Michael said with scorn, . . . clueless about what was soon to come. “The day I have it my way,” he added, “this whole town would be cleaned up and you’d be able to walk the street and never worry about being attacked by the hoodlums and the ungodly.”

“Sounds like you’d get lots of votes if you were running in the next election” the voice cheerfully said through the speaker system.

“You know what I would do if I really had it my way?” Michael continued. “I wouldn’t pray for three atheist Supreme Court Justices to die, like Pat Robertson suggested. I’d get the whole job done at once. I’d send everyone, who feels they’re too busy to show up at church, right to hell, . . just like that. If these Godless-liberals want to drive our country to hell in a hand basket, let’s ship’em there permanently and save them the work of dragging the rest of us there.”

“That’s a pretty tall order” God said through the intercom with seriousness. Is that what you really want?”

“Sure,” said Michael. I’d send them all there, . . . ‘like a thief in the night.’ Throw ‘em all in the infernal region and flame broil them over the open fire ‘my way’” Michael concluded, proud of his tying in the restaurant’s advertising rhetoric.

“All right, it’s your call” the voice said. “And one thing further, do you want fries with that?”

“No,” Michael responded. “I’m trying to stay healthy” he said with a smile on his face. “Your body is a temple, you know!”

“Yes, . . so it’s said” God responded with a touch of sadness. “Please drive around.”

When Michael came up to the window, there was only his bag of food and no cashier. He called into the window and no one was in sight. He waited another couple of moments and called again, even beeping his horn. Finally, in exasperation, he just took his food and drove off.

As he passed by the restaurant, he noticed that no one was in it. The food in the bag felt hot but there wasn’t a soul in the entire place. Neither was there anyone on the street or across the way in front of the Blockbuster Video store. He was
the only one driving on the street.

It felt a bit eerie. Sure it was Sunday but there were a lot of people out and about just minutes before so he turned on his radio. Nothing was coming out of his radio except the sound of someone humming a tune.

He pushed the button to switch to this favorite Christian
station but it was the same thing, . . . someone humming a tune.

“What the hell is going on around here?” Michael said half to the radio, half to the deserted street in front of him.

“Well that’s just the point, Michael” the voice said to him from his car radio speakers. The voice he heard was the same one he had just heard from the drive through intercom. Michael slammed on the brakes and came to an abrupt stop in the middle of an intersection. It didn’t even matter because there were no cars anywhere in sight!

“What’s just the point?” Michael nervously said, wondering if he was having a breakdown or a sudden bout of insanity.

“What the hell, that is going on, is just what you ordered” God said from the radio. “You’ve just sent seven billion people to hell. They’re all gone but you’ve got a couple of problems with
that order.”

By now, Michael realized to Whom he had been speaking and took courage. “You mean You took care of all those unchurched heathens for me, just like that?” he
asked with some pride.

“Yes” God answered back through the radio. “But since there isn’t a literal place called “Hell” I brought them over into my place, just to get them out of your way. “And by the way, the only people who are left in your life are the two hundred or so who go to your church. There’s nobody left where you work. I’ve got most of your relatives. Have you noticed that your wife and kids have been bored to death with your church? So enjoy the quiet and the simplicity” God concluded.

Michael’s radio made a pop and a sputter sound and was silent. He saw a car coming toward him from the opposite direction. It was Hal Linden and his wife Brenda from church. He looked as bewildered, as Michael felt, as their two cars slowly stopped so they could talk.

“I can’t believe it” Hal said. “It’s the rapture or something and everyone’s gone. Maybe this is it” he concluded with wide-eyed excitement.

Michael looked at him and responded, “If it is, how come we are left here?” In the prolonged silence that followed, neither of them could speak.

Michael continued home. His neighborhood was virtually empty. It was as if a bomb had dropped and sucked every living thing away.

Michael’s radio snapped on and God asked one more question. “By the way, Michael, what’s a hand basket?”