Edited version updated on Jan. 22, 2011
The Saga of Amberlin Continues. In this next year it is my intention to complete my next ‘visionary novel,’ the story of Amberlin, the first ‘fully enlightened being’ who comes to Earth in a female’s body.
I invite your participation by reading the saga of Amberlin as it’s being written and offering constructive questions and comments.
“Top bunk or bottom bunk, tonight?” Herb asked as he entered Amberlin’s room, even though he knew the answer.
“Bottom, please. Top is too high,” Amberlin replied. As he lowered her into bed, she asked, “Will you tell me a story, Papa Herb? One of your real ones?”
He sat on the bed next to her and chuckled. How she loved his stories, especially the “real” ones about his life growing up that had at least a thread of truth in them. He paused for a moment, trying to think of one he hadn’t told her recently.
“How about the time I met a real spiritual sage?”
“Sure,” Amberlin replied, then, “What’s a spirit sage?”
“Spiritual sage,” Herb corrected her. “That’s someone who has devoted their life to seeking a closer relationship with God, and who often shares their spiritual journey with others.”
“What was the spiritual sage’s name?” Amberlin asked as she snuggled down in her bed, preparing for the story.
“His name was Mo Zoloff, and I met him not too far from here, in a retreat center outside of Black Mountain.
“I know where that is… kinda,” Amberlin said.
“Yes, well, it’s only about an hour or so drive from here, but when I first went there I was staying even closer at my family’s summer cabin, just outside of Black Mountain. It was the summer after I graduated from high school. I wasn’t really a freelance writer yet, but I sure thought I was, or at least I knew that’s what I wanted to be.”
“How did you meet Mo?” Amberlin asked.
“Well, like I said, I heard him speak at this retreat center. I remember it like it was yesterday, even though it was, well let’s see, over thirty years ago.
“That’s a long time, Papa Herb.”
“Not really, sweetheart. It’s really just a blinking of God’s eye,” Herb replied. Closing his own eyes, he could picture the rustic assembly hall filled with people awaiting the start of Master Mo’s talk.
“I sat about four rows from the back. I could have sat closer but I felt out of my element. This was my first time to be in the presence of an actual guru from India, least that what I thought Master Mo was at the time. You can imagine my surprise when a white man in his mid- to late-thirties wearing a white t-shirt and black, baggie pants strolled on stage. There was a sturdy table sitting in the middle of the stage. He stepped out of his sandals and climbed onto the table, where he sat cross-legged facing the audience. The room was already about three-fourths full, but Mo continued to sit there with his eyes closed, meditating, I guess.
“Well, it’s a little like praying, except instead of talking to God you’re listening for God to talk to you.”
“Oh,” whispered Amberlin in awe.
“As the room filled, he continued to sit quietly, apparently lost in his own contemplation. As the minutes dragged by, I began to fidget in my chair, as did a number of other people. Then we all grew quiet again in anticipation of Master Mo’s talk.
“Finally, the figure in the center of the stage opened his eyes, and gazed around for a moment, a smile growing on his face, before he finally broke the silence. ‘I’m thrilled to see so many people gather here for a 2-hour silent meditation.’ There was a moment of shocked silence as everyone glanced at each other before realizing it was a joke, then the whole audience burst out laughing as Master Mo joined them. As the laughter finally died down, he spoke again. ‘And so… we begin.’
“And so we did, and for the next hour I sat mesmerized by the quiet man with the deeply moving and inspiring message. He challenged the audience to look within themselves for their own spark of divinity. He accused our Western culture of looking too much to the East – to places like India and Tibet – for our spiritual sages. He suggested that is was time for us in the Western hemisphere to create our own spiritual leaders, and he even went so far as to suggest that there could be a spiritual sage sitting right there in our own seat.
“I was so moved by his message that by the end of the talk, I overcame my customary shyness and approached him on the stage, along with a number of other people enthusiastic about what they’d heard. When it came my turn, I handed Mo my business card. I’d had them printed the week before with my name and phone number on them, and under my name the bold declaration, Writer.
“’I’d like to help you share your message with more people,’ I stammered.
“Mo smiled knowingly, nodding his head. ‘Come see me tomorrow – noontime. Don’t be late.’
“I nodded in return. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get myself back the next day but I knew I would, and I did. In fact, I was back at the retreat center before 11 o’clock, which was a good thing, because I had failed to ask Mo where we would meet. It took me close to an hour to find out where he was staying. He had one of the dorm rooms just like everyone else, although he wasn’t sharing it with anyone, like most of the retreat participants were.
“I knocked lightly on the door, wondering what in the world I was doing there, but then I heard Mo’s calm, soothing voice telling me to enter, so taking a deep breath and squaring my shoulders like my father had taught me, I turned the handle and walked in.
“Mo sat at one of the desks scribbling in a notebook. Hearing me enter, he looked up from his work and smiled warmly. ‘Ahh, my young writer friend who is going to make me famous by sharing my message with the rest of the world. Come in my friend. Make yourself comfortable,’ he said, pointing to a nearby chair.
“As I sat down, I gazed around and realized that the only light in the room, other than that filtering in from the window, came from a dozen or so candles distributed throughout the room.
‘I was just capturing some thoughts from my meditation,’ Mo explained, noticing my puzzled look. ‘We can turn on some lights if you prefer.’
“’No, this is fine,’ I replied, trying to hide my nervousness. ‘I appreciate your taking time to see me.’
“’Oh, my pleasure. I’m intrigued to meet such a young writer, especially one with such an aura of destiny surrounding him.’ As he said this, Mo stood up from the desk and walked over to the nearby bed where he sat cross-legged.
“’First, let’s address the reason you thought you were coming to see me — your interest in writing about me. When I return to my ashram, I will have someone send you background information about my work. Upon reviewing it, if you need additional information including an interview, I’ll be only too happy to oblige. Will that work for you?’
“What’s an ash room?”
It took Herb a minute to remember that he was sharing his story with his granddaughter.
“It’s ashram, sweetie. It’s a spiritual community, not too different from our community here.” Amberlin nodded, apparently satisfied with his answer so he continued.
“’Yes sir,’ I almost shouted. ‘That would be great.’ Then mustering up my courage, I continued, ‘What did you mean, “the reason I thought I was coming here?”
Why do you think I’m really here?’
“Mo only smiled at first, nodding his head. ‘Why, so I can confirm for myself that what I felt when we first met was indeed true, and if true, so I could share it with you.’
“’And what was that?’
“’Your manifest destiny,’ Mo replied.
“That was going to be my question,” Amberlin interrupted once again.
“Well, here’s what Master Mo said.”
“’Your manifest destiny,’ Mo repeated. ‘You can think of it as fate – a future event or events that’s inevitable – ahhh, divinely guided. Of course, that might be a bit overstated. We do continue to exercise free choice, so nothing is completely inevitable, although yours might be as close to inevitable as I’ve ever seen.’
“I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention as Mo spoke. I wasn’t too sure I wanted to know my manifest destiny, but then again, how could I refuse. After all, at seventeen-years of age I could use as much help with my future as the next recently graduated high school student.
“’Pull your chair over next to the bed. Don’t worry. I won’t bite. I just need to make a stronger connection.’
“I did as Mo instructed. Funny, looking back on it now, I probably should have been more concerned about what this strange little man might do to me, but for some reason I wasn’t at all. I was mostly concerned that he might tell me that my “manifest destiny” was to be a bum, or to fail at everything I tried.
“I sat there in my chair, just a foot or two from where Mo sat on the bed. He instructed me to close my eyes and to take several deep breaths. Around the third or fourth breath, I felt a light pressure on either side of my forehead and realized it was Mo’s fingers lightly touching my temples. They stayed there, just barely perceptible. I started to open my eyes, then thought better of it.
“After what felt like a minute or two, I heard a voice. It didn’t sound like Mo but it must have been since there wasn’t anyone else in the room. The voice was about an octave lower than Mo’s and with a strong, foreign accent that I hadn’t heard before or since.
“What did he say, Papa Herb?” Amberlin’s sleepy voice brought Herb back to the present, but he continued in silence for a moment before answering.
“Well, sweetie, he told me I was destined to be a protector and preparer – someone who would prepare the way. That’s what he said.”
“A protector and preparer for what?”
“He didn’t exactly say, but he did tell me I would know at the right time,” Herb replied, grasping Amberlin’s hand that had snuck out from the cover and squeezing it gently.
“And did you?”
Herb pondered the question for a moment before replying.
“I guess I can best answer that question this way. I believe God sometimes gives us a second chance to fulfill our destiny, and I certainly feel like he’s given me a second chance to fulfill mine.” He paused again, unsure whether to continue, then added. “I feel like you’re my second chance. I’m here to protect you and to prepare you so you can fulfill your own destiny.”
He wasn’t sure whether Amberlin had heard this last comment. Her eyes were now closed and her breathing had become slow and shallow, but as he turned to cut off the light next to her bed, he heard her whisper, “Papa Herb’s my protector and provider,” and she sighed as she turned on her side and snuggled deeper under the covers.
Herb leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. “That’s right, sweetheart. As long as there’s breath left in this body, I’ll always be here for you. I won’t make the same mistake twice.” He straightened the covers, then turned and tiptoed from the room, but as he gently closed the door to Amberlin’s room, he remembered leaving Mo’s room over thirty years ago.
His hand had been on the door of Mo’s rooom when the question suddenly occurred to him. “Master Mo, could I ask you one last question?”
“What is it, son?”
“Well, it seems to me that, often times, spiritual matters come in threes, you know, like the Holy Trinity. I was just wondering if there’s a third ‘P-word’ to go along with protect and prepare?”
Mo considered the question then smiled. “Yes, you could say there is. It’s ‘purpose.’ The one you will protect and prepare will bring purpose to the world. Go in peace, Herb.”
As Herb reached Rose and his bedroom, he braced himself for what he might face on the other side of the bedroom door, but as he entered the room he breathed a sigh of relief. Rose was already in bed and apparently asleep.
He quietly changed into his pajamas, then walked over to Rose’s side of the bed to kiss her goodnight. As he bent over her, he paused and gazed as her wrinkled face covered with cold cream, oh so familiar, after close to thirty years of marriage. He realized now that when he had taken the vow to prepare and protect Amberlin, that it might include protecting his granddaughter from his own wife, and from the rest of the community where they lived and where Rose was such an important member. The task that lay before him loomed much larger than he had, at first, imagined — much larger and much more important too.