For my beloved children and theirs to read on Christmas eve. Let's see if you ever find it.
There was a boy.
He was the first born of a Sicilian shoe salesman and the daughter of a Hungarian bartender.
They lived in New York City.
During his first December his father brought home a tree and put it on a stand in the living room. He could see it from his crib. Something green and tall and special. Many years later his mother would tell him they had no money for lights or ornaments so they got some cast offs from his grandparents days after the tree was put up. And by the way, he would have been far too young to remember something like that.
But he did. It was true. Because it was me.
The world was full of coincidence and interconnectedness. Everything seemed to happen for a reason even though all the philosophers and teachers taught him it was the province of the mind to find patterns in purely random systems. That the living human mind insisted on connecting dots that had no reason to be related. That being susceptible to such mental construction was a weakness.
But the parents of the boy had sent him to Catholic school for nearly a decade, and the religion taught in that institution insisted there was form and function behind the fantasy. You could see God in these things if you looked closely enough.
And so he did look really close.
And I spent years reading and learning and observing and thought I saw God and told my teachers so. But what I told them I saw wasn't what they told me I should see.
One of us was wrong, and despite two thousand years of Christian heritage I wasn't interested in it being me. And that was that.
For the record, I've never seen what they said I should see when I look at the world, nor do I see what anyone else sees.
And this has always been just peachy with me.
The Hungarian bartender's name was Albert, but everyone called him Bill, because back in those days people in bars called bartenders Bill, no matter what their names were for real.
I never met my grandfather Albert because he died of a stroke a few weeks before I was born. I never even saw a picture of him until one day when I was experimenting with developing photographs. I printed a roll of negatives my grandmother had given me. She told me that Albert loved to take pictures like I did, and he himself used to develop pictures in the laundry room, like I did. This was one of his rolls of film.
When I printed the pictures I saw one of a guy I had never seen in any picture of my family before. It turned out that Albert was always the one taking the pictures, so he was never in any of them.
Except for one. And I printed it in 8"x10" black and white format. I brought it upstairs to show my mother.
"That's him," she said.
"He looks like me," I said.
"Yes, you look just like him."
And that was the first time I'd ever heard that.
Albert was not a well-educated man. He was brought to America from Budapest when he was a boy. He went to work at an early age, and he worked up until he died. He died at a fairly young age. He was only forty seven, and it's weird to me that I am older now than my grandfather ever got.
My grandmother said he was a dreamer. He was always inventing something, pouring money into get rich quick schemes and making hair growing potions on the kitchen stove. He believed in ghosts and the fundamental goodness of his fellow man.
He was a very nice guy who always had a lot of friends.
That's what my grandmother said.
What my father told me was that his father-in-law scared him, which I always found amazing because my father was a tough Sicilian who would just as soon punch out your lights as ask for an apology. For someone to scare him was monumental to me.
He told me that on my grandfather's death bed, he grabbed my father by the arm and pulled him close.
"Take care of my baby," he told him, meaning my mother and he wasn't asking.
My father did just that until the day he too, died.
When we are young life changes every day. The first snow is a life altering event. The first playground fight. The first kiss.
As we get older and more set in our patterns life changes less quickly. Then it's easier to see the things that changed our steps and made us what we are. Though at the time it was nothing special.
This boy had grown up wanting for nothing. One summer when school ended and the long hot days lay ahead he made a pact with himself he would teach himself the Theory of Relativity and read every book in the local public library.
It turned out Relativity was easy.
So he figured the second task would be no sweat, either. He started his reading of the entire New Monmouth library with the biography section and picked up a book called, "Weird and Tragic Shores," which was about Charles Francis Hall and his voyages on his ship the Polaris.
After that book I gave up reading the entire library and focused only on books about polar exploration
As far as I am concerned everything else in my life happened after that.
There was a girl.
She was the daughter of two college students who tried to finish grad school with a baby in the apartment.
It didn't work in a number of ways. Grad school disappeared. Parents divorced. Baby became a little blonde girl.
The girl spent equal time growing up between her father who worked as a designer of ships and lived on a seven acre farm, and her mother who lived with her boyfriend in an abandoned school bus in the woods.
She wasn't quite sure what she would be when she grew up, but she knew adventure would have something to do with it. Her relatives were adventurers and explorers. Sailors and revolutionaries.
As she was completely comfortable in the outdoors, she hiked the length of South America one summer, and across India during another. She dodged armed muggers in Panama and hurricanes in Tierra Del Fuego.
When she graduated she got a Pew Foundation grant to study the events in Poland leading to the collapse of the Berlin Wall. She interviewed Lech Walesa, and had to travel through the newly opened East Germany to get him in Krakow.
Something awful happened on the way back to the west.
That's when they met, only neither of them realized it at the time.
The first time I met the blonde haired girl I was in an isolation chamber at The Monroe Institute in 1999. I was in a class designed by ex-military intelligence operatives. We were there to get to know our spirit guides better.
It seemed like a good thing to do, and I always imagined my spirit guide was young Albert.
In the chamber we were subjected to interesting sounds which were supposed to mix in our brains like an old-fashioned heterodyne radio, and create tertiary signals that would alter our brainwaves. It was my second trip to TMI. I had no idea what compelled me to be there but I had the money and some free time. Learning to be psychic seemed to be a cool thing to do.
I remember the moment exactly. The tones were buzzing in my ears. The calm voice of Robert Monroe came on, mixed in with the sounds.
He said, "Ask your spirit guides to show up someone who's going to be very important to you."
So I did. Albert said, "Ok."
And for a fraction of a second, I saw a blonde haired girl on a bench in an archaic European train station. She was battered and bloody. Her clothes were torn.
She cried for help.
The session was over 90 seconds later. When came out of the chamber I felt more than ever heartbroken and driven to polar exploration.
That made no sense to me whatsoever. I was in a retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia learning to be a psychic and talk to dead people. So I pretended it was a meaningless hallucination like most of the other stuff that happened during those classes.
There is a greenhouse on the base at McMurdo in Antarctica. One day I was in there in a hammock. It was warm and there was humidity because the room is full of green plants and grow lights. Inside it is a sunny day in the summer, even though there might be a vicious Antarctic storm outside.
While I lay in the hammock in the greenhouse on McMurdo station I thought it might be a good idea to practice some of the interesting meditations I learned to do at the Monroe Institute.
Now, speaking to spirits or dead people is very much like imagining something. It's hard to tell the difference between something you make up and something that comes from that other place. But this particular time, it wasn't hard to tell what was happening was not being made up by me.
Albert came over to me. He was a teenager. He said, "I want you to take care of her. If you break her heart, you'll have to answer to me."
I honestly didn't know who he was talking about, except about ten seconds later the blonde haired girl came up to me and asked me if I wanted to walk back with her to the station to have dinner in the galley.
Then I realized she was the same girl I had seen years before at TMI.
"I have a weird question," I said to her as we packed up my hammock. "Have you ever been in an accident on a train in Europe?"
She turned very pale for a second, then said she had. I didn't ask her anything else about it that day.
Some years later I found out what had happened to her that day on the train in East Germany. And there's no good that can come of the telling of that story.
And all of this would be stupid coincidence. It wants to be. Nobody wants the dots to be connected, and there's no reason they should be. After all, most of it is in my head, and I could have made it all up. Fabricated the story after the fact for convenience.
Except Albert is a pretty clever guy.
Three other people in separate isolation chambers all saw the blonde haired girl at that point in the meditation at the Monroe Institute in 1999. We all talked about it, back then. We all described her. We knew she was hurt. We knew what she was wearing. We knew she would be important, but we didn't know who, why, where, or how.
We thought we were seeing an event that had happened in war time.
But it wasn't. It was now. Though we couldn't possibly know that at the time.
And dear ones, I can tell you who the other three people are. You have met them and they know you. And if you ask them they will say, "Yes. Of course. It's all true."
Being true doesn't make it any less miraculous, and doesn't explain some of the things that may trouble you.
One day in the early 1990s I was talking to a woman who would later become a well known writer. These days I see her books in airport book stores all over the English speaking world. She always felt she would have "made it" when her books were in airports.
When I see her books I think to myself, "There ya go." Though at the time we were speaking to each other regularly she was still just working very hard to be published anywhere.
One day I asked her, "Hey, did you notice that when you write something, it comes true?" because all sorts of things were happening to me that I had just written down in a story a day or week before.
She said, "Yeah, of course. Everybody knows that."
I didn't know that.
But I do now.
That's another thing that's true.
She wrote a bunch of books about a nurse who steps into a circle of stones and goes into the past and falls in love with a guy who leads an army to revolution. It's about a version of Scotland she imagined.
I haven't spoken to her in a long time, but if I ever talk to her again I will ask her how much of her books have come true.
And even though I'm reasonably certain she hasn't fallen into a time portal to medieval Scotland, I'm guessing a lot of things are coming true for her.
The reason I was talking to that author about writing was that I was writing a book as well, and we were associated by the same on-line writer's group. Like hers, mine was a story book. That is, it was something I had made up, though if you were to read it now, you'd think it was something about my own life.
I wrote about a guy who went to Antarctica and found his wife there. Naturally, when I was writing it I never dreamed I could go to Antarctica, and also, the last thing I ever needed to do was to find a wife.
As we know now it turned out my life followed the arc of that story. It could have been that my subconscious forced my life to follow that track. But along the way there were so many coincidences and so much good luck, that nobody would have ever thought any of those things could really happen.
But here we are.
Now you may be tempted to start thinking: all I have to do is wish for something and then write it down and it will come true and I will get all sorts of stuff. But it doesn't work that way. Because remember when I mentioned before that talking to spirits and dead people is pretty much the same as making up stuff? Well, it feels exactly the same.
And the stuff you make up is what it is.
And the stuff that comes from outside you, from those who love you and wish you well, is what it is.
This year the blonde haired girl and I got married, and you were all there and we were all happy together. You know that it wasn't always a smooth ride up to that part, but it's great now. You told me so, which is the greatest gift I could ever get.
Which brings us to Christmas, which is kind of about love and wishing for stuff and having it magically appear. We make up stories about Santa Claus and perpetuate those myths because it's great to watch your children learn to change what they think when there's something in it for them. And helping Santa is one of the funnest things a parent can do.
Now that you're older, you notice we're still doing it, year after year, even though you're older and know better. The trees go up and we become nostalgic for Christmases past. You're even doing it yourself now. And you may be wondering why this goes on, and you may be thinking you know, but you probably don't, yet. That's because you have to be older and go through all this stuff to figure it out. And there's never any sense in trying to jump ahead to the punch line, because it turns out that life is in living through the trial and errors. The end is uneventful. It's the middle that counts. That's where all the cool stuff is.
Imagine what would have happened if I had never written a story about a guy going to the south pole (which I will show you some day) or never went to the Monroe Institute, or had three wonderful children who asked me questions day in and out that I had to go explore to answer.
Nothing is free, it all comes with a price. There is hurt behind all that joy. That's the process of living. I don't know why. Maybe I will when I'm older.
I do know for sure that figuring out your own miracles is what Christmas is really all about.
None of this is made up.
The miracles are all real.
Belief is the best gift ever.