FOUR

The Absolute

I got out of the van and followed Augie across the street. We passed several dreary frame houses darkened by years of factory smoke before pausing in front of the steep concrete steps leading to 1686 Marshall Street. Augie stopped for a moment and looked up at the tall, narrow house, built into the hillside. It was painted a steel gray that blended almost perfectly with the winter sky that day, and it seemed to peer down at me with a Gothic solemness from atop the steep steps.

"It ain't much, but we call it home," Augie said with a grin, obviously enjoying my apparent discomfort at the scene.

Suddenly, there was a thunderous crash and squealing of metal that seemed to shake the pavement beneath us. I jumped back involuntarily and jerked my head around looking for the source. Augie erupted into delighted laughter and pointed to the long rows of freight cars being coupled at the railroad junction a few blocks away.

"You ought to try sleeping here some night," he said, then started up the stairs. I stared at the gaunt, joyless house for a few seconds before following him and decided that sleeping there was the last thing I wanted to try.

We passed the front door and went around back to a small porch that held an old refrigerator and several tires. Augie paused to take a breath then knocked loudly.

"Here goes nothing," he said.

After a moment the door swung slowly open and a stern face came into view.

"Christ," Rose bellowed, seeing who it was and flinging open the door. "The way you were banging I thought it was the cops or the IRS." Giving us an exaggerated once-over he added, "Maybe I'd be better off if it was."

Then he broke into an infectious grin. "Come on in. Come on in."

As soon as we'd closed the door behind us he offered me his thick, muscular hand. "Good to see you," he said. His firm, friendly grip and warm tone immediately melted my nervousness and left me with a brief sensation of well-being.

Then he turned to Augie. "You're late," he said, gesturing to the room. "Your charges from Cleveland have been here for over an hour."

I was so absorbed in Rose's greeting that only then did I take in the surroundings. We were in a kitchen crammed full of people sitting around a large formica table in an assortment of mismatched chairs. There were three old refrigerators, all of which appeared to have received a recent coat of an odd peach-colored paint, and against one wall was an antique porcelain sink. The gas stove had two burners lit, but nothing cooking on them, and in a corner was an enormous brown gas heater, creaking and popping. The only wall not covered with plumbing or appliances contained a large, hand-made shelf jammed full of books, papers, and writing supplies.

"Hang on," Rose said, disappearing into the hallway. "Let me see if I can find a couple more chairs."

While he was gone Augie introduced me to the ten or so people there from the Cleveland group. Soon Rose returned with an oak footstool in one hand and a tall red step-chair in the other.

"Best I can do," he said, pushing them towards the table. Augie grabbed the footstool and I was left with the step-chair, which was uncomfortably high and had no arms. I pulled it closer to the table and tried to rest my elbows there, but the angle was wrong. The table itself was covered with pens and spiral notebooks, and an old iron typewriter. Mixed with the papers were a variety of cups and spoons, no two of common origin.

"Want some tea?" Rose asked us, picking up a dented kettle.

"Thank you, yes, " I said. Augie declined and instead pulled a large bottle of Diet Pepsi from his ski jacket.

Rose filled the kettle with water and placed it on one of the already-flaming burners. "Well, Augie," Rose said, gesturing to the gathering, "at least you sent me a better crowd than last time. There don't seem to be any witches in the bunch, at least."

"You’re never going to let me forget that, are you," Augie grinned. "You know, the only reason I brought them was..."

Rose ignored him and addressed the rest of the group. "A few weeks ago Augie shows up at my doorstep with two scraggly women, looking just as proud as can be. Pelts. I send him out looking for serious seekers and all he's worried about is numbers. He thinks his mission in life is to see how many pelts he can drag home to the master's house," Rose laughed.

A few people frowned at being compared to animal hides, but Rose either didn't notice or didn't care.

"Awful looking women. One had long black hair that hung down across her face, which was a blessing. Every now and then, though, she’d lean her head back and the hair would fall away from her face. God almighty. It was like stage curtains opening on a Greek tragedy." Everyone laughed, Augie the loudest.

"I’ll tell you though, as soon as those women walked into the kitchen I noticed a strong smell of sulfur," Rose went on, "and I knew immediately they were possessed."

There were a few raised eyebrows at the table. Rose looked them over and redirected the story to one of the skeptics.

"Of course," he said, "the psychiatrists would say they hadn't taken a bath, or they’d been eating matches or something. But this one woman in particular... What the hell was her name?"

"Leslie," Augie said.

"Right, right. I'm terrible with names. She had this floating eye--each of her eyeballs worked independently. Anyhow, I kept seeing this shadowy figure standing behind her. So finally I said to her, 'Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?' And she said, ‘No, go right ahead.’ So I said, 'Do you have an entity that travels with you?' And she says, 'Oh yes, I have five of them.'"

As he said this, Rose mimicked her squeaky voice so humorously that I surprised myself by bursting out laughing. Rose looked over and directed the rest of the story to me.

"So I asked her, 'Do you mind showing me where one is?' And she says, 'Not at all,' and points right to this shadow I see hanging over her left shoulder. You should have seen Augie," Rose said, forming his fingers into big circles around his eyes. "His eyeballs was like this."

Augie shook his head and laughed. "It was a circus upstairs that night," he said. "Those two women had the room at the end of the hall, and three of us guys were sleeping in the middle room. None of us wanted to be near the door. Every time I woke up the other guys had moved behind me, so that I was the closest to the door. Then I'd stand up with my sleeping bag and move behind them again. Before the night was over we were huddled in the far corner sleeping on top of each other."

Rose and Augie started laughing again, each chipping in a fresh detail now and then, getting more giddy with each memory. Rose was actually holding his sides as if they hurt. For what seemed a long time they stayed lost in their laughter, leaving the rest of us to get what humor we could from the situation. I found it contagious, but most of the people at the table seemed uneasy. When they finally stopped laughing the room was silent for a moment while Rose and Augie coughed and wiped their eyes.

"You know, Mister Rose," Augie said, his voice becoming more serious, "I found out later that Leslie had been a part of an underground movement that planted a bomb and killed someone at the University of Wisconsin."

"Well, that explains how she picked up the entities, then," Rose said matter-of-factly. "Or else she had them beforehand and they’re what got her involved in the blood letting."

The idea that entities and possession might be real phenomena, not just the stuff of horror movies, was totally foreign to me. I wanted Rose to elaborate, but felt uncomfortable asking him any questions.

"Why would you put up with it?" asked a short red-haired boy named Jeremy. "I mean, why waste your time with people like that."

Rose smiled at him. "Who am I to say?" he said. "Sure I'd like to work with more serious people, people who are already on the edge, people I could push into something enormous. But I have to figure that everyone who crosses my path is sent for a reason, even if I don’t know what that reason might be."

"Do you talk about your philosophy with everyone you know or meet, then? At the store? Neighbors?" Jeremy persisted.

"Hell no," Rose replied. The kettle started whistling and he removed it from the burner. "People here in Benwood think I'm a gangster. I encourage that. If they knew I was a philosopher they wouldn't give me such a wide berth."

He took a dented tin cup off the shelf for my tea and scrutinized the inside of it. Apparently dissatisfied with its sanitation, he went to the sink and rinsed it out.

"You can’t act the same with everyone," he said. "When you get around hillbillies, you just smile and think of cows." He dropped a tea bag into the cup and carefully poured in the water.

"Thank you, Mister Rose," I said, as he handed it to me, surprised to hear a slight catch in my voice. Something about his series of simple gestures had unexpectedly moved me.

"Anybody else ready?" He held up the kettle. Several people took him up on the offer and Rose refilled their cups before returning the kettle to the stove and sitting down in an old wooden swivel chair, the kind you see in attics and basements and very old offices. He leaned back, rocked slowly, and sipped his tea. Then he continued with his thought.

"People here have known me and my family all our lives. My grandfather built this house. My father shot a man a few blocks from here. Your hometown is generally the last place anyone will take you seriously. What’s it say in the Bible about Christ going back to his village? Something about not doing any great works there because of their unbelief. That’s true. That’s the way it is."

"Are you comparing yourself to Christ?" Jeremy asked. His tone was challenging and slightly incredulous.

"Well, there’s not much we know about the man," Rose said, smiling, "but from what I can read in the Bible I’d say, yes, he probably had an Experience of the Absolute. Which is what happened to me."

"But, but...Christ was the son of God," Jeremy persisted.

"So are we all--if we care to be. If we become who we really are. Like Christ says, ‘The works that I do you will do also, and more.’"

"What I mean is, I’ve studied the Bible and..."

"I gave the Bible a good hard look myself, believe me. I was in a seminary for five years, studying to be a priest. Went in when I was twelve and left when I was seventeen. You can’t join a seminary that young anymore, but they took ‘em early in those days. It was beautiful there for awhile."

"Why did you leave?" someone else asked. Jeremy looked irritated at the change in subject.

"I left because I couldn’t get any answers. I'd ask about something that was bothering me, like the origin of time or the limits of the universe, and they'd tell me to forget those kinds of questions and just have faith. Then they’d quote Thomas Aquinas: ‘The finite mind can never perceive the infinite,’ they’d say. Which as it turns out is true as far as it goes. But what Aquinas never caught on to was that the finite mind can become less finite.

"Anyway, these priests got tired of my questions and told me I had to just perform God’s will as the Church decreed it, or else. Told me I could go to Hell for doubting. I mean, even then I began to sense the manifest absurdity of it all. Here we're given this microscopic intelligence to work with, yet God's going to damn us eternally if we can't guess what He wants from us--and He's not talking!

"And so," Rose said over the laughter, "I rejected it all."

"Mister Rose," Augie said, "don’t you think it’s unusual, though, for a person to be as curious about religion and philosophy as you were at that age?"

"Maybe, I don’t know. Part of it had to do with my mother, who was a devout Catholic. She had me convinced that priests talked directly to God. This intrigued me. But even as a small child I had a certain curiosity. One of my earliest memories is writing over and over on a piece of paper: ‘Many are called. Few are chosen.’"

"Do you think your early interest in these things is what eventually caused your Enlightenment experience?" Augie asked.

"Oh, I don’t know, maybe." Rose grinned mischievously. "That, and catching the woman I was going to marry in bed with a lesbian." There was scattered, uncertain laughter, except for Augie, who howled. Rose took a sip of tea.

"I don’t understand," said Jeremy, looking truly puzzled.

Rose grinned at him and paused for a moment before speaking, as if deciding where to start the story, or how much of it to tell.

"When I was in my twenties I pursued a very ascetic lifestyle," he said finally. "I had decided to make my body a laboratory rather than a cesspool. I did yoga and quit eating meat. I meditated for hours at a time. Every six months I changed jobs so my brain wouldn't harden. I had no attachments, nothing tearing at my hide. If my intuition told me something might possibly be of benefit, I gave it a try.

"And most important, I believe, to my eventual discovery, was celibacy. Between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-eight I was totally celibate. I was celibate because my intuition told me it was worth a try, and because all the people I'd read about who'd achieved anything of a spiritual nature had an energy retention plan--they were celibate. Today there’s beginning to be scientific evidence that explains why this works. The discovery of prostaglandins and serotonin, for instance--these are the seeds of genius. But back then it was just intuition and a willingness to try anything that might contribute to my becoming a spiritual being. Celibacy just seemed logical, and I liked not having any hooks digging into me."

I looked around the table and sensed the discomfort everyone felt with this topic. None of us liked hearing that celibacy was an important part of the path. Anything but that.

Rose took a sip of tea before continuing. "But when I got to be twenty-eight years of age I took stock of myself and had to admit that even though I’d had some beautiful experiences, I still didn’t know anything. I still didn’t know who I was or what was going to happen to me when I died. I decided then that I'd been wasting my life with this spiritual stuff. I figured the best thing to do was to forget the search and get on with the business of being a good animal, at least. So I followed this woman I knew out to Seattle. Her family was rich and we got along okay--she liked my poetry, at least--so I figured this would be a pretty good setup. I'd marry her and live off her money." Rose laughed contagiously.

"But once I got out there I went back to my old ways. I kept drifting down to the library to read esoteric books, or ending up in a yoga pose, meditating. I was trying to forget the search for Truth because I was convinced it was a waste of time, but I was too far along to put it down and walk away from it. I couldn't stop. I had become the search.

"Anyway, I worked as a waiter at the Seattle Tennis Club. She had a job riveting airplanes. We were on different shifts so we didn't get to see much of each other. But one day I got off early and decided to stop by and surprise her.

"She lived on the third floor of a boarding house, and her room was right across from the steps. When I got to the top of the stairs I heard strange noises coming from her apartment, so I put my ear to the door. I heard her voice, squeaky bed springs, and a deeper voice.

"I raised my fist to pound on the door, but then thought better of it. There was only one bathroom on the floor, so I decided to sit down on the stairs and wait ‘em out. They'd have to come out eventually and I'd see who the guy was.

"Sure enough, after an hour or so I heard the sound of heavy work boots. I stood up and the door opens. Out she walks with her lover. Except it wasn’t a man. Her lover was a thick-legged woman with short hair."

Rose seemed amused at the memory.

"So I stumbled back to my hotel room in shock--I had a cheap room over top of a Japanese restaurant. Next thing you know I’m propping myself up with my feet tucked under me in a yoga pose to meditate. But I’d barely got started when something happened.

"It began with a tremendous pain right in the top of my head. Now I've had pain before, but nothing like this. Tears were streaming down my face. I couldn't stand it. My head felt like it was going to explode, and I thought, 'Oh boy, three thousand miles from home and here I go.' I was convinced I was dying. Nobody could have that much pain and live. I remember thinking it must be a stroke, and I worried about how my people were going to get my body back home. They didn't have money to be shipping bodies across the country.

"Then, at the peak of the pain, I went out the window. I could see the Cascade mountains from my hotel room, and that's where I went--out the window and towards those snow-capped mountains. I was aware of seeing people on the street, except that I was above them. I passed over the people, and then over the mountains, and I watched this just like I was in an airplane. And I kept going out until I arrived at a 'place.' I don't say where. It wasn't the Cascades or anywhere else I knew. It wasn't on Earth because there was no sun, there was no sky. I simply arrived at a high place, and it was beautiful.

"I became aware at some point that I was in a causal realm--that I was the reason for its existence, that whatever I thought became a reality. In other words, I was causing things to happen, to be created, merely by desiring or thinking about them. The thought passed through me then that I was alone and that I wanted to see humanity--all of it. And so they appeared, all of humanity--everyone who had ever lived, everyone who ever would live--covering a huge mountain below me, crawling over each other like maggots, trying to get to the top. I was aware that they were engaged in a struggle that had an ultimate spiritual goal, but their immediate lives and pleasures were pathetic. I was still in some sort of astral form at this point--still maintaining an attachment to the body and to these people--and so I felt a tremendous amount of grief and sadness for their seemingly senseless struggle.

"I knew that if I desired I could pick out individuals, that I could see any man or woman who ever lived or ever would live. Because there was no such thing as time. These people were all living now--no matter what the earth time was for their lives--and all I had to do was pick them out, if I wished.

"So I thought to myself, if everyone is down there, then I must be there, too. And I looked down into the maggot pile, and there I was--Richard Rose. I could see myself struggling down there, the little man, happy in his illusion. I could see his whole life pattern.

"And then I thought, 'If that's Richard Rose down there, who's watching all this?' Suddenly I realized I was not just my individual self. I was the whole mass of humanity and the Observer watching it all--I was Everything. This propelled me into an indescribable experience of what I can only call ‘Everything-ness.’

Rose paused for a moment and looked around the table. When he resumed speaking his voice had a distant quality. "There’s just no words…no way I can talk about what that was… no way to begin to describe the…" his voice trailed off, "…the Totality."

The room stayed silent as Rose took a sip of tea. "Then, as I was experiencing this Everything-ness, this Totality, I got to wondering, 'If this is Everything, then what's Nothing?' Because even though I was in an Absolute dimension I still carried traces of my relative mind, which is always looking for dualities, for opposites.

"As soon as the thought of 'Nothing' occurred I started falling. I fell through an incredible void and blackness. And I thought, 'Oh boy, this is it. I'm gone forever.'

But I wasn't. At the end of Nothingness I was back on Earth, in my room in Seattle.

"And strangely enough, something was aware of the Nothingness as I fell, and of the Everything-ness as I took command of creation. That's why I say, in the final analysis, what you are is the Observer. That which you see is never you. That which sees, that's you.

The room was dead quiet. Everyone was staring at him, many as if they were seeing him for the first time. Finally someone spoke.

"How do you function here, having been to where you've been and then finding yourself back where you are now, wherever that is?" The questioner, a prematurely balding youth with sad black eyes, fumbled for words. Rose nodded encouragingly to show he understood.

"I do nothing and yet everything gets done. Upon returning, you are aware of your projections, of feeling beauty and the like, but you always know that it's not real, that it's nothing."

"So what do you do now?" asked the boy seated to my left, a thin, bookish youth with thick glasses.

"I'm not sure I understand your question," Rose said. "I'm not interested in being a functional person, if that's what you mean. I do a lot of things, but I don't make plans."

"I mean, what do you do for a living?"

Rose gestured to his surroundings with both arms. "You call this living?" Everyone burst out laughing. I looked over at Augie, who gave me an uncharacteristically sheepish grin.

"Actually, this is what I do," Rose went on. "Maybe it's my own peculiar form of vanity, but teaching is my only excuse for living. If it wasn't for the group I'd probably be off in a cave somewhere, muttering to myself."

"Does life get any easier after Enlightenment?" someone asked.

"No," Rose said quickly, "but it gets funnier."

Everyone laughed loudly again, but I could not seem to join in. Thoughts and emotions I didn't recognize were stirring inside me and I felt the need of being alone for a few minutes. Throughout the morning I had seen several other people leave the kitchen through a closed interior door, presumably to use the bathroom, so I stood up and headed that way.

"Upstairs and down the hall," Rose called out after me.

The door led to a dim hallway, and I was hit by a wave of cold air as I stepped into it. It was like walking outside. Apparently the kitchen was the only heated room in the house. The only light in the hall came from a narrow translucent transom window over the front door at the far end. I hurried past several other closed doors, two of them secured with steel padlocks, and ran up the bare wooden stairs, my footfalls echoing in the dark cold.

The three upstairs bedroom doors were open. The room at the top of the stairs appeared to be the women's bedroom, with its dressers and mirrors and neatly made beds. The middle room--furnished with bare mattresses on the floor, cardboard boxes full of clothes, and orange crates for tables--was obviously inhabited by males. The third room was plastered with psychedelic posters and probably belonged to Rose's teenage son, James, whom Augie had told me still lived there with Rose.

The bathroom was warmer than the hallway thanks to a small space heater that glowed in the partial darkness. A huge claw-foot bathtub stood off to one side, and above the commode was a list of do's-and-don’ts designed to make one-bathroom communal living somewhat workable. I read them as I stood there. At the bottom of the list was the signature "R." As I washed my hands I glanced at myself in the distorted old mirror above the sink. Taped to the top of the mirror was a piece of paper with a question in block letters: "WHAT IS YOUR REAL FACE?"

I stared at the image of myself beneath these words for a moment, then shook my head, almost in a shudder, and hurried out the door, closing it behind me.

At the top of the steps I heard the muffled sound of Rose's voice followed by the sound of laughter, including his. Like a paranoid child, I found myself worrying that they might be laughing at me. I stopped to try and make out the words, and as I stood in the cold, windowless hallway a strange sadness overcame me. I was overwhelmed by an incredible longing, an irresistible feeling of loss and nostalgia. I wanted to be home. I thought of being by a warm fire with the smell of my mother's cooking in the air, but the sadness deepened because somehow that wasn't it. That wasn't home. My knees began to quiver in the cold and emotion. I had never felt so lost and alone. I sat down heavily in the middle of the stairs and began to cry.

After several minutes I heard the kitchen door open and the sound of footsteps in the hall. I jumped to my feet, composed myself as best I could, and hurried down the rest of the steps. There in the hallway was Rose.

"Watch out for frostbite," he said as we passed each other.

He had started to open one of the hallway doors and I was almost back to the kitchen, when I turned and spoke to him.

"Mister Rose? Could I talk to you a minute?"

"Sure, sure." he said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out an enormous set of keys. He closed the door he had started to open and led me instead down the hallway to the room furthest from the kitchen. He flipped through his keys for the right one and unlocked the door.

"Come on in," he said.

This room was even more cluttered than the kitchen. A unmade cast-iron bed with sagging mattress was shoved into one corner with several pieces of clothing draped over it. Against one wall stood a pair of black steel filing cabinets, one of them with an open drawer. I glanced at the manila folders that were jammed in there and noticed that each had a person's name on it. Cardboard boxes full of newspaper and magazine clippings were pushed up against the walls, and the dresser and tables were covered with stacks of books and pamphlets. What appeared to be manuscript pages of a book he was writing were spread out on an old wooden desk.

He removed some papers from a couple of straight-back wooden chairs and placed them in the middle of the room facing each other. We sat down.

"Things are still a bit disorganized," he said without apology. "This used to be just my study, but we're running out of sleeping space so I moved my bedroom in here, too."

I felt a sudden surge of affection for this man who squeezed all his belongings into such a small place to make room for strangers.

"Do these people pay you rent?" I asked.

"Everybody chips in ten bucks for lights and heat," he grinned. "Such as it is."

He made small talk by telling me about some of the things in the room. The filing cabinets, he said, were filled with forty years of correspondence--every letter he had ever received, and carbon copies of every one he had written. Some were responses to ads he had placed in occult magazines or from people who had run across his book, and I learned that it was not unusual for him to correspond for years with people he had never met.

"I've turned up some real characters over the years," he said. "I guess that comes with the territory."

"What about the people who live here with you now?"

"Oh, they're all right, I guess. Some of them may be sincere. It's not my place to judge. They've come through the door for some reason. You can tell by the way things happen that it's no accident. But once they disappear, they seem to be gone forever. Not many stay in touch. Of course, everyone has to take off some day. That is, if they're ever going to have any sort of spiritual realization of their own." He smiled. "If they didn’t leave, I’d have to kick ‘em out."

He stopped talking. It was time for me to say what was on my mind.

"You know, Mister Rose, I don't know how to describe it exactly, but right before I came downstairs and ran into you in the hallway, I was overcome by some kind of powerful homesickness, or something. Almost out of nowhere. I just felt incredibly sad and alone."

He smiled warmly. "You miss little Davie," he said.

The childlike simplicity of his expression exactly matched my mood and I could feel the tears welling up again. "I'm afraid if I don’t hang on I'll lose him forever," I said.

"Let him go," Rose said impassively. "He's a coward."

His voice was still warm and fatherly, but his words were like a slap in the face. I felt set up. My urge to cry disappeared completely.

"Nobody wants to give up his cozy illusions," he went on, "no matter how painful they are. Most people never do. They never even consider it. A few people, though--the lucky ones--have something happen to them that makes them start to grow up. They begin to see through the illusion just enough to get curious. So they look into it a little, then a little more, and they begin to see that this life isn't at all what it seems. After that, finding out the Truth becomes the only thing that matters."

"I don't know if I'm at that point," I said, still smarting at being called a coward.

"Only you would know," Rose said. "I'm here and talking for those that already find themselves on the path and are looking for help. I don't go out looking for converts. My own children, in fact, have no spiritual interest. There’s nothing I can do about that, no matter how much I might wish it for them.

"A couple of years ago, for instance, my daughter Ruth was home from college on summer break. I'd just finished writing The Albigen Papers, and I hoped maybe it might stir something spiritual in her if she read it. But I had to give it to her at the right time and in the right way. One morning I came into the kitchen and she's at the sink, finishing up the breakfast dishes. Did you notice how low the sink is?"

I nodded.

"My mother was a tiny woman and my father put that sink in for her. So anyway, Ruth is standing there and I figure this might be a good time to ask her. So I gave her the manuscript and told her I wanted to get some feedback, to find out if it was worth trying to get the thing published. Which was also true. I did value her opinion--she's always been a bright girl, sensitive and level-headed. She said, 'Sure.'

"A few days later I come home from work and she's at the kitchen table with the manuscript open in front of her, staring straight ahead, like she's in a trance. I stood there for a minute but she didn’t say anything so I just picked up manuscript and walked away.

"I figured eventually she'd tell me what was on her mind, but a couple of weeks went by and she still hadn't said anything about the book. So finally one day when we were alone I brought it up. 'By the way, Ruth,’ I said, ‘I never got a chance to talk to you about my book. What did you think?'

"I'll never forget the look on her face when she turned around, almost angry. She looked me in the eye and said, 'Daddy, I know you're God. But I've got games to play.'"

I didn’t know what to say. Rose remained silent. He was looking in my direction, yet his eyes did not seem to be focused on me, but rather on a point somewhere behind me.

"I guess I’m in the same boat," I said finally. "I’m afraid that if I get involved in this work I'll never get a chance to experience all the things I want to do in life."

Rose’s eyes re-focused on my face. "Every one of us has some game we feel compelled to play," he said, "especially when we're young. We think we're unique and important, and that God put us here to have lots of fun because he loves us so much. But it’s a trap. Our lives are nothing more than a series of distractions.

"One of the most difficult things for people on a spiritual path to get away from is cowardice--allowing things to happen to them because ‘God wants them to happen.’ And while you're indulging in some fascination or another you're convinced, 'This is important, this is my destiny, this is the real me.' But after your appetite is sated, you look up and shake your head and wonder what is was that possessed you. Whole lives pass that way, moving from one distraction and disappointment to another, and people never wise up--until it's too late.

I stared at him blankly, once again at a loss for words.

Rose didn’t say anything for a moment either, then he stood up. "Well, we better get back to the kitchen before Augie caves in any more of my chairs," he said. "He has two to his credit already. That boy has the grace of a walrus."

I followed Rose down the unheated hallway, past the rooms he had abandoned in favor of strangers who would someday abandon him, and into the warm, vibrant kitchen where Augie was happily holding forth, laughing, rocking back on the old oak stool that creaked and groaned as if ready to break apart at any moment.

"...so the guy says, 'I don't have to leave. This is a public meeting and I can do whatever I want.' Mister Rose just looks at him and says, 'Oh, you're leaving all right. That much has been established. The only question is whether it's by the door or window....'"

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