RETURN FROM
MELBOURNE

                                               











Australia is a place everyone should visit, they say, but to this I would add the stipulation:
not for too brief a time.  Just as the body requires a few days to adapt to the time change,
the mind needs its own period of adjustment to process what has transpired, finding itself
suddenly in an upside-down world of transplanted Brits and kangaroos.  The  body copes
by sleeping, gathering strength.  The mind as well shuts down, resulting in a kind of
emotional jet lag: arriving, instead of excitement and fulfillment we feel emptiness and a
strange indifference.  A day or two later irritability sets in.  Then we’re leaving, and suddenly
we find ourselves standing outside our hotel on our last night, having said our goodbyes,
overwhelmed with love and regret, feeling everything, but too late…

Such was my experience visiting my son for four days in Melbourne where he was enrolled
for a semester of study abroad.  And from the entangled web of such emotions I awoke
before dawn on the day of my departure.  When uncertainty or depression sets in it is
probably good advice to get moving, to do something.  So up I rose and dressed, and forth
into the damp morning air.  Now anyone who has ever walked or rode with me, even in
familiar locales, will be skeptical of the accuracy of what follows, pointing out (with some
truth) that my sense of direction and general geographical astuteness are rudimentary at
best.  So let me emphasize: what follows next in my account cannot be explained as
absent-minded confusion, though it may have begun so.  But I will proceed, and leave the
reader to judge.  

My plan was simple: to walk up Bourke Street until I found an early morning coffee shop.
This I did, though it was a longer hike than I expected.  In fact, in the misty dawn,
without noticing, I must have passed by Swanston Street that runs perpendicular to Bourke,
these two constituting the principal roads I had acquainted myself with.  I mention the mist
not for mere effect, but because as I walked it began to exercise a kind of psychic force,
albeit a subtle one, leading my thoughts in strange digressions, distracting my eyes and my
feet, effectively clouding my mental, along with my physical, vision.
Eventually a shop appeared, and a lone proprietor with a soft voice made me coffee, which I
took along with me, sipping as I resumed my walk.  I turned in the direction whence I had
come, and proceeded, not with my normal purposeful strides, but ambling, my thoughts
suspended between a confusion of recent memories and the contemplation of an indistinct
horizon.  To my surprise Bourke Street ended abruptly at the intersection of Spring: I found
myself facing the large tan Parliament buildings, which belong at exactly the opposite end of
Bourke from where I expected to be.  

I was surprised but not amazed, knowing myself, and resolved to retrace my steps, more
quickly and with greater attention.  How strange everything  appeared, now that I bothered
to scrutinize my surroundings.  Most of the store fronts seemed entirely out of place, but
occasionally something familiar would appear to reassure me somewhat that I was indeed
moving in the right direction.  At the same time I could not relinquish completely the
conviction that I had, in fact, about-faced from the coffee shop and headed, not toward
Spring but back toward King’s Street and my hotel, and that I should have arrived there.  
But what, I ask, is one’s personal conviction in the face of an implacable universe that
stares back in blank denial?  I must have been mistaken, I reasoned, for in order to have
been right, the nature of reality would have to be fundamentally different from what we have
understood about it from the beginnings of human thought.   

Pondering thus while perusing the store fronts in slightly brightening morning, with sudden
pleasure I came upon a building I had not previously noticed: a museum of aboriginal art.  
Naturally it was closed at that hour, but through the window I could make out some large
paintings and wood sculptures, and weavings with curious designs.  Two thoughts sprang
to mind almost simultaneously.  First I remembered that in our conversation the night before,
walking through Melbourne’s version of Chinatown, my son had explained that his German
friend, Philip, and apparently a majority of Philip’s peers, were strongly repulsed by
expressions of national pride, a condition, he said, stemming from the disgrace associated
with Germany’s actions during the Second World War.  The Aussies, I thought to myself,
have a similar shame about their treatment of the natives here, as we Americans have, or
should have, about the Indians.  These reflections, though common enough, lent a
bittersweet flavor to the artifacts I viewed, while, a moment later, a second thought seemed
to reach into my consciousness:
these images come from the Dream Time.

I walked on, wondering if I was somehow becoming engulfed in this Dream Time, this
shadow world of a deeper reality, next to which waking life is indeed but dream and
shadow.  (At this point my thoughts were still playful, fanciful; rational skepticism dominated
my deeper instincts.)  But I must have been more disconcerted than I realized, for I could not
find and cross Swanston in this direction either.  The avenues I passed bore familiar names
- Exhibition, Latrobe - but I thought they were in the opposite direction!  Could I have been
right in the first place?  But then what of the Parliament buildings I knew were behind me?  
Could I have been turned about not once but twice in one morning?  Bourke Street, at least,
remained Bourke Street as I traversed it, though now it sloped precipitously in a way I did
not recollect.  Then, up ahead in the distance, and with a glimmer of low sun behind them, I
thought I espied those same Parliament buildings on the wrong end of Bourke Street again.
I glanced at my watch and realized any metaphysical worries would have to wait.  A leisurely
stroll had turned to such confusion that I stood in danger of missing my coach and flight.  I
thought about hailing a cab to the hotel, and wondered whether the driver would react with,
“King Street, never heard of it!”  

And then suddenly I was there, on my street, before my hotel.  A lone clerk tried to calm me
with that Aussie saying, “No worries, mate,” but somehow more time had slipped by.  A
coach appeared with a lugubrious driver and only me as passenger.  The coach made as
number of stops, waiting in front of various hotels and dwellings, but no one ever appeared
at the doors, and each time, after a few silent minutes, we would move on.

Arriving at the airport I rushed to check in and was greeted by an empty terminal.  Initially I
assumed this was due to my tardiness: all others had boarded.  But even the attendants
were gone.  I had thought, as I first hurried through the airport, that it was  rather sparsely
populated, but now, as I looked about, I realized no one at all was to be seen, and as my
footsteps fell silent, there was no more sound at all.  

Then a voice, the kind one hears in an airport announcing flights and summoning
passengers, sounded as from the public address system.  What it said is:
“The body dies suddenly, the mind one piece at a time.”

For the first time that morning I consciously confronted the possibility that had been lurking
under the surface for hours: that all was not as it should be because something had
happened, not to the world, but to me.  At such a moment one naturally turns for
reassurance to the voices of those people most real, most fully alive - family and loved
ones.  I reached into my back pocket for the international phone card I had been carrying
about and, finding a telephone, placed a call to the States.  Such connections are often
complicated by audio problems such as delay, echo, and intermittent cutting out.  But after
many rings I heard a voice on the other end I thought I recognized, although I couldn’t be
sure.  The speaker seemed at first not to know who I was - or was he incredulous of my
identity?  Finally he seemed to understand, but in an oddly detached tone he informed me
that I was not expected back!  
The body dies suddenly, the mind one piece at a time.

The next part of my story is sketchy, the reader should understand,  not for lack of clear
remembrance, but, as nearly as I can surmise, because the world itself seemed to be fading
to grey outlines, while time became sliced up, discontinuous, so many segments from a
moving picture.  I was running down a corridor, then suddenly I was on a plane.  (Was I the
sole passenger?  I suppose so.)  Then the plane was flying, or at least was in the air.  Like
the Spirit of God above the waters it hung above the infinite dark Pacific.  And Time and
Space and Life and Death flowed together and I was alone and I was with a great multitude
and there was neither east nor west neither Jew nor Gentile and there was perfect silence
Absolute Ocean.

And I understood that I had died, or rather that on Earth I was considered dead, and that
some part of me that remained was dying or in a process of transformation.  A poem by
Stefan George that I knew from Schoenberg’s famous setting came to mind - something
about friendly faces and familiar places fading away; a moment later I recalled Holderlin,
poor unhappy Romantic, who, bidding farewell to his Diotima, expresses the hope of
meeting, some distant day, when “hope and fear have bled away”.  And indeed this is
something of how  I felt, that all the lost love, the unfinished business, were not what they
had seemed, or at least that my absence was not some final calamity.  Earthly life I saw as
through a spiritual prism, and it was beautiful to look upon in that cool, angelic light.  And
with the growth of this understanding my new world, the world of the aircraft above the
Pacific, began to acquire a more tangible nature.  

“This is your captain,” came a voice, and it was the voice I heard in the airport which I now
recognized as that distinctive sound I had occasionally encountered in dream and dubbed
my
Tutelary Spirit for its wisdom and kindness.  “This is your captain.  Attention all
passengers.”  (Is there humor in the afterlife?)  I was all ears.

“Remain seated for a period of reflection, after which you must make your decision.  And by
your choice will you be known.”

…Also laconic, not to mention enigmatic, the afterlife…

So I reflected on what I had done, and on what I had failed to do, and on what I had done
but had better left undone.  On how the course of my life had been charted for me, partly
through nature, partly through nurture, but in greatest part through actions, freely chosen,
and how these actions had transformed me, now for  better, now for  worse.  And the self
that was awakening within me, bud-like through this recollection, that same self that viewed
these things with dispassionate wisdom, this deeper someone unfolding from layers of
impermanence, remembered, anciently, without beginning, and revealed itself as the secret
source of all my earthly predilections.  

I looked about me: the plane was now filled with others like me - not less, I would say, but
more than mere individuals.  We had wakened to the Dream Time, plane and sky and sea
were become the Eternal World Soul and we were its members, more deeply linked than
earthly lovers, and immortal as well, sojourners in earthly forms, who descended to dance
the world into being.  And more than dancers we were the dance itself, for dancer and
dance, dreamer and dream, are one.  

By your choice will you be known.

So there were options, yes, I was recollecting.  I  ask the reader to try and imagine the
enormity of such a choice as the soul faces at this moment, before which terrestrial
concerns appear mundane indeed: we are asked to select a role to play in a cosmic drama
men call Life, and to fling ourselves so completely into the game as to forget all else and
lose ourselves in the world.  To clutch, upon this earthly stage, at clues, to listen to cryptic
voices, to struggle to put the puzzle back together, to fashion the aboriginal quilt, and
through this struggle to awaken, to arise, strengthened, renewed, transformed…
To the past, then, or ahead to the future, or perhaps back again to the present world, fading
beneath me?  For Time flows, in Eternity, in all directions, and each manner of rebirth has
its purpose.  Most common, I  believe, is the choice to move forward, to live a new life, with
a fresh start.  This may surprise the reader, who might imagine that the option of being
reborn into the same life, just lived, again into one’s own beginning, would be most
attractive, bearing with it the re-flowering of all lost loves and times and places.  But in fact
many have found this too painful a path, knowing as they do their frustrated hopes ahead of
time, their former lives consisting more of sorrow than of joy.  For most such people the
power of habit only strengthens with each cycle, so that repetitive calamities become
unconsciously anticipated, casting a fateful gloom upon their lives, while, lacking any true
awareness while on earth of their immortal natures, they suffer each bereavement
inconsolably time and again.

A new life, then, for the soul, though determined in character by the strengths and
weaknesses it bears by its nature?  Or an old life, fired with the hope of earthly awakening,
and a chance to break the tyrannous cycle?

Or perhaps that third option, rarely chosen: to be reincarnated into the past.  The myths of
the world speak universally about the apparition of mysterious beings with advanced
knowledge who come to instruct, to aid and to succor.  Floating above the Pacific in that
wayless, endless void, it became clear to me that our actions endure.  The crimes of the
past persist: the crying baby is crying still whose earthly voice was silenced, and Jesus
Christ, as someone said, will be in agony until the end of the world - ‘till Time itself be
healed its gaping wounds.  To return, to unmake bloody history somewhat, to improve what
was, to undo by never having done…such is the formidable challenge of this option.

…Or to ruin it all, regardless of choice, by living poorly.  For the more ambitious the mission
we propose, the more costly the failure.  And as below on earth, so above in Eternity: most
are lukewarm, and know this, and chose safely, in a non-committal way.  Yet who can force
us, and what is goodness if not freely found?

As for me, I burned with a flame that had been smoldering since childhood.  In fact I
understood then, upon that airplane, why I had felt increasingly strange over the past few
years.  An impatience had been growing in me, a patient man.  A composer of music, I
moved with increasing restlessness from style to style, discontent with the crudities of
sound.  I found letters even more opaque and gradually sensed my habitual energy drying
up in malaise.  The world itself, some days, seemed grey and buy half real, and I had at
times a dim intuition of something finer that I longed for, a world of greater subtlety.  In the
end I began to sense I might discover it in death.

As I sat there, my heart divided between a blighted past and a beckoning future, I thought
suddenly of my soul-mate, Sophia, she who in various forms and ways had been my
companion through many ages.  I sensed her gentle presence, asleep in the
World-Soul, and knew that, wherever I appeared, I would find my eternal love in the hour of
my need.  And the sweet thought of her drew me back to the homely and the familiar, to
the ephemeral poignancy of earthly existence, and I longed again for plums and beaches,
and books and baseball, for (let there be no misunderstanding) the Soul loves the Game,
the World-Soul dreams the world for the love of playing in its pastures.  And I summoned my
courage and asked this request of the Great Voice: whether it could be granted, this one
time, that I recall and bring with me to the world this Knowledge harvested above, and bear
such good news to mortals, to give them hope and joy and consolation.  And the answer I
received is: This thing that I ask cannot be granted outright, for a game must have rules,
and a student learns nothing lest he seek his own answers.  But this much was granted me:
that I would be reborn in one manner or another, and that, at a certain time, spurred by
deep longings, a story such as this one would present itself to my mind, in such a way that
even I its author would deem it fiction, or at most speculation. This is how, in fact, I do see
this tale, and how I present it to the reader, though the opening scene in the mist, and the
strange aura of premonition that accompanied that morning sojourn in Melbourne, are real
indeed.