HARDWIRED - The Second Coming is Here: We Are It — by Cwr
Ashley's gorgeous eyes mesmerize people. They have two vibrant hues. A luminous light blue haloed by deep blue. She squints a final mirror check at them as she carefully sets her mascara on the little makeup table in front of her. In her excited anticipation, she momentarily forgets her limits and stands up too quickly. Her legs falter and she tilts sideways flailing her arms for balance. Past the tipping point, she catches a corner of her escaping chair on the way down, slamming her knee against the table. She watches the glass candle holder fall in slow motion at eye level as she falls even faster, sweeping the rest of her makeup off the counter in a clattering flurry as she reaches for support. But it's no use. Ashley twists to the floor with a whoop that expels her angry breath.
"Dammit to hell," she screams with her next breath. She focuses that fury on the candle holder near her right hand and throws it with all her might at nothing in particular. The mirror she was looking peacefully into moments before, shatters and shards falls all around her. A quick shot of fear kills her anger. As she checks herself for cuts, she sputters over her sobs, "I can't live like this. I can't live like this, anymore."
Ashley drags herself over to the bed to try and push herself up. There's a pounding on the door. "Ashley, Ashley, you all right? Ashley?" Her downstairs neighbor, having heard the thud and crackling glass, shouts louder as he tries to decide if he should try to break through the door. "I'm alright. I'm okay. I'm sorry." she says, her voice quieting with each hopeless reply, assuming he can't hear her all the way from the bedroom. He keeps pounding and she gives up. Let him break it down, she thinks. Who cares anymore.
- - -
The remnants of the morning's despair linger as Ashley waits for her undamaged door to be knocked on again. The building manager had helped with a key just as her neighbor was about to put his shoulder into it. Now, her thirty year old eyes carry a mixture of hope and despair, darting nervously around her living room like a bird looking for a place to land. Her short dark brown hair wisps around her forehead in a carefree way. She's found short hair easier to manage with all of life's other obstacles and "wash and wear" is all the effort she wants to spend on it.
Scattered around her tiny apartment are pictures of her teen years. Ashley had loved high school and still longed for her past. Then she had friends, social conquests, and boys vying for her attention. Guys wanting a chance to gaze into those beautiful eyes and get close to her lithe, well developed body with its long, smooth, athletic legs - often barely hidden under her short skirts and pleated cheerleading outfits.
She also kept face down in a drawer, pictures of the last boyfriend who became her husband. This boy-man she married had dazzled her with his good looks, fit body, blond hair, and his untroubled pursuit of fun. She still loved that part of him, but as the Ashley he knew started losing her edge, her energy, and who more often seemed to be too tired to play after work, he started losing his infatuation and it became clear that he would only be there for her in the good times.
When the muscle weakness, tingling sensations and dizzy spells couldn't be ignored any longer, she forced herself to the office of Dr. Schelling, the trusted family doctor she'd been going to for years. His quiet, thorough demeanor during the exam didn't do much to ease her anxiety. When he scheduled an MRI scan and said, "let's wait and see", it scared her even more.
The MRI results were conclusive. The process of demyelination had begun. Dr. Schelling explained that the myelin sheath facilitates transmission of nerve impulses. Without it, nerve function is lost. He kept his focus on the printouts and looked only in Ashley's general direction as he blinked rapidly, flicking his uneasy glance from side to side. He didn't meet her wide eyes when he softly said, "Ashley, you're in the beginning stages of, of MS, Multiple Sclerosis." She stopped breathing. She opened her mouth to say something inquisitive, but nothing came out. As she exhaled, her shoulders sank and her eyes burned with tears. Dr. Schelling touched her shoulder and stuttered, "I'm so, so, sorry, deeply sorry, Ashley." That was all he could manage as he rose and took slow hesitant steps toward the door.
Ashley grew to know her previous life's expectations were irrevocably shattered. Her friends and family were devastated but supportive, at first. The sad thought that this could happen to such a beautiful young woman with a bright future lingered unspoken with every expressed sympathy. But, after the mental numbness of this announcement began to wear off, replaced slowly by an uncomfortable acceptance, friends stopped by less often. Ashley's husband began to slowly separate himself mentally from her. Other reasons, excuses and arguments were used to explain their marital difficulties. But Ashley knew her boy-man just wasn't willing to accept life as a long-term care giver, no matter how beautiful the woman. They divorced within two years. That was six years ago and the wound of abandonment still hurt. Since then, she kept her flawed body and lonely victimhood safe inside an emotional shield that protected and isolated her. She wanted out.
Ashley's doorbell finally rang, accompanied by a confident knocking. She pushed herself forward in the elevated chair she used to make getting on her feet easier and grabbed the two handles of her wheeled walker. Because of the morning episode, she concentrated on her legs and didn't rush. "Good Morning," she said, reaching for the most optimistic tone she could muster as she cracked open the door and maneuvered out of its way.
"Yes it is. Hello, I'm Melanie Rappapor. It's a pleasure to meet you."
"Please come in," Ashley responded cordially, and like an automatic reflex added, "I'm having a rough day today." Her visitor's positive attitude wasn't deterred and it lifted Ashley's mood and allayed some of the apprehension she harbored about her decision to see a "Spiritual Healer."
- - -
Over the past 8 years, Ashley had chased down innumerable leads, researched all the latest findings, and regularly scoured the Internet looking for any glimmer of hope. The chat lines and support groups eased her feeling of isolation, but still gave a pretty bleak picture of her future with this disease. At first, she rigidly followed her doctors' advice and took every prescribed medication they recommended.
As the years wore on, she ventured into more uncharted territory. Naturopathic medicine offered alternatives like a diet with less saturated fat and more fresh whole foods, high doses of vitamin supplements, pancreatic enzymes, and oral antigen therapy. She even tried magnetic therapy and bought a "magnetic" bed.
It was the unexpected relief the magnetics brought that started her looking at more radical ideas. But spiritual healing or laying on of hands had been too out there for her. Her vision of those "types" came from seeing an occasional religious channel as she was surfing, looking for something else. As people came up out of the audience with maladies, the sweating preacher would shout at them, raise his hand to heaven, and push them on the forehead. If they didn't respond, he'd shout at them some more and move on to the next person. No thanks, not interested, not me, she always thought.
So when her friend Katie told her about a person she had heard of who seemed to have some miraculous powers, she said "Thanks," politely, knowing her friend was sincere, but at the same time knowing it wasn't for her. Continuing the ruse, she took Katie's square stick-it note with Melanie Rappapor's name and phone number. It stuck to the short backboard of her dresser for months. She couldn't bring herself to throw it away, but she certainly wasn't ready to call the number either.
All this time, she had been working as a travel agent, needing a job to support herself after the divorce. It didn't require very much physical activity and she enjoyed the contact with people. Then Ashley had a bad spell. She was having more difficulty getting out of bed in the morning. Going up and down stairs became a bigger and bigger problem, and worst of all, her vision was blurring along with eyeball pain that made it impossible to work some days.
The note on her dresser kept staring back at her. She finally talked with her friend again to find out a little bit more about this Melanie Rappapor. When Katie pressed her with, "What's the worst thing that can happen?"
Ashley could only come up with "a little less money in my checking account."
- - -
"Can I offer you something to drink: coffee, juice, pop, water?" Ashley asked, as she followed Melanie to the living room.
"I'm fine, thanks." Melanie said in passing as she surveyed the room to find two places where they could sit and face each other at the same eye level. "Can I move a dining room chair and sit in front of your easy chair? I want you to be comfortable while we talk."
Relaxing after realizing that this "Spiritual Healer" seemed pleasant and not too weird, Ashley answered honestly, "That would be fine. I have to admit I'm a bit nervous. I've never really been very religious. I can't remember the last time I went to church. I'm not even sure what church I'd go to."
As she started to string her religious qualifiers together, Melanie interrupted with "That doesn't matter. God sees you and loves you through His Son Jesus Christ, no matter what." This direct blast about God set Ashley back, but she tried not to show it.
Melanie wore little make up, had laugh lines on her unexceptional 48 year old face and clearly was not fashion conscious. Her one-piece shift loosely covered her robust frame. It was colorful and richly patterned with accompanying, slightly gaudy, jewelry. She had her long sliver-streaked brown hair pulled back and held with a scrunchy. Melanie projected an eccentric older aunt look and her demeanor was open, relaxed and trustworthy, so Ashley decided she could ask her some personal questions about her background.
"So, how did you get started doing this, I mean, how come you think you can heal people, err, ah, how does it work?" Ashley stumbled and decided to stop and let Melanie answer.
"I can understand your skepticism and your concerns. First of all, I can't heal anyone."
Oh great, Ashley thought.
"God, through his Son, does the healing. I'm simply blessed to be able to be a receptor for Their direction, Their guidance, Their words."
Ashley paused to let this soak in. "I'm sorry this is all a little too out there for me. Do you go into a trance or something? Do you speak in weird voices or what?"
Melanie chuckled. "Simply put, I get strong feelings, sometimes words or phrases, about what's happening with people and what they should do."
"But how do you know your feelings are real or true or 'from God' or whatever?" Ashley pushed.
"I've been doing this a long time, and when I open up my heart and mind to God, the answers come and I've learned to know them and to trust them," Melanie answered, opening up her hands up as if to catch something.
"What do you mean a 'long time'?
"I can see you're really determined to get to the bottom of this, and that's fine. To understate it, I was raised in a dysfunctional family." Ashley guessed from her tone she'd told this story many times before. It wasn't monotone, just fluid and practiced. "My mother was a quiet woman who shielded herself from the realities of her home life by going to church. She took me with her whenever she could, I think hoping to protect me. My father was an alcoholic and not a nice drunk. Looking back, I'm guessing he must have felt like a failure and was angry at himself, but none-the-less he took it out on us. In the great dead end circle of his life, his drinking would cause him to lose jobs. He'd get his last paycheck, go drinking and come back home drunk and angry. I was always afraid of him, because I never knew when he'd blow up or what would set him off. When I was little, it was mostly my mother he'd get angry at, yell at, and beat up. As I got older, more and more things I'd do would upset him and I'd get the back of his hand or the strap. Of course, I'd never tell anyone about him, but I would sneak out, go to church and hear about Jesus and the wonderful things He'd done. It made me feel better. Anyway, as I got older, I got more defiant and more depressed about my life, not a good combination. I didn't see any way out."
Melanie told her story both deliberately and with great care. She paused here and there with a reflection in her eyes that told Ashley she was telling and reliving it at the same time. Her sincerity commanded a respect that Ashley didn't want to disrupt.
"Right around my 13th birthday, in a fit of pubescent indignation, I tried standing up for my mom when he started demeaning her. He beat me with a guilty fury I'd never felt before. My mom cowered. After he stopped, from exhaustion I suppose, or because I just laid there unable to fight back, he left me alone. If I could have moved, I would have snuck into my parent's bedroom and taken the whole bottle of sleeping pills my mom kept in a bedside drawer. She used to slip them into his beer so he'd fall asleep and stop tormenting her. That night as I lay there, going in and out of consciousness, I prayed and prayed for Jesus to help me. As I started coming around one time, the whole room got bright white. I thought I'd died. A man that fit my image of what Jesus looked like was in the light. He said, 'Rise up and heal.' I remember asking 'What?' and all he would do was repeat it. At first, I didn't know if it was real or a dream or what, or what it meant. Except I knew it was much different, much more vivid, much stronger than any dream I'd ever had. 'Rise up and heal'."
Ashley felt goose bumps wash over her. She was so absorbed by the story, she couldn't resist asking breathlessly, "Then what?"
"Well, I didn't understand it beyond that I was to get up and let myself heal. I moved out shortly after that because the emergency room doctors who treated my injuries reported my dad and I was sent to a foster home. But I had a new confidence somehow.
Then weird things started happening, things that scared me, that I tried to ignore. I'd pick up feelings from people around me, feelings that were different from the way they were acting. I'd sense that a part of their body was attracting my attention, like their heart or their stomach or places that I didn't know the name of. I became very interested in my biology class, especially anatomy. One day my science teacher was telling me how well I was doing and I felt very strongly that something about his heart was very bad. When I told him that, he looked at me with a strange concentration. Apparently he'd been feeling something too, but hoped it would go away. He went to see his doctor and had a bypass operation the next week."
Wow, Ashley thought, feeling more and more that Melanie might be the real thing.
"From then to now, I've come to believe that it was truly Jesus who visited me that brutal night and that I get my feelings from God to help people. As I've opened myself to these feelings, I now not only get the sense of what's wrong, but usually what people need to do to heal themselves. Ashley's heart started beating faster as she thought about God, talking to this stranger about her, right here and now. Not some abstract 2,000 year old story about miracles, but right here and right now. She could barely contain her excitement.
Wait a minute Ashley, she thought to herself. This woman looks the part, says all the right things, all the things I want so desperately to believe. She doesn't push the money thing, knowing I'd become skeptical. She's confident. She looks me in the eye when she speaks. She's good at drawing me in. She's a pro at this, thought Ashley skeptically. Or she's the real thing. After all, I called her. She certainly seems to believe she gets divine feelings and messages. What's the worst that can happen, if I trust her? Ashley's internal debate took only a few seconds.
Melanie noticed Ashley's eyes relax and then watched her body relax. Melanie had seen it and felt that moment many times before: that moment when a person she wants to help turns off their skeptical self and is willing to trust in her special gifts
Ashley spoke first. "Melanie, tell me what's next. What do I need to do? I've struggled with my MS for years and would love any relief you can offer." With a smile Melanie said, "First, stop calling it 'my MS'! It's not your MS. Mentally release your ownership of this disease. It's an outsider that has only taken up temporary residence in your body."
"Okay, I'll try," she answered hesitantly.
"Ashley!" Melanie pounced, looking directly in her eyes to get her attention and her focus, "There is no try to or hope to." If you only try, or you only hope to do something, that's all it will ever be, a hope in the sometime future unlikely to ever happen. You must know or do something right here in the present with belief that it is so."
The declarative power of Melanie's words didn't feel to Ashley like she was being scolded, but rather like someone calling for her to stand up for herself. She liked the feeling. It renewed her confidence, because someone as confident as Melanie believed she could do it.
"Okay then," and it made her smile when she said it. "Okay then, my MS is not me, it's an invader and I want it gone from me!" She liked saying it so much she went on, "I don't own this disease. It's not me!"
"That's it," Melanie reinforced, as she smiled and squeezed her hand into a fist and punctuated the air with it.
"Are you ready?" Melanie asked.
"I'm ready, let's do this, whatever it is." Ashley was eager.
Melanie got up from the sofa and walked up to Ashley. Sitting down directly in front of her on the kitchen chair to match Ashley's height, she held out both her hands with the palms up so Ashley could easily grab and feel Melanie's soft warm skin. "As I said, it's not really necessary for me to touch you, but I love to connect with people and sometimes the feelings and answers are stronger this way." Melanie looked into Ashley's eyes for some time as she held her hands.
The initial awkwardness of staring directly into the eyes of someone she didn't know very well took some effort, but Ashley felt nurtured and cared for as she continued to stare back at Melanie. She could feel her body relax, and her breathing deepen, but she wasn't aware of anything else: not her fickle body, not the refrigerator cycling on, not even the noises outside. Had she been doing this for a minute, for 5 minutes? Ashley didn't know. Finally Melanie broke the gaze with a final squeeze of Ashley's hands.
As Melanie took a deep breath, Ashley jumped right in. "What did you feel, or see, or, or hear?" she asked.
"Well, I felt a lot of love and compassion for you, not only from me, but from Jesus. I could see your body struggling to rejuvenate itself. And there's something you are to do."
"What, what?" Ashley went right after it.
Melanie continued. "Just before you go to bed tonight, make your favorite tea, about a quart of it, and drink it all before you go to sleep." Ashley waited silently for more.
"That's it?" Ashley finally retorted. She'd been accustomed to very long and complicated regimens of treatment and was expecting something a bit more challenging. Doubts started creeping back into her thoughts. How could just drinking a quart of tea help? She'd been drinking a variety of teas all along without much effect. Her confidence in Melanie was starting to ebb and she was about to dismiss this whole effort as not much of anything beyond some feel good moments when Melanie broke her concentration.
"I don't always understand what I receive or how it's supposed to help, all I know is this came through quite clearly. Remember what I said about not "owning" this disease. Drink the tea, and God, through his son Jesus, will be with you. I must be going now. It's been wonderful to meet you. You are precious in God's eyes." With that, Melanie spoke no more. She hugged Ashley, smiled and let herself out.
Ashley busied herself with small chores and spent a brief time on the balcony in the sun. The day seemed to last forever. Her thoughts tumbled around in her head. She worked to keep the optimistic ones in the forefront of her consciousness while pushing the doubts to the background. She wanted to give her treatment with Melanie every chance to succeed and kept repeating to herself that she was not MS, it did not own her, she was going to "do," not just try, and that Jesus loves her. At 10 o'clock, she brewed a pot of tea in nervous anticipation. Choosing her favorite tea was easy. It was the only one she had that wasn't part of the rigid diets she'd been following. She concentrated on doing everything right: using distilled water, making sure it was fully boiling, using a just cleaned tea pot that could hold a little more than a quart. She was surprised to find her hands shaking as she poured her first cup. It took less than half an hour for her to finish the pot. "Please God," she whispered as she laid her head on her pillow. "Please God, help me."
The familiar patter of Jason's cell phone both alarmed and reassured him. Even after all these years of wearing it on his hip, it still startled him when it went off. After the brief adrenaline spike, he got up from his half-finished lasagna, motioned to the waitress by pointing to his phone that he'd be back, and walked quickly outside to answer it. "Good afternoon, this is Jason." Slightly annoyed about the necessity of a cell phone and its invisible leash to anyone with his number, he still consciously answered with a "good" something when he knew the calling number was a potential client.
"Hey, I've got a story for you." Matt was always short on pleasantries and long on "I need you to get on this right away." As an assignment editor for a weekly network TV magazine show, "hurry up" topped Matt's list of priorities. Most often, deadlines didn't move, even though decisions got delayed, so he was always pushing back the anxiety of his job with urgent calls to those he could count on. He could count on Jason.
Being a local TV reporter for decades and now a field producer for the network gave Jason a self assurance bordering on jaded. He preferred his current life and work over local news because the pace was not as relentless. As a freelance network producer, the work was still urgent, but didn't involve the daily grind of chasing down politicians for sound bites, running breathlessly to fires for footage and interviews with victims, writing and editing on the run, then standing out in the rain and cold waiting to do the accompanying news show "live-er" at the scene of the already squelched fire. Jason spent years wolfing down hamburgers in order to run after stories of accidents and mayhem, and it wore him down.
The erratic schedule and long hours also eroded the relationship with his wife who wanted more stability. She wanted to be first in line for his attention, but the beep of his pager took precedent. It ultimately washed away his childless marriage. Unconsciously, he let the work give him the cover he needed to avoid starting a family. Having kids scared him. They meant too much responsibility hooked together with not enough freedom.
Freelancing suited his skills and temperament perfectly. He found the wider variety of higher paying network stories all over the country much more enjoyable. The unpredictability and spontaneity of assignments kept him interested. Without a wife or a steady girlfriend, he could react quickly without guilt or complications. Just over 30, genetics had smiled on his tall, trim build and uniquely handsome, if not "central casting" pretty-boy face. Dark, slightly curly hair topped his full eyebrows and upturned nose. His eyes were symmetrical but slightly rotated, the outside just lower than the inside which gave him a perpetually vulnerable and kindly expression.
Getting dates came easily because he asked for them in a direct, unassuming way. His unstructured schedule with lots of out-of-town time kept him from booking dates too far in advance or being able to accept many dinner or party invites. This left him feeling his social life was hit and miss with last minute openings often going unfilled. He sometimes missed a steady partner to talk to and share experiences with, but he put those feelings in a separate compartment and out of his field of vision. On the whole, he was active, comfortable and prospering, pulling down around six figures most years with minimal overhead. During on-location productions, travel, lodging, and meal costs were covered, so he had virtually no living expenses. After finishing a piece, he often had a day or two before the next assignment to play or do nothing. He had little worry, except for wondering when the next call would come in.
"Hi Matt, whatcha got?" Jason answered. He had to cover his other ear to cut out the street noise, but it was better than carrying on in the restaurant where everyone could hear his business.
"It's a piece on the brain. I've got a guy who analyzes those colored pictures of the brain and we want to do a piece on it." Matt answered in his clipped uninformed way. He didn't care too much about the content or the specifics, only about getting it done. "Can you get on it right away?"
"Sure. Sounds interesting."
"Yeah, I suppose. I need it for Shirley to screen on the 17th. Got a pencil?"
"The guy's name is Cliff Newhouse. He's a researcher. I'm not sure if he's a professor or not. He's in Seattle at the University of Washington. Phone number's 206 555-8924. We haven't contacted him yet, but he just published some of his findings, so he's probably getting a bunch of calls. Talk to Shirley about what she's looking for in the piece. She's expecting your call soon, okay?" Jason knew Matt was not the source of the story and probably didn't know much beyond what he just passed on, so he thanked Matt for thinking of him and gave him assurances he'd get right on it and went back inside to finish his lasagna.
- - -
Matt was right: Shirley's clerk knew to interrupt her when he called, and in only a few moments Shirley answered. "Hello, Jason. I'm pleased you're doing this story. I asked Matt to call you first. You've got a good sense for medical technology subjects and I'll think you'll find this fascinating."
Jason remembered again why he liked working for her. "Thanks Shirley, it's always a pleasure. Tell me about it."
"Well, this brain function expert. Let's see now, what's his name?" Jason could hear paper shuffling. "Ah, here it is. Cliff, Cliff Newhouse. He's been doing brain imaging, you know those colored brain scans, for some time and is well respected for his research into not only which part of the brain performs which functions, but also looking into higher level, more abstract kinds of brain activity. In fact, his latest paper has caused quite a stir. He's done experiments or 'imaged' brains of people that are in a deep meditative state and has found some fascinating things. He's claiming that his research shows that our brains are 'hardwired' for spiritual experiences. It's a new field called neurotheology that's trying to show a biological reason for humankind's seemingly universal drive to seek a god or set up religions. I think this story has the kind of appeal our audience would go for. It's also a very promotable piece that will play well in our show's teasers. It's got science, technology and what research shows is a groundswell of interest in the spiritual and mystical, all rolled into one. You still there?"
"Yep, I gotcha."