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The Hungry Monk

Here's a story from the latest issue of Fate (#739) Available now.

I remember how the Santa Ana winds swept down from the mountains making Los Angeles an oven that day. Catching a ride home with my office workmate Mary, I say, “Bet there’d be fires if this wind keeps up.” The very air is scorching and hard to breathe. The sidewalks shimmer with heat waves. The hotel where we work is at LAX. The noise from incoming jets a part and parcel of our busy office life. It is a little after five o’clock and this workday is done. A shaft of sunlight highlights Mary’s blonde hair as we pass under the Century Boulevard bridge and she nods agreement at my observation, cars rushing by, as eager as us to be done and go home. And it is at this moment I somehow leave this life and this body. A cosmic window to the distant past opens in the blink of an eye I am in a different place and I am someone else entirely. Gone is the hot sun, gone the cars and gone my fellow passenger. I can actually see myself in a monk’s brown habit a cord tied at my waist, a cowl loose on my shoulders. But I am a gaunt young male with close-cropped brown hair sitting at a long rough-hewn wooden table with a writing utensil in my hand. Not a pen or a pencil but something unknown to me. I feel leather sandals on my feet, but no socks, I also know I have no underwear on and I appear to be working on a thick page of paper doing elaborate calligraphy, perhaps a religious draft for a book or a page of a decorative bible. My fingers are long and slender. And I am chilled to the bone. The four walls that surround me are made of roughly carved stone. Instinctively I am aware this is a monastery, and I am a hungry young monk who has somehow slipped the bonds of time and suddenly appeared to the vision part of the brain of a twenty first century female on her way home from work. Amazed, enthralled, I look through a window on the far wall that has no glass. The view beyond is a snowcapped hill and ice covered trees and cold air wraps itself around me. What country is this? Indeed what century have I been swept back in to? As suddenly as it had opened that improbable window closed I feel the sun warm on my bare arms again. Mary is chatting on about something I haven’t heard a word of. The car has moved only yards while I have been centuries away. “You’ll never guess what just happened,” I tell Mary. In an oh so quiet voice. I am awed by the experience. “Not in a million years.” When I tell her she looks at me askance for what seems a full minute, “Right,” she says unconvinced, chuckles under her breath and continues driving without another word. So, I began asking myself, what was that all about? Reincarnation?

A hallucination? Have I lived another life? Was that me? That monk? It sure was real. I felt everything about me, even the rough cloth of the monk’s habit as it scratched my skin, and I actually experienced his hunger pangs. How could I do that unless I was in that body? When I was younger living with foster parents, I attended the chapel at the bottom of our street, went to choir practice and taught Sunday school, even sang solo in the choir for Handel’s Messiah at Christmastime. A normal Christian teenager told to be home by eleven o’clock when I went out for the evening. Taught how to iron a shirt, how to knit, sew and embroider, how to clean a home from top to bottom. In short all the female things passed down from one generation to the next. But the subject of reincarnation or anything in that realm never came up. The discussion about having lived more that one life was unheard of in my gentle, simple home. As I grew older the days of going to church on a regular basis became fewer and fewer. I didn’t think about God or his mysteries, just got on with the business of living. Yet I knew something supremely important occurred on a hot Los Angeles afternoon that I could not discount. Of one thing I was sure because of that backward, long ago glimpse. Once upon a time I had lived another existence and oddly enough I have always been able to do calligraphic writing yet never had a lesson. Perhaps this was one of the mysteries of the Universe. Do we have many lives but we don’t recall them in present day memory? Perhaps we are here to learn more each time. I think so. Each new life to learn about tolerance, to find a way to end quarrels among the nations of man, to wage peace rather than war, to finally admit we need guidance, and to love each other. That visitation, seeing myself as a hungry young monk convinced me we are not insular but all part of a great tableau that one-day we will all understand. Until then you are lucky if you get a peek, truly, as I did, into a window from the past that opened on a hot Los Angeles afternoon on my way home from work. And it made me start respectfully thinking about what comes after this life for the first time in a very long time.


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