August 31, 2014/ Jim Parker
August was an unusually tough month for me at work, sixty-hour weeks at the hospital helping care for very sick people. At home, the mood has been somber as Maria mourns the loss of her dear sister, Jenny. On Friday, miraculously, I finished work earlier than expected and called Maria as I drove home. “Honey, I’ll be home before 5:00 today, do you want to ride a couple of hours this evening rather than in the dark tomorrow morning?” I asked her.
We agreed to jump on the bikes as soon as possible and head out for a long training ride. As we prepared our equipment, I began feeling anxiety about the ride. We’d be starting during evening rush hour, rather than our usual, quiet 5:30 AM. “Maybe we should just ride in the neighborhood”, I offered sheepishly, “it’s Friday of Labor Day weekend and traffic will be heavy”.
She looked at me as a battle-worn veteran might look at a fresh recruit, “You need to H-T-F-U,” said the woman who won Race Across America last year, and only two months ago held her sister’s hand as she passed on to Heaven after a long fight with brain cancer.
“Harden the f* up” I repeated to myself, letting the advice sink in. The toughest, bravest man I’ve ever known is actually a woman, and my beautiful wife.
I completed preparations for the ride, which included bringing along earphones to listen to music from my cell phone, which holds over a thousand MP3 songs. My phone looks like a typical android smart phone, but its wireless network include bandwidth in the cosmic ether, crossing into worlds unknown.
Allow me to explain… In July, I was texting an old friend who has been divorced and out of work since the economy tanked several years ago. He’s working hard on building a new business and a new life, but he’s needed financial help, which Maria and I have provided by giving him temporary work, mostly through renovations of property we own. When things have been really tough, we’ve given him a place to stay in our home. I looked at my text message screen and I had somehow pocket-texted him gibberish “LVTCS253555”. It’s still on my phone, time-stamped July 12, 2014 at 5:19 PM. Here is a screenshot:
I have no idea how it got there or got sent to my friend, who was on the other side of town at the time, buying material for us at the home improvement store. I’m not a Bible scholar, nor a particularly religious person, but on second glance at the mysterious message, the letters “L-V-T-C-S” brought to my mind the name of the third book of the Bible, Leviticus.
A shiver ran up my spine when I googled Leviticus 253555 and it was automatically parsed to verse 25:35-55, “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you…”
I’ve always been open to the idea of God speaking to us in many different ways. Ordinary people are just as likely to surprise me with a “God moment” as priests, ministers, and mullahs. I’ve had more inspired feelings of a connection to God through reading books by authors like Dostoyevsky and Dean Koontz than Matthew or Mark. A text message from God? If God can speak through a burning bush, why not a Samsung?
Earlier this week, amidst the draining of abscesses and other medical procedures that are part of my job, my phone suddenly changed to a new ring tone, a catchy tune that I’d heard before. When the nurses would call me to let me know a patient needed something, I’d hear a snippet of an old Madonna song, “Ray of Light”.
I have no idea how or why the phone started ringing this way. Never before had it spontaneously changed ringtones. Inside my pocket, random taps on the touch-screen must have changed the ringer settings. I shrugged it off, not recognizing the harbinger of the most incredible bicycle ride of my life.
Now finally on the road with Maria, I’m heading out of the neighborhood on my Cruzbike Vendetta, entering Hwy 301, packed with people in cars trying to get home to start their long weekend. “Force fields to full power, Lt. Sulu” I think as I enter a highway of heavy traffic behind the intrepid Maria. I reach behind my neck and engage my earphones so I can listen to my music and tune out the thunderous roar of the cars. To my surprise, it’s playing Ray of Light, the whole song, from the beginning.
Zephyr in the sky at night I wonder
Do my tears of mourning sink beneath the sun
She’s got herself a universe gone quickly
For the call of thunder threatens everyone
By the time the song is over, we are off the busiest roads and heading into cycling Valhalla, miles of farm roads that wind to the horizon. We have a two hour workout planned, about 46 miles. Madonna’s tune sizzled and rocked in perfect harmony to my ride. I’m sad when it ends.
And then the next song starts. It’s Ray of Light, again, better than before, if that’s even possible. Each transition in the song and I’m ramping up another notch of cadence. The power is coming up; all the stress and anxiety of the month melting away, on the road with Maria.
Faster than the speeding light she’s flying
Trying to remember where it all began
And again, and again, my music application has given me a one-song playlist. The sun is sinking through the treetops high above the road, flashing filtered rays of light upon us. As we speed down the pavement, a red-tailed hawk soars east and low over our heads. Beyond the hawk, a flock of blackbirds heads south in a sky turning gold.
She’s got herself a little piece of heaven
Waiting for the time when Earth shall be as one
Now an hour into the ride, I realize with joy that this song will go on for as long as I ride, over and over. Every time it starts, it’s fresh and builds power through the last guitar strum. I’m flying along, smiling now at the cows looking at me with their big cow eyes. Crystal meth, heroine, Ecstasy; I can’t imagine any of them could touch this feeling and I swear I’ve had nothing stronger than Gatorade. I’ve got myself a little piece of heaven.
And I feel
Quicker than a ray of light
For someone else shall be there
Through the endless years
I have found my Universe, in the continuum of time, legs churning, wheels turning, all truth revealed. My time may be short, but I am here now fully in it. Religion should bring us all together and help us to live here in this Universe together, but it tears us apart for one reason. When religion tells us using only certain names for God is the only way to Heaven, that is the lie that separates us.
She’s got herself a universe
She’s got herself a universe
There are many ways to get your Universe and listen to God. Heaven is for those who love and care for their sisters and brothers, and we are all sisters and brothers.
And I feel
And I feel like I just got home
And I feel
Quicker than a ray of light she’s flying
Quicker than a ray of light I’m flying