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Three Fingers

            The charge was dangerous driving and the sentence was 90 days. The Exeter Road Correctional Facility in London, Ontariowas a minimum security detention centre but it was a prison nonetheless. With one third off the sentence automatically dropped, then another third lowered for good behaviour, I could easily ride out the remaining 30 days. So I thought. There was fear of the other inmates, anxiety at the idea of my world going on without me, but the most trying experience of the whole matter was being locked up in my cage for hours on end. On the 9th day of my detention, I was released. I was awarded a "TemporaryAbsencePass" which allowed me to complete my time on weekends. Each Saturday and Sunday, I had to perform assigned duties, as with community service. I did my duty and then went on with my life. I was never in any real trouble with the law ever again (at least I didn't get caught). I believed I was rehabilitated but I would argue that I am more medicated than anything else. 
            My strongest memory of those few days when I was trapped, incarcerated, is not necessarily a negative one. It just happens to be rather strange. For the first few hours, I just sat pacing in my room, but only in my head. I felt like screaming. When we were forced to congregate on the range (number 4), I slumped down against the wall next to my cell and I started reading. Enrolled in a college at the time, I was allowed to bring in a few textbooks so I could study for my courses. I sat there, endlessly, skimming over the material. By the second day, I started to actually pace in my cell as well as out on the range. Surprisingly, I was asked to join in on a game of euchre while one player had visitation. I was reluctant, but not for lack of skill. I agreed and played well, although quietly. I found myself lowering who I was in order to fit in. No one wants to bully the nice kid on the block. When everyone likes you, you have no enemy.
            My incarceration began on May 6th 1988. By the time my birthday arrived on May 15th, I was calm and polite to the naked eye, but inside I was ready to make a break for it. I never understood what the experience of jail was really like and I still don't, not really. It went well for me. I played them all like those cards. It was actually a birthday to remember, regardless of my location on that day. I was informed of my release come the next morning and my family visited me in the afternoon. My parents' support only encouraged me more. I had almost made it through. When I returned to the range after the visit, a few of my euchre pals had piled up wads of butter and lit a match which they placed dead centre. The birthday wishes were muted and without song (you don't sing in prison). Looking back on the whole experience, I am humbled and see great purpose in the time I spent in jail. The people I came in contact with were not monsters, they were people, just like anyone else might be. Albeit, a minimum security facility does not expose one to the more severe criminal, it still allowed me to explore the boundaries of my own empathy and I learned just how similar people really are.  We might react differently to how we feel but the feelings are always the same.


            I walked into the Church half expecting Jesus to greet me at the door. From the beginning of my indoctrination, whenever I dealt with anyone fundamentalist I always felt like I was being watched by some ethereal being. God was always with me and He would not go away. It may not have been the Lord that I experienced, but this is no way minimized the effect on me. I had been invited as a newly born-again Christian to indulge in an afternoon of worshipping God and interacting with other people of the Faith. It was a strange day indeed. I immediately took the position of observer. Truth be told, my primary attraction was more curiosity than any attempt at righteousness. I just wanted to witness firsthand the kind of zealous praising I had for the most part only heard about. I must admit I was slightly dimwitted at the time. I had convinced myself, in a sanctuary full of white people, that a gospel choir of 100 fat black singers in bright blue robes would soon appear to praise His name. Even then I watched far too much religious programming on television.
            It was odd watching approximately 75 people stand and wave their hands in the air, as if they were at a football game. I was disappointed that the "metachronal rhythm" from the group didn't result in a stadium wave. It was even stranger to have the 'house band' pump out rock song after rock song. This was not the music of my Faith at the time. We had gathered near the altar call, at the front of the crowded room. Teenagers, old women, and even small children were somehow void of anything but joy. Many ethnic groups were represented and one disabled girl in a wheelchair set the scene just right. In secret, I imagined I was there as a member of the LGBT community but I am sure this revelation was not the one sought in prayer that day. The reading was followed by a quick sermon on the gifts of the Spirit and then the music started to play once again. With little experience in proper fundamentalism, I kept questioning in my head what Jesus would think of these shenanigans. I understood the genre but I was not accustomed to it in what was supposed to be a Holy place. Halfway through a song, the madness set in.
            The lead singer started voicing in a foreign tongue, one I did not recognize. It was more like a babble, a random flowing of what might be words, spewing from her mouth. The band joined in this singing. Slowly after, it spread like a plague, the adult congregation joined in a very uncomfortable chant. They waved to the music, mumbled into the air and some even shook like a tiny earthquake would. In hindsight, I understand the glossolalia they practiced was not the xenoglossythey had preached, but it mattered little to me at the time. I wouldn't say I was enchanted by the display, more disengaged. I just wasn't sure what the hell was going on. I wasn't prepared for this seemingly contrived and well-controlled spectacle. At the end of the afternoon, I left with a rather bad taste in my mouth. I double checked to make sure it wasn't locust. For over 2 years of attendance, I sat and watched as follower after follower incoherently bounced the Spirit around like an epileptic. The lesson was never hard to learn. These people felt that God was moving through them when they were actually making it up. All the voices, for all those years, and not one spoke French or Mandarin. There was no discernable message. Not one of the experiences I witnessed was scripturally accurate. People really can convince themselves something is real and actual, even if it's the furthest thing from the truth.  

            I had spent the last of my cash on a roast beef sub and a bottle of Coke in Los Angeles. I boarded the eastbound Greyhound bus, used my return fare, then found my place eventually to watch as the desert approached. It would be a 3-day tour from the City of Angels to the bus station in downtown Detroit. For most of it, I suffered without any source of food. I used my empty Coke bottle and filled it with bathroom water at scheduled stops along the way. I maintained my window seat, located almost at the back, and awaited my fate. Untreated for my Bi-Polar disorder at the time, I had peaked out, manic to the most, and ended up 3500 kilometres away from my home near Toronto, Ontario. I simply disappeared, telling no one where I was going or if I would return. It was an impulse trip, an escape from the world my mind had convinced me sought to harm me. I had convinced myself to harm myself. I really only wanted to get away, to be free, but the reality hit me when I started to come down. For days, I wandered about LA. When regret set in, I called my Mom, who quickly talked me into coming home. They would pick me up in the MotorCity and chauffeur me back to all my consequence. I had done many things before my exodus.
            By the time the bus pulled into the station in Omaha, Nebraska, I was weak in the knees. Not once in my entire life had I gone that long without food before. The idea of any awaiting punishment was nothing when compared to my newly found hunger. With a one hour layover before departure to Chicago, I journeyed away from the depot to stretch my legs and pray for mercy. I have never been much of a praying man. Even back when I was somewhat Christian in my thinking, I felt that asking God for stuff was obtuse and narcissistic. At this moment in time, one would imagine such an expression would be somehow fitting. I felt chastised and under deliberate attack. Of course, it was God who had done the damage despite my own behaviour. I walked through the quiet town, ever asking for intervention. I imagined that Omahawould somehow transform itself come the light of day. At night, it was a deserted place, quiet and simple and worn. Everything seemed so old and abandoned. Somehow the place was a reflection of myself, a mirror to the emptiness that had long ago taken control. I implored anything Holy to act on my behalf and assist me in this hour of need.
            I had passed the empty lot on the way to some place, then cut through on the way back to some place else. A flimsy looking "for sale" sign sat propped up at one corner, against a mound of gravel and medium sized stones. Clumps of grass and weed criss-crossed the property but did little to smooth the path. One second the ground beneath me was firm, then a trench would catch my foot and attempt to trip me. I had to watch my footing as I headed toward the other side. Near centre, eyes stuck on the ground, it appeared to me. A single $20.00 bill sat waving hello to my weary face. From those lingering and very inconvenient holes came my salvation, or at least it felt like that at the time. It was one of the strangest events in my history. Something finally granted me reprieve, regardless of whether is was true or not. It seemed I had actually received assistance from God. It was exactly the break I  needed, not to mention the very thing I had begged for. As I headed back towards the bus station, I gave thanks for my answered prayer. I had never experienced one of them before.

            If there is one thing I have taken from this life so far, it is the idea that everything holds a lesson. There is purpose in the connectivity of this universe. I believe we are here to experience these experiences, that they are woven into the very fabric of our reality. You have to recognize when God speaks to you through the things you know. All your answers lie waiting within. They are not miracles or special favours, they are for everyone and all have access. If you pay attention, you can see this rhythm in the rather mundane. When the song you just mentioned comes on the radio, this is a connection. When your long lost friend calls on the very day you mention them, this is a connection. When something weird occurs, when you encounter the surreal, there is a connection.   You might think it is mere coincidence, but coincidence is simply God pointing a finger. Déjà vu and things sublime simply identify to us how time is linear, that what will be is not so much set but available. If  you use what you have been given, no matter how odd or strange that experience might be, it can hold valuable information.  
            Often the ridiculous stands out much greater than some everyday experience. Things appear strange to draw our attention to them. The uniqueness of these encounters acts to focus the attentive mind. To recognize the lesson is the purpose. Whether we come to recognize common ground with our fellow man through dairy products or understand the imperfection of manmade religions, we can learn if we really want to. Sometimes God even seems to intercede. Tiny little miracles happen all around us but we fail to see them. God doesn't speak to us as a rock or a fig leaf. Burning bushes, flying horses, even visions on the way to Damascus, these strange and memorable oddities are engrained into the human collective. I believe that's why they are weird. We would forget them otherwise. Sometimes, God even uses more than one finger.



This post first appeared on Surviving God, please read the originial post: here

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Three Fingers


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