The first time aliens abducted me involved a good deal of blood and sweat. I was young when it happened. Too young, to be honest. But one does not choose when and where and even how to be abducted. It just happens. One moment you are playing checkers with your grandma in the kitchen at the farm on a windy summer afternoon –the kind of wind that whips the plains into submission while providing a welcome respite from swarms of gnats. We were inside, but the wind found its way through the nearly century old farmhouse in the form of creaks and pops. I was ahead, and I knew it was because of my own merit; grandma was not one to let anyone win. You earned what you achieved. And you were better for it. A collection of red markers rested at my side and three black kings stood ready to pounce. I had to be careful as I had been in this position before. Hubris. Pride. Words that my nine year old self did not yet know but on some level understood.
It started with a light as it so often does. Started is probably the wrong word; in the kitchen, poised to sacrifice a King in what I was sure was an infallible gambit, while at the same time, I suddenly found myself on a table, thin wire holding my wrists and ankles. A circular saw opened my chest. I watched the entire thing, calm and aware yet terrified. I tried to scream, but my mouth was stitched closed. I know that for a fact because I could feel the thread against my gums and could taste the blood. Two aliens with three long arms each, nearly translucent, carefully removed one organ at a time. They appeared to be scanning each bloody part, then setting the pieces of me aside in what I can only think of as a cooler filled with blue ice.
My head was propped up the entire time, as if they wanted me to observe. After some time a third alien entered and replaced my organs with what I imagine was some sort of replicated tissue. Again, not a word I knew at the time, but this is something that I have been unable to share until just recently. They folded my ribcage back into place and stitched me up. Then, for the first time, the tallest of the three looked me in the eyes. It took off its mask. It was a she, I was fairly certain. Large black eyes with the tiniest sparkle of light dancing around. In those eyes I felt love; very much like the love I felt when playing checkers with my grandma. She reached with her long arms and caressed my red hair just prior to plucking out both of my eyes.
And just like that I was back in the kitchen, having sacrificed my King a few moves prior. Despite my former advantage, grandma had me pinned. I had no recollection of the past few moves, but it had to have been an epic lapse of judgement. And I knew something had happened. I was wet with sweat where my chest had been split open, but at that point I remembered nothing. All I knew is that I had squandered away another victory and that did not bother me at all. I was playing checkers with grandma. And later, as the sun set, I knew the wind would die down and we would burn the large pile of brush in the field just west of the barn. Life was good.
The second time it happened was my first year of Senior League baseball. I was thirteen years old and one of the youngest on the team. I started the season rotating in right field with two other players; I ended the season playing a good deal of second base and starting. It was that season that I took a fastball to the helmet; that same year our pitcher took a line drive square in the privates – he was the sole fielder who actually wore a cup. I love baseball. You all know that. I have made that quite clear. Late in the season, and we were playing at Emerson Field, the lesser of the two venues by far. I don’t recall if we won or lost, but chances are the latter. We finished 3-13; however, one of those wins was against a first place team. When it happened in the fourth inning, this time there was no blood.
I stood on second base after a double to the opposite field, which for me is right field. I had actually connected with a curveball and drove it in the gap. Let’s just say it was part of a comeback, because, why not? I had driven in two runs. But the guy at the plate was not going to hit the ball, of that I was pretty certain. Clouds covered the sky and I could smell the rain threatening to fall. And it was at that point that I once again found myself on a table. Or, to be more precise, this time I was at the table. Sitting. A plethora of food before me. I spoke in a language foreign to my tongue – sounds I did not realize I was capable of making. The food moved as if alive. My later self would have thought of Klingon Ghach! But I had yet to be introduced to the intricacies of Klingon cuisine at that point in my short life.
I can’t recall the particulars of the conversation; hell, I can’t tell you one word of what was said. All that I know is that it was profound, enlightening, and healing. I say that despite even to this day recalling nothing of what was said (or consumed) but knowing full well it was a vital moment in my development. And like the first time, before I knew it, I was “back” and crossing home plate; dude actually hit the ball, and he hit it hard.
The third and final time came many years later. Picture a Kegger (is that a word?) at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD. Not the kegger where I asked my future wife out on our first date. She said yes and I approached her roommate the next morning to confirm. That is another story. This one includes a snake – a very large snake that curled itself around my neck and down my arm. Beautiful creature with spots and patterns and colors. And I still managed to hold my plastic cup of cheap beer back in a time when I still drank cheap beer. It was the night before an Ed/Pysch exam that I ended up receiving the worst grade of my college career (and we are talking three degrees): D-. I never took another education class after that semester; in fact, I dropped all my education classes and switched from Math to English. I was intent on being an English Professor – what better job is there in the world?
This time was the strangest one of all – and that, as you know by now, is saying a lot. On the couch, snake curling around my neck and arm, the upcoming exam a distant if at all concern, I was pontificating (no doubt on something I was assured that I knew everything about at the age of 19), when I found myself in bed with an alien. Don’t go there. It wasn’t like that. But so far I have blood, sweat and tears. Okay, no tears. And no sex, which will bring the tears, right?
Where is this headed? Is he crazy? Is he testing our patience? He mentioned a second chapter and he gives us this? But here is the deal: the memories are real if somewhat embellished/crafted. This is writing after all. Did I really have these experiences? Not gonna answer that. But I have experienced the supernatural. I have experienced the unknown. What we cannot grasp and understand. It is what I don’t know that provides me my faith – my deep and unwavering and unsure faith. Paradox! Of course. Who is so vain to claim they know? I have always held an equal skepticism toward those who claim fanatical adherence to religion as I have those who claim, with no uncertainty, that there is no God. Or god.
I had a mountain top experience. It was on an actual mountain. The Annapurna range in the Himalayan Mountains. The trees towered over me as I carried my small backpack with book and water and camera. Our Sherpas carried all the actual gear. I suppose as a white, Western, straight, protestant male, including all the privileges included therein, I ought to have felt guilt. But that is somewhat bull, as feeling guilty about paying an individual from another country whose position is one of respect and stature to do their job is just as bad as looking down on them as less than. I had no guilt. I was, in fact, in awe. Who in their right mind would not be?
Just as my wife and I made the Decision to get married less than a year earlier, I walked on a rocky trail under the canopy of towering trees and made a Decision to reignite my faith. Faced with a world of such possibility, I chose to decide to live in a world with a God. I made a choice to have faith. And at that time, given the immensity of the moment, I also made the choice to enter into the seminary upon my return to the states. Several months later, I weighed the options of being a pastor and attending seminary and being a professor and attending graduate school. I chose the latter. Whether or not I chose wisely is not a question that can be easily answered.
Fast-Forward: during my first year out of my Master’s program, while adjuncting in MN, our pastor at Park Avenue Methodist brought up Buffy the Vampire Slayer in his sermon. He spoke of the need to, on some level, be open to the possibility of the supernatural. That it was okay to believe in Angels and Demons. There was something freeing and exciting about that message – and certainly one that jived with my own sensibilities and questioning nature. The moment I claim to be sure of my faith, I figure it is as good as lost. The moment I claim to be sure of the existence of God, I figure she no longer exists. The moment I claim to have the answer, I figure I have certainly got it all wrong. But allowing for belief, or acceptance, of the supernatural helped me with that. I made a Decision to Choose to allow for the possibility of the Supernatural in my life.
As such, when I look back on the funeral of a college friend (an experience I wrote about in a published piece on Stephen King, literary modernism, and the blues), I recall the horses running across the pastures from around the reservation, bowing as my friends body was lowered into the earth. The horses left once we stopped singing “Amazing Grace,” and I decided to believe that it was not coincidence. When my neck pain had gotten so bad almost a year after my grandmother’s death, and she visited me in a dream – I decided to believe that it was far more than a dream – she visited me. I woke up and sobbed on the couch, finally let her go, and the next day my body was healed. My brother and my sister-in-law were t-boned on the interstate in SD in the winter, and I decided to believe that for the first time I saw the power of prayer in action.
Now the rational mind could write up this and so much more as simply coincidence – a chain of events and circumstances. Nothing supernatural here, folks. Fair enough, but this is far from a rational world, and I refuse to approach it as such. A mind shut out from the possibility of the supernatural to me seems neutered. There is just too much beauty and mystery to be fully appreciated and experienced by a solely rational mind.
And the fanatical mind, the one that claims to have The answer, might say something even worse: God was testing you. It is all part of God’s plan. To that individual, the one who without doubt, without question, who believes he has discovered truth – I say how dare you claim to know not only what God plans, but even how God thinks. Or that we can even apply such human concepts in a vain attempt to make sense of a complex reality that defies any totalizing narrative. That is the path that leads to judgment and Othering and all the horrors unleashed upon the world in the name of true believers.
So I have decided to choose to believe that I have experienced the supernatural – that I have experienced miracles, talked with the dead, and observed prayer manifest. Moreover, I have decided to choose to believe in God and attend a Methodist church not because I know for sure that this is the one true answer. Not because I believe that all humanity should read the same text and interpret in same way I do. Not because I think that I have found the correct answer. No.
In fact, I have attended church services, both large and small, where the Pastor stands at the lectern and told me what to believe and how to interpret the Bible. I have attended church services where pastors communicated both explicitly and implicitly that women have a certain role, that homosexuality is a sin, and that Christianity is the one true religion. I chose to no longer attend those institutions. I will not have my religion be prescriptive; in the same way I won’t tell my students How to read and write. Rather, I seek an environment, a community, wherein I have a space to wrestle with the complex narratives embedded in Biblical text, build a community of friends, and pool our resources to do good in both the immediate community and the global environment. I do not, however, seek an environment that seeks in any way to impose its will upon other people.
On a similar note, the same fanaticism and single-mindedness that leads so many to be skeptical of religion and religious institutions, is often similarly perpetuated by those who vehemently claim that there is, in no uncertain terms, a God. The problem is that such claims respond to the prescriptive forms of religion that, I would argue, represent only a tiny (yet loud) fraction of believers. As I already stated, the belief in no uncertain terms that there either is or is not a God both seem to me to be equally representative of a limited perspective. But in the same way that I have found not only a church, but a system of belief that belies such a limited perspective, I have many close friends who, while they chose to decide not to believe in God, simultaneously respect my decision to believe. In similar fashion, the disrespect/skepticism toward those who do not believe stems from a reaction not to those who adhere to a personal decision to choose not to believe in God, but rather from those whose belief denies another’s right to believe. Indeed, believers and non-believers alike can, and often do, respect each other’s decisions. The beliefs are not mutually exclusive. And within both there is room for the supernatural. Furthermore, within both systems of beliefs exist myriad positions of multiple issues.
And how, you might be asking, are alien abductions connected to all of this? I guess it comes down to accepting that I am at once speaking of real experience and dealing in metaphor – and that to accept the paradox of that simultaneous belief. There is something freeing in deciding to believe, firmly, while also understanding that such belief does not need equate with certainty and rationality. Checkers with Grandma, little league baseball, and college parties with a large snake are memories I will forever have. Considering deeply and closely what I am made of, and opening myself to concepts and ideas foreign to me, are tenets of my life philosophy that I hold dear. And they are connected. Deeply.
So let me take you back to that third time. Sitting on a couch most likely purchased from the Salvation Army, about two decades out of style (almost long enough to be back in style but not quite), and I suddenly found myself in bed with an alien. The same one that long ago plucked out my eyes in order to see the world I as saw it. And maybe that is what writing can do. In fact, it is what writing can do. For that is what these moments address – the nature of writing and reading. The comfort of lying in bed with someone with nothing separating each other. Trust and the giving of oneself. The intimacy of what Stephen King calls “a meeting of the minds” across time and space. The ability to exam the insides of another, see through their eyes, and speak in tongues foreign but on some level familiar. The ability to live a life previously unlived. And in so doing, at times, to accept that we may have to check out for a few moments and have faith that all will proceed (not as God plans, not as we want it to) but as it will. And that it may result in the inexplicable, the unexplainable – the supernatural.
Back in the room on the couch, I turned and my good friend and Math Tutoring partner now held the snake. I now held a full beer. A group of freshman had found their way to the party, so young and immature. It was time to school them on how life worked, back when for that brief period of life I had all the answers. Indeed, at that point I could run the government, parent, manage a baseball team, and school Biblical scholars on the way to read the good word. I grew out of that certainty. That hubris. But too many have not. And others never even got to that place, however briefly. There is something vital and freeing about living in the space of certain knowledge for a time; moreover, there is something even more vital in letting that go, and not moving on but moving forward. The past must always be part of us, shape us and inform us, but need not define us.
Eventually I was able to beat Grandma in checkers. Eventually I worked my way into a regular starter and even made the All-Star team when I was 15 in baseball. Eventually I left that party, left college, and went from purchasing beer in bulk to buying expensive craft beer. And through it all I found within myself a healthy, skeptical faith that informs every decision I am faced with. It informs how I parent, how I husband, how I teach, even how I manage my facebook status updates. But it never, I hope, infringes on another’s ability to choose. Nor does it simplify another’s pain or experience to part of “a plan”, nor to the randomness of the cosmos.
No. Rather, it includes the possibilities of angels and demons and a blond vampire slayer named Buffy who sings, “I was in Heaven,” as her friends look to her, and realize that in their selfish desire to understand all of life in terms applicable to human understanding, they ripped their friend out of everlasting peace. Buffy died at the end of Season Five – in an attempt to rescue her from a hell-dimension, her friends succeed in resurrecting her. She is a bit off for much of the season, until a demon possesses the gang and they all “Sing” the truth. It turns out Buffy was in Heaven, where “there was no pain, no fear or doubt, until they pulled me out, of Heaven.”
Recall the sermon I mentioned wherein my pastor mentioned Buffy. This particular episode had not even aired at the time. Yet that moment, that assurance that the supernatural could be profound and even necessary, changed me. And then, upon watching this episode, it came full circle. The rest of the Scooby gang (Buffy’s friends/family) mistakenly took their belief in the supernatural too far and eschewed the belief of the unknown and were certain that they were saving her from hell. They saw the supernatural not as something beyond, but as something concrete and prescribed and claimed to know what they could not know. Their decision resulted in denying Buffy peace because they applied human logic to the supernatural.
So, if you are still reading this, you might be wondering (probably not for the first time), is this guy nuts? Does he believe that he was abducted by aliens not once, not twice, but three times? And my answer would be that you are asking the wrong questions. Asking questions that end with a yes or no, while at times necessary, too often limit perception and simplify complex issues. That is the problem to so many questions posed today: Are we a nation divided? Should we appeal and replace Obamacare? Is there such thing as an “alternative fact”? Are you pro-choice? Pro-life? Do you support the troops? Maybe I ought to conclude, then, by providing the question. But that is something that I will not and cannot do; rather, I await the question – one that I would be fascinated to receive if only you will ask.