Perplexing Perspectives

"So, he says, 'I found a hair in my food.' But the cook says, 'Then you shouldn't have ordered the rabbit stew.' Get it?" The voice worked its way through the thick fog of buzzing in my mind.

"Yeah. It just ain't funny," another voice growled.

Sounds gradually became clearer and clearer. Soon after, I felt the loose ropes binding my hands behind the chair beneath me, and the pounding in my head lessened bit by bit.

"You just don't like jokes to do with hair, baldy," the first voice said. I cracked my eyes just enough to let in some of the blinding candlelight and get a glimpse of my guards.

"Then why would you tell them?" The squat, balding guard sat at a circular table a few paces away, picking through a few scraps of food on a plate in front of him.

The jokester tapped out a few dance steps on the table right in front of me and struck a pose. "Just to see if you have a sense of humor about yourself. You gotta crack a smile sometime." His tall frame looked to be made of stick that wore clothes, and the size of his nose made his head look comically top heavy, as if he would tip upside-down at any moment. 

The spacious dining area in which I found myself disappeared into dark corners beyond the candle's glow. But the floral-carved embellishments on the pillars and framework glittered a dull glow with red highlights.

"Don't count on it," the grumpy guard said through a mouthful of chicken.

"You know what your problem is? You don't..."

I drowned their bickering out as I focused on getting my hands loose. Luckily, it seemed like these guys practiced their comedy more than tying knots. With a few calculated wiggles, I pulled my hands free and let the rope drop silently to the wooden floor.

I knew I would have to be careful. I'd never tried this before, but I hoped I failed this attempt. Ever so slowly, my hands came around to my front, and I grabbed the tablecloth of the table were the funny man stood.

"Now take Lady Cam, she–"

I stood up and jerked the tablecloth toward me. The tall guard's feet came with it and he fell, face first, onto the table and rolled to the floor.

The balding guard jumped to his feet surprisingly fast, threatening me with a fork and knife. I lunged at him with the off-white tablecloth and wrapped it over his head and torso. Before he could stick me with the fork, I kicked at his legs and brought him to the ground. A wooden chair soon crashed over his covered head, and the lumpy cloth stopped struggling. I held the chair legs ready to defend myself against the tall guard, but his fall must have knocked him out cold. He breathed deeply on the floor of the dining area.

Where are they? I had been asking myself that question for a while now, and I was sure my search had led me to the answers. I found the door and took my leave of the two guards. As I entered the hallway, the floor shifted and I bumped into the wooden planks of the wall. The floor righted itself, and I knew I was on a boat. I crept through the passageways as silently as possible, careful of more guards, but nobody was there to challenge me.

Soon enough, I made my way to the deck where moonlight bathed the large ship and the surrounding river in bouncing silver rays.

I found the gangplank that led to the docks on the opposite side of the ship and made my way toward the city that lay beyond. But before I set foot on solid land, they stepped into the light of a lantern near the edge of the river.

“Angel!”

Both of the women’s faces turned up toward me. I sighed in relief at the sight of my wife, unharmed, holding our baby in its basinet.

“Get away from my wife, witch.”

The smooth, black cloth of the stern woman’s long coat barely ruffled as she leaned to the love of my life and whispered something in her ear.

To my horror, my wife extended her arms beyond the retaining wall and over the river, supporting the white basinet with her pale fingers. Before I could say a word of protest, she let go. The child fell to the rushing water as a cloud passed in front of the moon, obscuring any view of my infant’s fate. 

The sound of the splash was swallowed up in the roar that erupted from my throat. 

As I ran at them, my wife walked away to disappear in the darkness. The witch, posing as a professional woman of business, stood calmly to confront the rage I had become. I grabbed her by the collar of her coat and shoved her against the stone wall that came up to my waist. Not a single hair in the tight bun on her head ruffled out of place.

“What did you do to her?”

“Nothing.”

I slammed her against the stones again, leaning her farther over the water. “That wasn’t nothing!” I peered into the dark streets of the city behind me. “Angel! Where are you?”

“She can’t talk to you right now,” the witch said with a smirk.

“Did you cut out her tongue or something?”

“I misspoke,” she corrected with a nod of the head. “She won’t talk to you right now.”

“What are you talking about, demon?” I spat. “She’s my wife. Why wouldn’t she talk to me? Why would she drop our baby in the river?”

“She does what must be done. She understands much more than you will ever be capable of.”

“Bring her back. Bring back my child.” My trembling legs almost collapsed as sadness sapped my strength.

She fixed me with a haughty stare. “I will not. I do what must be done.”

Defiant determination exploded from my chest. “Then I will as well. If you won’t bring back my baby, you will help me find him.”

With one last shove, I drove the grinning witch over the edge of the wall. But I didn’t let go, and we both fell into the dark water below. The chilled river swallowed me up, and I almost panicked. However, my anger kept my fingers locked around the evil woman’s coat. 

I kicked my feet to bring us back to the surface, something fought against me. Suddenly, the witch felt very heavy, weighing me down, and I felt her soft coat become rough and scaly. Then I had nothing to grasp, and she came free of my hands. Not much light from the dockside lamps penetrated the darkness of the river, but I caught quick movement before the giant jaws of a crocodile snapped closed, inches from my nose. 

She vanished with a flick of her powerful tail.

The cold of the water seeped deeper into my bones, and I knew I had to reach the surface, and land, soon. I kicked and struggled to raise myself up, but my sodden clothes weighed me down, laughing at my desperate efforts to rise only a few inches. My chest lurched, struggling to release my last breath and take another. I wasn’t going to make it.

Something slammed into my chest, knocking out my last precious breath so hard that I couldn’t take another even if I had wanted to. It latched on, and I thought the witch/crocodile had decided to finish me off. Yet no teeth pierced my flesh. The water rushed around me, and before I knew it, I burst through the surface and landed on soft sand in the shallows. I gulped air back into my lungs as the arm unwrapped itself from around me. 

The light of the moon returned and revealed my rescuer to be Kade. The gills he had grown since his curse flexed on the side of his neck, not knowing what to do when he breathed through his mouth.

“You alright?” he asked, flipping brown locks of wet hair out of his eyes.

When my breathing was finally under control, I ignored his question. “Did you see him? Did you see the basinet with my baby?”

“Baby?”

“And the witch! She turned into a croc. Where did she go?”

“Slow down,” Kade said, holding up his hands. “I saw the crocodile. It took off upriver. I did see an odd thing floating downriver a minute or so ago. Are you saying that was your baby?”

I got to my feet and Kade joined me. “Which way is downriver?”

Kade pointed to my right. “It’ll be way down there now, with a current this fast.”

I started to run, fighting against aching and wobbly muscles.

“How did he fall in?” Kade asked, keeping pace.

“She dropped him in,” I puffed.

“The witch?”

“My wife.”

Kade stopped, and after a few moments I heard his quick steps catch up again. “Why would she do that?”

My eyes scanned the river as I ran. “I don’t know. But after I find my child, that is what I’m going to find out.”

 

***

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Now, I had this dream several years ago, well before I met my wife. At the time, I don’t think I even recognized a face for the woman that took on the role of my wife in the dream. So, I hope my wife now doesn’t think that I have a fear of how she will treat children.

One of the reasons that I chose to write about this dream does have to do with my wife though. We just found out that she is pregnant, so babies are on my mind a lot these days, though I hope that my child will never be put in such a precarious situation.

The aspect of this dream that most captured me at this time was the fact that, if the witch had been telling the truth, my dream wife dropped our child into a river with complete mental clarity, knowing exactly what she was doing. For some reason, as I remember my dream, I had an inkling that this was completely true. This would then lead to two conclusions that I can see. Either my wife disliked our baby so much that she would rather see it drown than be with it anymore, or I was unaware of some truth that my wife had discovered. From the feelings I had in the dream, the first is completely unlikely, leaving the second option as the one that held the truth. And what it all comes down to is a matter of perspective.

There are so many books, essays, speeches, memes, or whatever that talk about perspective, so what I have to say about it probably won’t be anything completely original. However, as I look at the world and see the intolerance, the blind hate, and the general ignorance that abounds, it is obvious that that are plenty of people who cannot comprehend the concept of perspective. The very idea that someone else has lived a life that gave them a different, but just as legitimate, set of values is so alien that their brains turn to hate-filled mush if anyone tries to explain this reality to them.

But the human race needs to gain a greater ability to be sympathetic to one another. I would say that we should even strive toward empathy for one another, or as close to it as we can get. This requires everyone to have open minds that are willing to stretch into situations that might be uncomfortable.

In my dream, I did not know the things that my wife had known which led her to dropping the baby in the water. If I had, I might not have been so upset, and the dream would have been much less eventful, but it would have been much more peaceful. But my first reaction was to ask “what” questions, and anger consumed me. By the end of the dream, I was determined to figure out the “why” of the situation. I was still angry, but I understood that there was more for me to know if I really wanted to understand the situation. I would like to think that my dream-self was striving for a wider perspective before coming to conclusions.

Now this was a dream where the reasons were never revealed to me, but I can think of another similar situation from the Old Testament. Moses’ mother put him in the river as a baby so that he wouldn’t be killed because of the decree of the pharaoh. Now, imagine if a traveler on the other side of the river had seen this happen. They don’t know about any decree to kill babies. All they see is a woman abandoning a helpless infant in a river with all sorts of dangerous animals. They might not even see the child’s sister hiding in the bushes to keep an eye on her brother. Their conclusions would probably be that this is a horrible woman. She is a deadbeat mom who is just avoiding the responsibilities of parenthood. There are all sorts of hateful things one could think about seeing a woman performing this action. It isn’t until perspectives are changed that truth becomes revealed. 

With all the things I see on the news and social media these days, it seems that most people’s default is to spout their outrage at the slightest inkling of something that offends them or even has the possibility of offending some random person in any way. All this does is create more offense, hate, anger, and widens the distances that separate the human race as a whole.

This attitude needs to be stamped out with all the force we can muster. If we don’t, the situation will only get worse and worse. Hate will build upon hate, and all will suffer for it. For example, whenever I hear about the police shooting someone, or someone shooting the police, all I hear is angry shouting. Not many are trying to think of what kind of situation the other person is in. Maybe the cop was frightened out of his wits because he had a friend shot and killed in a similar situation. Maybe the young black man felt like he had to get a gun in order to protect himself and his family from the true criminals in his neighborhood. Maybe the suicide bomber had family members being threatened by actual terrorists. Maybe the terrorist’s family had been killed by a missile when the soldiers didn’t know there were innocent families next door. Maybe the soldier had a father in the Twin Towers. Maybe the young girl was raped, and the thought of the child brings back those horrible memories. Maybe that pro-life advocate was told they should have been aborted by their parents, or has had experiences that show them that all life is sacred. There are so many lives that people lead, and nobody can be aware of them at all times.

What we need to try to ask more is just one word: why. When we ask this question, we are trying to put ourselves in their situation, changing our perspective and view of the world. When we understand the why of anyone’s actions, in most situations, our sympathy for that person will grow, and support will come more readily than blame.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we get rid of anger altogether. There are times in which anger is appropriate. But that will usually come after a full understanding has been reached by taking our perspective and adjusting it to the position of those involved in the situation.

I realize that this might be easier for people like me, with imaginations that can go into places they have never been before. I’m not trying to pat myself on the back or anything because I know it is still something I need to work on as well. But as a whole, if the human race tries to expand their understanding, stretch their imagination, and understand the perspectives of the people around them, or even of people on the other side of the world, I know that we will be able to come closer and be better for it. It will allow us to strengthen bonds that will tie us together and inspire us to work toward the common good of all.

Cause and Effects of Exorcism

“It’s mostly just a nuisance”, the nurse said in response to my questions. “Nobody has actually been hurt yet. Kinda like when he was alive. But he is making that room unlivable, depriving other elderly clients of proper care.”

“What kind of mischief has the recently departed Mr. Waterbee been up to?” I took a few steps around the small living quarters of the retirement home. Sheets had been ripped off the bed. The table and chairs had been knocked over. And water dripped where it shouldn’t be in the tiny kitchen area.

“You can see the worst of it. If anyone was watching television, he would keep changing the channel to Animal Planet. Nobody could sleep in here, and one even got tossed out of bed.” She walked over and lifted a chair. “He never liked anyone touching his things.”

The television flipped on to a documentary on the story of a dog saving its owner who broke his leg while hiking.

“Always the dogs,” the nurse chuckled as she grabbed up the remote.

“Babe,” said a voice from behind us. Shay and Calvin stood in the doorway.

I walked out into the hall and kissed her on the cheek. “Hey, gorgeous. What did you guys find out?”

Calvin stuck out his tongue in disgust.

“Well, there were only a few locals his age still alive. it took some digging, but I think they all agree that Mr. Waterbee had always been quite a handful his entire life.” She pulled out her trusty notebook she always used when investigating a ghost. “One woman, however, thinks that things took a particular turn for the worse in the summer of ’39. When he came back to school after the break, he was meaner, and more unreasonable than ever.”

I sighed. “Well that narrows it down. We’ll take a few jumps through the summer months to see what happens. You ready, Calvin?”

Calvin’s shoulders slumped, and he groaned. “Do I have to?”

“Have to?” Shay repeated. “You ‘get’ to. You think many kids get to see actual evidence of ghosts and travel through time to try to help them? Besides, if I left you alone in a town none of us have been to before, that would be incredibly irresponsible parenting. Get your stuff.”

“You bring your son to exorcisms?” the nurse asked from behind me.

“He’s not my dad,” Calvin spat.

Shay whacked him on the shoulder. “Step-dad. So, close enough not bite people’s heads off about it.”

 I turned a smile to the nurse. “There’s nothing dangerous about what we do, so he gets to come along for the ride when we have him.”

Calvin rolled his eyes at us adults.

“Anyway,” Shay said, “we’ll get started on Mr. Waterbee right away. Let’s go, my handsomes.” Calvin and I followed her to the entrance of the retirement home.

“But the ghost is in here,” called the nurse, pointing to the late Mr. Waterbee’s old room.”

I waved. “But that isn’t the source of the problem.”

We drove to the outskirts of the small, Midwestern town and found a suitable field to set up. The equipment didn’t take long to prep, since we were so practiced at it, but assembling a time-machine had to be precise work. Setting the dial to the desired date, I activated the machine. The three of us watched the world warp around us. Light bent, warped, and shifted through all the colors of the rainbow outside our tiny bubble. And in what seemed no time at all, it was all back to normal. The surroundings were slightly different, but it was the same field.

“I’ll go into town and check up on…what was his first name?”

“Gregory,” my wife answered as she set up a lawn chair to wait for my return. Calvin started to wander around the field, kicking stones.

I found out where the young Mr. Waterbee lived on that first outing, and after a few more jumps of observing his behavior, we narrowed whatever turned his heart sour to the last few days of summer vacation.

“I’m bored,” Calvin said as he put down his tablet with an apparently dead battery.

“You know what?” I said after a quick thought. “We’ve been at this a few hours, and a break does sound good. Let’s hide the equipment for a bit and check out the ice cream shop I saw. I should have a few older coins they’ll take.”

The short walk was pleasant enough in the bright summer sun. It had been a while since I had heard insects buzzing like that. I ignored any perceived complaints about how warm a person was. We were going to get ice cream, after all. 

The bell over the door jingled as we walked in to join a few others from the town escaping the heat. Soon, I left with a chocolate cone, Calvin had vanilla, and Shay had a cup of cool water. I smiled at her dislike of sweets as I caught a chocolatey drip on my tongue.

We watched the townspeople go about their lives from a unique perspective that only time travelers could appreciate. While it was very similar in some ways, others were so alien at that time, that Calvin couldn’t help but screw up his face in confusion at the way things were different. I looked forward to the him he would start taking history classes.

As soon as his ice cream was gone, Calvin got on a little sugar high. He jumped on the low branch of a tree where Shay and I sat in the shade.

“Be careful, hon,” she told him.

“Eehhh,” was the only reply he gave.

I watched as a group of children played hopscotch on the sidewalk across the street. A stifled sniggering came from behind me and I turned just in time to see Gregory Waterbee jump up to grab the branch that Calvin had his legs wrapped around. 

The crackling snap of the branch shot straight to my heart, which tried to recoil through my back. Calvin and the branch came at the ground fast and crumpled into a heap. Gregory was already skipping away with a laugh.

Calvin’s mother and I were next to him in less than a second.

“Are you alright?”

“Can you move?”

“Is anything broken?”

Several worrisome seconds later, Calvin gasped in the breath that had been knocked out of him. He got to his knees, coughing.

“What happened?” Shay asked.

“That,” I answered, “was Gregory Waterbee.”

They followed my gaze to the giggling little twerp as he approached the corner of the block.

Calvin got to his feet and took a couple steps toward the other child.

“Careful, buddy,” I warned. “Remember why we are here. We don’t want to make things even worse.”

“I won’t hurt him,” Calvin said as he jogged toward the prankster.

My step-son neared the other boy, and only then did I notice that Gregory had another follower. A dog, a young chocolate lab, bounced around at his heels. They had almost crossed the street to the park when the puppy noticed something in the road that caught its interest.

Calvin reached the corner and saw the dog, but Gregory hadn’t seemed to have noticed that his companion wasn’t following.

As the sound of a rumbling engine came to my ears, Calvin’s head turned down the road to the car that I knew was coming. In that instant, I knew we were at the moment of Mr. Waterbee’s turn for the worse.

Shay and I ran to catch up to Calvin, but just as I got close enough to see the approaching vehicle from around the corner, he jumped out into the road, waving his arms at the car that hadn’t seen the dog.

“Hey! Stop!” Calvin yelled.

“Calvin, get back here!” Shay yelled.

Gregory turned around then to see the horrific scene centered around his puppy.

The distracted driver finally noticed the boy waving his arms in the road and slammed on the breaks. But he wouldn’t stop in time.

Calvin seemed to notice this too, and he dove for the oblivious dog, rolling just out of the tire’s reach.

Gregory came running. “Slobby!”

The driver got out as Shay and I reached Calvin.

“Are you ok?” I asked.

He winced as he stood with the dog in his arms. “Yeah. I’ll be fine.”

The driver apologized profusely until he saw Gregory walk up to the puppy. “Little punk,” he grumbled. “Woulda served ya right if I hit it.”

I glared at the man, who realized I was willing to fight. He tipped his hat, got in his car, and disappeared.

“Here’s your dog,” Calvin said as he handed the licking pup to Gregory’s outstretched arms.

“Thanks. Did you get hurt?”

Calvin looked at a hole in his shirt. “Just scraped up a little.”

Gregory’s eyes lingered on a pebble on the ground. “Sorry. About the branch, I mean.”

“Yeah. You shouldn’t treat people like that,” Calvin scolded.

“I know.”

“Luckily, there was no harm done,” I interjected. “Some people will treat you the same, or worse, if you keep that up, young man.”

Gregory looked up at me with an eyebrow raised. “But he didn’t,” he said, indicating Calvin. “He saved Slobby.”

Shay laughed. “That’s because, deep down, Calvin knows that helping others is always the best thing to do.”

Calvin scoffed. “Whatever, mom. You know I like animals, even if it wasn’t a cat.”

I laughed along with my wife.

Gregory smiled at the banter. “You wanna go swimming at the reservoir with me and Slobby?” he asked Calvin.

Calvin’s eyes lit up and he looked at his mom with pleading eyes.

“I’ll go get your swimming trunks,” I offered. “You guys go on, and I’ll meet you there.”

The rest of the day was spent in a peaceful play that put my heart at an ease that it hadn’t found since my own childhood.

When we returned to the present and the retirement home, I approached the same nurse at the front desk. I saw in her face that she didn’t recognize me, and I knew we had done our job.

“Hi, you don’t know a Mr. Waterbee, do you?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she replied, “but he doesn’t live here. He lives with his family a few blocks away.”

“Ah. I must have gotten turned around. Thanks.” I left without another word.

I couldn’t keep the corners of my mouth from turning up at the thought of my family and the good they could bring to the world.

 

***

 

I don’t often have dreams that involve more than one person I know in my life, but when I do, they are usually just along for the ride. This is one of the few times that they have played major, if not leading roles in my dreams. And this is the very first time that Calvin, my step-son has been in my dream. When I told him about it, he gave me one of his typical responses. “Eehhhh.”

But for me, this was a significant dream. It showed me how much he is becoming a part of my life. We might not have the chance to see him every day, but his mother and I are constantly worrying about him and thinking of ways we can help him grow into his full potential. He is also changing the way I think about lots of things, one of them being the influence elders and parents have on children. I am not saying I came into this as a perfect parent, or that I am becoming a perfect parent. What I am saying is that his behavior makes me think harder about how his actions affect his mother and I, and how my actions affect the two of them. I’m sure he isn’t doing this on purpose, but if nothing else, I am thinking more critically in those areas. He seemed to be playing a similar role with Gregory in the dream, only a bit more blatantly. He demonstrated that he could have a significant change in that grumpy old man’s life. 

This whole concept can be said to be derived from the idea of the butterfly effect, where tiny actions can result in huge consequences that might not be immediately foreseen. Now, this isn’t a unique idea at all. And it certainly isn’t anything new in a time traveling story. But it is something that I think is worth consideration. And this dream helped me see it in a way I hadn’t looked at it before.

Calvin is not the only one with the power to change the lives of others by simple actions like he did in my dream. Every single person has the power to use their kindness and care to change the lives of the people around them for the better. This truly is an awesome power. And as my favorite superhero often says, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” 

So, the question then becomes uncomfortably personal. Am I using the power I have to influence the lives of those around me to enrich and bring happiness, or am I using it in such a selfish way that it degrades and brings misery to others? I believe I need to ask myself that question more often. It needs to be more at the forefront of my mind in any human interaction I have. 

The great thing about this whole idea is that, most of the time, it doesn’t take a huge amount of effort on our part to do what is best for those around us. Calvin wasn’t trying to show Gregory how being kind and helpful can make everyone’s lives happier when he risked himself to save a puppy. He just wanted to save a puppy. In fact, he had been on his way to tell off the kid, which I imagine could have had the opposite effect. People are often childish, petty, and do things out of spite if someone points out that the way they are living their life is hurtful and self-destructive. But that simple act of protecting a dog, which Calvin would have done anyway, showed a higher and happier way of living to this other child, whose life changed so dramatically that he lived longer than he otherwise would have.

The flip side to all this is that examples of the opposite kind of behavior are also true. When someone cheats, steals, and lies their way through life, the people around them will think that such behavior is acceptable and imitate it, even if only as revenge for some wrong done to them. Even simple and childish selfishness can make other people more protective and cut themselves off from other people. I’ve seen people do this because they don’t wasn’t others who could be selfish, liars, or what have you, to take advantage of them. The only thing that these attitudes will create in the world are people that are grumpy, closed off, and untrusting of everyone. And like the more positive side, even simple, small acts that are unkind can have significant effects on other people. An example of a likely hypothetical situation could be this; the small, selfish act of cutting someone off on the highway could blow up into full on road rage that might get people killed. And I am sure that people have had more experiences with similar situations.

What this all comes down to, in my mind, is that we all need to be more aware of the actions we take in our lives. If we take care to make our actions more generous and kind to those around us, especially family that we are often around, we can create an atmosphere of happiness that people enjoy being a part of. And anyone can do this. Even a grumpy, stubborn, and often rude child can show the kindness that he or she naturally has inside him to bring happiness to every person they come in contact with.