“In the life of a writer there are no extraneous experiences.”
(It is all grist for his mill [i.e. bread for his meal].)
“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”
—Acts 2:17 NIV
As you have probably learned by now, recently I spent nearly a week in the hospital in Tulsa for back surgery. Although the official name of the Roman Catholic hospital is St. Francis, because of its huge size and unique color it is commonly referred to as the “Pink Palace.”
During my six-day stay there—and the more than two weeks of recovery back home in Sapulpa—I have experienced some strange encounters: some I would classify as dreams, others as hallucinations, others as visions, and others as unexplained occurrences of the Third Kind.
In this post I have tried to classify some of these various experiences by type and degree of logical explanation.
All of them I have grouped together under the subtitle “Les Fleurs du mal,” the title of a collection of poems by French poet Charles Baudelaire. This is a title usually translated “Flowers of Evil” but which I translate “Flowers Out of Misery.” Now here are those strange encounters from my recent—and sadly still ongoing—misery. You can be the judge of their meaning and significance, if any, and can click on the photos to magnify them.
My Mexican Drug Cartel Abduction
After my surgery and release from the recovery room I was wheeled into a small hospital room that seemed to me in my still heavily sedated state to be little more than a basement-floor utility room. With its stark grey cinder-block walls and crowded space, there was just enough room for my bed, which was surrounded on all sides by stacks of mysterious-looking medical supplies in boxes and crates.
Shocked by my surroundings and the lack of any medical staff, I instantly became convinced that Mari and I had been abducted and were being held for ransom by . . . members of a ruthless Mexican drug cartel!
In fact, I was so convinced of this fact and so frightened about it that no amount of logic or reason by Mari could persuade me differently or calm my raging emotions.
After what seemed like an eternity in which I had worked myself into a nervous fit, suddenly the door opened and in walked two stocky African-American men in blue hospital uniforms. Seeing them, Mari quickly grabbed my head and turned it toward them saying, “Look, Jimmy! Here are your two nurses! Do they look like Mexican drug bosses to you!”
As I stared at them in shock and disbelief, Mari quickly interrupted my thoughts by calling my attention to the logos on their shirts: “St. Francis Hospital, Tulsa, Oklahoma.”
“Now do you still think we are being held captive by a Mexican drug cartel?” she asked.
Reluctantly I murmured contritely, “No, I guess not.” But things still just didn’t look right to me.
A day or so later my physical therapists—one a pleasant middle-aged white woman and the other a quiet younger bearded black male who looked like James Harden of the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team—were in my room. When they had finished with my exercises, as the young black man was remaking my bed, I was telling the two of them about my hallucination about being held captive by a Mexican drug cartel. When I came to the end of the story about my two African-American nurses, I looked at the young man and said, “I was never so glad to see two young black Americans in all my life!” Then I reached out my hand toward him and said, “Thanks, Brother!” He took my offered hand with a firm grasp and a broad grin. And we were truly brothers for the rest of my stay in the Pink Palace.
That incident taught me that people appreciate being recognized not only for what they do but also simply for who they are.
My Filipina Angels
One of the few delights during my stay in the hospital was getting to know a young Filipina (feminine form of the masculine term Filipino) who served as my medical “tech.” She was pleased that I began to call her “Ruby” (not her real name) because I told her that she reminded me of one of my favorite songs by Ray Charles by that title, which she promptly asked me to sing for her. (To hear this song performed by Ray Charles, which you will greatly prefer to my version, click here.) (To hear a different primarily instrumental version of this same song with written lyrics and performed by Ray Charles on piano with some group vocal backup, click here.)
She was also pleased when I told her that Mari’s father had served with the U.S. Army in the Philippines during WWII and had not seen her until his return from the war in 1945 when Mari was three years old.
“Ruby” had been living in this country for only two months. Although she said she had completed her RN diploma, to me and Mari she looked to be only about seventeen years old.
Blessed with a gorgeous smile, bright sparkling eyes, and long silky black hair pulled back in a perfect teeny-bopper, Gidget-style ponytail, I could not help noticing right away how young, slim, attractive, and vivacious she was. Her bubbling personality, infectious giggle, and cute Filipino speech only added to her feminine charm and to her youthful ability to make me smile when I had absolutely no other reason to do so.
This was especially true when she asked my name and immediately began to call me “Meestah Jeemy,” as when I said something amusing and she would burst out in girlish glee: “Oh, Meestah Jeemy, you so funny! You know that?”
By the time I checked out of the hospital, “Ruby” was no longer there. “I’m going to miss her,” I told Mari, “but maybe it’s just as well. I could have taken her home with us to be one of our kids or grandkids. But I don’t know anything about raising girls. The first time she brought home some old slovenly, no-count boyfriend I would come unglued!”
What’s funny is that very night on TV I saw a commercial in which a father brings home pizza for himself, his wife, his younger son, and his teenage daughter who is accompanied by her gross boyfriend. While they are all oooing and gooing over the pizza, the girl looks at her dad and asks, “But where’s Jason’s pizza?” To which the dad responds ruefully with his mouth full, “I had Jason’s delivered to his house!” As “Meestah Jeemy,” I would have done the same thing for any boyfriend of “Ruby!”
But the topper to this story is what happened a few days after we got back to Sapulpa for me to begin my home recuperation. We received a call that we would be visited that afternoon by a home health care nurse who would continue my physical therapy. When she rang the bell and Mari opened the door, in walked a more mature version of young “Ruby” with the same slim build, sparking eyes, warm smile, and shiny black hair.
As soon as she introduced herself to us, I recognized the same soft accent though not quite as youthful or as amusingly cute. I also noticed the same smooth brown complexion, easy good nature, and gentle sense of humor.
After the initial formalities and the required paperwork and physical examination, I confirmed my suspicions by asking the woman, “Are you Filipina?”
“Why yes,” she replied with a smile. “How did you know?”
Then I told her about “Ruby” and what a doll she was and what she called me. I also showed her the newspaper accounts on the wall of Mari’s father serving in the Philippines in WWII and the small snapshot of his return to Mari on her third birthday.
During the last exercise, as the physical therapist was following me through the house observing my walk, I heard her saying behind me, “Oh, you’re doing so good, Meestah Jeemy!” We both laughed out loud, and as she left we felt a close bond.
So I suddenly realized that although I could not bring young “Filipina Ruby” home to take care of her, God had sent a more mature version of “Filipina Ruby” home to take care of me.
Coincidence . . . or strange encounter?
Russians in the Bayou!
It was after I got home to recuperate that I had a dream that I am sure was inspired by the month-long nightly James Bond movie marathon Mari and I watched on TV just before I went into the hospital.
In my dream as Western spies we were being chased by Russian secret agents across the USSR as we wheeled and skidded and did death-defying stunts in a supercharged sports car. Unfortunately, as luck would have it we ran off into a bayou (it must have been in that part of Russia known as Georgia—forgive the pun).
So we ended up with the front end of the car in the muddy water with Mari trapped inside as the murky water closed over her head. I was lying on the bank of the bayou behind the car, my body—with my back broken, a bit of near reality there—halfway in and halfway out of the dank water with cottonmouths and alligators crawling all around and the KGB vehicles flying up and down the dusty roads above the banks, sirens screaming and shots firing.
Somehow I managed to free myself and Mari and make it to a nearby castle where I was miraculously all cleaned up and dressed out in a Russian Cossack uniform complete with the tall furry hat, the ankle-length grey overcoat, and the knee-high black boots.
As I was walking down a Versailles-style hall decorated with high mirrors and ornate crystal chandeliers, I was carrying a leather attaché case in which there were the official papers that I was supposed to deliver personally to the Russian president.
Just then I looked down and realized that my hands were covered with sticky, stinky bear grease! Obviously, I had killed a Russian bear with my bare hands (no pun intended!) and used the grease to soothe the burns I had received in the car crash in the bayou while I was being chased by the KGB . . .
Are you getting all of this? Does it make any sense to you?
Me neither, which is why I woke up and moved on to a more humorous incident.
God’s Sense of Humor
In this one (dream, hallucination, vision, who knows?), I was watching a pudgy Jewish comedian with a large black moustache and lots of curly black hair who was telling and acting out some amusing Hebrew story.
In the course of his “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (that’s a line from Shakespeare’s McBeth, Act 5, Scene 5, in case you missed it), he was demonstrating some fictitious Jewish game using small bowling pins and a tiny handball. Suddenly he made a “grand slam” of some kind and started giving praise to God. Throwing up both hands, he cried out, “Wow! Did you see that! Thanks be to God! He is soooo great! For that I’m gonna give Him a ‘Rock Hanukkah Harmonica.’”
So he pulled out a harmonica from the vast pockets of his drooping clown-like pants and commenced to play a rousing Fiddler-on-the-Roof-style “praise song” while dancing around like David rejoicing before the restored Ark of the Covenant in 2 Samuel 6:12-16 NIV.
Although I had never heard of anything remotely related to “Rock Hanukkah Harmonica,” when I searched for it online to my utter amazement I found several sites featuring Hanukkah Harmonica tunes. (To view one of these “Rock Hanukkah Harmonica” sites, click here.)
As I was “dreaming” this sequence of the “Rock Hanukkah Harmonica,” it suddenly seemed that someone was lying beside me in my “sick bed” and suddenly reached over and gave me a couple of quick elbows jabs in the ribs, as if to say, “Ain’t that great!” I laughed out loud so that Mari stuck her head in and said, “What’s going on?” To which I said, “God does have a sense of humor! He just gave this Southern Baptist boy a Jewish joke!”
But then I remembered that God has been giving Mari a daily Arkie joke for almost fifty years!
Selma Childhood Memories Come Alive!
While lying on my bed at home still under the influence of painkillers and sedatives I had another, final dream, hallucination, vision, or whatever.
This one was about my boyhood home of Selma, Arkansas, about which I have published several posts in the past year or so since I launched this blog.
In this one I was suddenly back in front of the Selma general store right at closing time late in the afternoon just as it was getting dark. (For more childhood memories of the Selma store, click here.)
As the owners of the store were leaving for the day, I was kneeling down in front of the porch by the old gas pump (the literal old-fashioned type that had to be pumped up to fill a glass globe on top with the amount of desired fuel to be drained out by lowering the hose and inserting the nozzle into the vehicle’s gas tank).
I was searching under the porch for something I had bought months earlier to commemorate the completion of the restoration of the historic Selma Methodist Church, the subject of the very first post on this blog back on May 25, 2011. (To visit this site, click here.)
Looking down at me, the owners asked me what I was doing, so I said truthfully: “Oh, I’m just lookin’ for something I hid here some time ago.” I didn’t elaborate on it because I didn’t want anyone to know what it was or what it was for.
Exasperated that I could not find it, I finally looked up and saw that there was a light on in the Selma Methodist Church a short distance away. So I walked over to the old church building and began to search under its front steps and then around its side, looking for my hidden gift.
Outside on the ground toward my birthplace I did find a cache of pink rose petals—Mari’s signature color and the color of the flowers in our wedding, the fiftieth anniversary of which we will celebrate this Christmas. Unfortunately there was nothing else.
As I was rising up from the ground beneath the window above, from inside the church I heard the sound of quiet conservation and gentle laughter. I peeked in and recognized some of Mari’s family and relatives who were obviously setting up for a party to celebrate what I thought to be the wedding anniversary of Mari’s grandparents, now dead more than forty years. (What’s strange is that none of her family were actually from Selma, nor were any of them members of the Selma Methodist Church.)
When I walked inside still looking for my gift, a couple of Mari’s relatives asked me what I was doing and I just murmured some noncommittal comment. It never occurred to me that perhaps the planned surprise celebration was to be for our own fiftieth wedding anniversary in December though we were married in the First Baptist Church in McGehee.
Then suddenly I woke up back in my own bed and was looking into the next bedroom in which Mari’s mother had spent her last five years living with us as an aged invalid. Although Mimi was gone I could see part of the room that I was also now using in my recuperation along with her walker, her shower, her recliner, and other items from her last days.
Just then I realized that at a small round table with a fancy pink cover (Mari’s signature color), a photo of Mimi, photos of the grandkids, etc. there sat a kindly-looking elderly man with snowy white hair and grey-steel-rimmed glasses who was dressed impeccably in a white suit and tie. He was very quietly and calmly writing down names in a pink sheet (there’s that color again), what I took to be a list of those to be invited to the family event at the Selma Methodist Church for which the family members were getting prepared.
The nattily groomed man never looked at me or even seemed to be aware of me as I lay and watched him as he meticulously but steadily worked away at his task.
Just then I realized who he was: He was Mari’s older cousin, a true Southern Gentleman, from Tupelo, Mississippi, who had been born and raised at Florence, Arkansas, like the rest of Mari’s family. I can only assume that he was in that room in our house in Sapulpa—and I am almost convinced that he actually was in that room where Mari’s mother spent her last years—for some reason. A reason that I will seemingly never know, just as I will seemingly never know what my lost gift was and why I could never find it.
I do know that I am hoping and praying that I will be recovered enough by this fall to attend the dedication service of the restored Selma Methodist Church, the first church I ever attended as a child, to complete the spiritual journey I began there more than sixty years ago. (For a summary of my personal spirituality and pilgrimage, click here.)
Maybe then I will finally find my gift and its purpose. I hope so.
As the Apostle Paul wrote: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:12 NIV).
After seventy-three years I am eager to know just what that goal and purpose was—and is—assuming there ever was one. But all the “supernatural signs”—as muddled and confusing as they may be—do seem to point to it.