An Excerpt from “The Self-Help Book”


JANUARY 12, 1982

Let me begin by saying how impressed I am by the number of people here this evening. I was told as many as one hundred guests were expected to attend, but it appears that estimate may have been on the conservative side. On behalf of the organizers, allow me to say Welcome, one and all! The more the merrier!I must say, this demonstration of the strength of your convictions, of your willingness to tempt Fate is truly admirable. I mean, let’s face it: one well-placed lightning bolt and it’s all over. Lights out, baby! But so far, so good.

Now, you may not know this, but I get asked a lot of questions by complete and utter strangers. They just walk up to me in the street or sit next to me in the park and fire away. I’m not exactly sure why this is. Does this sort of thing happen to all men with long hair, a beard and a casual dress code? And not just any questions: they want to know what their personal chances are for salvation. Not what will the weather be like the day after tomorrow or when do we change to Daylight Saving Time, but what will happen to their immortal soul after they die?

Well, hell. What can you say?

If I tell them to go talk to their priest or rabbi or whomever they wave their hands and say, “No, no, no. I don’t go for that.” Okay. In that case, how about your bartender or barber or . . . ?

No. Come on. I’m being serious here. Don’t jerk me around.”

And it goes on and on. You’d think I had nothing better to do. You’d think they had nothing better to do. But you know, all these people are looking for help, looking for an answer, and who am I to dismiss them out of hand, to deny them whatever I have to offer, little though it may be?

I have found in these situations that it’s best not to get too esoteric. These poor unfortunates are looking for a simple answer, some gentle reassurance, not a dissertation on the nature of the Cosmos. So I tell them, “If you’ve led a good life, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Even if you haven’t, you’re probably still okay. So rest easy.”

But “Come on,” they say,”I need more than that.”

Okay,”I tell them. “Look: I don’t know, you don’t know, nobody knows. Maybe God knows, which would explain why we have that expression. So cut yourself some slack. Breathe deeply. It shall be as it shall be.”

That’s it?”

That’s it, pal.”

And then they walk away, muttering. “It shall be as it shall be. What an asshole.”

You will, I hope, excuse my French.

Another thing I get asked is, “I’ve done some bad things in my time. Am I going to Hell?” I’m not kidding. No one ever asks if there is such a place, or if Heaven exists. They just want to know who is going to be there to greet them when they end up wherever they end up. You realize, of course, such questions are outside my area of expertise. These are questions for the Great Minds of the Ages. I’m just a cheeseburger and fries kind of guy. But again, who am I to say them nay? Their spiritual needs require immediate attention, otherwise why would they ask some guy sitting on a park bench with a box of Hartz-Mountain bird seed?

So I came up with two lists. Took me about five minutes, but I think I’ve got everything pretty well covered:

Heaven (if there is such a place) will be filled with everyone you’ve ever liked or loved: friends, relatives, pets, movie stars, comedians, even your favorite ballplayers. There are no television commercials and you can eat all your favorite foods and never get fat or have a tummy ache. Not bad, eh?

Hell , on the other hand – which Herman Melville described as “an idea on an undigested apple dumpling” – is something else again. So here’s A Partial List of Those Who Are or Will Be Burning In Hell (again, provided there is such a place):

Adolf Hitler, natch, and probably Benito Mussolini, just because.

And let’s not forget Josef Stalin.

Whoever invented the so-called Colorization Process for black & white movies.

The person responsible for baseball’s Designated Hitter Rule.

No small animals, however verminous.

No children, either.

The guy who habitually takes your last smoke or your last beer.

Any producer/director who places a Shakespearean play in a contemporary setting.

Not Richard Nixon, despite popular demand.

Not Judas Iscariot, contrary to popular belief.

The author of this list, quite possibly.

Again, that’s just a partial list.

My friends, the path of the freelance mystic – a path I did not choose for myself – is not an easy one. But that, as they say, is my cross to bear, not yours.

But apostasy, now. That’s some serious stuff. I mean, you folks got cojones to spare, make no mistake.

Yahweh or the highway? No problem! And on top of that, you’ve got it together enough to get yourselves organized.

Bravo,I say. Ole!  Banzai!, even. Give yourselves a round of applause. But remember: Pride goeth before a fall, so don’t get too carried away. Keep it down, as an old saying goes, to a low roar.

We’ve had a nice dinner, some pleasant conversation, and there will be music and dancing until the cows come home, if that’s your idea of a good time. Again I say, so far, so good.

In closing, I urge you to stand firm in your convictions, if only because everyone ought to stand for something, and apostasy is as good as anything else. It has been a pleasure and an honor to speak to you this evening and I hope to do so again, as Bobby “Blue” Bland once sang, further on up the road. Until then, though, keep an eye on the sky because you just never know. Aloha.

Copyright 2013, William Parker. Photograph of Swami Rheeva, 12/12/72, by P.M. Owens

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s