I stood right in front of a monument that read “Trail of Time.” Tony punched invisible buttons on the air, and elicited a rippling movement in front of us.
“I had told you that time travel are for fools who lived on regrets,” he said, turning to me. “But if you want to travel through time not to undo the past, but to gather its lessons, then I have the portal for you.” He gestured to the monument. Noting my hesitation, he added, “C’mon, don’t be shy. This will help you get to the meditative mode fast.”
“Why do I need to learn it?”
“Because,” he poked on my chest and towered over me with his commanding voice, “you’re not going to waste the time I’ve invested in you today and go back to your old ways of purposeless, mindless wandering. You need to learn the art of meditation—the art of spiritual warfare.”
“Alright.” There was no fighting this side of Tony. I poked on the wall and my finger went through. “Whoa.” Withdrawing my hand, I retreated.
“Don’t worry. It’s just another holofilm.” He entered and disappeared.
“Mom, did you see that?” the boy behind me tugged at his mother. “The man disappeared inside the monument!”
“I’m done with your make-believe,” the boy’s mother replied. “You’ve embarrassed me so many times! C’mon.” She picked him up, despite his protests and put him in the stroller. As soon as they had disappeared in the distance, I stepped into Tony’s invisible portal and encountered blackness.
“Tony,” my voice echoed in the dark. ”Tony.”
“Where are you?”
“Where you could hear me.”
His voice was somewhere ahead so I stepped forward and my feet landed on something crunchy. Jumping to one side, more crunches erupted beneath my sole. “What the heck am I stepping on?”
“Dead cockroaches, and some other amphibians I don’t know. Also rotten crab…”
“Are you kidding me?” A faint pungent smell whiffed through the air, and it became stronger as I tiptoed towards his voice, my body cringing at every crunching sound. Air entered into my half-parted lips as I tried to breathe with pinched nose. All sorts of creepy animals came to my mind. I just wanted to get out of the darkness.
All of a sudden, light illumined the ground and under my feet lay hideous remains of dead animals. I jumped up but I had nowhere else to land but on the skeletons. Yet my feet fell on the ground with a flat sound. I tapped on carcass. “Holofilm?”
“Yes. Which was more realistic for you, the sound or the sight?” Tony’s silhouette stood a few feet in front of me.
“Obviously the sound.”
“So listen up. From this time onwards, learn to walk your life with your ears, not with your eyes. Listen to the voice within. Have faith.”
“What if I don’t believe?”
“I think you do, more than you care to think.”
“How can you be so sure?” I said.
“If you had only two choices to experience football, do you prefer to listen to it over the radio or watch it with muted sounds?”
“Of course, listen to the radio.” I’ve experienced both and found more excitement at listening than watching a soundless game on TV.
“See? You believe.”
“What do you mean?”
“You acknowledged that you don’t need to see to believe. You even prefer to hear than see. And faith is based on the power of testimony. Listen and you’ll hear. Come.” He beckoned me further into the tunnel and took out a small remote control from his pocket. With one press on the black device, the holoscreen projected a white canvass.
“Listen to the sounds,” he said, “and tell me what you imagine.”
A growl and shriek echoed in the white tunnel.
“Sounds like a jungle with wild animals.”
“And what’s your first instinct?”
“Survival, I guess.”
“Rustling leaves and flowing water? Stream perhaps?”
“Close your eyes.”
I did, and calmness settled in my being. The sound streamlined to a finer monotone, slightly higher than mid-pitch.
“Recognize that sound?”
“Is that white noise?”
“Yes, now listen to that for a minute then I’m gonna lower the volume and tell me the minimum sound your ear could discern.”
“Okay.” I wasn’t sure where this exercise was leading, but it seemed easy enough.
“There, still hear that?”
“Yes.” The white noise was still there.
“What about that?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” I could still hear the sound, though barely discernible.
“I have turned the white noise off, Jeff. You’ve entered the meditative state. The sound comes from within you.”
“What?” And the sound was gone. “I lost it.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll recover it with practice. And the easiest way to train your ears to white noise is to be with nature. Listen to the sound of silence. That will bring your brain to experience the alpha state and give you clarity and focus. It also predisposes your spirit to contemplation, the theta state. In this state, prayer becomes powerful. Do you pray?”
“Um, I go to church with Kate and the girls. And say the evening prayer. And Angel of God…”
“Wrong question. Do you talk to God?”
“Then you only think you prayed but really don’t.”
“What is there to say? I don’t find any use in asking for things when I have to work for it anyway.”
“Prayer is more than asking. It is listening for the answer.”
“You just did. Even when you have not yet asked. Ask and you shall receive your answer. But listen. It comes in the white noise of the unconscious. To be certain that you heard the answer right, seek for the answer, and you shall find it in the events that will unfold during the day or the week, through people you encounter, and situations that you’d find yourself in. Confirmations. Then do what you must do. Knock and see which door of opportunity opens based on the answer you received. That is how you pray and how your prayer is answered.”
Silence as I pondered at what he said.
“It’s getting late. I would have wanted to get your feedback on this new project, Trail of Your Timeline… my take on Trail of Time, but perhaps some other time,” he said.
“You mean this white tunnel?”
“It’s still a white canvass. I plan to recreate history through these walls, and let people experience the different ages with sights and sounds. Along the way, I’ll embed subliminal messages that would make people ponder about their lives. Where did they come from? Where are they going? Answer questions like Who Am I? What is my purpose?”
“So, you plan to convert people in this walk?”
“And then they will emerge a new man, right?” he said, laughing. “I doubt it. I just want to plant that mustard seed and hope and pray someone else will water it and make it grow.”
“Why are you doing this, Tony?”
“Because I owe my life to someone who did that for me years ago. I realized I spent much of my time and energy on things that were superfluous. But for things that mattered most, I ignored.”
“You mean like the 80/20 principle?” I said. Good thing I had business background. At least half of what he was saying made sense to me.
“Yes, exactly. Didn’t someone say from the 100% of your wardrobe, you only wear 20% of it. The rest of the 80% are… clutter. Much like an analogy of your life. A parable.”
He nudged me. “So what do you think of my idea, this tunnel?”
“People come here to enjoy the view, not to ponder on life. You might be throwing seeds in stony ground,” I said.
Tony’s expectant smile turned sour.
“I meant—it might work for some,” I said, “but not sure if it’s worth all these investment.” Even his sour smile disappeared. I groaned and felt terrible.
“Wow, talk about spraying water to my dreams,” he said.
“Sorry, man. I didn’t mean it to sound that way.” I couldn’t think of anything to say that would undo the frown on his face. He must hate me now.
“Were you ever part of a writer’s critique group? Ever heard of the sandwich rule?” he said.
“Never applied it, and they hated me for it. You want to get my opinion, you’d get it without the positive feedback buns and constructive criticism jam. Plain truth and nothing but the truth. That’s my spread. Take it or leave it. Sorry, pretty harsh, I know.”
“When I dream, I try to be sober,” he said, “and keep my feet on the ground. But no need to drown me with cold water. Dreams need wings to fly and when you clip it prematurely, you may never see an inspired idea come to life. And the world would have one solution less to its multitude of problems. My mantra: be gentle with other people’s dreams, then they’ll be gentle with yours.”
“I’m sorry.” I rubbed my nape. “Kate said I have foot-in-my-mouth disease. Sometimes, she wishes I’d stick my foot forever in my mouth and no longer spread my virus of negativity.”
“Your wife is a good nurse. Seems to know what she’s talking about.”
“Peace, man,” Tony said. “Let’s go before you shred my dreams to pieces.”
“Speak no evil and I’ll hear no evil.” He pressed the remote button and the side walls disappeared.
We were back in the rim trail, beside a garden of sort. Tony’s face was solemn.
I cleared my throat and groped for something to say. “For some reason, that reminds me of the Garden of Gethsemane.” I pointed at the low-lying trees in the middle of rocky grounds.
“Where the Lord wept,” he whispered and his eyes welled with tears.
Man, was the guy crying? I shifted and rested my hands on a trunk. This was getting awkward.
“My wife and I were at this very spot about 25 years ago.” His choked voice made me grab his arm and pulled him to a nearby boulder. We sat overlooking the Grand Canyon.
Perhaps the scenic view might calm him down. I rubbed his back. Wrong move. A kid and his father stared at us. I heard the kid whisper, “Is that what you call bromance, Dad?”
The man’s knowing look cast a thousand judging words.
But Tony was unmindful of the glances. His eyes flowed like waterfalls in a rainforest.
Dung of a horse. I stood up and stretched my arms above my head. Hookay. Tony be the bulky man that you are. Help me here. Scratching my head, I looked at the sky.
“Man…” he tugged at me, forcing me down to sit beside him. “…don’t make the same mistake I did.” He sniffed and took out his kerchief.
My jaw slackened at the yellow handkerchief with a sunflower design. I could sense the father and son snickering at the corner of my eyes.
“I was young, and got so caught up with my work, trying to prove I had what it takes to take over the family business,” Tony said. “I neglected my wife and my little girl. I missed most part of her growing up. And then she died at 6. My wife was so devastated. She was our only child. The one who kept us together. She put all her energy and disappeared in the crevices of these mountains. The four trails. She’s a geo-archeologist. Me, buried myself in work.”
He turned and gazed at the long shadows of the Grand Canyon.
“My little girl’s death left a huge hole in my heart that no amount of work could fill. Then one day, I had the dream. It was my little girl, all grown up, looking so much like her mother. She said, ‘Where’s mommy?’ And that did it. I came and searched for my wife. And found her here. We were at this very spot. Your Garden of Gethsemane, crying like Jesus cried when He felt so lost and alone, seeking human comfort. Here I found the comfort I’ve been seeking in her arms. We pledged never to seek our comfort elsewhere, not in work, not in fleeting pleasures. And then she tells me about this crazy discovery she made. While spelunking the deep crevices of the caves, she met this group of archeologists talking about some crazy idea of realms and stuff, a worldwide conglomerate. I didn’t believe her at first but well, long story short, I got sucked up in her spelunking world and you know, one idea built upon another, one inspiration inspiring another. Shortly, she got pregnant, a girl and then another.” His eyes twinkled at the memory. “And then all those ideas at Hermit’s Rest poured like a blessing. I built one company after another, companies I was passionate about— 4D Xtremes and Sparker Biotech Industries. And now, this Dream Maker Prototype...I feel this latest gadget would open another venture for me. Another adventure. A call within a call as they say. Once you say yes to the divine inspiration, He will pour more on you so that those who have will have more. That’s when I understood that Bible verse which often baffled me.”
“So yeah.” His hand squeezed my right shoulder. “Just be faithful to your call,” he said. “As a husband. A father. And all these things will just become a byproduct. Don’t make a mistake of using the byproduct as your excuse of fulfilling your call. Being a husband and father is so much more than just providing for these material byproducts.”
Tony sniffed and wiped his eyes. “Sorry, I still get emotional whenever I think of my little girl, the one who died. You don’t know what you’re missing until you lose it. She’s my harsh lesson.”
He blew his nose on the handkerchief. I wonder how many handkerchieves he kept in his pocket.
“Men should not cry but watch women make them cry.” He grinned and shook his head. “My mother, my wife, my girls, they make me cry all the time, for different reasons.”
“Jesus cried,” I whispered as I looked again at the Garden of Gethsemane. “He was a man.” I tapped his shoulder. Tony may be big, but he was frail like any other human. The guy was real.
As we walked back, people thronged at the rim and watched the sun set.
“The sunset from this view is amazing,” he said.
I couldn’t agree more. The burst of colors on the Grand Canyon canvas from the descending sun was a sight to behold. ”Kate would love this. I hope she’s taking great pictures now. She’s building her portfolio to make her dream come true.”
“You must bring her to the Desert Tower, my favorite spot,” Tony said. “Two hours spent there can capture the beauty and grandeur of the whole place in a snapshot. Share in her dreams. You have no idea of the power of shared dreams between couples. It’s largely untapped. Most would pursue separate endeavors and fail to harness the tremendous energy potential of shared dreams. Had I known it earlier, I’d have done it sooner. Wasted so much time.”
“Kate is a very optimistic person,” I said. “Balances my pessimism.”
“It’s all about balance. Meeting people halfway. Bridging the gap. Making good choices based on patterns of evidence. Science and spirituality are not that far apart, Jeff. People only believe it to be so.”
We walked back to the shuttle bus in silence.
“I wish we’d see each other again, Tony.”
He pulled out his wallet. “Here’s my calling card.”
It was plain white with only his name and cellphone number. “I still can’t believe you’re the CEO of Sparker Biotech and here I am talking to you.” I tapped the card against my palm.
At my choking sound, he laughed. “Just kidding. That’s what my daughter says whenever I swoon over a basketball player. Not that you’re swooning. Anyway, fangirl as much as you want coz my days may be numbered.”
“So many moving parts right now,” he said. “This merger is causing a lot of bad water under the bridge. The board is not too happy with my stand. They may veto me or vote me out of the board altogether.”
“They can do that?”
“Takes only one man from the inside to pull the head down. Happened to the God-Man two thousand years ago, will continue to happen to His followers. But things happen for a purpose to those who believe in divine orchestration. We know who had the last laugh then, and maybe now. Don’t worry, be happy.”
He started heading back to the main road and I followed, while looking at the white card. When I flipped it and saw the print at the back, I called out. “Tony, what is this?”
“Keep that card like a credit card. The QR code will grant you access to me.” He winked and waved goodbye.
“Wait.” I hurried to him but he hopped onto the purple shuttled bus.
“The blue line will stop here,” he said at the top of the step, “or you can walk all the way to the Visitor Center while there is still some light. If the Spirit conspires in our favor, I shall see you soon.” With a wave, he disappeared into the bus and shortly, disappeared on the curb. My spirit sagged but hope flickered from his last words.
“I shall see you soon, Tony,” I mumbled.
The phone buzzed and my words appeared on the screen. The app he downloaded on my phone recorded my words instantaneously.
Expectant faith swelled in my heart. I sensed I shall see him sooner.