Sunday, June 24, 2007

Pat's epiphany

Pat has spent several sleepless nights since the visit from the Prophet Muhammad, or spirit number two. When the spirit of Jerry Falwell paid Pat a visit and told him to expect a visit from three more spirits, and even after the spirit of Oscar Wilde visited him, Pat was inclined to blow the whole thing off. But the spirit of the Prophet Muhammad was able to whisk Pat all over the place in the blink of an eye, and he could make Pat think stuff. It was really spooky, and Pat was afraid of what might be in store with the last spirit. He remembered his Dickens well enough to know that the third spirit would show him what the future might hold. It scared Pat stiff. The Ambien and scotch didn't seem to help; Pat floated along most nights in and out of consciousness, having dreams that were both vivid and, regrettably, memorable.

Maybe Oscar Wilde and the Prophet Muhammad were dreams, too, but he doesn't think so. The leather sandals that the Prophet Muhammad had been wearing, and that were on Pat's feet when he woke up, are still in Pat's closet. So this night, he weaves unsteadily into bed, setting his fourth tumbler of scotch on the night stand, and climbs gingerly into bed. He intones a prayer, Help me Jesus, knocks back the rest of the liquor, and turns off the light. Pat tosses and turns, afraid to go to sleep. After a couple of hours though, he does slip into an unconscious trance.

The next thing that Pat is aware of is sitting in his living room, or the "parlor" as his mother called it, with a group of people. He can see and hear them, but apparently he is invisible to them. Pat tries talk and get people's attention, but they don't hear him, and they look right through him when they do look his way. Everyone in dressed somber suits of blue and gray, and the women are all wearing gray or black dresses. He recognizes most of the people there; they include James Dobson, James Kennedy, Ralph Reed, even Mac Hammond, and members of the Regent University administration. It's a pretty impressive group, thinks Pat.

Pat sees his wife, Adelia; she is sitting in a corner. People are coming up to Adelia in ones and twos and leaning over to whisper to her. Pat goes over to hear what they are saying.

"I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm sure you'll miss Pat very much."

"Thang kew. Ah will, ah'm sure."

"What a ghastly way to die."

"Yes, the Lord moves in mysterious ways sometimes. We just have to accept it."

Pat gulps when he realizes that he watching the reception after his own funeral. He can't bear to hear Adelia talk about him the past tense, so he moves on. Pat then goes over to a group of administrators for Regent University. He can overhear them.

"What are we going to do without Pat?"

This makes Pat feel better.

"Yeah, that old fart could fleece people for money like nobody else I've ever seen. It was his true gift. In spite of whatever stupid thing he might say: a hurricane was gonna hit Disney World because of its gay-friendly attitude, that gays and liberals caused 9-11, that we should "off" Hugo Chavez, the bucks continued to roll in. Amazing. We won't see one like him in our lifetimes."

"Oh, I don't know, fellas," responds another, "There's some other guys in the room who are pretty good, too."

"But they're not fit to shine Pat's gold belt buckle," chimes in a third. They all laugh.

"Who's going to get the big boy's office?"

"Let's draw lots for it; there'd be some logic in that!" There is a murmur of approval.

This conversational turn is making Pat feel ill, so he leaves to go over and hear what his evangelical buddies are saying. Certainly they will hold him in higher regard!

"Well, Reverend Dobson, it looks like you're going to be the money leader from here on out. Now with your main rival out of the way."

"Call me James, please. Yes, I've been waiting a good long time for that charlatan to get out of the way. Snort. I expect to pick up a lot of his donors. Just think of it: all the little people looking for place to invest in salvation! Makes me weep just to think about it."

"You might be able to take over Pat's school in time, too, Jim."

"I said James, not Jim. That's what I was thinking."

Pat can't believe what he is hearing. He goes into the hall to collect himself, but when he walks into the hall he finds himself on a large barren plain at dusk—or dawn; he can't tell which. When he glances to his side, he sees that another man in a rough brown robe, again with a hood, is standing there. This is a different man than spirit number two, but they are not dissimilar: beard, olive complexion, sandaled feet.

"I know better than to ask if you're Jesus," Pat says, "Are you the Angel of Death?"

The man smiles and shakes his head.

"I suppose you'll tell me when you're darn good and ready. What do you want to show me?"

The man points at the ground at Pat's feet. When Pat looks down, he can see that a great chasm has opened up and there is a blast of hot sulfurous air that makes Pat gag. Some distance below, Pat sees waves and waves of flames; it is the Biblical lake of fire. When he looks closer, he can see a rather fat man doing what appears to be the backstroke in the lake of fire. The man looks at Pat and waves.

Pat nearly faints when he realizes the swimmer is Jerry Falwell. Pat almost falls into the chasm, but the robed man pulls him back and steadies him. "Not yet," he says to Pat.

"Oh, spirit number three, whoever you are, is that the fate that waits for me?"

"Yes, I am afraid it is," comes the reply.

"I've made such a mess of things. The spirits of Oscar Wilde and the Prophet Muhammad showed me that bigotry against gays and lesbian and Muslims was wrong. And just now I got a chance to see what a bunch of hypocrites I've surrounded myself with. I am so, so sorry. Is there anything I can do?"

"Perhaps, if you truly repent you of your sins. Repentance also means not doing them again."

"Oh, I won't! You'll see! I am just so glad that I had a true friend like Jerry Falwell to arrange this little come to Jesus meeting!"

The robed man laughs, and says, "That's truer than you know."

"You mean you are Jesus?" The robed man nods.

"But I thought you were in the business of saving souls!" exclaims Pat.

"I am. Right now I'm trying to save yours."

"I see, sure. Well, you've made a big impression on me. I'd do things a lot differently if I had a chance. Do I get another chance?"

The robed man nods "yes," and then he disappears.

Pat awakens; it is morning. He looks over at his wife, and shakes her vigorously. Wake up, Adelia! Is that you? Am I alive?"

"Well, of course you are! You must have had a really bad dream. No wonder, with all that stuff you've been taking!"

"I'm alive! I'm alive!" Pat kisses Adelia and gets up and begins to dance around the room. Pat is laughing and weeping and exclaiming, "Thank you Jesus!" When he finally sits down, winded, he says to Adelia, "I've got a lot of work to do."

And Pat was as good as his word.

That morning, at an administrator's meeting at Regent University, Pat announces that they will be hiring a new Muslim professor, and that the school henceforth will include Comparative Religion as an offered degree. Moreover, he says, he has been thinking about it a lot, and he wants the school to seriously consider whether such hatred and prejudice against gays and lesbians is really "loving our neighbors as ourselves." Little by little, Regent becomes a tolerant place without abandoning its avowed Christian focus. When Pat does die—in his own bed and at a ripe old age—he is hailed by religious leaders around the world for promoting peace and religious reconciliation. His funeral is attended by theologians of every stripe. Because of the example set by Pat Robertson, the Great Schism between the Roman and Orthodox Churches is healed. Jews, Christians, and Muslims begin to describe themselves often as all of Abrahamic Tradition. Arabs and Israelis break bread together and weep for the way they and their ancestors treated each other.

And Jerry Falwell? Jerry got a pardon because of his work in bringing Pat around. You can see the two of them on the celestial tennis courts once in a while. Jerry is still working on his weight.

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