Shot an Elephant in My Pyjamas

One Night:

Need help finding the right self-help book… immediately.

Growing up… all the religions Mother, Father took us through, all the books, latest gurus, and now… I get the spiritual crisis with flashing white lights.

Dali Lama won’t return my calls. Want to ask about enlightenment: Is there a lot of light. Have they gone LEDs? Is there a lay away plan?

Parents pissed him off ignoring those restraining orders. Same with Thich Nhat Hanh. They pissed a lot off with their questions.

Obsessed, dragging us with them, they searched… trying everything, studying any idea about self-improvement, spiritual life.

Finally found one, they said, and then… they disappear.

Attacks started right after. Think I’m going crazy. Tried to reach my three brothers… cells all off. Alan Ladd Film Retrospective must be good. They’re shopping for marketable insights.

This crisis stopped me from going. Every night, after the news, trying to clear head of all the fresh disaster, I go to the window. Look out into the darkness, and it starts:

Crippling white flashes. Blinking, trying to save focus, the flashes continue until darkness, silence, and I hear Groucho:

“Shot an elephant in my pyjamas and how he got in there, I’ll never know.”

Amusing at first, terrifying now.

Have been a little ‘off’ lately: Mismatched socks; only shaved my chin; left shoe trees in. My upside down cake fell up.

Does it have anything to do with the indoor/outdoor carpeting I insisted upon?

I’ll go over to Father and Mother’s. Look through their spiritual library, books, cds, dvds, files, and papers. Do some colonic irrigation while there.

Father always insisted: Clear colon… Clear head.

Next Night

In my parent’s basement.

Worked my way through their library of self-improvement with all its subsections from emotional healing to changing snow tires.

Came across an old favourite: The Celestine Prophecy.

Found a DVD in this old best seller. It is from my parents.

Labelled: For the boys when we’re gone.

Want to look. Won’t… until the brothers are back from the Ladd festival with their new insights. Will there be any more coincidences?

Fun re-reading the Celestine Prophecy, Redfield’s search, his 10 insights.

Remembered Mother ordering china patterned with his 10 insights to replace her Jungian Royal Dolton. The 10th never came… Another coincidence, like finding this DVD?

Remember Father phoning Chopra, David Rico, and Frank Joseph about coincidence and their relationship to Redfield’s work.

They were, coincidently, on a conference call with each other and would not speak to Father about the missing coincidental china pattern.

Sitting amongst the books… remembering all my birthdays down here. Born on Shrove Tuesday… Mom always made pancakes and latkes.

We never knew if it was pancake Tuesday or Hanukah…

What would Mom say about these bright lights? Where does Groucho come into it? Mom liked the Buddha: Portable, totally transcendent; available in all sizes; practical, not a God. Buddha said he didn’t know about such things, a mystery to him. He took a shot at suffering, no explanation, just a plan to deal with it.

Buddha phase in our house… lot of fun with the riddles, koans, brain teasers to trigger enlightenment: One hand clapping; Does a dog have a Buddha nature; if you think you see the Buddha, then kill him.

Koans… good in high school for attracting new girls surprised by our wisdom. School year book says we were: ‘Deep and complicated too.’

Parents used ‘surprise attacks’ on Jehovah Witnesses at our door. Invite them in sincerely wanting to know about their Kingdom of Heaven. They also wanted them explain it to an assortment of faiths.

On cue, my father’d summon Mormons, Moslems, atheists, Shinto followers, Kabala mystics, a plurality of faiths waiting upstairs. No prophets or divine intervention allowed; nothing about exclusivity. These confrontations, always lively, were a fun search for all, except for the fundamentalists.

After the Witnesses left Father would always say: ‘I’m not attacking their system or worldview.’ Father suffered all his life from Socratic Hyper interrogation… could not stop questioning all religions… he wanted better answers for the insanities of suffering and tragedy…

With the ecumenical group still gathered, Dad, a cross-dresser, liked to change into his Grand Inquisitor, anti-Christ outfit and come out quoting the Talmud, the Torah, the Gnostics, the Pentateuch, Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy, Bradshaw, Tolles, Williamson, Peck, Moore, Castaneda, Watts and Neale Donald Walsch, climaxing with Malcolm Muggerridge.

The Buddhists always remained aloof and allegorical.

I hear Father’s voice listing and quoting Robbins, Zigler, Drucker, Cornfield, Buddha, Christ, Krishna, Confucius, Mohammed, Tillich, and Buber…

His voice… flowing right into Groucho:

‘I’d never join a club that would take me as a member.’

More white lights, the flashes, the silence… What’s Groucho saying?

“Watch your parent’s DVD.”

Going home to watch it.

Same Night.

DVD starting… it’s digital history… Father’s vain attempt to synthesize sacred books, the Bible, the Koran, the Dhammapada, the Torah, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Vedas into computer languages of COBOL, Algol, and Java Script. In binary fashion, he’s saying ‘yes and no’ in his attempts for universal compatibility between technology and religions…

That’s James Earl Jones, CNN’s voice, announcing consensual deaths of Father and Mother. Camera taking us to a Platonic cave of forms and metaphysical floats just back from a parade at the Acropolis… One of the floats has my parents lying in their bed of 70 years.

No signs of deterioration or slippage into dementia.

They are angelic, spiritual, still waving and smiling.

Is this their end?

Holding hands now… talking about holistic wind surfing, androgyny, and synthetic lubricants… they’re saying: “Woke up this morning knowing today we die.”

They’re so accepting; excited about doing it together in their bed of 70 years. They read some Philip Kapleau this morning, VISA paid down… they’re ready to go.

Father, looking into Mother’s eyes, reciting… it’s Rumi… she’s responding, a contra-melody of troubadours, Shakespeare, and Zen Haiku  dedicated to the divine right of love and laughter.

Mother: ‘Our time is gone… we had fun.’

Around their bed a group of spiritual answers, pressing closer. Camera panning these teary faces with ‘knowing looks’.

Father stopping film… sound’s still on: He’s chastising all these looks and their prehistoric ideas about after life and death.

‘You’re not going to spoil his death.’

The best sellers are ignoring Father’s last wishes… shroud of death turns them on… they’re pressing… they want quotes for their next best seller…

Father’s had it… telling them to leave: ‘See ya on the other side.’

Sylvia Browne, Jan Price, jubilant, about ‘other side’ reference… promising my parents Virginia Woolf, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and a fun tag team of existential despair, Frankl and Sartre, against the joyfuls of C.S. Lewis and an unknown nun, to be named.

The priests, monks, ministers, imams, rabbis, mystics, and evangelicals, leave the cave blaming each other for their dismissal.

Symbolically, the camera catches the Tibetan Book of Death, Tao Te Ching, and Tantra for Sex and Auto Repair, falling to the cave’s floor… landing on the same indoor/outdoor carpeting I got on sale.

Mother and Father love it… exactly the last rites they want.

They’re relieved fundamentalists are gone… wanted something more than ‘an Old Testament crowd’.

They’ve started their neon sign outside… it flashes: New Paradigm Shifts Wanted. Apply Within.

Hitchens and Dawkins are here. David Hume is behind them… they’re ignoring him.

The new empiricists… in my parents’ last minutes… plunging the whole cave into rationality. Are my parents going materialist faced with death?

Hitchens and Dawkins… are giving the last rites to any faith based knowledge, the world of spirit.

The camera on my parents… they love this mind circus…

Hitchens and Dawkins leaving… others creeping back, firing rebuttals… Parents stopping them, using their last breaths, singing about their sacred union… Excerpts from Groucho’s quiz show, You Bet Your Life, on the screen… hear sound track from Casablanca, Zhivago, and Smokey and the Bandits…

Parents whispering: ‘Love Groucho; Loved our search; Loved each other; Love you boys.’

Last words: ‘Remember the gospel according to Groucho….’

Don’t finish… they’ve died smiling and laughing…

Redfield’s outside the cave screaming: ‘I’ve brought the 10th piece of china… the insight’s not ready.’

Glen Russell has worked in radio and television; has been a writer in exile living the last five years in East Sooke talking only to the trees, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Olympic Mountains, and his keyboard. He has seen new light in Ladysmith.