May 4, 2008
My gift today is a book. There will be many books this month. Yesterday I gave you a blueprint for human interaction. Today I give you a fictional account of a spiritual nature that will send your heart flying and explain why I think that there is more to this world than ever dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.
Richard Bach wrote a short novel in the early 1970s that became a best-seller, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It was a book about the spiritual life of relatively stupid birds and involved the quest for speed, independent thought, being apart from the crowd, being the best you could be, and sharing what you learned with others. I read it when I was eleven years old and it informed what I would do with my life because it spoke to the desires I had already made for my life. But that’s not the book I’m going to tell you about.
Bach’s next book was more literal, more accessible, and much funnier. I didn’t find it until I was a couple of years older (that being the pre-internet age when finding a book by a favorite author was an act of providence rather than a few seconds of searching the web). Like What Do You Say After You Say Hello, this would be a book that would inform my adolescence and that I would think about for the rest of my life. Its name was ILLUSIONS- THE ADVENTURES OF A RELUCTANT MESSIAH and it told the story of one summer that Richard spent jumping from open field to open field through the midwest, selling 10 minute rides in his open cockpit biplane to the locals in each town. Along the way he meets Donald Shimoda, the first other pilot he’s ever seen doing the same thing. It seems they have a lot more in common than unusual “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” essays. Both are seekers after ultimate spiritual truth, though Donald seems to have found it and decided that he’d rather sell rides in a biplane than bother with it.
Over the course of the summer, Richard and Don will share adventures, discuss a book that Donald gives Richard called The Messiah’s Handbook- Reminders for an Advanced Soul, work on their airplanes, and eat bad panbread by the campfire. By the coming of Autumn each will go their own way, having learned something from the other. And at the end of this short book I too had learned something. Today, the things Bach had to say seem quaint and obvious, but to a thirteen year old boy who couldn’t quite admit that religion and spirituality were different things yet, it was very helpful. And it’s remains a beautiful read despite its aged new age philosophy.
Bach would go on to write more semi-autobiographical fiction. His next book would deal with his courtship with Leslie Parrish, the luscious cutie from ‘60s film and television best known for playing Daisy May in Lil’ Abner and making William Ware Theiss famous by her almost supernatural support of his work on the original Star Trek episode Who Mourns for Adonias. I lost touch with him when he divorced Ms. Parrish and turned back to his only true love, flying. But I thank him for helping a young boy realize that the search for a personal philosophy didn’t have to involve dogma and ritual.