Obviously, this is a “One Hundred Minapools” monetary note from the “Republic of Mars.” It bears a beautifully wrought likeness of the planet’s “Capable Leader” (in a typically inverted pose). And it arrived in our family’s Columbus, Ohio mailbox, addressed to me, when I was 16.
It All Began With “No”
More than a half-century later, the bill (now torn and taped) is still bright and colorful. And though the paper for its accompanying letter has discolored a little, its beautifully scribed Martian-blood-green ink remains readable.
When my puzzled mother handed them to me in 1965, I was puzzled too. Until I read what the letter said:
Our Earthling representative has been instructed to present you with this, the first Martian legal tender to be distributed on your worthy planet.
We applaud outstanding achievement wherever it occurs and have been informed of your unusual Bible School activity!
Would you kindly convey to your fellow Earthlings that we are watching your space probes with great interest and are preparing to greet warmly all arriving on our splendid planet. At which time, we will be happy to establish a currency exchange system which will enable you to spend your prize in any manner you choose.
Until that time, permit us to give you the interplanetary salute!
PS: Forgive our Earthling representative’s inability to give the interplanetary salute, as he does not possess enough hands.
I immediately knew what my “unusual activity” was. And the above items are now cherished reminders of one of the saddest, and most meaningful, experiences I’ve ever had. Its story began when Reverend Baker, of Bethel Methodist Church, asked if I’d like to teach Sunday Vacation Bible School over the following summer.
And I said “No.”
“No?” he whispered.
“No,” I confirmed. “But I’ll teach basket weaving!”
“Do you know how to weave baskets?”
“Nope. But I’ll learn.”
In fact, I hadn’t a clue why I blurted that out. It just came. I neither knew how to weave baskets, nor ever wanted to learn. But he had asked the question at the end of a private meeting I’d requested to talk about my family’s searingly surreal life under dad’s extreme OCD. And he may have thought that Bible School would (temporarily) break me out of my unreal, home-bound prison.
In any event (and with mom’s help), I did teach myself to weave baskets. And during the following summer, while parents attended Sunday services in the chapel upstairs, I joined their kids in the basement. We wove baskets and discussed the sermons and Bible stories we’d heard so often:
- How did we feel about them?
- Which seemed meaningful and which didn’t?
- Which made sense and which didn’t?
Rev. Baker sometimes peeked in on us after his services had ended… and even participated. But he never tried to “correct” our discussions.
A New Girl
Then– on our very last day– a new girl walked in, sat down, listened, and said nothing. When our session ended and the other kids had headed home with their finished baskets, she asked if we could talk.
Suffering from leukemia, she apparently had only months to live, and wanted to know if she “was going to Hell” when she died. Once again, I instinctively blurted out: “Absolutely NOT! Every person’s soul is too valuable to God to throw away like that.”
I hadn’t expected to say that, or to add that I didn’t believe Satan or Hell even existed in God’s eternal realm:
“For if God is as omnipresent as the Bible claims, then nothing exists outside of God, and Satan and Hell would have to reside in His Holy Fabric. I couldn’t believe that the Almighty– the Everywhere, Everywhen and Everything– would house such darkness within.”
Dancing to Silent Music
The girl started to cry, stepped up onto my shoes, wrapped her arms around my waist, and began dancing us in place to silent music.
She couldn’t have known how much that gesture meant to me. A few months earlier, I’d gone on the church’s Camp Agape Youth Retreat. And during our final night’s party, Rev. Baker kept nudging me to ask a girl across the room to dance. I eventually relented, but soon after we started dancing, she observed, “You’re not very good at this, are you?” I wasn’t, and the closest thing I’d ever had to a “date” ended.
But here was a different dance partner, who had just walked in out of the blue to talk about impending death. “So you think I’ll go to Heaven?” she continued.
“I do. And we probably would call our eternal home ‘Heaven,’ but I doubt that many of us will spend eternity strumming harps there. Instead, our souls probably examine the life we just left, and judge whether it accomplished our original goals. We can then decide what we want to experience next… not as karmic punishment, but to continue our spiritual growth.
“It’s probably an ongoing process, where we leave one realm and return to the other… back and forth… over and over… as our souls advance toward perfection. We don’t have to do that, though. We could strum harps if we wanted.
“But most souls have higher goals than that.”
Or at least that paraphrases what I remember saying.
I was holding onto her as tightly as she was to me– as if my life also depended on it. And we continued dancing until she kissed my cheek, stepped off my shoes, and left. I’m sure her parents were waiting somewhere in the hall outside. But I wish I’d asked about the chain of events that brought her into my room and life.
I suspect Rev. Baker had a lot to do with it.
A Case of Books
She entered the hospital weeks later, and on my first visit, asked me to bring some books next time. I brought them in an old, black Samsonite attache case, which I decorated with a goofy, official-looking emblem that I’d drawn with colored pencils.
Back in school, the word “punt” meant “to enjoyably waste time.” And my emblem read “The Puntagon” around its circumference, with a rendition of the U.S. government building filling its center. She loved it, and I gave her the books and the case.
Sadly, she died a few weeks later. And shortly after that, the mysterious Martian letter appeared in our mailbox. Mom feigned surprise for a while, before she finally shared its lovely backstory.
After the girl’s death, her mother sent mine a letter, thanking me for “helping their daughter die so peacefully.” Since my brother Byron was known to be quite artistic, the letter also suggested that he “draw a nice thank-you gift” for me. He obviously spent a lot of time drawing that beautiful Martian bill. And mom wrote its delightfully imaginative cover letter.
Embracing Life’s Detours
It surprised me when I blurted “No” to teaching Summer Bible School. I imagine it surprised Rev. Baker more. And basket weaving was definitely an odd temporary detour in my life’s direction. But if I hadn’t followed it, how different might a stranger’s death have been? How terrifying?
Framed now on my wall, the “Money from Mars” reminds me that:
- Events leading to it may have been accidental, coincidental, or maybe neither.
- Our life purposes– the reasons we come here– may often involve strangers who “just happen” to cross our paths.
- An odd hunch or detour may be the right way to go.
- My brother put a lot of time and attention into drawing that bill. It revealed an affection for me that his growing schizophrenia kept him from ever otherwise expressing during his brief life.
- And the Almighty does work in mysterious ways– to resolve interwoven tapestries of seemingly unrelated ends. (Though we may not completely understand, or even recognize, many of them.)
Obviously, I’m not expecting further rewards from Mars. I’ve already received them in my heart… right here on Earth.
Dave Powell is a Westford, Mass., writer and avid amateur photographer.
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