Elder Ballard added: "We're here to experience what it is like NOT to be God in His infinite variety and forms... and in finite manifestations from animals through humans. So it's one of our purposes of life to have that experience. So we eventually get to the point that we say: Ah I know pretty well what it's like not to be God, One, everything, unity, infinity and then you move across the chasm.... the infinite chasm to the other side,... which is actually on the first side all along. We will be reunited with God and that gives us the answer. In the meantime we have to live with the questions. The glorious questions!"
Rinaldo could see better but wasn't completely convinced. At least now maybe he wasn't suicidal. "So the purpose of our lives then is to return to God?"
"Sure that's part of it. Have families and help people. Learn all we can. There isn't just one complex mystical purpose, but many little purposes. That's what makes life interesting. To search and find all of these." Ballard expressed a natural wisdom when he wasn't preoccupied with his own physical constitution.
"I can understand that intellectually, not spiritually. I still have to get to that point where I connect with all that's deep inside my nature."
Jack was a little frustrated for both Rinaldo and himself. "But that's what you can't see. You can't see the infinity, the total complex of it. You can't see it. That's not possible. You have to accept the little pieces and develop the capacity to hope for the rest."
Elder Ballard saw the answer: "The only way that you could hope to have the understanding that you want, is to be that God. Is that what you're saying?"
"Isn't that a little bit much to expect of yourself?" Now Elder Ballard was showing some frustration too.
Rinaldo postulated again: "And hence since I am already limited... the mind is always limited, then whatever I can imagine is not going to be the correct expectation of what really is there. Or of what really it is like. So if I have any expectation, that expectation is then going to limit me. Life is a metaphor. We are in a constant state of being in a metaphor."
Jack came back: "I don't think life is a metaphor, life is life. It doesn't stand for something other than what it is. It's just what you find. Beyond that, it's what you make of it. But that doesn't make it bad or less important."
"Life as WE see it..."
"Not quite. A metaphor is something that we pick up, we put it somewhere and we point to it and say that's a metaphor for this. Until we do that it doesn't stand for anything. Life stands by itself and doesn't need to be established by any comparison. So it's not the same as being a metaphor. It is reality with a splendid purpose and a hopeful future. It is an exciting process and we invite you to join us in our special purpose."
"Is that what God is doing? God is picking us up and saying...`That's a metaphor for...something'? "
Elder Ballard thought he could explain that better. "No. No. According to what you have said God doesn't do that. God doesn't do anything. It's inert. It's one. It's everything. It's nonsense. It's the total... it can't do anything. It doesn't do anything. It doesn't have any reason to do anything. It wouldn't change things from what is going to be. Is that right? Would that be right?"
"That seems like the answer. But I'm not sure of anything." Rinaldo was relenting somewhat.
Elder Ballard continued. "God is involved in your life but not in the way you suggested initially. You are involved in the life of God. That's the most important lesson to learn? It's a passion that captures and refreshes you. It gives you confidence and competence. You ought to be using your talents. That's part of the answer."
"I don't know what I'm supposed to do with them though."
Jack had a suggestion: "You're supposed to do what they allow you to do. You're supposed to do your best at whatever you're capable of doing."
"I haven't fully understood all my talents yet. I have not fully perceived my abilities."
"Don't be impatient with yourself. You have plenty of experience of what your talents are in school and you'll get more. Give yourself a chance. We all have to do that."
Rinaldo could see they were making sense. "It's one thing to talk about this and quite another to internalize... fully realize your capability. I have never experienced a person that I could honestly say: that guy, he's a master. He is a master of life because he has got it down."
Jack came back: "Right. But that's part of the beauty of it, to create your own mastery."
Rinaldo continued: "I have never met anyone that could... that I experience as practicing exactly what they're preaching. Living life exactly the way they should."
"You set a very high standard, maybe no one could meet your artificially high standard. You're acquainted with people that are using their talents?" Jack tried to simplify the discussion whenever possible.
"Isn't that a person who is mastering life?"
"No. Not completely."
"That's what we agreed, that using your talents was what we should expect."
"I don't think anyone has fully reached their full capability of their talents."
"Okay. But they are using a lot of them. Okay?"
"Yes. Possibly. But it depends on how you see it. If you see twenty billion as a real big number..."
"It's trivial how many. You're right. The key is learning how to live. Using the tools you have and those you develop to make a practical, useful life, even if at first you don't know how to use them."
"I want to learn how to live, to learn how to use my talents."
Elder Ballard summarized for them all: "That seems to be the crux of the issue, to learn how to use the tools you are given, and know what to do with them. That's what the teachings of The Church help me do."
By this time they were all getting tired. They left the deeper discussion and turned to lighter details of their next meeting and the particular topic of Rinaldo's reading. This is the most involved discussion Jack had participated in. Confronting Rinaldo was a serious challenge.
When Rinaldo left, Jack felt confident that at least they would see each other again, he had seemed so depressed earlier. They were all stretching their own thinking abilities and it was helpful for Rinaldo to find someone else sincerely interested in pursuing his own interests. Although keeping a sensible strain to the discussion was difficult, it possibly rescued Rinaldo from depression.
Jack was having a similar discussion in his own mind. If he failed to solve Rinaldo's problems it was because he still had too many unsettled issues in his sub-conscious mind. He was avoiding the consequences of these questions temporarily.
After Rinaldo left, Jack's life of distraction went on as before.
Then I studied and read some more in Socrates as I've been doing. I really enjoy it.He wasn't entirely "losing himself in the work." He still found time for a little freethinking before the day was over. He was just working hard as an escape from thinking those thoughts which otherwise came more natural to him.
To help at the street meetings Jack devised a return mail postcard which he requested to be printed by the Mission Office. The idea was to pass these out to responsible people who happened by. This was a simply worded request for an appointment, with the local church address. This was another soft-sell idea. Another way to give the sensational miracle a way to happen and make the work go more smoothly.
This day was notable for another reason, it was the day Jack made arrangements to play tennis.
We went out to talk to the landlord and he gave us instructions on how to find a tennis court. We went by the place for later reference.
The pair had established a reasonable routine for their day.
Up like normal, we eat a lot of corn flakes. Once in a while eggs or rice.Occasionally the elder's treated themselves to some "groffins" at a local pastry shop. This delicacy is on the order of a large eclair with a thicker dough and not quite filled with cream. During the day they frequently ate ice cream and occasionally a "pansarotte" which was a round, flat bread that resembled a pizza. It was sold like pretzels in New York.
The green bus pulled into the main gate. The driver gave his identification properly to the Military Police. He signed the white log sheet on the clip board as required.
It was an ugly green bus with a cantankerous four speed manual transmission and tricky two speed rear end. The driver turned on the head lights as he pushed the peddles and turned the steering wheel with a considerable effort requiring both arms. It wasn't dark but regulations said you had to run a military vehicle with lights anytime off Post.
As the bus accelerated the driver pulled the red handle of the gear lever and deftly moved into high range while still in third gear. He let the groan of the engine subside before he slipped the long black shift into the final fourth gear. He did it as well as it could be done.
There were 17 young men on the bus. They were in civilian clothes on their way to the community college to take night classes. Their driver was Lawrence Murray, wearing his clean and pressed, khaki uniform with matching neck tie. He had to dress nice when he went into town once a week. He was the only one in the bus considered On Duty, even though this was a "voluntary" extra duty.
During his normal duty he wore green fatigues. He enjoyed being assigned to the motorpool even if it meant working swing shift two nights a week. He worked local runs and staff cars three days but he'd just as soon drive big trucks.
He still had two stripes on both sleeves, Corporal Murray; his friends called him Lucky. In the motor pool he was considered a hard worker but recently he had gotten in trouble. He had stayed out too late a couple of times getting seriously intoxicated. When he got into a fight and contributed to some damage at a local tavern, he received an Article 15 non-judicial punishment. Driving this extra duty was his retribution for helping his fellow man.
Otherwise he had a clean, if unspectacular record. He could drive everything they had from 18 wheelers to heavy earth movers for the engineers. He didn't know from one day to the next what he'd be doing, except for this special duty.
It could be worse, he could be lying on his back changing oil or sweeping up parts for senior mechanics. He liked driving. Even without air conditioning it was the best place to be in the hot, humid, tropical weather. He figured this was the safest way to fight the war. He could have volunteered to drive tanks or armored personnel carriers for the Calvary, but he wasn't a hero.
He got his weekends off except once a month when he worked a rotation. Then he would drive a courier or hustle a staff car for some VIP. He had driven a General once who had gotten stone drunk. Lucky had helped him with discretion and had received a letter of appreciation. Hell, he would probably have gotten a medal for that if he hadn't screwed up. He had three ribbons on his shirt now a fourth would look nice along with his brass marksmanship awards.
The bus left Fort Polk headed for Leesville, Louisiana, with a bunch of would-be preppie types, his buddy Clyde wasn't part of this group. One of the guys reminded him of his cousin Jack, that was Dan Bailey, his roommate in the barracks. Lucky had promised to teach him how to enjoy life, something he had never managed to teach Jack. Jack left for college too soon or Lucky had learned about life too late. It was mixed up in his mind now and his own enjoyment and satisfaction with life came and went. His former life was forever in the past, a different world, his new life was better most of the time.
At least these guys were trying to get a higher education; he respected that and didn't mind helping them. That was more than he was willing to do. He appreciated the concept of getting ahead, he just didn't know what to get ahead of.
Most of the guys in his barracks knew how to have fun too, except his roommate. He desperately needed some help. That was Lucky's next challenge, to get Dan laid. He had some rousing good times in the Enlisted Club with some of the others on the bus. He was the only one who had gotten in serious trouble, so Lucky had earned a certain fame. Going off Post was the problem, he reasoned, he vowed to stay closer to home next time he wanted to get blasted.
He slowed the bus and turned right off the main road toward the college campus. He was looking forward to tonight, a beautiful Friday with lots of possibilities. He had met two chicks on his run last week, Wanda and Mary Jane. They said they would stop by to keep him company while he waited for the troops. He had to stay with the bus or at least within seeing distance. He had it all planned out: He could park near the snack bar. He could park most anywhere, even in the yellow zone, he knew they wouldn't hassle him in the evening.
He pulled up to the curb in front of an irregular concrete building that looked more like a pill-box than any building they had on the Post.
"For all the money they must have spent you'd think they could make a half decent looking building," Lucky said to no one in particular.
He pulled the folding lever handle that operated the split doors. The doors swung open with a snap. The stampede disembarked with less than the usual pushing and shoving.
Lucky yelled, "See you assholes in two hours."
"Don't get lost!"
"Don't get laid!" The last comment came from Dan who had been briefed on Lucky's intentions.
Lucky had a retort: "Don't fart in class. Remember that! God, I hope you guys mind your manners in there. You're Army ya' know."
"Don't loose the keys!"
Lucky thought: "Fuck the Army." That's what he was tempted to say but didn't. He didn't really feel that way. The Army was a hell of a lot better than living at his former home with his mother and Buford. They had tried to mess with his mind every chance they got.
As he thought about his up-coming liaison, he remembered Carol Amherst in Oklahoma. He would liked to have married that young girl, even though she was only 17 she was very grown up. Those officer's had all the strings and could pull them whenever they wanted. It made him feel like dog meat for a while. He hadn't completely gotten over it after six months at Fort Polk. When he saved enough for the down payment on his bike, things got better because they didn't get worse.
He pulled the bus ahead to the intended parking position and shut down the engine and lights. He didn't see the girls yet. He left the lever half open and slipped through the door, pulling it behind trapping his hand momentarily inside the stiff rubber. He used the special key to lock the door from the outside.
He took his hat from under his belt and placed it on his head properly as he walked toward the Snack Bar. Two girls came his way from a nearby doorway, one was Mary Jane and someone else he hadn't met.
"I knew they'd come," he acknowledged to himself with a sense of relief.
As they approached each other Mary Jane raised her free hand with an elaborate wave which mimicked a salute. "Hi soldier. Is it hot enough for ya?"
Lucky smiled without restraint. "I could fry an egg on the hood of that bus, if I had an egg."
"You motorpool guys can just do everything I hear. This is my friend Margaret. She said she had nothing better to do so she came along."
"What happened to Wanda?" Wanda was much more attractive than Mary Jane and considerably better built than Margaret but she probably knew it and had better plans. He hoped Dan wouldn't be too upset to have this substitute. "What he don't know won't hurt him," Lucky thought to himself.
"She had to study."
"Hi Margaret. Nice to meet you." Lucky halfway extended his hand then fumbled, not knowing whether to shake or not.
Margaret looked down to the ground shyly, knowing she wasn't as buxom as Wanda or Mary Jane. She started to reach, then stopped after Lucky stopped. Then she stretched her hand out clearly and waited for his hand. "Nice lookin' uniform you got on, creases and all."
Her beauty was simple and camouflaged by her reluctance to wear make-up. She had put on some lipstick earlier but it had mostly disappeared. Her dish-water blonde hair was clean, attractive and curled slightly but not as flamboyant as Mary Jane's; she could stop cars.
Margaret had on a green and yellow flowered smock that was appropriate for the hot May weather. She wore the elastic top down around the sides of her shoulders on Mary Jane's instructions. She was embarrassed by what she considered the immodesty of such display, although she had nothing of significance to hide.
Mary Jane had her bright red hair "ratted" up high in a globe around her head. She had matching lipstick and earrings plus heavy eye shadow, eye liner, false eye lashes, rouge and a bright red ribbon just over her bangs. You name it, she had it. She was wearing a tight mini skirt and a low cut, frilly white blouse filled to capacity. Her clothing left just enough to the imagination to be completely sensual. She was about ten pounds overweight and carried it all in the right places.
"This is the way they teach us to wear it. Got to make a good public image." Lucky stiffened a little to square his shoulders which were naturally sagged.
"You ladies have time to join me in the snack-bar? God, I could use something cold. Driving this bus is tough duty. It turns like a tank." He had wet sweat stains under his armpits to prove his point.
Mary Jane and Margaret had already planned to spend the entire evening if necessary. They didn't let-on the extent of their eagerness. "Maybe, just for a while. We have to study and all." They were both carrying some books for props, but they had no intention of opening them.
"Sure, I understand. Hell it's my treat. I got two hours to kill before all of those preppies get done." They started to walk together toward the snack-bar. It was a glass front facility along side the main building. It had tables outside with colorful umbrellas and inside there was a fountain bar with stools and separate tables as well.
"Do you ever want to take classes?" Margaret asked to make conversation.
"I've taken lots of classes with the Army. I started taking some correspondence classes last year but got totally bored and quit. The Army has all kinds of programs like that. I've had enough of it. I'm doing what I want to do, that's work on motors and trucks and my bike. So what do I need more classes for?" Lucky was a little defensive.
"Oh, I was just askin'. I didn't mean anything by it. I thought maybe because you drove the bus you took some classes too."
"No, this is a volunteer job. My roommate takes some classes so I volunteered to help out the guys."
"Gosh, that's real jake to help like that." Margaret would believe anything, obviously.
"How come we've never seen you here before last week?" Mary Jane was a little more suspicious.
"They had other volunteers until now." Lucky wasn't lying, he just wasn't telling the whole truth.
By now they reached the glass door and Lucky pulled the handle to let the girls in first. He had learned that much etiquette from Jack years before. Lucky removed his hat and ran his hand over his oiled black hair combed back. It pushed up some because of the memory of the hat.
"What's your pleasure?" Lucky was reaching in his loose fitting pants for his money clip. He had picked that habit up from Jack too. In fact, he still had the clip Jack had given him once for his birthday. It had a fancy calligraphy "L" inscribed in the shiny steel.
The girls were starving, but timid about ordering. They were watching their weight of course and didn't want to appear like pigs.
"Oh, maybe a Coke." Mary Jane made the first suggestion.
"Come on. This is my time for dinner. I gotta eat something substantial so you gotta join me. I really get tired of that mess hall food. How 'bout a hamburger and shake and fries, Yankee food? Look they got those curly fries, I like those. Or you can have hush puppies Cajun style."
"Okay, a hamburger and a Coke but no fries or nothin' else for me." Mary Jane was relieved that he insisted.
"I can take the same but I'll pay. Okay?"
"No. It's not okay. I already said I'm buying. That's the Army way. Know what I mean?" That was a non-sequitur but it was convincing. They ordered and sat around a table by the window in the nearly empty diner. It was cool and pleasant inside.
"I got my roommate, Dan Bailey, comin' when he gets done with class. He said he'd be early because all they got is a test or somethin'. He's probably a genius or somethin' so he'll probably finish first."
They chatted before and after the food arrived. Each trying to be sociable with Mary Jane coming up with interesting stories whenever the conversation lagged.
After a while Mary Jane asked, "You said you had a bike. What kind do you have?"
"It's a maroon '63Triumph, TR6SC, 650cc. It's real sweet. I got it all cherried out with raised handle-bars and double reclining seats. It really hauls ass. Hey, how 'bout goin' for a ride with me Saturday. I got this weekend off and we can cruise all the way to New Orleans or maybe just go for a picnic."
"My folks won't let me go to New Orleans. We could go up to the lake. How 'bout Dan? Could he come with us?" Mary Jane, like Lucky, was trying to help her friend break out of her social slump. She hadn't had a good date since high school, almost a year earlier.
"Speak of the devil. That's Dan comin' this way now. That tall one over there in the blue jeans."
"Geese he's cute." Mary Jane was first to notice. She said that mostly to tease Lucky and also to impress Margaret.
"He looks plain to me. You have to be a girl to appreciate guys I guess."
"I hope so," Mary Jane chuckled.
"He looks clean cut." Margaret was craning her neck around the post in the window to inspect the thin, athletic figure approaching the snack-bar with the easy, relaxed pace of someone who doesn't know he's the object of the conversation.
When he was close enough to see through the glare on the glass, he recognized Lucky and waved. He didn't break stride and came quickly to the door. He swung his books to the other hand and opened the heavy door easily.
Saturday Jack began what would become his favorite form of recreation in Bari, playing tennis.
We went to play a tennis game in the afternoon. We played with a couple of businessmen...They surrounded that exercise with teaching and seeing comebacks.
Jack bought an interesting book at the local book store called Sex, Culture and Myth by Malinowski. It is a classic of Anthropology. He began reading this along with such Church works as Jesus the Christ. An eclectic intellectual diet.
Somewhere along the way Jack had written a letter requesting a catalogue of books from an English publisher, Penguin. This company had an active distribution of paperbacks in Italy, but never enough selection in remote communities. To satisfy his burgeoning curiosity he began ordering titles directly from the company. He received his first package which included some books on the study of Psychology. Again he was trying to broaden his base of knowledge, enhance his frame of reference and it intrigued him to see what other people had to say about the subject of religion.
Jack had been given responsibility for establishing a "Primary" (for younger children) and "Mutual" (as before for 12 and older) program. For Mormons it is important to keep the youth involved during the middle of the week. He scheduled the first Primary meeting for Wednesday the 12th of July.
Three young girls came along with about 15 other student aged kids from around the neighborhood. We gave them a lesson and got acquainted...I scheduled a Mutual social opening program and birthday party for Bruna, the niece of a member.Jack enjoyed working with the young people and they enjoyed his easy charm and infectious smile.
The Mutual party was both a success and a failure.
I was given the impression that Elder Kimble was going to run the Mutual party. He said he would, but when it came time everyone got out and I was stuck with it. But after a little anger, fast work and a few decisions in which I wasn't supported by any of the other missionaries, we had a party. The Bruna girl didn't show for her own birthday so we had a dance. It turned out well, over 30 kids were there at various times so we got some good publicity.Jack didn't dance of course and he had to constantly supervise Elder Ballard. It was important to establish the principle that Mormons, although not missionaries, enjoy good, healthy, clean social activities. Showing is always better than telling.