“Say that again?” The golf-shirt guy with grey hair and a few too many beers put his glass down on the hotel bar, drifted his red eyes to the new arrival and slightly slurred his question. “You do WHAT for a living?”
The sports-jacket guy responded, “I take it you’re not here for the symposium?”
“Huh? I’m here for a funeral tomorrow.”
“Oh. So sorry.”
“I’m not. It’s my ex-business partner.” Mr. Bloodshot frowned and turned away.
“Um. OK.” Mr. Sports Jacket looked around the lounge to see if there was anyone he recognized. Most who arrived this time in the afternoon were probably settling into their rooms and making plans for dinner. However, some of the oldtimers might drop by.
“I just want to make sure he’s dead.”
Mr. Sports Jacket returned a quizzical gaze. “Well, funerals can be good for that.”
“Anyway, I still didn’t get what you said.”
“I’m a Transcendence Advisor.”
“I never heard of that.”
“Well, there’ll be a few hundred of us here this weekend for the symposium.”
“What does that even mean?”
“It’s like a conference…”
“No, I mean what you said before. A what advisor?”
“Billy B! There you are!” Frank Stessen was so loud when he approached the conversation that the few others on the other end of the bar and a dozen or so at the nearby tables looked up to see the friendly, large guy in a black suit instantly dominate the room. He lit up the quiet and dusky lounge like an oversized jukebox playing its first song for the evening.
“Hi, Frank. Good to see you.” Mr. Sports Jacket stood up to shake hands. He was tall and lean with salt and pepper hair. “Oh, and since I know you don’t mind being put on the spot, maybe you can tell my new acquaintance what a Transcendence Advisor is.”
Mr. Jukebox reached out to Mr. Bloodshot, “Hi, my name is Frank.”
“I’m Jim.” A vigorous grip pumped his hand before he fully raised it.
“Well Jim, we help dead people.” Frank laughed and extended his other hand over Jim’s shoulder. “Just kidding.”
Billy B smiled, “Frank, you never wear that line out.”
Jim didn’t know what to think about this big balding fellow who looked like he could be a long-retired linebacker but thought it wise not to order any more beer. Instead, he asked for water.
Frank was still laughing, “I get a kick out of it because so many people think it’s true.”
Billy chuckled, “I bet that’s because you’ve been telling the same joke for over twenty years.”
“You could be right there, old buddy.” The bartender appeared and Frank shifted his attention, placing his right hand on Bill’s shoulder while removing his left from Jim. “I’ll have whatever Billy B here is having.” The bartender walked away and Frank continued, “How’s Mary and the kids?”
“All is well. William Jr. is off to college on a scholarship and Trinity will be graduating high school next year.”
“Good to hear, good to hear.”
Frank grabbed his beer and returned his attention back to Mr. Bloodshot. “Jim my friend, a Transcendence Advisor helps people transition from this world to the next. More importantly, we help individuals get more out of their own life while they’re still in it.”
Jim started to open his mouth.
Frank shifted to his other side again, “Oh! Before I forget…” he placed his glass down, “Terrance ‘The Man’ Finkton changed his presentation for tomorrow. Instead of Out-of-Body Control, he’s going to be presenting Perceptions from the Other Side.”
“Well, I hope he has something new to say.”
“Yesterday he called about the change and offered a quick preview.” Frank retrieved his beer. “I think it will be especially valuable to those who want to know more about spiritual pervasion.” Then he shifted back to Mr. Bloodshot, “Sorry there Jim, here I am talking shop. I didn’t mean to be so rude. But I bet you didn’t know your acquaintance, Billy B here, better known as William Bensor, is the author of Life Beyond the Corporeal.”
The author smiled and rolled his eyes.
Frank went on, “He’s our keynote speaker tomorrow, so if you really want to know what we do, you’re drinking with the right man.”
William was quick to deflect, “Jim, you might be interested to know that Frank here is the organizer of this weekend’s symposium. So, if you stick around long enough, you’ll see a crowd start to gather around him tonight.”
Frank was not to be outdone. “Jim, you should be apprised that although I may know many of the folks who will be in attendance this weekend. All of them will know Mr. Bensor, whether he’s met them or not.”
Mr. Bloodshot wished he hadn’t started drinking so early, as he was having a hard time keeping up with the conversation. “Gentleman…” He reached for some water. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Frank exclaimed, “Jim, it’s all my fault. I’ve gone off and tried to have too many conversations at once. It’s simple really. A Transcendence Advisor offers guidance to people who are kind of stuck in their life, or stuck in this world and some who might benefit from a little help in the beyond.”
Jim was still perplexed. He looked at Mr. Jukebox’s smiling face and asked, “What do you mean by ‘beyond’?”
Another interruption pulled Frank away as he heard his name. “Frank and William!” A group of boisterous guys and gals came through the open doorway. Both Frank and Bill turned to shake hands, exchange banter and share some laughs.
Jim took this as a good time for a walk. He was a little slow to get moving after a day of travel and too much alcohol, a decade of insufficient exercise and years of increasing weight. Just out the front door, airport shuttle buses, taxis and cars were bringing more arrivals into the porte-cochère. The clamor of hotel luggage carts and the banging vehicle doors competed with the loud conversations making way towards the large wall of continuously opening and closing glass doors. He walked past the activity, into a small, native-plants garden, where he sat to watch the late-day sun make its way towards the Rocky Mountains. He was tired. Not just from traveling — which at this stage of his life he tried to minimize — but weary of a waning existence that had become a procession of predictable malaise.
Less than an hour later he poked his head back into the lounge and observed a spirited crowd of over a dozen reveling at the end of the bar. Jim headed to his room.
In the morning, he grabbed a bagel and stepped out to the pool to read the paper. Other than one person swimming laps, the place was deserted. Jim was surprised when he heard his name from the tall guy getting out of the water.
Rubbing a towel over his soaking head, he offered a reminder, “I’m the guy from last night at the bar.”
“Sorry, if we didn’t get to finish our conversation. A number of the out-of-town attendees arrived, so there was a lot of greetings to go around.”
Jim recognized the voice as the author with too many names. Was it William? Billy B? Or…
As if he could read his mind, the swimmer continued, “I’m Bill.”
“Of course.” Jim put his newspaper down. “I’m a little foggy this morning.”
“Those bagels are good. I had the same kind a little while ago.” The wet guy started to go. “Good to see you again.”
“Hey, Bill,” Jim focused his attention, “I still don’t get it. What do you guys do?”
The swimmer pulled a pool chair closer and sat down while continuing to dry himself. “In a minute I’ve got to get a shower and get ready to meet some folks. But to provide some perspective, have you ever felt there was more to you than your body?”
“What do you mean?”
“Have you ever considered whether your thoughts are really a part of your body and brain, or from something else?”
“Not just dreams. Your regular conscious thoughts. Like, if you were to close your eyes right now, can you still see that bagel?”
“Well, I guess I would have a memory of some bagel, whether it’s that one or a different one.”
“That’s right. But the point is, who is looking at that bagel with your eyes closed?”
“I guess it’s me..?”
“That’s the point. It’s not your body that’s doing the looking when your eyes are closed. It’s something much more you.”
Jim looked puzzled.
The wet guy went on. “Listen, I’ve got to get upstairs. But if you want to know more, you couldn’t have picked a better hotel this weekend. Just wander over to any of the presentations whenever you have time. Hope to see you again.” Bill smiled and headed into the hotel.
After finishing the paper, Jim headed through the lobby and waited for an elevator. He observed a posted schedule titled, “Transcendence Symposium.” Sure enough, at 4:00pm William Bensor was listed as the keynote speaker.
Just after 10:00am, Jim meandered over to the meeting rooms and observed several open doors in the hallway, each fronted by placards on easels. He was attracted to a burst of laughter emanating from the nearest doorway and stepped inside. A speaker at the front of the room with about fifty attendees stood by a large monitor that said “Bridging Awareness.” Apparently, he had just told a joke and added an additional punchline: “So, that was the last time I’ll ever argue with someone who just died.” The audience laughed again and after they settled down, he went on, “Seriously though, that serves as an example for today’s topic. Just because you know you can connect with someone who has recently passed, doesn’t mean you’ll be well received. Keep in mind they are usually disoriented. In other words, bridging awareness is more than communicating, it’s really a matter of ensuring both you and the recently deceased are on the same page.”
The speaker went on to describe examples of not properly bridging awareness, such as asking your boss for a raise when he’s just reported the company is in financial trouble. Or, asking your spouse about resolving some minor household matter when they are upset about something else. The solution is to just listen. It also helps to assess the individual’s emotional state. Whether you’re dealing with an upset coworker or someone who just died, it’s important to listen with your full attention. Part of what makes their situation worse is that someone who has just died may be upset for numerous reasons, and then when they realize that most can’t hear them, their state exacerbates. On the other hand, someone who has been sick or in pain may experience great relief when they die. Even so, they may simply want others to know they’re OK and could become frustrated that they can’t get that across. Bridging awareness comes down to the same empathy you would extend to anyone going through any kind of challenging circumstance.
Jim checked his watch, pulled himself back into the hallway and walked back to the restaurant before proceeding to the event that brought him from Philadephia to Denver for the weekend.
While waiting in his rental car, he double-checked the address after he arrived at the funeral home. Although fifteen minutes early, there were hardly any cars in the parking lot. At five minutes before 1:00, no additional cars arrived and he walked into the lobby.
A photo with the name Terrance O’Malley was visible in a room with about twenty chairs. Jim stepped in and took a seat near the door. An old woman dressed in black, flanked by two younger adults, sat in the far corner, directly in front of the table featuring an urn and flowers. A man in a charcoal suit sat on the far right, just in front of Jim.
For the first several minutes he was surprised no one else arrived. The place was silent, other than a ticking grandfather clock out in the lobby. Then he became slightly annoyed. He had flown across the country to mark the finality of a guy he had been wishing dead earlier in the past decade. Although he had not thought about what might occur at the service before making his travel plans, he anticipated there would be someone saying something. Anything. He wouldn’t care if it was all about what a wonderful man he was. He just wanted someone to say out loud that Terrance O’Malley was dead.
But there were no words. No one in the room even coughed.
After a while, the annoyance dissipated. Jim considered his own mortality. Surely, more would come to see him off? He mentally checked off a list. Family. Friends. Employees. Vendors. Suppliers. Professional associates. Jim relaxed. But something wasn’t right. Why were there so few people here?
When they formed the business, Terrance and he were friends and sometimes tried to outwork each other when building things up. Terrance was outgoing and gregarious, somewhat like a smaller version of the jukebox guy he met last night. They had a good thing going for several years until Terrance said he was moving to Denver and taking their main clients. Jim was incredulous. This was going to crash the business. He was going to have to lay people off.
Within a few days, Terrance gave a brief goodbye to some key employees and then he was gone forever. But it took ten years before he officially died.
Terrance was the sales guy. He handled all the main accounts. Jim didn’t even have their contact information. He held an emergency meeting with the company executives and devised a plan. It was painful. And it might not work. But no one had any better ideas. Jim took out a large loan while they still had good credit. He cut his personal salary to the minimum he needed to survive. Summer and Christmas parties were canceled. No more raises. No bonuses. No new hiring. Cost-cutting anywhere and everywhere possible. He still had to let go of a few of the newest employees. He promoted a senior account exec to the head of sales. He burned the midnight oil again, just like when they first started the business. In eight months it looked like no one else would need to be laid off. In a year, they were breaking even and paying half their bills on time. In two years they were paying all their bills on time. In three years, Jim had built his salary back up where he was saving money again. In five years, they were doing well, although not as profitable as before Terrance left. After that, Jim didn’t think about Terrance too much. But in those early years, Jim hated him for that betrayal.
Regardless of whether he was actively hating or barely thinking about him, Jim presumed Terrance must have taken those clients and built himself a small fortune in Colorado. Jim knew if it was himself who started over with those clients, he would make it a quick success.
It was only now, in the small room with grey walls, brown carpet, folding chairs and a mahogany table supporting a black urn and flowers, that he realized things might not have worked out. Really, all Jim knew was what a vendor told him in passing: Terrance died of testicular cancer.
Jim tried to recall his past partner’s voice and remembered his endearing laugh.
I’m sorry, Jim.
He looked around. Clearly, no one was speaking. But he recognized the voice.
I did you wrong.
Jim sat up straighter and slowly panned his gaze around the entire room and back out into the lobby.
I had a few OK years after I left, but I could never get the quality matched to what you were doing.
How could this be? He could hear Terrance like he was right next to him, but no one was speaking.
Things went from OK to bad to worse.
Jim considered his mind was playing tricks. He did have too much to drink last night.
The divorce took the life out of me. I became pissed off and exhausted all the time.
Jim thought about what he heard in this morning’s seminar and decided to just listen, albeit with a heavy dose of skepticism.
I couldn’t get motivated. I started lashing out and pushing everyone away. My kids stop visiting. The business went down.
The voice was Terrance, but the news was something Jim could not have dreamed up.
And of course, I got sick. And bitter.
Then it was truly quiet. There was a vacuum of silence. Jim wanted to dismiss the whole thing as something that didn’t happen. But instead, he felt compelled to utter under his breath, “You had some good days.”
Instantly, he got tingly. It was pronounced. The only thing he could equate it to was being afraid. But he felt no fear. In fact, he felt energized.
The lady in black turned around and looked at Jim. He nodded back. It was Terrance’s mom. They had met many years ago when she made a trip to the East. One of the reasons Terrance wanted to move back to Denver was to be near his family. Of course, he was also going through that divorce at the time, so it seemed apparent he just wanted to get away. Furthermore, both his kids were in college on the west coast, so Terrance said Denver was where he needed to be.
The tingling raced through him and magnified as an invigorating sensation.
The man in the suit turned around for a moment. Jim nodded at him while monitoring a mounting feeling of heightened alertness.
After a few moments, the tingling dissipated.
At 2:00, Jim quietly got up to leave. The man in the suit followed him out the front door. “Excuse me, sir, are you James Henton?”
Jim calmly turned around, still floating in an energized afterglow and nodded.
“I’m Ralph Gotterang, Terrance’s attorney. He hoped you might show up, although he thought it unlikely. Before he passed, he directed me to your company’s website and your photo and asked that I keep an eye out for you. I would have contacted you next week anyway, even if you hadn’t arrived. In brief, he left you the option to take over his business if you’re interested.” He handed Jim his card. “Can I call you to speak about the details?”
Back at the hotel, Jim strolled through the lobby towards the cafe for a late-afternoon sandwich and contemplated the day’s events. He observed Mr. Jukebox down the hallway between the meeting rooms answering questions and coordinating with hotel staff and what appeared to be some event speakers or attendees. With no other plans until leaving for the East Coast tomorrow morning, Jim considered sitting in on what Bill had to say at his keynote, just to kill some time. He already accepted that he may not understand anything about the symposium, but it didn’t matter. He knew he would forget all about it before he departed the hotel.
Jim arrived at 4:00pm. Two room dividers had been retracted to transform three meeting rooms into a larger one. A small stage was set up at the opposite end with a lectern on the left, and a large digital screen in the center. There were over 200 attendees seated. As more filed in looking for a seat, additional chairs were brought in to add two rows in the rear where Jim was standing against the wall.
Mr. Jukebox took the stage and cited Life Beyond the Corporeal as the most popular book ever written about their industry. Simultaneously the book’s cover was displayed on the large stage monitor. He added that many in the room had advised him the book had resulted in new clients. Then he introduced the book’s author to resounding applause.
Bill briskly took the stage, shook hands with Mr. Jukebox and then asked the audience to join him in acknowledging Frank Stessen for twenty years of producing this annual event. Bill told a joke and then thanked more people before beginning to show charts illustrating industry expansion.
Jim thought back to his talk with the attorney. Jim told Ralph he wasn’t interested in accepting Terrance’s business because it would be too much work to straighten it out. Just then, Terrance’s mom had come out with her grandkids, who were both in their late twenties. She said hello to Ralph, who introduced Jim, and when she realized she was speaking with her son’s old business partner, she hugged Jim and thanked him for coming across the country. She recalled that Terrance was at his best when he was working back in Philly. She asked the kids if they wouldn’t mind waiting in the car so she could have a moment with Jim. Then she went on to say things just didn’t seem to go as well for Terrance after his divorce. He started drinking regularly and then regularly too much. He dropped out of touch with old friends and didn’t make new ones. He even alienated his sister and the few cousins he had. Of course, cancer just made things worse.
The last thing Jim had anticipated prior to the funeral was that anyone would warmly greet him. He had intended to anonymously enter and exit and was touched by his mom’s greeting and was still trying to mentally process the surprise gesture Terrance had offered via his attorney. Although Terrance’s business was in such poor shape that it had very little real value, it was still quite a statement. However, Jim was also aware that he was one of the few who could predictably expand it into something meaningful in a reasonable amount of time. Which, the attorney mentioned was what Terrance had said before he passed. Nevertheless, it took Jim no time to decline.
The current applause shifted Jim’s attention back to the room. The graphs on the stage monitor disappeared. William Bensor closed a folder on the lectern and walked to a position front and center of the stage.
“Now that we’re caught up on a few industry highlights, let’s talk about your clients.” The low-level chitchat in the room subsided. “As you just saw, and is obvious to anyone in this business, a large percentage of new clients become interested in what’s next as they start to question their own mortality.” Some in the audience appeared to be readying themselves to take notes. “That’s fine and we’ll continue to help them. But of course, as many of these same individuals express that they wish they knew about what we do earlier, we’re at once faced with a gap in what we offer and how we present ourselves. Obviously, this isn’t true for everyone. Each of those who will be honored at tonight’s awards dinner share one commonality: they actively reach out to their communities instead of relying upon those who reach out to them.”
Jim started getting fidgety. He wasn’t interested in listening to a business and marketing presentation about an industry he didn’t understand and hadn’t even heard of until last night.
“I’m not trying to preach to the choir here, but to underscore the obvious, the earlier a person learns about their own self as an entity independent of their body, the more they understand their true nature.”
Jim started to eye the doorway.
“That’s not to say that life’s challenges go away, merely that they can become less stressful and more readily open to resolution.”
Instead of leaning against the back wall, Jim straightened up and started walking to the hallway.
“Communicating with people who have passed away is not the point of what we do, even if it provides some solace to those involved.”
Jim slowed down.
“Heck, there are plenty of folks who can do that already, without our guidance. Although they may consider it imagination or something so inconsistent with their day-to-day existence, they just mentally file it away as something not understood and leave it to be forgotten over time.”
Jim decided to lean against the back wall once more, although now closer to the exit.
“The question becomes, how do you help a person appreciate they are so much more than they have been conditioned?”
Jim contemplated his experience at the service. Even though it was only a few hours ago, he had already put the “voice,” or whatever, behind him and mostly recalled the conversations outside the funeral home.
“As an answer, here are some of the things I learned from today’s workshops and panel discussions.”
Jim quietly walked through the doorway and made his way toward the pool. There were about a dozen reading and napping around the water. He picked up a magazine and started leafing through it, but settled back into his recliner and closed his eyes. He contemplated the early growth of the business with Terrance and their problem-solving teamwork. There was good synergy back then. Jim contemplated all the stress on himself, the managers and his family after Terrance left. Although he had arrived in Denver harboring disdain, he would depart tomorrow with much less.
He awoke to three kids splashing in the pool and the sun approaching the mountains. There were fewer people surrounding the water.
Jim headed towards the bar. On the way, he observed a number of men and women dressed for a formal affair and figured they must be going to the awards event.
The lounge was moderately attended, similar to last night before all the symposium folks arrived. He took the same stool at the bar and ordered the same from the same bartender.
The barkeeper presented a shot of whiskey and continued working, “After you left last night, things really picked up, which is common every Friday evening we have weekend conferences.” He presented the beer and leaned closer. “Do you want to hear a story?”
Jim took his first sip of what would be another generous tab. “Sure.”
“Later in the evening, one of the women was signing off her bill. She asked, ‘Is your name Jerome?’ I said yes and she said, ‘I hope you don’t take this wrong because I’m merely a messenger. But your mom just asked me if I would let you know she’s doing fine and feels much better. She also said something you’re looking for was inadvertently misfiled in the desk under Mortgage instead of Legal.’” The bartender lowered his voice. “My mom had recently died. She was terminally ill and it was expected. Before she passed, she told me where her will was. But it wasn’t there. And yet this stranger from the East Coast somehow knew its wrong location. I don’t know what that was all about, but if I see her again, I want to thank her.”
Jim nodded. “That’s quite a story.”
“Yea. At first, I didn’t know whether to be creeped out or not. But it also made what she said about my mom feeling better more believable.”
In the morning, Jim bumped into Bill at the pool again. This time when he got out of the water, Jim was the one to reach out. “How’s your conference going?”
“Quite good.” He stopped drying for a moment. “How about that funeral?”
“It wasn’t what I anticipated.”
“Well, I guess my trip was predicated on some kind of schadenfreude.” Jim was about to say more but then cut himself short. “Now, I’m not so sure.”
Bill continued towel-drying his hair.
“By the way, do you have a copy of your book I could buy?”
“No worries. I’ll leave a copy for you at the front desk.”
At the airport gate, Jim set the hardback down on the adjacent seat as he made himself comfortable prior to boarding.
A woman nearby said, “I thought I was the only one who had to leave early.”
Jim paused briefly, before realizing the comment was connected to the book. “Oh. I’m not part of the conference. But I was staying at the hotel and the author gave me this before I left.”
She chuckled, “Well, that’s funny. I just gave my copy to the hotel bartender. I guess there’s a spirit of Christmas in July going around.”
Jim sat back. “Are you the one who told him about his mom?”
She laughed. “Wow. That’s not something I expected he’d share. Unless you’re related?”
“No. I guess he wanted to tell someone he was grateful since he wasn’t sure he’d bump into you again. I was just in the right place at the right time.”
“Yes, it’s interesting when that happens.”
“So, what’s this book about?”
“I suspect every person who reads it has their own answer. I like to say it’s about you.” She put her phone down. “It’s about you and me and anyone else, minus a lot of the stuff we tend to think of as representing ourselves.”
Jim chuckled, “I still don’t know what it’s about.”
She smiled, “Well, you’ll know soon enough. It seems to me that many readers find it resonates with them. Even if they’ve never heard of some of the things mentioned. Yet, they can relate to it. Some find it inspirational and even exciting.”
“I suspect I won’t be part of that latter crowd.”
“That’s fine. I’m not suggesting everyone will take to it. I’m biased since those who contact me after reading it have been moved enough to do so.”
“So, it appears you’re heading to Philly, too.”
“For an hour. There weren’t any direct flights to Boston at this time.”
“Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you. My name is Jim. I need to check a few messages before we board.”
“I’m Tracy. Here’s my card.”
“By the way, how did you do that at the hotel?”
“How were you able to tell the bartender that news?”
“Oh. His mom just wasn’t going to get any peace until she got that message to him. The bartender wasn’t getting it, directly. Like many people, he may have turned that off years ago, or just ignores it so well, that such messages can’t get through. Somewhat like how certain husbands can sit in the same room with their wife talking to them and yet not hear a thing.”
Jim nodded, while an aching nostalgia effused through his sentience.
On the one hand, when Jim finally arrived home, it seemed he had been gone a lot longer than a weekend. On the other hand, everything was so familiar and unchanged that it also seemed like he was just returning from another day at the office. He placed his keys on the foyer table and paused at the photo of his wife, three kids and himself from twenty years earlier.
Those were better days. It would be several years before the kids grew up and moved on. And it was a decade before heart failure took her, and Terrance left the business. It was amazing how much had changed since then and how little he had. Or, more honestly, how he had declined.
Jim placed Life Beyond the Corporeal on the table. He had read much of it on the flight.
Finally, he pulled two business cards from his jacket and placed them next to the keys and resolved two things. First, he wasn’t going to have anything to drink tonight. And second, there were two new phone meetings he would enter into his planner for the coming week.
by George Alger
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