I dedicate Halfway to Heaven to all survivors of emotional, physical, and mental abuse.
Words are such a strange phenomenon. One sound can have many different meanings. It can trigger so many moods, memories, and fantasies. We say "Hi" to greet people. As a kid, when I heard someone say "Hi", my head would tilt upwards and I would get all dreamy as I gazed longingly at the sky. To use the jargon of the 60ís and 70ís, I guess you could say I wanted to "get high." "Letís get high," I remember hearing all the time. Well, I was not interested in smoking any "funny stuff". When I was in eighth grade, my neighbor had this long haired friend called Snorky. His eyes were always glassy and his favorite saying was "Hey man, letís get high and float away." I always smiled when he said that. I too, wanted to float away. But my idea of floating away was so much more daring and adventurous I would tell Snorky. I had this fantasy that a whole circus of clowns would go on strike and give me all their balloons. I would gather this huge bouquet of the loveliest balloons of every color imaginable, and then I would start going "up up and away" like that pop song I always liked. Even then I dreamed of going to Heaven, and in my fantasy the balloons carried me, at least, "Halfway to Heaven".
I have fond memories of the prize I won in Sunday School when I was twelve years old. Our teacher informed us one day that the boy or girl who read and quoted the most Bible verses in a period of four weeks would receive a copy of The Holy Bible and a $10 dollar prize. Being an avid reader even then, this was a delightful challenge for me. Though I read different ones and recited many different verses each Sunday, I always went back to my very favorite verse in the Bible: Luke 17: 21, "The kingdom of God, or Heaven, is within you." I could never get that verse out of my mind, and having great respect and admiration for The Holy Bible, that single verse somehow sparked a light of hope inside me despite the unhappy life I lived at home. If Jesus himself states that the kingdom of Heaven is within, then there has to be hope, Iíd think. I was not sure what he fully meant by that statement, but it inspired me to go within myself and to try and find some joy and meaning in life. "There has to be more to life than this Hell hole here at home. For Heavenís sakes there has to be," Iíd sometimes say, and smile at the commonly used phrase "For Heavenís sakes".
Dreaming and hoping became very healing and useful coping mechanisms. But I was not content with just that. I also sensed that reaching out to others was important as well. So that is what I did. Some of the kids in our neighborhood used to call me Mr. blabbermouth, and I have to confess there was some truth to it. There was a part of me that was very open and communicative about whatever was on my mind. So when I went to Jacksonís grocery one day with my sister Linda and met Rita Miller, I must have embarrassed my sister half to death because her face turned blood red several times. Since there were no other customers in the store at the moment, Rita began telling us about her church. My eyes lit up and my little heart began beating faster as excitement grew. "Could we go to church with you?" I pleaded. "Mom and dad stay home and drink and fight all the time. I have a little Bible that I read but Iíd love to have a church to go to. Would you take us to your church?"
Linda coughed and kicked my left foot. Rita smiled then reached down beneath the counter and took out two snickerís candy bars. "Here, have one on the house. Would you like a soft drink too?"
"Oh yes please," I said, excitedly, taking the candy bar. Linda looked away in embarrassment. "Oh, come on, Linda," I said, "take it, Mrs. Miller is offering us a gift."
Linda kicked my other foot. "But she is being nice to us," I said, looking at Linda straight in the eyes. We have a new friend."
"Why thank you," Rita said, smiling. "I would be more than happy to come and get you and take you to our church. Would you like to come along too, Linda?" she asked softly.
"I guess so," Linda answered.
Linda fussed at me all the way home about accepting charity and asking strangers to take you places. I did not care. Life at home was awful and we just had to find some escape from it all. I told Linda that I sensed Rita was a nice woman and weíd probably like her church and the people there. That First General Baptist Church became our refuge for the next two years. I became happier and somehow convinced that I was tasting a bit of the kingdom of Heaven. As I had new adventures and experiences my hunger for more grew. I kept reaching out to others in what Linda called my "blabbermouth style". I wrote Berea College a heart felt letter my senior year of high school begging them to let me come to their college because I loved books and learning. Three days later my social worker took me to interview with their admissionís director and the following week I was accepted.
I concluded that perhaps it wasnít necessarily a bad thing to be a blabber mouth sometimes. I met many people who helped me and along the way several became my heroes. I have always believed we need heroes to look up to and emulate. I read biographies at a young age and people like Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, George Washington Carver, Abraham Lincoln, Christopher Columbus, Albert Schweitzer, Florence Nightengale, Helen Keller, Marie Curie, Amelia Earheart, and Clara Barton, to name just a few, became my heroes and heroines. I had such respect and admiration for these people who went "where no one had gone before" so to speak. They were daring. They were dreamers, and they succeeded just like I yearned to do. They made a difference and I felt my destiny was to do likewise. I always had the feeling that there were many more people out there like me with similar dreams of their own. I used to hear this phrase in my mind, "We are the Dreamers and we will change the world and make it a better place. And yes, that is a good thing."
Since my father was never there for me, nor did he ever express any interest in me, I compensated by creating my own "little invisible family" as I called them. Iíd have long conversations with my invisible heroes pretending they were taking a walk with me. Iíd ask for their advice and opinions. They were somehow very real to me, and they influenced me in very positive ways although it all took place in my imagination. For as another of my heroes Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
When Linda would tease me for talking to myself Iíd just say I was enjoying the company of my invisible friends. Those walks and talks with my invisible friends and heroes and heroines got me through a lot of lonely sad times. I was always amazed at how Albert Schweitzer accomplished so much in the wilds of Africa and could just see him in his knickers trekking through Africa helping people at the clinic with his medical knowledge, then hear him at the podium being "the theologian" then imagine hearing him play the organ as he was a musician as well.
There is something great that motivates such "servants of humanity" as I call them. They are not the egotists that are so predominant and prevalent in our world. They surrender to a higher cause, a spiritual mission, or a humanitarian effort and fully dedicate themselves and their energy, time and efforts into their missions. These type of people were my heroes at a young age, and I have never nor will I ever forget any of them.
Some years later I procured a copy of Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill which has turned out to be one of my favorite positive thinking books. To my amazement and astonishment I learned that he too consulted with what he calls his "Invisible Counselors". After going through pain staking efforts studying and reading about the lives of men he worshipped as heroes, through autosuggestion via utilizing what he calls "the Creative Imagination", Napolean Hill talks about how his nine heroes would come to his imaginary meetings and advise and guide him. He asked each of them to impress onto his subconscious mind their characteristics that he wished to acquire and he talks about how those experiences guided him through life, encouraged creative endeavors, and helped him appreciate true greatness. "Wow," I said after reading that chapter on the thirteenth step towards riches. "So I am not alone. If this great student of the wonderful Andrew Carnegie valued such imaginary excursions, there must be some value and worth to them. This man wrote books and traveled all over the place teaching people "the Andrew Carnegie" secrets to success. Napolean Hill has become one of my invisible heroes. I constantly recommend his books to friends and clients and I would not trade or sell my old worn, beat up copy of Think and Grow Rich for a thousand dollars.
One of my favorite heroes though, is not my heroes I read about and essay to emulate and consult with in my imaginary meetings, but she is non other than my sister Linda. Not even a year older than me, we had to share the same bed since all the boys slept in the only other available bedroom. We became very close at a young age and looked out for each other. How she has survived incest and not become bitter has always intrigued and fascinated me. She once said that she tried to hate my father, but it was not in her to hate anyone. She simply could not do it. What he did was wrong, but two wrongs donít make a right she would say. To hate him or anyone is wrong," sheíd go on.
Her faith and inner strength have always impressed and deeply moved me. It was Linda who actually pushed me into telling our family story when our baby adopted brother died in 1997. She told me I had to tell that story because it was worth sharing. She had dreams of going on Oprah and letting the world know that we are survivors and overcomers as she calls it. She has always had a place in her heart for incest victims and a desire to counsel and help them. I began our family story in a book Holiday Surprises in early 1998, but it was too painful reliving that short week we had with our brother, so I finally had to put it aside.
Linda still would not be deterred. I used to tease her and call her a drill sergeant. She can be real determined at times. I suppose that is what saved her from all she went through. When I decided to write Halfway to Heaven I had reservations at first about sending it out to publishers. Suddenly "Mr. Blabbermouth" was not so sure he wanted people reading my story, though intuitively I sensed that it needed to be shared and would help people. So I hem hawed about in my doubts and confusion and told myself I was writing the book for myself and would make copies for my friends and family. This would be enough. This I could do. So I went back to writing the stories. All was fine until I called Linda a few weeks later. We had a nice friendly chat then she said, "How is that book coming along? You know you are the writer in the family."
"Itís coming along okay," I said, "by the way, what name would you like to be called. You know you are in the book several times."
"What name?" she said, sounding confused. "If I recall, my name is Linda. I want to be called Linda. Why would I want you to use a fictitious name for me?"
"I donít know, maybe to protect your privacy or something."
"Privacy," she huffed. "Who needs privacy regarding our story? "Itís not like I asked for what happened to happen. I am not ashamed to let people know who I am and to tell my story, and you shouldnít be either."
That did it. My fears and defenses were instantly reduced by at least fifty percent. One of my heroes had spoken truth and I had to listen and heed her advice. What good is having a hero if we donít learn from them and allow them to teach us? I knew I had to move on and finish the story, then try to get it published. Although Halfway to Heaven is more about my struggles and triumphs, Linda is still character that pops up in places and she is a main character in Holiday Surprises. Yes, Iíd get back to that novel I told myself. I had to.
I jokingly said to Linda, "Well, if I get on Oprah, you are coming with me."
"I fully intend to if invited," she replied, "someone will have to hold your hand and keep you from being a nervous wreck."
I laughed at that, but a little voice inside my head said, "donít dismiss this possibility. This is an opportunity that may very well come your way."
"One day at a time," I mentally replied. "Letís just take this all one day at a time."
Surviving my childhood has proven that "if you can dream it, you can achieve it!" Halfway to Heaven is one Dreamerís story of how hopes and dreams can sustain one in the midst of the most trying adversity. It is a reminder that "The call for help" compels the response, and that help can and does come in many ways, shapes and forms. Help can come from an angelic visitation as it came to me. It can come from therapy and counseling as I was to experience, and from friends. Or during "the Dark Nights of the Soul" breakthroughs can be made to deeper layers of the subconscious mind which offers a wellspring of resources. Help can also come via "Writings". Amidst the throes of unrequited love in 1984, one May morning I woke up at 5 a.m.. after a night of anguish, and, while still half in a daze, I took out my journal and scribbled two pages of words so quickly that I did not even know what I was writing down. It was titled "Message From My Soul".
When I later read it, I was amazed at its message and wondered where it came from because it just seemed to come out of nowhere. This message definitely came from a source beyond my waking conscious mind. It was as strangely fascinating to me as the angelic visitation had been when I was thirteen. It was to be followed by other writings which came in moments of reverie, creative spontaneity and times when I was sad or depressed. The messages were full of loving inspiration, wisdom and useful knowledge which proved to be helpful in my healing. At first, I was very resistant to these new ideas that were challenging my old mindset and prodding me to stretch my mind, and heart to take in more; to even see the greater picture behind my suffering and despair.
Little by little I came to respect and admire """The Writing"s"" and embrace their teachings and messages. Slowly my awareness did stretch and with the new insights and ideas that """The Writing"s"" brought forth, I began to transform into a different kind of person. A more positive, loving and compassionate person. In time I began sharing them with friends. They told me there were good lessons, insights, hope as well as humor and love in """The Writing"s"" and encouraged me to share them with a larger audience. Halfway to Heaven is the result!
There are many people who have overcome enormous obstacles and problems. This book divulges some of the experiences and resulting problems of one such person. It chronicles his various attempts at fixing his life. It is hoped that these experiences will give hope and fortitude to others in their wrenching search for health and happiness. This book shows that such a recipe in childhood or youth does not necessarily foretell a flawed or unappetizing person. There is help in many forms. The stories affirm the basic strength of the human soul to surmount all obstacles and assure us that healing is guaranteed for those who truly seek it and are willing to do their part to attain it.
Remember, dreams cost nothing, and yet they offer boundless treasures. Happiness, success, abundance, freedom, and peace of mind are some rewards for the Dreamers who are also Doers. So dare to dream and keep remembering to do, for one is just fantasy without the other!
© 2003 Michael Dennis