When I was eleven years old, fear of nuclear war pervaded our world. Newscasts reported on families across the nation building fallout shelters deep below ground, with twenty-four-inch-thick, reinforced concrete walls and steel doors, stocked with a one-year supply of food and water. Our family couldn’t afford such a shelter. No one I knew had a fallout shelter. If nuclear war did come, I realized my family and I, plus everyone I knew, would probably die horrible deaths.
Once a month my elementary school had emergency drills to prepare us for a possible nuclear bomb attack. A loud school siren would sound the alarm through our hallways and school grounds. We’d all get down on our hands and knees beneath our desks. We were instructed by our teacher to put our foreheads on the floor and clasp our hands over the back of our heads until she said it was okay to get up.
To this day, I don’t know what they were thinking by putting us through those drills. I remember crouching on the floor below my desk, thinking that this exercise was silly. I’d seen footage of nuclear bomb tests on TV. How would this protect us from a nuclear bomb blast or the resulting radiation? These exercises fueled my increasing fear of nuclear war and the insanity of adults.
All my anxieties about the mental instability of the adults in this world came to a head on the evening of October 22, 1962. My parents, three younger siblings, and I were sitting in our living room, our attention glued to our black-and-white TV set. President Kennedy was delivering a nationwide address on all three networks, announcing the discovery of nuclear missiles on a secret military base in Cuba. Special aircraft were being assembled in Cuba to deliver the nuclear missiles, capable of reaching any city in the United States. He told us more nuclear missiles were being shipped to Cuba by Russia. Russian ships were currently crossing the Atlantic and were expected to arrive in Cuba in two days. These nuclear missiles were meant to be used, if Russia judged necessary, against the United States. President Kennedy gave an eighteen-minute talk, sitting behind his desk with an American flag behind him, as he spoke to the nation:
“It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union….
“To halt this offensive buildup, a strict quarantine on all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba is being initiated. All ships of any kind bound for Cuba, from whatever nation or port, will, if found to contain cargoes of offensive weapons, be turned back.”
Even at that young age, I understood that full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union, meant that the United States would launch a nuclear attack against Russia, who would respond in kind. The world would be plunged into a nuclear war that no sane person wanted. After President Kennedy’s address to the nation, the newsman, Walter Cronkite, stood and used a pointer stick to indicate a large map hanging on the wall behind him. He pointed out Cuba’s relation to the United States, just
90ninety miles off the coast of Florida. He explained that fourteen Soviet ships carrying the nuclear missiles from Russia were already on their way across the Atlantic. America’s largest aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise, and many US Naval destroyers were being deployed to meet the Soviet ships as they neared Cuba. Air Force bombers and fighter jets were at the ready. The Russian ships were expected to arrive at our blockade in three days.
That evening, I wondered if we only had a few days left to live. At eleven years old, lying in bed that night, I was able to access a vague memory from my life-between-lives before my birth. It’s not supposed to be this way! I thought. I’m supposed to grow up, have a family, and do something important. We’re not supposed to have a nuclear war! Somehow, I sensed the world was going off-script. The world was not supposed to destroy itself with a nuclear war. World events were appearing otherwise.
I remember lying awake that night wondering if I should even bother going to school the next day. What if we only had two days left to live? Wouldn’t it be better for our family to spend our last hours together?
I did go to school the next day. I remember everybody acted like it was a normal day. Everyone seemed to be ignoring what was going on. Wasn’t anyone watching the news?
Two days later, I listened to an evening newscast with my mother and father that the Soviet leader, Khrushchev, had responded to President Kennedy. He sternly warned that the United States military blockade of their ships would lead to war. The Soviet Union viewed the blockade as “an act of aggression.” Khrushchev had instructed their ships to ignore the United States naval blockade.
On that same evening newscast, they reported that Pope John XXIII had sent a message to the Soviet and the United States embassies in Rome. “We beg all governments not to remain deaf to this cry of humanity. That they do all that is in their power, to save peace.”
At 5 p.m. EST on October 25, missiles and aircraft in Cuba were prepared for launching a nuclear attack on the United States. In response, Kennedy authorized the loading of nuclear weapons onto special aircraft that, when given the okay, had the duty of carrying out preemptive nuclear air strikes on both Cuba and the Soviet Union. The world was hours away from a nuclear holocaust.
A few hours later, the Soviets decided the risks were too great. They ordered their fourteen ships carrying nuclear weapons to Cuban military bases to return to Russia. Russia secretly agreed with Kennedy to dismantle all nuclear missiles in Cuba. The United States secretly agreed to dismantle all nuclear missiles and sites in Turkey. These missiles were near Russia’s border and had been trained on strategic targets within Russia. The world had become a safer place. President Kennedy had accomplished what I’m guessing was the primary life mission given to him before he incarnated on Earth, to ensure the continued unfoldment of the human race by avoiding a worldwide nuclear war at this most critical time in human development.
His earthly mission seemingly completed, President Kennedy was taken from us.
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“President Kennedy has been shot!”
It was 1 p.m. on Friday, November 22, 1963. A boy burst through the cafeteria doors of Saint Louis Catholic Middle School and shouted the news. He stood there staring at us, red-faced and breathing hard. I was twelve years old, one of many seventh grade students near the end of our lunch period.
“I don’t believe it,” I said. I looked around and saw that many did believe the shocking news. Several boys and girls were in tears. President Kennedy was our president, the first Catholic president in the history of the United States. We loved him.
“What if President Kennedy has been shot?” my friend John asked. He sat on the other side of the table staring at me. Just last week, a boy had been suspended for bursting through those same cafeteria doors and shouting, “Fire!” Many children, conditioned by our monthly fire drills, jumped up to leave the building. He started laughing until Sister Benedict appeared from behind him, grabbed him by the ear, and marched him to the principal’s office. This boy may have been inspired by that prank.
“I don’t believe it,” I repeated.
Minutes later someone more ominous appeared. Principal Sister Margaret now stood straight and tall in the cafeteria doorway, dressed in the traditional black body-length habit, her face framed by a white collar. “Attention!” she commanded in a loud, firm voice. “I want complete silence!” The room fell silent.
“I have some terrible news to tell you.” She paused looking around the room to make sure all eyes were on her, and then took a breath. “President Kennedy has been shot and killed today in Dallas, Texas….”
I don’t remember what she said after that. I do remember that Shultz, the tallest and toughest boy in school, instantly burst into tears, wailing out of control. His reaction spread throughout the room. Sister informed us that all classes would be canceled for the day. She said the sisters were going to have a special mass. She asked us to pray for President Kennedy, his family, and our nation. I remember walking home from school that afternoon. There was a heaviness inside me that seemed to be reflected in everyone I saw along the way. I saw drivers pulled to the side of the road listening to the shocking news on their car radio. I saw a woman with two armloads of groceries crying while she walked.
At home, my family mourned with the nation and world as we watched the news and unfolding events. We saw footage of the president being shot and his wife, Jacquelyn, reaching for him when he fell forward in the open Lincoln limousine convertible. My heart broke for Mrs. Kennedy as she bent forward holding her husband.
Fortunately, they were able to catch the alleged killer, Lee Harvey Oswald.
Two days later, I was alone sitting on the floor in front of our TV watching live coverage of a handcuffed Oswald, who was being escorted from jail by a group of FBI agents. Suddenly, a man named Jack Ruby stepped out from the crowd to shoot Oswald with a handgun. I saw Oswald double over in pain, then fall forward to the ground. Everyone scrambled to wrestle Ruby to the ground. The TV announcer was yelling. A startling realization stuck my heart. Adults are scary-crazy! They can be mean, with no regard for life. Earth is a frightening place.
The next day, my family and I watched President Kennedy’s funeral on TV. We saw Jacquelyn Kennedy standing roadside at the funeral procession holding the hands of three-year old John Jr. and his younger sister, Carolyn. I saw John Jr. pull his hand away from his mother, then salute his father as the coffin passed drawn by six white horses. I imagined his father on the other side, watching his funeral and saluting his son back. That moment froze in my heart and has stayed with me since.
Months later, I was walking home from school at dusk, trudging through snow with a deep pain in my gut. I was battling a dark depression. A feeling of isolation had been building for years. I'd lost trust in this world and the people who were running it. The adults on Earth were crazy with their wars, fear, religions and intolerance. All their disagreements and lack of love were deeply disturbing to me. The world atmosphere seemed to be poisoned by ignorance and hate.
I intuitively knew that we were supposed to be working to understand our oneness with God. I sensed my Dharma, my spiritual path, a devotion to a spiritual quest I had developed over many lifetimes. I didn’t recognize the world around me. Earth was a strange, frightening place—and it seemed to be getting worse. I decided I didn’t belong here.
About halfway through my walk home in the snow, it came to me. I want out of this life! “I don’t want to live here anymore!” I screamed out loud. I wanted to leave this life as soon as possible. This whole thing had been a mistake. “I want to leave now!” I screamed to God and any spiritual being within hearing. I was firm. I wanted them to find a way of ending my time on Earth as soon as possible. The pain inside was overwhelming. Earth was not a nice place. I wanted to die as soon as possible!
Then something happened. I became aware of a powerful, spiritual, male presence walking on my right side. Energy swirled around me as I felt myself wrapped in a comforting cloak of compassion. He was tall, strong, and filled with Light dressed in what looked like a soft white robe. I could not make out his features because of the bright light around his head. I could, however, hear him crystal clear—inside my head!
He spoke in a patient, wise voice. Calm down, he said. I’ll help you. Just do as I tell you. Ironically, I wasn’t frightened or startled. Whoever this being was, he felt natural, like he knew me—and I knew him! It’s hard to explain how I understood this, but it was clear to me.
Okay, I agreed. I will follow your instructions.
Minutes later, I was walking up our driveway to the back door. I entered, kicked off my snowy shoes and hung up my winter coat. Now, go down to your bedroom and turn off the lights, the presence instructed. I did this with a growing curiosity. What was going to happen?
Now, climb onto your bed and sit cross-legged, his instructions continued. I found a comfortable place on my bed to sit, then crossed my legs with my hands in my lap waiting for my next instruction.
Now take a deep breath, I heard. I took several deep breaths and felt my muscles relax. Tensions inside me dissolved. A wonderfully pleasant feeling, an intense energy, filled the atmosphere around me. The energy was intelligent and kind.
Now, surrender your life to me! he instructed.
This surprised me. I didn’t want this life anymore so it would be easy for me to surrender my life. But I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing. Who was this presence? “I don’t know who you are. I don’t know if you are Jesus or Buddha,” I said out loud. I thought about it a few moments. This being seemed very good, very trustworthy, and much smarter than me. I searched inwardly and it felt like it was the right thing to do. “Okay, I surrender my life to you!” Then I added, with twelve-year-old-wisdom, From now on, everything I do is your fault!
I surrendered my life to you!
Peace overtook me and the weight of the world floated away. A column of light surrounded me with joy. Within that column a gold Light-energy swirled around and through me. It made its way deep into my heart, creating a glorious stillness and peace, then gently lifted me upwards till I was above my body looking down at it sitting on the bed.
Amazed and delighted, the world morphed into a stunning, beautiful, eternal Light and pure love. The Light was many things. Somehow I sensed that it came from an infinite world, that was linked to many infinite worlds of which I was a part.
Spiritual energy shot through my heart, creating an ecstasy that took my breath away. A painful bolt of love pierced my heart like a spear. Strangely, my mind was completely stilled by the ecstasy shooting through me. Wave upon wave of bliss filled me with a wonderful love for God and all beings. It was a love beyond anything I could have imagined. This love was without measure—blissful and perfect. It was not of this world, yet it seemed to belong to all worlds.
Most amazing to me—I experienced no thought! There was absolutely no thought in this bright wonderful world of light, bliss, and love. My mind felt completely stilled and at rest. It was like I’d shed a heavy cloak of ignorance and fear. It was far better than thinking. But, as I noticed that there was no thought in this world, thoughts began to occur within my being. I could feel thoughts trickle in like they were solid objects floating in the atmosphere in front of me. I watched it happen but knew intuitively not to react. I didn’t resist or panic, even though I could feel myself descending towards my body away from this world of love and bliss. Somehow, I instinctively knew what to do.
I intuitively stilled my mind completely, ceasing to generate any thought or connection to thought. I rose again in Soul form, above the body, back into this world of extreme bliss. Once again, a spear of ecstasy pierced my heart with absolute joy. It was wonderful beyond description. I don’t know how long I was in this state. I had no sense of time. But after a while, the strength of the love and energy became too much for me. My physical body could no longer withstand the intense energy currents flowing through it. I needed to return to my physical body to rest and regain my senses.
I floated back into my body, merging effortlessly with it. I sat for a long while in silence, half in this world and half in a world of Light. I was stunned and amazed. I basked in the afterglow of that experience. What happened? I wondered. Where did I go? How did I go there? I want to go there, and be there all the time!
I stretched and got off my bed. I left my bedroom and went upstairs, intending to tell my mother and father what just happened. As I entered the kitchen, I saw them sitting on the living room couch watching a western movie on TV. Cowboys were chasing Indians on horses through clouds of dust, shooting guns at the bare-skinned warriors. I froze inside and out. There seemed to be an invisible wall between us, two different states of consciousness. I was on one side; they were on the other.
I realized that I could not tell my parents or anyone about this experience. I sensed the wisdom of my inner guide and realized I would have to figure this out myself. They couldn’t help me. No one could help me. I’d have to research and discover what happened. I was the only one who could make it happen again, if that were even possible.
I felt confused and alone, unsure of myself. I returned to my bedroom. As I went down the stairway, I decided my life goal was to understand and learn to experience that divine world of love again and again, whenever I wanted. The presence of my new teacher filled the room with spiritual energy. I acknowledged his presence. I experienced his thoughts in my mind.