THIS I BELIEVE Until that fateful night, I was not sure what I believed. Prior to that, help had come by way of a fascinating rush when I finished Will and Ariel Durants’ Lessons of History. Facts they had researched and were able to compress into seemingly undeniable ‘lessons’ made mankind’s meanderings seem less disjointed. One of their pearls was that, in all of recorded history, only a few decades were not tainted with war. Although I recall being left to draw my own conclusions about whether to love precious peace or to loathe pervasive pugilism, I accepted, almost on faith, their surmisal that our grouchy world would never stop finding reasons to fight until a force exterior to it made all of us forget our anger provoking differences.
Armed with that elevated view, I overlooked our Earth’s minor skirmishes as if they were containable brush fires. As for larger, regional battles, I appreciated the unwritten rule that the feuding parties would only go so far because of nuclear deterrents, armaments that were best used to buy time until the arrival of the Durants’ predicted galvanizing force.
For a while, I considered that looming threat to be a rogue asteroid with a name as ominous as its mindless, terrifying size and speed. That such a harbinger of catastrophic doom would seem an eagerly awaited opportunity for an overdue respite of global peace felt eerily contradictory. Indeed, years later I was reminded of that passing thought when, just after 9/11, I visited Manhattan to find comforting images to fill my void of grief. There, in the midst of a shared sadness, I found the unthinkable: normally cold New Yorkers were uncaustic and open as newly found friends at a very sad funeral.
Of course, just as the asteroid scare would pass when we were assured that sharp eyed telescopes would provide more than enough advanced warning, more than enough time to alter the course of even the largest, most ragged rock in the sky, our euphoria, born of mutually held dread and stirred by our determination to bounce back, vanished.
In no time, we returned happily to being at each other’s briefly unguarded throats. Well, most did.
But not me. With good reason, I retained my reverence for the visionary Durants. What they had hinted at but could not find a way to sneak into their august text was what I would witness first hand. Along with three other guys (including my cousin– the doctor’s son– and a friend who owns a business a block and a half from mine, and one other, a friend of my cousin), I saw what W & A must have seen.
On a clear, early fall night, from a small balcony that faced an ordinary watery alcove on a lake named Smith Mountain, I watched the dizzying arrival of a UFO. It came without a sound and hovered unmoving as its bright alternating red and white lights shone dense and opaque as hot stars in square frames. I yelled to the others who were inside the house to come see. They did.
I think they were stunned. Quietly, they went back inside the house while I pondered on my perch outdoors. Minutes passed before I looked inside and asked for binoculars. There was a pair handed to me. With one enormous exception, I felt like a Civil Air Patrol enlistee; who would I tell if I saw the saucer return?
Although I spent years trying to answer that question, I did have good reason to wonder. Like a mindful sailor on watch, I waited, staring at my assigned part of the huge dark sky. In less than ten minutes, and just as silently, the stealthy craft returned.
This time, I aimed my binoculars at its bold lights and its perfect shape of a handle less coffee cup atop two lip to lip plates. It sat there, perhaps staring at me. I yelled to my buddies. They rushed outside to take turns with the binoculars.
What we had seen had shocked us the first time. When it returned, I was filled with a different sensation, one of awe and incredible vulnerability. I was humbled by the manifestation of the alien truth the Durants had foreseen. I knew, with an indelible knowing, that there was hope that all of us might join forces and pool resources if we were forced to deal with a potential threat that is so strikingly stellar and technically advanced as to make all of us feel equally unprotected.
I believe there was a reason I was there at the lake that night. As our numerous holiday seasons begin, I believe that I must find a way to tell the world what I have seen. To that end, I pray for a return of our most uncommon visitors.
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