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My old Chevy truck, last with me as it had been the first, carried me to Seattle, burning only slightly over a quart of oil every two hundred miles. Mother welcomed me, but I knew her too well to miss her disappointment. The daughter of a devout Presbyterian and the sister of a Missionary, she felt violated by my life. None of her core beliefs about divorce, employment, responsibility, family or honor were unshaken by my fall.
My plans pleased her even less. During the long drive home from Missouri, I realized that above all I needed time to nurture and heal. I wanted to understand why my life had run aground on the reefs of outrageous fortune, why my business and marriage had been ripped apart by the hurricane of despair; I desperately sought a new course for the foundering ship of my being. Why was the Universe so callous, so hateful? I had only wished to be a good person. Why was the desire to be an honorable citizen, husband and father not enough?
I recognized now that even during the best times in Missouri, I had felt an emptiness inside, a strange and painful hollowness no amount of prosperity had ever filled. My new cars, my limestone castle, my family, the honor of friends and community -- nothing satisfied the undercurrent of discontent moving just beneath the calm surface. The tragic lie of false peace!
I still hoped there must be answers somewhere; but I was sure no one I knew had any -- scrape away the veneer of their belief in God, Science, family or wealth, the same emptiness was growing in them, a destructive mocking authority that found joy only in pain. No, everyone on Earth was as lost and confused as I: everyone believed in struggle, in suffering, in sickness, in death. I did not feel life should be so, but I had no alternatives to the imperious demands of my melancholy. The answers from religion, science, philosophy were incomplete, incapable of offering more than a sugar-coating of belief over the raging cancer of inevitable ruin.
So began my withdrawal from the world. I could find nothing of interest to do. I no longer ran, I no longer read, I called no one, I saw no one except my mother who gradually lost all hope in me but at least housed me and fed me and talked to me -- from time-to-time.
I don't know how long this soul sickness would have lasted as I descended from thoughts of self-violence to immersion in a dull apathy that left me staring at the walls of my room, praying for sleep so I could stop regretting the past; nor do I know how it might have ended in a final cataclysm of despair or rage had nothing different happened. (I do know this, however: never again will I harshly judge those who end their own lives or surrender control of themselves to jailers of the body or the mind.)
But finally something different did happen -- at last the winter of my life ended with the first buds of spring. The Universe moved on, God or an angel was moved to compassion, some good karma returned from a previous existence -- for whatever obscure reason, a new theme ascended through the frozen wasteland of my heart.
This new movement began simply enough -- a former high school friend called late one Friday evening. His name was Ollie Swenson, he had just returned from the Greek island of Patmos off the coast of Turkey, he had something he wanted to share with me, could I ferry over to Bainbridge to see him?
I remembered Ollie best as the linebacker on our varsity team who negated my single touchdown interception by clipping the quarterback, but he had through much of high school been my best friend. We lost touch when he went to Washington State University in Pullman to master agriculture; I had gone to the University of Washington in Seattle to become a research physicist. I didn't know if he had changed his desire or not, but mine transmuted drastically by graduation, due in part to my terminal romance with a Missouri farmer's daughter.
What would he be like, my old high school buddy, Ollie? I remembered he married his teenage sweetheart, a pleasant girl who grew up near his grandparents' home on Bainbridge Island; I also vaguely recalled hearing he was divorced. What had carried him to Greece? And why an island?
Fearing he wanted to sell me insurance or interest me in some new pyramid scheme, I nevertheless agreed to come to Bainbridge on Saturday.
When I walked off the ferry and met Ollie, at first I did not recognize him: he looked about as different as I could imagine. I remembered him with a crew cut, bulging out T-shirts at 240 pounds. Now he was quite slim, maybe 170 -- trim, not malnourished -- and his hair had grown long and was flowing in dark waves all around his tan silk collar. He was beardless, but something about his brown eyes reminded me of a feral animal -- free, wild, unpredictable.
There was more to him than this, a feeling I couldn't pinpoint or readily describe. He was calm beneath the wildness; there was an aura of wisdom about him. This did not come from his appearance, nor from his greeting (he hugged me warmly, then kept his hand lightly on my arm as he escorted me to his Honda), nor even from his words; this deep serenity and knowingness radiated from his presence itself. I did not understand it, yet it resonated with something deep inside me. I did not know it, and yet I also felt I knew it well, as if it were speaking to an integral part of me, a part with which I was hardly familiar and yet was my fundamental reality.
His peace resonated within me; at the time I did not have the words nor even the thoughts to understand this, but I did recognize I felt extremely comfortable in my old friend Ollie Swenson's presence. Why?
Someone was waiting for us in his Civic. Someone wearing a bright red blouse and gorgeous golden curls. Ollie opened her door; she stepped out gracefully. The curls flowed in glorious profusion around a flawless face. Her azure eyes were deep yet warm. I felt myself blushing. Stunning beauty always makes me feel like a school child standing before the principal.
"I'd like you to meet Sharon Alice Stone," introduced Ollie. "She is the most exceptional woman I've ever known."
"Sharon Stone? The movie star?" I asked, attempting weak humor, entirely missing Ollie's point.
Sharon smiled at me genuinely, oblivious to Ollie's praise, unoffended by my poor joke (doubtless far beyond stale to her, I realized with growing chagrin), and embraced me warmly. I hugged her awkwardly as Ollie finished his introduction of me, "...The best defensive end Shoreline ever had," which did nothing to lessen my embarrassment.
"Come on," said Ollie, "we can talk back at the house. Sharon's made us some lunch." I squeezed into the back of his Civic, Sharon settled like a feather into the front passenger seat, then turned to talk to us. Neither of them fastened their seat belts. I reached for mine but soon gave up, realizing it had been swallowed by the seat. When in Rome, I thought, mostly listening to Sharon chatting about her childhood in Oklahoma.
"Why did you leave the Midwest?" I asked, briefly reliving the horror of my past few months there. "Tired of the cold?"
"Following my heart," she laughed gaily. "Seeking larger meaning than I was finding in Tulsa."
"But why Seattle?" I persisted, her easy manner causing me to feel more relaxed. "Three hundred days of rain a year makes all Seattle-ites gloomy and introspective, didn't you know?" My past month of an Eeyore-like existence was not easy to drop on instant demand -- even in the presence of Ollie's transcendent peace and Sharon's joyful beauty. Even Pooh and Piglet can't reach me, eh? I thought, judging myself again.
But they both laughed generously and brightly as Ollie replied, "That's three hundred days of clouds, old friend; it doesn't rain so much, only forty inches or so a year -- hardly ever on Bainbridge, as a matter of fact. Part of the rain shadow, you know. A real banana belt. Plus these days, espresso grows on every street corner. Starbuck's coffee capital of the world, that's our Emerald City. People are much too hyper to be depressed here."
Sharon added earnestly, "For the first six weeks, I had no idea why I was here. I had begun to think maybe I was insane, as my former boyfriend tried to convince me. But then I met Ollie three days ago; now I know why I came to Seattle." She looked at him and smiled with radiant warmth.
Will anyone with such gorgeous lips ever look at me like that again? I thought. My heart longed to ask her what she meant -- Why had she come to Seattle? What had she found? -- but something inside me was afraid of what she might say. I didn't want my life to become more complicated. Even though it was killing me, it was all I had of security in a painful world.
So instead, I asked the vastly easier, "How did you two meet?" What were they? An instant romance? They didn't seem to be affectionately touching. Certainly not like I would be if she were my girlfriend, I thought, then felt embarrassed again. This time my feeling was embellished by contempt for my arrogance and self-loathing for my stupidity. What could I offer any female these days? Poverty and failure? May life was ashes; I was the original fool. Ollie was staring at me in the rear view mirror. His brown eyes were dancing with mirth! It was not a judgmental laughter mocking me; it was a pure and simple happiness singing there. It felt as if he were looking right through me. How much had he intuited of my thoughts?
He smiled warmly at me and said, "I had a feeling I should walk over on the ferry last Thursday. Sharon was sitting alone on the Observation deck, crying as if her heart were breaking. That was just too sad: it was a gorgeous Seattle day -- the Olympics and Cascades were out; Mt. Rainier was floating like a vision of dream heaven over the city; even Mt. Baker was visible in the distant North. When the sun shines in Seattle, it's like nowhere else on Earth. The sky was a fabulous royal blue, the Sound a deep, royal aquamarine, the forests a dark, fathomless green, the sunlight glittering over the water a royal pathway to the gods. I felt as if I were in the Wizard of Oz, Seattle truly deserved its nickname of the Emerald City -- and there was poor Dorothy, completely missing this glorious Pacific Northwest moment, crying her eyes out on the Observation deck, oblivious to all the wonder and joy. I realized I had to talk to her, to offer her an alternative to life as she knew it... Here we are."
He pulled into his driveway, lined with old Douglas fir -- not first growth (there are precious few left of those primeval trees anywhere -- a logging tragedy inherited from our careless ancestors and continued by our own thoughtless generation) but some ancient second growth. Bainbridge was probably logged fairly early in Washington State history, I thought, impressed by the size of the hundred year old trees. I remembered suddenly I had been here before -- this was once his grandparents' farmhouse. It dated from the turn of the century, by its appearance; apparently several acres still went with it: no new homes were encroaching.
The yard was unkempt, but someone not too many years before had sculpted it to perfection. The weeping cherries and flowering crabs and plums had already strewn the ground with their blossoms and were fading, but the azaleas were bursting in glorious crimson, violet and gold profusion and the rhododendrons were counting down to their annual explosion with thousands of mature buds. It all appeared a little slice of paradise.
Ollie took us around his grounds before we entered the house. In the back, he had built a huge Japanese garden complete with weeping cedar and hemlock and an enormous koi pond with waterfalls and stream beds. "Take me a while to get it back in shape," he said, a touch of melancholy kissing his tones. "I hated to leave this for Patmos. But it turned out to be the smartest thing I ever did."
"How long were you in Greece?" I asked, mostly to be polite -- my attention was captivated by the size of some of his bonsai's -- I had never seen larger or more beautiful specimens. Even in neglect, Ollie's garden was magnificent.
He noticed my true interest; instead of answering me, he said, "That one is nearly three hundred years old. Mo Takata gave it to me when I graduated from Pullman. His great grandfather brought it over from Japan. Interesting it should be so attracted to you. It doesn't often respond to many. Too old, I suppose. See how it sparkles, Sharon?"
She smiled at him and said uncertainly, "I think I'm beginning to, a little."
"What are you two talking about?" I asked, impatient with what seemed mystical nonsense.
"It doesn't matter," Ollie chuckled good-naturedly. "Come on in, let's have lunch. I told you Sharon made a great fruit salad, didn't I?"
Something about his manner soothed me instantly. We entered the kitchen and sat on wooden chairs that looked as old as the house. There was a bright blue plastic cover on the table; the walls were a pretty yellow; a skylight above let in ample light; all-in-all, Ollie's kitchen was airy, very pleasant and well equipped. Sharon dished up three enormous plates of her fruit salad. The porcelain serving bowl was so full it looked as if they were expecting about half a dozen others.
"Your mom about?" I asked past a bite of fresh strawberries and watermelon. I remembered her warmly. Ollie's father had been a full-blooded Norwegian, a builder by trade; he was killed when Ollie was young; she'd raised their five children alone. Her name was Gladys, but we always called her, "Happy Bottom" -- which she always took in the best of humor.
"She died two weeks ago," Ollie said without any discernible sadness. "That's why I'm here and not still on Patmos with Lance and the others."
"Oh! I'm sorry," I said sincerely. I'd liked her a lot. She'd always seemed an ideal mom.
"There's no need," he replied warmly. "She lived a full life and died peacefully. I don't think she'd have accomplished much more, even if she'd lived another twenty years. My only regret is I didn't have the chance to share what I learned in Greece with her. She'd have loved it."
"Tell me why you were there," I said, putting down my fork. I liked the fruit, but would have been happier with something a little denser. A Big Mac, in fact, would have suited me just fine.
Ollie, perhaps simply desiring to be a good host, followed my lead, put down his fork and pushed back from the table. He studied my face intently for a moment, then said, "Do you remember Alan Lance?"
"No -- oh, you mean the All-State fullback over at West Seattle? Vaguely. We partied together after games a few times. A really nice guy. Why?"
"We became good friends at W. S. U., but I lost sight of him after we graduated -- I went into the landscaping business, you know, with Mo Takata and his sons; he moved out to Sedro Wooley to work his uncle's dairy farm. I pretty much forgot about him, but three years ago, he called me up; I went to see him. He looked completely transformed; I liked what he said and decided to return to Greece with him. He's still there, on the little island of Patmos, with a dozen or so others."
"What are they doing?" I asked, wondering if that was the very question that would begin what I was afraid was going to be a sales pitch.
"Studying, mostly," he replied with a far-away look in his eyes, "but not in the sense you are likely to think. Most of their work is done in Silence, seeking to understand the inner Self."
"They meditate many hours every day?" asked Sharon, looking up at him as she popped an enormous cantaloupe ball into her mouth. She was obviously enjoying the sweet fruit very much -- she had already made a big dent in the large bowl.
Meditating,I thought. I have entered the Land of the Weird. I wondered how long before I could gracefully leave. Did I even care if it was graceful? I had no fondness for cults or anti-Christian practices, no desire to get involved.
Ollie seemed aware of my discomfort. He smiled at me, then answered Sharon, "Well, they Ascend eight to twelve hours every day, normally. But it's not exactly meditation, it's not some strange Eastern or 'New Age' kind of thing. It's more like prayer -- but even that word doesn't convey what Ascension is." He looked affectionately at me. He didn't seem to be frothing at the mouth, just sincere. And earnest. "Both words lead to misunderstandings, based on previous and common uses of them. Most people think of concentration or mysticism when they hear of meditation; Ascension is effortless and systematic. Or they think of religion when they hear of prayer; Ascension requires no beliefs of any kind. That's why we call it something new, we call it Ascension. They -- and I -- practice Ascension, which comes from an ancient Teaching, never before widely available in the world. It is a type of silent inner prayer or meditation that everyone there believes came from the Apostle John."
"Patmos!" I exclaimed as an old college memory collided with the present. "Isn't that where St. John wrote his Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation?" I had once thought of visiting there -- when I was in the midst of a short-lived burst of "Born-againism." My fundamentalism lasted until I realized I couldn't resolve my root belief in a loving, caring God with a God who could condemn 99.99% of humanity to eternal damnation.
"Exactly," answered Sharon, smiling approvingly at me. "Ollie has been studying and Ascending with a group of monks who believe they are following the true but hidden teachings of John -- and of Christ."
"Oh now, come on," I said, my temporary enthusiasm transmuting to a repulsion born of fear. "Every sect of Christianity, every cult on the Earth from Waco to Guyana says, 'Our way only! All else are doomed to hell. Why, we won't even be buried with those miserable sinners -- we'll have our own private graveyard so we'll be easy to find during the Second Coming.' I don't need this." I pushed my chair back and stood to leave.
Ollie did not stand, but looked at me with eyes filled with fire. It was not anger, I sensed -- it was intensity of commitment.
"Patience, number 70. Let me explain before you storm out."
Hearing my old football number triggered a flood of past memories of my friend. I had been very close to him. Could it be so bad, just to listen for a little while? After all, he hadn't asked me to do anything, nor even to believe anything -- at least, not yet. And I had asked him what he was doing in Greece -- and, to be fully honest, who could say? Maybe if I could cut through all the silliness, he might know something which would help me -- my life wasn't working as it was going, that much was certain.
"Well, all right," I said gruffly, sitting down again. I was still flushed and not sure that I was making the correct choice, but perhaps I owed my friend this much. "Just keep it short, OK? I've got a lot to do today." A bald lie which fell flat even to my ears.
Ollie didn't say anything, instead slid his chair up and leisurely ate his fruit. Meanwhile Sharon, to all appearances oblivious to my rage and discomfort, emptied the rest of the bowl onto her plate and set herself the task of finishing it. Fruit must be all she eats, I thought, observing that the quantities she was consuming would give terminal gas to many others -- myself included. I poked at my mostly full plate but ate little more.
Ollie finished his lunch, sat back again and said to me, "You remember my true love was baseball?"
"Sure, you bet!" I exclaimed, grateful the subject had turned to something less threatening. "In fact, weren't you scouted during the playoffs, our senior year?"
"I was. Two agents came. I knew they were there, so before the game, I went up to the umpire as they were talking with him and said, 'Hey, if I hit the ball over that fence, is it an automatic home run?' He kind of sneered at me and replied, 'Sure, kid, but don't worry, it's never been done, by much better hitters than you.' I could tell he was thinking I was some kind of case. But when I saw that pitch coming in the seventh, I knew I would hit it over the fence; after I did, both the Cubs and the Red Sox said they wanted me in their training camp."
"But you didn't go," said Sharon simply, wistfully eyeing the empty bowl and my nearly full plate.
I pushed it over to her; she gave a little gasp of surprise or joy and leapt at it as Ollie answered, "No, I wanted to be educated. And I wanted to master agriculture. So I chose what I really wanted."
"Riches and fame or happiness?" I asked sarcastically.
Ollie ignored the tone and answered earnestly, "I chose what I thought would bring me the most happiness, yes. The most growth. And the choice worked well for me; I was successful materially and enjoyed my job. I love working the earth, sculpting beauty in three dimensions. But when I saw Alan Lance again after all those years, I realized he had something more than I, something for which I longed but thought I would never find. I couldn't quite identify it, but he was radiating a kind of peace or understanding I did not know."
"Born again?" I said, but the sarcastic tone was gone -- his description exactly matched what I'd been feeling in him -- a serenity and wisdom I longed to share.
"Not at all. Or not in the sense that you mean it. But that is exactly what I asked him three years ago. Lance laughed and explained he had learned a series of techniques called 'Ascension Attitudes' that were transforming him. He told me his life was changing on the basis of new experience, not new belief, and said I would discover the same thing if I could be bold enough to try it.
"He said there were twenty-seven techniques in all, divided into seven 'Spheres' of Attitudes, each Sphere consisting of about four techniques, each Sphere more subtle and more powerful than the one before. He said that humanity as a whole was going to learn to Ascend, and commented this was all prophesied by St. John nearly two thousand years ago and also by every other great culture on the Earth at one time or another, including the Egyptians, Mayans, Hopi, Chinese and West and East Indians; but most if not all of these prophecies had been distorted or misinterpreted or lost."
"How could Alan have discovered those techniques?" I asked with little interest, believing nothing.
"He met a monk in an orchard on Samos, one of the Greek Islands. This monk said he was one of a hidden order that had retained the full Teachings of Christ through John; for the first time in history, they were desiring to share these with the world. Think of it! The original Teachings! Unadulterated by centuries of distortion, poor translation and selfish revision." He stopped and looked at me as though he expected me to comment.
"This all sounds too fantastic, Ollie. Alan Lance, star fullback turned dairy farmer, stumbles across the authentic teachings of Christ? Come on, you can't believe this, you're sounding like a psycho." I had never stopped wondering how I might leave without violating the bond of friendship; the desire was at times intense, at others subdued, but always there, gnawing at me. This whole escapade was ludicrous. I wanted to get out of there, to go back home to my room.
"You may go back home to your room anytime you wish," said Ollie with perfect sincerity.
My jaw dropped slightly -- was my thought so transparent? "I -- I don't care to leave," I stammered. "At least, not yet."
"I have no desire to convince you," Ollie continued, again smiling at me. "I don't want to browbeat you or convert you or anything like that. I'm only telling you that Ascension is available. Either you will resonate with this opportunity -- or not. I don't care if you believe it came from Christ or from Joe the Hot Dog man down on Pier 59. Nor does it matter in the practice of Ascension if you believe in it or not. Belief is not required, it is absolutely not required.
"I called you because I heard you lost your business and family and were in Seattle at your mother's, seeing no one, withdrawing from the world. I know what I have can help you, but you are not expected to know this. All I ask is for you to suspend your disbelief just long enough to give the First Attitude a fair chance. If you can do this, it will transform your life. The self-destructive internal programs you've picked up from childhood will melt away as you experience the Silence within; your constantly running habits of judgment will be replaced by a constant appreciation of the wonder and beauty of the world. No stress, however large or small, can withstand the power of this Teaching. Ascension has cured me of my childhood traumas; it has led me to an understanding of the world I often dreamed about but never thought possible to live.
"Every word I have told you today is true. This is not my belief, it is my experience. Each of the twelve Ascension Attitudes I have been given -- each of the three Spheres I have been fortunate enough to learn -- is magical, transforming, unequaled in my personal history. I do believe this Teaching came from the Christ -- it is that good. But again, don't take my word for it! If you wish to learn even the First Ascension Attitude, if you can be that bold, come back here tomorrow again at noon.
"This much more I can tell you -- you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You only have to be willing to take a stand for Life -- you need only to be willing to say to the hurt and crying self inside that the guidance of your ego has led you nowhere but to destruction. Your ego wishes to kill you; it is making you very uncomfortable right now, because deep in your heart you know what I'm telling you makes perfect sense and is consistent with what the best part of you knows to be true. That part longs to be innocent again, to be free, to believe it is possible to find meaning in this harsh world, to remember that life is filled with magic, with wonder, with joy, with Love, with Truth, with Beauty -- and another part of you wants to keep you locked in your mother's house, staring at the walls, waiting for death to free you. Part of you feels you deserve to suffer, that anything that happens to you that is bad is not only warranted, it is probably not even enough. You have to decide which voice you wish to hear!
"The fact is, I'm here now; you're here now; something inside you must be ready to learn the highest Teaching or you wouldn't be here. Your time and your world is ripe. The simple truth is: no one can even read about Ascension without being ready to read about it. Your challenge is to recognize the part of you that is responding to my words and realize that it stands for your lost dreams and true hopes. You need to acknowledge the way you've been living your life is not only pointless, it is leading you nowhere you want to go. Partly you need to see that you are worthy of miracles in your life. You are a child of God, a creation of omnipresent Love and Power, therefore worthy of all success and happiness. Truly now, truly! Do you think you deserve to suffer?"
Ollie ended his monologue and sat back further, watching me, waiting for my reply, wondering, perhaps, about the effect of his words. I glanced at Sharon; she had stopped eating to stare at him, my unfinished fruit still before her, a watermelon ball stuck on her fork, her hand part way to her mouth, her arm frozen in space. Had she never heard him talk this way? Did he have a different approach for everyone he felt drawn to contact?
Finally I swallowed hard then confessed softly, "Sometimes I think I must. I don't understand why God let my life get so messed up. I don't know if you can help me; I guess I would like it if you could." What did I have to lose, after all? Sitting in this bright kitchen with Ollie and Sharon was like a vision of paradise. With a shudder I remembered my dark room in my mother's gloomy forest. Even as my mind had rebelled at the thought of trying anything new, my heart had been opening to the presence of peace I felt in Ollie. "What do I have to do?" I asked, with almost complete sincerity. Was I really ready to move ahead?
"Not much. Come back tomorrow at noon -- I want you to think about it overnight, see if you're really ready to move ahead, if you're willing to try anything new." A thrill shot up my spine as I realized he again used the words I was thinking. Ollie grinned at me, apparently noticing and understanding my surprise. This did nothing to lessen my confusion. Who was this guy? An empath? A walk-in from the Pleiades, replacing the Ollie I had once known?
"So, if you're willing, come tomorrow; I'll teach you the First Attitude. If you take to it (as I'm sure you will!) I'm qualified to share the first twelve with you over the next few months -- I can teach each of the first three Spheres. Try it and see. As Lance's Teacher told him, 'If you want a different fruit, plant a different tree.' Plant the tree of Ascension in your garden, water it well, tend it and see if it matures into the Tree of Life for you -- see if its fruits of Peace and Joy and Health don't suit you better than the painful fruits of fearful ups and sorrowful downs you're harvesting now."
The phone rang from the living room, Ollie said, "Excuse me a moment," and went to answer it. It was perched high atop a mountain of sheet music on the Baldwin Grand that filled most of that room -- I remembered Gladys had once been a concert pianist; it was her music lessons alone that enabled her to support her children after her husband died.
"Hello?" he said. "Yes, oh, it's you! Nice of you to call again. Yes, tomorrow will be all right. No. No..."
I glanced at Sharon; she had resumed eating, was just now stabbing the last of the strawberries. Apparently she felt my eyes, for she looked up at me and smiled.
"Never heard him talk that way?" I asked.
She shook her head and answered, "I guess you needed him to be that forceful. If you have mountains of stress, it might take dynamite to remove them."
I replied it was probable I had mountain ranges of stress, but suddenly Ollie was shouting into the phone, "No! That is completely wrong! The world needs this Teaching! It has to be released! John never intended this to remain a secret tradition for monks only! No one has the right to keep it from the world! I tell you, this has to come out, and it has to be now... No, I don't care what you do... No... No, I don't believe what he says. I tell you, you have it completely wrong... Fine. Tomorrow then." He slammed down the phone and leaned into the piano, breathing deeply to regain calmness. Finally he shuddered, straightened slowly, turned back toward us with a forced smile and came back into the kitchen. He looked grim and pale.
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