Michael slept comfortably for the first time in many weeks. Visions raced through his mind in the depth of his sleep, yet he was aware of the heavy stone clutched in his hand, smothered under his pillow. It was as if it were an anchor weighing him down into a deeper reality, into a world further and further away. The stone’s tiny crystals seemed to glimmer through the fabric of his feather pillow, blinking brilliantly, like thousands of tiny stars bursting into the evening sky. But there was another sensation that keenly sharpened Michael’s senses. It was the distinct odor of cedar. Unmistakably cedar.
Michael knew his body was asleep, but he felt an image of himself roll over to look at the old box Miyah had placed on the nightstand next to his bed. It was eye level now, inches away from his face. He tried to make out the design of the rough-hewn carving on the front panel. His eyes couldn’t focus completely, and he blinked away thoughts that raced through his head. It was as if he were watching a play acting out, figures moving. . .slowly moving.
The smell of cedar intensified and made him dizzy. He thought he was dreaming, but it seemed so real. Images of vivid sand-swept deserts with mud brick houses and clear, blue skies rolled past him. He covered his eyes as a whirlwind of dust swirled around him, and after a few moments, he opened his eyes.
At first everything moved in slow motion. Michael looked down at his bare feet and felt the hot sand sifting under his toes. The intense heat of the sun beat down on him as he regained his senses. He could hear the sounds of men laughing in the distance and dogs barking as they chased after a squawking chicken. Sweat dripped from his brow and he wiped it with his hand. He stood looking at the droplets of sweat on his fingers and was startled at the reality of being somewhere else.
“Is this a dream? Will I awaken? . . . Am I dead?”
Suddenly three young boys dressed in light blue tunics raced past him, so close Michael thought they didn’t see him. He followed them into the dusty streets of an ancient village. He could hear the boys talking and laughing as they playfully tossed a pomegranate back and forth. Michael knew they were not speaking his language, but he seemed to understand what they were saying.
“Excuse me boys,” he called out. “Can you help me?” But when the words came out of his mouth they didn’t sound the same. It was as if they were being translated as they entered the air. It didn’t matter though, because no one acknowledged him. Michael reached out to touch one of the boys on the shoulder to get his attention. He felt the fabric and the bone of the boy’s body, but his hand seemed to go right through as if it had touched nothing but air. Michael quickly jumped back, startled at what had happened. He raced over to a woman drawing water from a nearby well.
“Excuse me, Miss. Can you help me?” he frantically called. She didn’t look up as she poured water from the wooden bucket into her earthen vase.
“Miss. Miss. Please!” he yelled. She settled the jug on top of her head and gracefully walked past him, the fabric of her skirt brushing against his leg. She was so close he could smell the oil of her perfume and she didn’t even see him.
Michael looked up at the blinding white light of the sun, allowing its glare to penetrate his eyes. “I am dead!” he shouted, dropping to his knees. “I am dead!” Michael beat his hands on the hot sand, closed his eyes and sobbed.
After several minutes he wiped away his tears with his sleeve and got up. Shoulders drooped, he slowly walked down a narrow, dirt street. Wandering aimlessly he came across an open door and walked in.
“It doesn’t matter where I go,” he mumbled. “No one will see the ghost I’ve become. Why have I deserved this destiny, and why here in this place? Why not among my own family and friends?”
He wearily sat down on a wooden bench. Bent over with his hands covering his face, Michael somberly weighed his situation.
It was a familiar smell that jerked Michael out of his gloom. The smell of cedar. He looked around the room for the first time. It was a carpenter’s workshop, simple and neat. Three workbenches were situated about the room. Tools were neatly arranged in a row along one of the benches. At Michael’s feet were wide-flaked shavings of wood—chippings of ash, long spirals of pine and short brown-pink curls of cedar. All of these different types of wood, yet the sweet, fresh fragrance of cedar reached out to tantalize Michael. The thought of a cedar box flashed into his memory. It seemed important, but he couldn’t quite grasp it.
Michael arose to look around. Wooden wheels and yoke for oxen in various stages of construction leaned against one wall. The room was small, but brightly lit by a large window framed above the longest workbench. Beyond the open window was a narrow valley lined with trees—Lebanon cedars, shining like silver, leading straight toward the setting sun. Along the slopes of the valley he saw wheat fields and gardens, hedges of cactus and orchards of pomegranates, oranges, figs and olives.
“I should be hungry,” he mumbled. “I don’t think I’ve eaten for days.”
A voice came from a shadowed corner of the workshop, startling Michael.
“Oh, excuse my manners. I should have offered you some bread and fruit. Come, sit here and be my guest,” the man commanded as he placed a wooden stool next to one of the workbenches and walked from the room to fetch some food. Michael looked around to see who the man was speaking to. He saw no one else in the room. He stood dumbfounded as the man returned and motioned for him to sit.
“You. . .you can see me?” Michael asked with astonishment. Again he was aware of the seemingly translated words coming from his own mouth and his understanding of the man’s strange dialect.
“Of course I can see you. What do you think you are? A ghost!” the man laughed.
“I. . . I don’t know,” Michael stammered. He didn’t want to reveal too much in case the man thought he was crazy. At this point, Michael doubted his own sanity.
“It seems that no one else has noticed me,” he reluctantly added.
“I understand,” said the man as he placed a bowl of figs and fresh bread in front of his guest. “You must have met Miyah.”
Michael’s jaw dropped. “You know Miyah? How? Where? I don’t understand,” he stammered. Michael gestured to the landscape outside, then back inside to the workshop with a dramatic sweep of his arms.
“Where am I? How could you know of Miyah? This is another world.” Michael was ranting now, as if he were delirious. “I remember I was dying. I had a high fever, but I was home in my own bed. She said she came to heal me. God, I must be mad. Am I dead? Who are you?” He was spinning out of control.
The man placed his hand gently on Michael’s shoulder. This simple gesture brought a huge sigh from a tearful Michael and with that sigh came a wash of unexpected calm. Michael looked up into the man’s deep brown eyes and recognized the same intensity he had seen in Miyah’s gaze. He felt the same warm flow of love flush into his being.
“Who are you?” he repeated.
“I have many names, but you can call me Joshua. You are in the land of Palestine, the Holy Land—Israel. Come. Break bread with me. Replenish your body and we will talk.” The man poured wine into a wood-hewn goblet and handed it to Michael.
“You are not dead. You are in another reality. . .one you would know as ancient times. You are here to learn and after a time you will return to your world. This may seem as a dream to you, but know that it will mark a significant change in your life. You will not be the same man as when you came to me. Only good will come from this journey. You will learn much. I promise.”
“Promise. There’s that word again,” Michael said. “Miyah spoke of a promise, but she never explained. I know I’ve not always made the right choices in my life, but I’m not a bad person. Why do you think I must change? What’s wrong with me the way I am? I didn’t ask for this.”
“Didn’t you?” the carpenter questioned. “You said you weren’t ready to die. You asked for another chance. It may be hard for you to understand all at once, but know that you are safe, you are well and you have not gone mad. Be assured that you have been given a gift. A gift offered to only a few.”
“A gift?” Michael repeated, shaking his head. “A gift. . .” His voice trailed in defeat. “Some gift.”
“Isn’t life a gift?” asked the carpenter. “Your life—a chance to live a longer, more meaningful life—isn’t that a gift?”
Joshua tore a piece of bread from the loaf and handed it to his guest. Michael ate in silence, sorting through his thoughts.
“I’m alive,” echoed through his mind. “I’m alive!” He rested his eyes on the figure of the man called Joshua, whose words and mere presence calmed him.
“Yes,” he thought. “This must be a dream. Joshua said I’ll return to my home. It’s just a dream. ” Michael found his appetite and reaching for some figs on the plate, he gulped down a swig of the bitter wine.
“I’m alive,” he repeated out loud to convince himself.
Michael watched cautiously as Joshua moved around the room. This man was about 5’11”, 170 pounds, muscular and well-proportioned. He had long, dark hair, the color of new wine, that parted in the middle and curled past his shoulders. His beard was the same color as his hair. His skin was fairly dark. Perhaps he was of Egyptian, Armenian or Jewish decent, Michael thought. He seemed to exude everything positive. Even his posture said this man was very sure of himself. Michael noticed that Joshua had large hands with long, tapering fingers, and thought it curious that he had one longer fingernail on his left little finger. Michael knew that in Buddhism this was considered an auspicious sign to bring longevity of life.
“I see you have regained your appetite. That is good,” said Joshua. “You will need the nourishment for your lessons.”
“You keep speaking of lessons. What are these lessons?”
“They are truths about the universe, about compassion and life. They are lessons of the oneness of God and nature and self. Lessons about miracles.”
Joshua paused for a moment, wondering how much Michael could absorb just now.
“In your world, a miracle is defined as an event that is unexplainable by the laws of nature . . .or unexplained by science. It is believed to be a supernatural happening, or an act of God. Yet science is a chronicle of man’s growing awareness of the laws of nature. Your flying machines and transportation network, electricity, music, medical instruments, the list is long, are all results of man’s science—of what can be achieved. People of my time would think these to be miracles—things that are unexplainable by our limited knowledge of science. However, there are many mysteries of my time that we have awareness of, that your world would still consider a miracle. Things your society knew at one time in history, but has forgotten.”
“How do you know of our transportation networks and science?” Michael asked. “What miracles?” He was suddenly full of questions. The lesson had begun.
“I have traveled through your world many times—sometimes unnoticed, as you are now in this dimension, and other times reincarnated as a person gaining insight and knowledge of how the world is progressing in its various stages of growth.”
“You’ve time traveled?” Michael asked in wonder.
“It’s not really time travel,” Joshua explained. “I have been taught by ancient yogis who explored the mysteries of the universe through their sense of inner awareness.” He continued, “Your scientists expand their knowledge with instruments and tools. Yogis work with intuition, manifestation and with the interchangeable nature of matter and energy. We can move between worlds in deep meditative states. Our souls can leave our bodies and we are able to restructure ourselves in another area to whatever degree we desire. People in your day would consider this a miracle. In ancient time it is common practice for those who believe.”
“Believe. Believe in what?” Michael questioned.
“Yogis experience the world reflecting a mirror image of even the smallest fragment of creation. They believe the core of human existence, the only changeless aspect of a human being, is the soul—the part of an individual that is one with God—that is God. The part of myself that is God.”
“You’re saying you are God!” Michael exclaimed.
“Yes. I am God,” Joshua said smiling. “But you are also God. We are all a part of God. We are one.”
Michael stared at Joshua, trying to sort out what he was hearing. These were certainly not the lessons taught to him as a child in religion class. His church would have called it blasphemy. Others would have called it ego.
“Writing is one of your talents, correct?” Joshua asked.
“But. . .how did you know. . .” Michael started.
“You must know of the works of Emerson. He once wrote: ‘The universe is represented in every one of its particles. . . The world globes itself in a drop of dew. . . The true doctrine of omnipresence is that God appears with all His parts in every moss and cobweb.’ You see, God appears in everything. That includes you and me and everything you can see. . .and much you don’t see.”
Joshua waved his hand in the direction of the carpenter’s shop and through the window to the outside world. “Everything. We have been sending messages to the world through generations of scholars and writers and artists. Sadly, many have been persecuted through the ages for trying to spread the truth. It is often difficult to go against those who have much to gain from smothering the wisdom of the ancients.”
Michael stared at Joshua in silence, absorbing what he was hearing, not quite knowing how to respond.
“Alas,” Joshua said. “You have only been here a short time and I am already preaching to you! For you see, I only do carpentry work as a pastime. My true calling is that of a teacher and a healer. Please forgive me for getting ahead of myself and partake of this meal with me.”
Joshua brought more food and the two men ate heartily as they turned their attention to the workshop and talked about the carpentry trade and the various stages of completion of projects in the shop. Michael complimented Joshua for his superb workmanship as he toasted with a wood-hewn goblet carved by Joshua.
“It’s just an enjoyment for me, although I come from a family of carpenters,” Joshua acknowledged. “They were proud of the craft. In this day being a carpenter is more like being an architect in your time. In Greek the word is tekton, meaning a skilled carpenter of cabinets and furniture, but also a designer, construction engineer and architect. A tekton can build a house, construct a bridge or design a temple. The work can be very complicated and the tools are sometimes crude, yet it is still considered a lowly occupation.”
He picked up a wooden box that rested in a pile of shavings. “I am particularly proud of this box I am carving,” he said as he blew the sawdust from the lid. “It is soon to be a gift for my companion. I gave a similar box to my mother when I was 12-years-old. She has used it all these years to hold her herbs and healing stones. It is her prize possession. She says it holds her magic.”
Michael stepped closer to look at the box. It seemed familiar to him, but before he could examine it closer, a woman entered the room. Her perfume mixed with the fragrance of cedar and Michael reeled at the sight of her. He wondered for a moment if he would be invisible to her—like he was at the well. He stood silent as she approached Joshua with a welcoming smile. Joshua’s eyes lit up as he watched her cross the room. Her small hands folded into his as they met and embraced.
“I thought I heard you in here,” she said as he gently kissed her on the lips. “And who were you talking to?”
“Oh, let me introduce you,” Joshua said as he led her toward the workbench. “Michael, this is my companion, Maryum. Maryum, this is Michael.”
Maryum gave Joshua a smile and Michael froze. He didn’t know if she was just humoring Joshua or if she was acknowledging the introduction. Finally, Maryum said, “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Likewise.” Not wanting to seem disrespectful, but unable to resist, he added, “I think we may have met earlier today. . . at the well.”
Maryum looked directly at Michael, and said, “You are a stranger here and must not know that women are not allowed to speak with unrelated men when they are in public places, like the well. It is the law. We could be stoned as harlots for this simple act. But I am sorry, for I truly did not see you at the well today.”
“No one saw me,” Michael blurted. “My hand passed right through a boy playing in the courtyard. The men, even the dogs. . .no one seemed to notice me. How is it that you can see me now?”
Joshua stepped forward. “Maryum can only see you now because of our connection, because I introduced you to her. She understands my receiving visitors from other dimensions and occasionally I share these visits with her. It’s one of our many secrets.”
“What? Do you mean this has happened before? You often have people appear as I did—from other lands, other time periods, other realities?”
“Oh, yes,” Joshua responded. “There are many seekers who come to me. Miyah and the women of her bloodline have sent many for healing over the centuries. I am afraid there will be many more. There is a lot of work to be done.”
“But, you didn’t tell me how you know Miyah,” Michael said, looking from Joshua to Maryum and back.
“She is of my bloodline. She is of the future as I am of the past. She is, or will be, a descendant of mine. . .of ours,” Joshua said, gesturing to Maryum with a warm smile. “As I said before, you are visiting ancient times now. You have stepped back into our lifetime. As I have come from a family of healers, so do my children and the children who follow. Our bloodline has carried through for generations with a mission of healing and teaching. It is our Touchstone.”
Michael quietly gasped. Touchstone. He recalled Miyah speaking of her Touchstone. He had a flashback of the cedar box Miyah had placed by his bedside. He walked over to the box Joshua had been carving. Examining it carefully, his fingers outlined the ornate carvings beginning to take shape on the panel of the box. . .carvings of figures. . . figures that seemed to move and come alive, as in a play. The smell of cedar intensified and suddenly made him dizzy. Michael looked back at Joshua and Maryum who were facing each other, quietly conversing about their upcoming wedding.
“We have been given a wedding gift of spikenard oil,” Maryum said to Joshua. “I tried to resist it because it is so expensive,” she said humbly, with her eyes looking toward the ground. Joshua smiled as he lovingly kissed her forehead and said, “It is as it should be.”
Michael could vaguely hear their voices in the distance now and tried to respond, but everything seemed to move in slow motion.
“Joshua,” he called. “Joshua, don’t let me leave yet. I have so many questions. You said you would teach me. . . I have to know more. . .”
And just then Michael’s world went black as he lost consciousness.
The Touchstone Diary Book One - "The Red Thread"
The Smell of Cedar