The following story was written in 1997 and was the foundational story behind History Yoghurt and the Moon. Of course, this story only represents a partial truth in what happened and the real event shaped the book as well.
By Jerry Mooney
It was Fall and I was in my early twenties. I had just graduated from college, but ironically I was more confused than ever. College had not provided me the meaningful insight I was seeking, let alone place me in a high-paying job. I was confused about my career, my love life, and just about everything. Pressing in my mind, however, and occupying the majority of my thoughts was my confusion about God.
I didn’t even know what to call it: God, spirituality, religion. I say God now because I feel it works. That’s not to say that other names or descriptions don’t. But for now, I’ll use 'God'.
My confusion was nothing new. I had been seeking for a long time and finding nothing. It seemed the more I searched the more I merely muddied the water. But suddenly I was a college graduate. I felt like I should have more answers, more insight. After all, I had lived in Europe. I had traveled to eleven different countries. I spoke languages. I was a college graduate, damn it! I was no dummy. Yet I felt dumb as ever.
What did it all mean!? I would cry to myself. Why am I here!? I would complain. Can no one or nothing provide me some answers!? I begged.
Seemingly, I always received the same results: nothing. Damn nothing!
I went to theologians, missionaries, and priests. Did I receive answers? Yes. Did the answers quell my confusion or provide me with solace? NO! I hated hearing about faith. I needed proof. I was not about to base every direction and decision of my life on faith. Oh, I could have faith, if I had reason for faith. But I had no faith in the humans that were telling me to have faith. So how could I have faith in their God? How could I have faith in their God when I wasn’t convinced they had faith in their God? Plainly, I couldn’t. Their answers seemed too convenient, too controlling, and too divisive.
I refused to give up, even though nobody seemed to be able to answer my questions with any real substance. Why should I get out of bed? Why should I continue living? Those were really the questions I wanted answers to. Whether God wore a robe or had 32 teeth or was Catholic or Muslim or played bingo or liked the Dallas Cowboys, those questions were irrelevant to me. I wanted to know why I existed and why I should continue. I didn’t care much for the idea that my life was a test, and upon completion, I would either fail to Hell or pass to Heaven. How transparent. How controlling. How undivine.
Oh, I cursed fate. I challenge God. I continued down an existentialist path. The only real meaning I could find in life was finding meaning in life. It wasn’t always easy.
At this time, I took a job teaching speech and debate at a small private college near where I graduated. At that same time, a freshman or first-year student as we called them, enrolled in a school where I was working. He wasn’t there by accident. I saw him compete in high school and I was very impressed. I recruited him very actively and sold him on the idea of coming to a school that would embrace his eccentricity as well as brilliance. He was an unconventional student and felt that I would be accepting of his unconventional ways. He was right about that but what I didn’t realize at the time was that, although he came to me to learn, ultimately, it was I who would become the student.
The Teacher Appears
His name was John, but we called him Skater because he skateboarded everywhere he went. He felt the name suited him and he embraced it. He dressed in large pants, belligerent T-shirts and sported long hair to boot. He never wore a tie, even at the tournaments, where ties were expected. He looked like a skater, not a debater. His only means for compensating for his unconventional appearance was his outstanding research ethic and his absolute brilliance. In an hour and a half, he could dissolve a judge's prejudices as well as convince the judge that he was ultimately right. For these reasons, I found him very compelling.
He earned the largest scholarship awarded at that school up to that point. He was successful in most regions of the country, but, despite that, he remained unaccepted within the community and especially by our director of forensics.
One Saturday in October, Skater and I headed for the coast. We both needed a break from our worlds. We quietly ate a large breakfast in Seaside, Oregon and then walked to the beach. After a while of pensively and quietly roaming the coast and inspecting its treasures, we sat together on a large rock and stared at the magnificent ocean.
The large swells of water banged against the sand. Sometimes snuggling up to it, other times raising a violent fist, then smashing the shore. The gulls scavenged the beach while avoiding the shrieking children. The rhythmic crashing of the waves soothed the both of us. The children and the birds provided background music to the metronome of the great Pacific.
After a while, I felt like the environment hypnotized me. I was peaceful for the first time I could remember. I turned towards Skater and asked, 'Do you believe in God?'
He smiled and answered knowingly, 'No… I know in God.'
I sensed no conceit or doubt in his voice or expression. He said nothing else.
I spent a few moments explaining my long search and how sincerely I had looked for answers and how the search for meaning had consumed my life.
He listened very intently and smiled. He nodded a few times but didn’t volunteer any response.
As I looked out into the ocean, I began to think about Heaven and Hell. Thinking aloud I asked, 'Do you think maybe the ocean is Heaven? I mean think about it, you play all day. You eat. Your world is a playground and a restaurant. I especially think it's Heaven for dolphins. I mean, they don’t have any real enemies. They are faster and tougher than sharks, but they just play and laugh and eat. What a life. I even read that dolphins used to have phalanges. I mean with opposable thumbs, but they were smart enough to get rid of them.' Continuing as if I were really smart I said, 'You see, if you have a thumb, then you can use a hammer, then you can build a house, then you can build civilizations with taxes and mortgages and student loans. You know the dolphins were smart, leaving all that stuff alone. Yep, now they just eat, and play and laugh. That’s Heaven!'
Skater just continued to nod and smile.
So I asked further, 'You know in God, huh? What does that mean?'
He looked at me, scanned my body for worth. He squinted a little and looked into my eyes. He started to talk softly. He said, 'Can you see that bird flying?' I nodded yes. 'Can you see that same bird flying in the reflection of that puddle there in the sand?' I looked and nodded yes again. 'Can you see them both at the same time?' Again I nodded trying to follow him. 'Beautiful isn’t it?' I nodded more, this time more adamantly, raising my eyebrows to show my enthusiasm. 'Do you hear the ocean?' I continued to nod and resisted the urge to interrupt him. 'Do you hear the birds? Do you hear the children playing? Do you hear all of that, while you see the ocean and the birds and the children and the reflections of all that as well? Can you see the colors of the horizon? Can you feel the breeze on your skin? Can you smell the air?'
I finally said, ' Yah, I sense all of those things but…'
He interrupted, 'But, nothing. People want proof of God. They have proof. The problem isn’t that we lack proof. The problem is that people see the proof through the wrong eyes and hear the proof with the wrong ears and taste the proof with the wrong mouth and feel the proof with the wrong skin and we smell the proof with the wrong nose.'
In order for proof to register to us, we need lighting bolts and a thundering voice scaring the Hell out of us. What we fail to accept is that we have lightning bolts and thunder and yes they are proving the existence of God. We haven’t stepped far enough away from the idea that God created the universe for us. We are too anthropocentric (human centered or obsessed).
God Is Art
Because of that, we can’t see our part in the universe.' He paused. He adjusted his seating. He gestured to the ocean. He breathed the air joyfully. He sat contently and smiled a large and sincere smile. He continued, 'This universe here is an art project. You see, it’s about art and aesthetics. Not judgments and contempt. We’re not looking at the universe with the appreciation of art. It’s the same damn mental block that causes all those crazies to get all bent about art, about human art. You know how pissed off you get when people start talking about censorship? You know how fired up you get about how devoid of art our modern world is? It’s the same lack of ability to see art, the same blindness to art that blinds us to God. I thought you could see it. You love art. You appreciate the aesthetics our world. Now just apply that same filter to your eyes when you are searching for answers.
God is a great artist. I mean look at the environment around you. It’s awesome. We don’t associate that with God because for so many years, God has meant fear and control and Hell. Even those who don’t buy all that are still blinded by it. They don’t ingest the crap, but they still fail to see. We just don’t see the intrinsic value in expression and beauty. Everything is about acquisition and accumulation to most. That blinds us to the subtle, esoteric evidence of our Creator. Who would cower to a god who was just sculpting? No vengeance. No wrath. God’s just making some beauty.'
I was very impressed by this thoughtful diatribe, but something in me had to protest at first. I interjected, 'So how does that provide meaning to life? Why should I get up every morning? Why do I exist?'
Undaunted by this most salient chain of questions, he answered confidently and reassuringly, 'That is the meaning in life. Your life, like the universe, is an art project. It is as significant as anything in the universe. Make it beautiful! That’s why you get out of bed. The same reason the whole damn universe exists, to express itself, and be beautiful.'
With a zapped look I replied, 'Huh?'
He paused and pensively looked at the horizon as if to organize his words. He continued cautiously. There are two purposes of existence: The first purpose is to appreciate the sculpture. What I mean by that is this; The Creator of this universe has been creating this universe for a very long time. It is very beautiful, I mean to the atom.
The galaxies are amazing, the supernovas, the trees, the reflections, the refracted light, the rock formations the girls with bows in their hair, wing-tipped shoes, music, sounds, breezes, wit, humor, zebras and koalas and polar bears and baby humans and lady bugs. I could go on. It’s amazing! Be amazed! God created a damn beautiful universe. Revel in it! Rejoice! Suck it in! Feel it! Hear it! Taste it! That’s the first purpose. The second purpose is to help. I mean, be art! Don’t just be artistic. Be art! Your existence, like the supernovas and galaxies and zebras and refracted light, is an art project. Be beautiful! Be funny! Be aesthetic! Create, with your life, good art.'
Simple But Not Easy
'That’s it? Be art?' I scoffed incredulously.
'That’s it.' He replied gently. 'You know how much you love art. You know how much you appreciate Michelangelo as well as Michael Jordan. Those people took their lives and created beauty. It gave meaning to your life as well as theirs. Don’t fight it. The world is full of beauty, regardless of everyone trying to ugly it up. Take it in and then provide your contribution to it.'
He motioned out to the horizon with his hand. He put his hand to his ear, listening to the waves and the gulls and the children. He breathed satisfied. He said nothing more.
I sat there. His words slowly seeped into my body. The sound of the ocean reinforced his words. It was as if the ocean were confirming Skater’s words. Slowly, my senses relented. I succumbed to the idea that the world was in fact beautiful. I could find enough purpose in that to continue existing. My body was overtaken by an overwhelming joy. I was so happy I could laugh and cry at the same time. I shivered and smiled and laughed and jumped and screamed with excitement. Skater had uncovered the meaning of life, and he let me look at it too. This was the most meaningful day of my life, and it has permeated every other day of my life since.
On the drive home, he looked at me as if he wanted to say something. I looked at him with the most radiant smile I could manage. He said, 'You’ve got it. You are one of the few. But you’ll lose it too. Remember I said this when you lose it. It will help you get it back.' I smiled and continued to drive. He finally said, 'Don’t forget your sense of humor. It’s part of the reality of the universe. When you do, that’s when you get in trouble.'
I smiled and asked, 'What’s the difference between a rolling stone and a Scotsman?' He shrugged. I continued, 'A Rolling Stone says, ‘Hey! You! Get off of my cloud!’ a Scotsman says, ‘Hey Mcloud, get off of my ewe!’'
We laughed and Skater finally replied, 'Do you see how many things had to happen for that joke. Isn’t it amazing?' I smiled, nodded and drove us home.