Two Strangers, One Soul (Roundfire Books, 2011) recounts the awakening and journey of the narrator who seeks to make sense of the questions and enigmas which perplex us and cause lifelong anxieties. The narrator comes across a chance acquaintance. Compelled by what he hears, he embarks on discussions which make up the fears, hopes, and aspirations of us all. These conversations are interspersed with dream sequences with another stranger. The dreams often reinforce a conversation, with an alternative perspective.
Each conversation/chapter focuses on an essential human value, some of which we all get wrong most of the time. These values are crucial to rebuilding human life in the West as we know it, if we truly want to find peace of mind and happiness. There is a mounting sense of new discovery as one stranger, Jonathan, peels back the inner layers of the narrator's hidden self to reveal the greatest adventure of all.
As the conversations unfold and the narrator is awakened to his own hidden realisations, he learns to listen and speak from the heart rather than repeat the lifelong lessons of self-denial he has learnt.
In the future, he comes to realise that we shall live according to renewed values, not based on greed, power and destruction, but based on acceptance, co-existence and love. The diverse aspects of these three values form the storyline and subject matter of this book.
We do make the mistake of valuing intellect too highly in the earth life, scorning the simple follower of Reality. (Helen Greaves)
I had never been a believer. I thought that those who believed, who attached themselves rigidly to a faith of any kind, were in a way weak. Certainly those whose belief took them to extremes, such as fundamentalists, were downright dangerous.
I had thought it important to be as complete as possible in oneself, to be self-contained, independent of the wavering eccentricities of religious, pseudo –mystic, or other man-made beliefs. I was, indeed, confident and content within myself. I thought that to be good at what you did, to make a worthwhile contribution, and to be as good (as you could) to others, was fulfilment enough.
I remember small things that I carried, almost unconsciously, within me throughout my life. Like when I was little, my parents sent me and my brother to Sunday school. There weren’t many kids there and we seemed to spend our time doing things that we usually did at home when it was raining. But it wasn’t raining, the sun was out and I wanted to play football. I felt as though I was doing penance and I didn’t understand why. And nobody would tell me.
Again, as a young parent, my wife suggested that we set an example for our daughter and all go to church. It had been snowing and the only thing I can remember of that solitary visit was the vicar in his pulpit chastising the path sweeper. The poor fellow had left too much snow on the path through the graveyard and people had dragged snow on their shoes into church. I never went to church again except for funerals and the odd christening.
My education taught me to have an enquiring mind, to question all conventionally-held beliefs, not to accept things at face value, not to trust without good reason. In short my education taught me to be sceptical. I wasn’t a devout sceptic, but it seemed a reasonable platform from which to launch myself on the world.
I never knew then how wrong I was.
One morning, some 10 years ago, I went to the corner shop, as I did most mornings, and, waiting in the queue, it struck me like a soft hammer-blow, that all the people in the shop going about their daily rituals, as I was, were the same as me. They weren’t different, inferior, superior; we were all the same. It dawned on me like waking from an unpleasant dream, that we, each of us, were following our own paths through life and all of those were slightly different from each other but all were following a similar journey. The beauty of it was that, although we were all different – individual, we were nonetheless all the same. We were apart but somehow also together. A lifetime of thinking had started to crumble into dust, but happily so.
I saw that Janice behind the counter was not an interfering busybody, but that she had a smile and a warm word of comfort for everyone. Everyone! How did she do that? A couple of days later the shop owner announced that he was selling up to go and play golf in Spain. The next time I saw Janice she was wondering what on Earth would happen to her. Would she still have a job? Would she get on with the new owner? How would she pay her mortgage?
We all have the same fears, wants, needs and worries. Our likes and dislikes make us differ, along with our background and experience. But we are all the same.
It’s not that I started to believe, I was still a sceptic, But I became more open, more receptive, less rigid in what I accepted as right or wrong, good or bad. I started to believe, yes believe, that the difference and sameness of us all was something amazing.
Then I lost my wife. Her death was all the more shattering for its suddenness. I had lost my parents earlier. I had no one to turn to, or felt that I could turn to. I sensed not only that I was changing but that life was changing me.
I was conscious of a change in my behaviour, a change which gradually shed my formerly held confidence – that some would call arrogance - to one of more humility, more ‘personability’. I was less willing to insist on my views, less willing to argue my corner, more content to let things ride, happier to agree to differ. At the same time I began to ask myself questions where I had felt only certainty before. I began to ask myself the same questions I had asked in my youth about purpose and duty. I began to ask myself about my relationships with others. I asked myself about happiness and why it was so fleeting. I began to ask myself again about why I was here, why we were all here. It was a period of neither happiness nor unhappiness, but of enquiry, searching and reading.
And then I met a stranger. I thought it was chance. Now I no longer believe in chance, as I no longer believe in luck.
We were in a bookshop, and, as it happened, we were perusing the same book. We both looked up and saw each other’s identical book covers. We smiled. I later learned that there was no such thing as coincidence.
He asked me to join him for a drink in a café. I did. He told me a lot about me, he told me some of the secrets I thought were my own, only known by me. He knew my hopes and my fears, and yet, it seemed that he knew much more than that.
I asked him how he could know these things and he said that it was because we had known each other a long time. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t recognise him and had greeted him as a stranger. I was now completely at home in his company as though we had known each other for years.
As he was getting up to leave, I knew that there were many other mysteries about this man. I had to talk to him again. I wanted to know more about him and about me. He seemed to have reached me in a way that no other had.
I asked him his name. He said Jonathan. He said we would meet again soon. He also said that I would come across another stranger when I least expected it. That, too, would be soon.
What follows is the story of those meetings with the two strangers.