I fly rather a lot, in ordinary reality as well as in dreams. On average, in the course of a year I am on four different planes every week. One of the things that sustains me is that I am constantly having "chance" encounters that often prove to have rich story value, and sometimes give me messages from the world. This is the story of one of my all-time favorite encounters with a stranger on a plane. I have lifted the narrative here, unedited, from my journal. There is a polished version in the Introduction to my book The Three "Only" Things.
Indiana Jones, Dressed by Churchill’s Bodyguard
I dreamed that the poet Yeats – a frequent presence in my mind when I was writing The Dreamer’s Book of the Dead - wanted me to dress in a decent suit because he was taking me on a visit. When I was correctly dressed, he led me through St James's Park in
London, past the swans, and eventually to Number Ten Downing Street, where he left
me to have a private moment with Churchill, who seemed to be engrossed in
receiving information on the telephone relating to the magical battle of Britain.
The dream excited and intrigued me. Subsequent research – studded and guided by coincidence – led me to understand that Churchill was deeply interested in the occult and in alternate history. I had always admired Churchill, and I now felt drawn to study him and to write about him. In my imagination, I played with an idea for a fact-based novel with some “Indiana Jones” touches, in which Churchill and his personal network – including one of his bodyguards – do battle with Nazi occultists, among others.
Since I had several other book projects on my desk, I decided to seek a “second opinion” on whether this book plan was really a good one to pursue.
As is typical any week of my year, I had another plane trip coming up. I decided that whatever came up during this trip would be guidance on my theme. To make sure there was no vagueness or confusion about that theme, I wrote it down on an index card:
I would like guidance on whether writing a novel about Churchill with an
Jones flavor is a good idea. Indiana
On the first leg of my trip, I had an interesting companion, a woman who had recently decided to make radical changes in everything that was central to her life. She had left her husband and her job, sold her home and her furniture. After spending two weeks with a friend, she was now traveling back to an uncertain future. I suggested to her that “if you can see your destination, you are better than halfway there.”
I asked her to reach down deep inside and tell me what she wanted of life.
She began to talk about an old dream, of founding a center in her home town that would support women who had been abused or simply defeated by life and help them to find their voice and their power and their healing.
I asked her to take me there – to help me see and smell this center, to go there with all of the senses. She warmed to this task, and soon we were both there, in her dream center. She realized as she described the neighborhood that she now had the address – an old building in need of TLC – and that she had identified all the key players, including the financial sponsors, who could make this happen.
When we parted company at
airport, she was juiced and confident.
But she held my arm for a moment and said, “What do I say to that part of myself that’s going to rise up and say, It’s just your imagination?”
“You’re going to say what the poet Tagore said – The stronger the imagination, the less imaginary the results.”
This was a pleasant exchange, and I like to believe that the center we grew in the imagination now exists. But there was no definite guidance here on my very specific theme, about the Churchill novel with an Indiana Jones touch.
Now I am hurrying along the C concourse at O’Hare, dodging electric carts and milling crowds, heading for my departure gate.
I stop in mid-stride because at my gate is….Indiana Jones.
He has the whole kit: the hat, the jacket, the Sam Browne belt, even the canvas dispatch case. Everything except the whip and the gun.
He does not look like Harrison Ford, however. He’s considerably chubbier.
And while I am thinking this may be my sign, a part of me is also saying, This is absolutely over the top. Just too much. Don’t trust this.
So I get on my plane telling myself the verdict is still not in on the theme I have proposed to the universe. I settle down to my in-flight reading, which is a copy of The Duel, a masterful study of the personal contest between Churchill and Hitler in the critical months of 1940 when Britain and her Commonwealth stood alone against the Nazi evil. I had just gotten to a page describing Churchill driving with his bodyguard to Number 10 on the day he became Prime Minister when Indiana Jones loomed over me and said, “I’m sitting next to you. I swapped seats with a guy so he could sit with his family across the aisle.”
I made room for Indiana Jones, noting that it is always interesting to track what is happening when seating plans (or other plans) are scrambled.
“Do you have the whip?” I asked Indiana Jones when he was buckled up.
“It’s at home,” he explained.
“How about the gun?”
“Got that too.” He knew about guns, he explained. He was in the Coast Guard, working Homeland Security.
He thumbed his shoulder belt and announced proudly, “You know, this is the real stuff. It was made by Churchill’s bodyguard.”
“What did you just say to me?”
“These clothes were made by Peter Botwright. He used to be Churchill’s bodyguard. He went on to make clothes for the actors in James Bond movies, and then in Indiana Jones. I’ll give you his website. You can see for yourself.”
I showed him the open page of my book, where my finger had come to rest on a line describing Churchill in the car with his bodyguard.
“That’s quite the coincidence,” said Indiana Jones.
“You have no idea.”
Did I write the adventure with an Indiana Jones flavor? Not yet. But I feel the play of the shelf elves in the way this 2006 journal report popped up just now. A smart editor I know once said that if a story is really worth telling, it will come back to the teller, after years or even decades....