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.
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,
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
Jones flavor is a good idea.
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 Chicago’s O’Hare
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
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
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
“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....