Daily Book Excerpt: Adult fiction:
The Bridge Across Forever: A True Love Story – by Richard Bach. If you read a couple of the Amazon reviews on the re- release of this long-time NY Times bestseller – the ultimate “soulmate” book – you can start to see how angry people are at Richard Bach. Like: really angry. I’ve spent some time on Richard Bach message forums – and there’s a real sense of betrayal in some people. Because life down here – in the swamp – without the astral travel, and the money, and the glamour – kinda sucks – and we all want to find OUR mates – but it’s not so easy! And it’s not that Richard Bach makes it sound easy in this book – he puts Leslie Parrish through hell. It’s that, after 20 years of marriage – he divorced her. So what does THAT mean for all of us schmucks down here who looked to him as a kind of guide? Whether or not you think it’s unfair to put all of that responsibility onto Bach’s shoulders is another conversation, albeit a very interesting one (there are entire forums devoted to discussing this on various Richard Bach fan sites). It seems to me that some of the sense of “betrayal” is unfair. Because Richard Bach is, after all, just a man. He is not a floaty astral guide from the planet Vega. He is just a MAN. Yes, he set himself up as a guide in his books – there is much that is VERY profound in them … but still. He is a human being.
I didn’t feel betrayed when I heard that Bach and Parrish had divorced. No, I had a much more unattractive response. Mine was more of a grim smug response, lacking sympathy, that sort of “serves you right” response that I mostly associate with self-righteous hypocritcal Christian gossips. I actually think I would prefer the betrayal. That sort of smug glee in the face of someone else’s misfortune is so not me. But I will say this: my response has since changed. That was just my first response. I’ve gone back and re-read all the books. Part of why I wrote those soulmate essays was to come to terms with the whole Richard Bach thing – I’m still not done with them, actually. But there was a lot there that I needed to say. I actually feel sad for Bach now. That’s one part of my response to him. He has six children and you would never know it from any of his books. They just do not factor at all into his emotional makeup. You would never know it. And again: I can’t stand the smug “serves you right” response … I am much more interested in … what the HELL was going on with him??
And some of the passages of Bridge Across Forever still resonate today. It’s almost like it’s even MORE interesting now that I know that after 20 years, they called it quits. I wish he’d write about THAT. But I wonder. His “soulmate” theory (and he says it himself in the book) requires perfection. Any time Leslie does something, no matter how small, that doesn’t fit with his view of “Her”, his “ideal” – he’s all taken aback. So all of this MEANING is assigned to poor Leslie Parrish, who is just in love, and trying to have a relationship with this man. Like he discovers one day that, when agitated, Leslie Parrish swears like a longshoreman. He is surprisingly (and annoyingly, to me) prudish about this. He is shocked, offended. His “perfect woman” wouldn’t swear like that. Leslie, bless her, laughs until she cries when she sees the shocked prissy look on his face. “Ohhhh, did my swearing shock poor little Richie?” But there are many examples of this. Anyone who thinks perfection is the ultimate goal – is a totalitarian at heart. Something’s wrong there. We all want to be happy. But some people don’t want to feel. And that is their definition of happy. Richard Bach is that kind of person. Leslie has normal emotions – she’s not on a short leash with herself. She gets upset, frustrated – she’s not afraid of her own anger – If she feels like Bach is running away from her, she comes right out and says it. Bach is frightened and pressured by this. He thinks they should just float in and out of each other’s orbits, without expecting anything … no true involvement … floating ABOVE the mess of real life. This is Bach’s ideal. That’s a very neurotic ideal – but I only see this now after 20 years of life, and having learned some hard lessons myself. I yearned for nothingness too. I yearned for perfection, for stasis – for: “happily ever after”. These things did not come to me. I lost. Maybe I gained something too – but all I am mainly aware of is the loss. Still. To this day.
Many people have had similar experiences as mine – and took it out on Richard Bach. “I lost my soulmate – NOW WHAT?” In a funny way, it’s like Richard Bach IS Donald Shimoda, the Reluctant Messiah in Illusions. Donald Shimoda has a lot of answers to things – and yet he refuses to act like he “owns” the answers. The answers are for all of us – we just need to discover them for ourselves. But this is too much for some people. They need to BLAME, they don’t want to take responsiblity … Bach was a guru to them, and he failed. He lied to them. (This is how they see it). And when word came out that he divorced Leslie – he got death threats, etc.
There are a lot of literal-minded people out there. Damaged people who cling to your “word” – any word – that will give them hope.
Bridge Across Forever – as I wrote in one of my soulmates essays – got me through what was maybe the roughest time of my life – freshman and sophomore year in college. I read it and re-read it, and the copy of the book I am looking at right now is the same one I read back then. It is literally falling apart. I have taped the cover back on. It’s in shreds. I eventually moved on – and although the “soulmate” thing continued to inform my thoughts and dreams – until everything fell apart in my late 20s – I can still look at Bridge Across Forever and appreciate it for what it is.
He is just a man. And some of his writing is a bit too cutesy for me, but some of it STILL has the power to get underneath my skin.
Here’s an excerpt – I really struggled with choosing one. Leslie Parrish writes him a goodbye letter which is rightly famous – seriously, if you’re gonna tell someone off, with love, you couldn’t do any better than to just copy that letter and hand it off. Unbelievable. So I thought of choosing that. Then there’s his “vision” of love (Mariah??) – the “I AM. AND YOU ARE. AND LOVE. IS ALL. THAT MATTERS” bombardment – I love that section too. I also love the 9 hour long conversation the two of them have … this is before they’ve hooked up. Great stuff.
But here’s what I chose. Richard Bach has been spending “too much time” with Leslie – he’s feeling trapped – he doesn’t want to limit his options – so he goes off to his house in Key West – where he has a whole airport full of airplanes that he owns (this was in the wake of the success of JLS and Illusions – he suddenly had become richer than he knew what to do with). Anyway, he’s fled Leslie and he walks into his empty house in Key West only to be greeted by a knight, in clanking medieval armor. The knight scolds him: “Why are you spending so much time with Leslie? She is not your perfect woman. You have to keep searching, Richard. Don’t tie yourself down.” There’s a long philosophical argument – between Richard and his own armor – The knight wins the battle.
And Richard is left with wondering what the hell he should do.
The message in the following excerpt still resonates with me: So was there some future ahead of me that could not possibly happen without my first having lived this free lonely present.
I often feel trapped in my “free lonely present”. I wonder if someday I will look back on this time and think, “Now all of THAT – back there – makes sense.” David says he is sure that that is the case. I have tears in my eyes just thinking about it. How much I want to believe that.
Excerpt from The Bridge Across Forever: A True Love Story – by Richard Bach.
I answered mail for an hour, worked on a magazine article that had no deadline. Then, restless, I wandered downstairs to the hangar.
Over the great hollow place hung the faintest veil of something wrong … so light a vapor that there was nothing to see.
The little BD-5 jet needed flying, to blow the cobwebs from its control surfaces.
There are cobwebs on me, too, I thought. It is never wise to lose one’s skill in any airplane, to stay away too long. The baby jet was demanding, the only aircraft I had flown more dangerous on takeoff than landing.
Twelve feet from nose to tail, it wheeled out of the hangar like a hot-dog pushcart without the umbrella, and as lifeless. Not quite lifeless, I thought. It was sullen. I’d be sullen, too, left alone for weeks, spiders in my landing gear.
Canopy cover removed, fuel checked, preflight inspection done. There was dust on the wings.
I should hire someone to dust the airplanes, I thought, and snorted in disgust. What a lazy fop I have become – hire somebody to dust my airplanes!
I used to be intimate with one airplane, now there’s a tin harem; I’m the sheikh come to visit now and then. The Twin Cessna, the Widgeon, the Meyers, the Moth, the Rapide, the Lake amphibian, the Pitts Special … once a month, if then, do I start their engines. Only the T-33 had recent time in its logbook, flying back from California.
Careful, Richard, I thought. To be distant from the airplane one flies is not to invite longevity.
I slid into the baby-jet’s cockpit, stared at an instrument panel turned unfamiliar with time.
Used to be, I spent every day with the Fleet, crawled upside-down in the cockpit reaching hay off the floor, streaked my sleeves with oil cleaning the engine and setting the valves just so, tightening cylinder hold-down bolts. Today, I’m as intimate with my many airplanes as I am with my many women.
What would leslie think about that, she who values everything? Weren’t we intimate, she and I? I wish she were here.
“Tailpipe clear!” I called the warning from habit, and pressed the start switch.
The igniters fired TSIK! TSIK! TSIK!, and at last a rumble of jet fuel lighting off in burner cans. Tailpipe temperature swept up its gauge, engine rpm turned round on its tiny dial.
So much is habit. Once we learn an airplane, our hands and eyes know how to make it runl ong after our minds have forgotten. Had someone stood at the cockpit and asked how to start the engine, I couldn’t have said … only after my hands finished the starting sequence could I have explained what they had done.
The rough perfume of burning jetfuel sifted into the cockpit … memories of a thousand other flights sifted along with it. Continuity. This day is part of a lifetime spent mostly flying.
You know another meaning for flying, Richard? Escaping. Running away. What am I escaping, and what am I finding, these days?
I taxied to the runway, saw a few cars stop at the airport fence to watch. There wasn’t much for them to see. The jet was so small that without the airshow smoke system on, it would be out of sight before it reached the far end of the runway.
Takeoff is critical, remember. Lightly on the control stick, Richard, feather lightly. Accelerate to 85 knots, then lift the nosewheel one inch and let the airplane fly itself off. Force it off and you are dead.
Pointed down the white runway centerline, canopy closed and locked, I pressed full throttle and the little machine crept forward. With its tiny engine, the jet gathered speed about as fast as an Indian oxcart. Haflway down the runway it was moving, but still asleep … 60 knots was far too slow to fly. A long time later we were going 85 knots, wide open, and most of the runway was behind us.
I eased the nosewheel off the concrete, and a few seconds later we were airborne, barely, low and sluggish, off the end of the runway, straining to clear the trees.
Mossy branches flashed ten feet below. Airspeed up to 100 knots, 120 knots, 150 knots and at last the machine woke up and I began to relax in the cockpit,. At 180 the little thing would do anything I wanted it to do. All it needed was airspeed and free sky and it was a delight.
How important was flying to me! It stood for all I loved. Flight seems magic, but it’s a learned, practiced skill with a learnable lovable partner. Principles to know, laws to follow, disciplines that lead, curiously enough, to freedom. So much like music, is flying! Leslie would love it.
Away off airways to the north a line of cumulus built toward thunderstorms. Ten minutes and we were skating on their smooth-dome tops, off the edge into thin air, two miles down to the wilderness.
When I was a kid I’d hide in the weeds and watch clouds, see another me perched way up high on just such an edge as this, waving a flag to the boy in the grass, shouting HI DICKIE! and never being heard for the height. Tears in his eyes, he wanted so much to live one minute on a cloud.
The jet turned at the notion, climbed, then shot toward the cloudtop, an Austrian down a ski-jump. We plunged our wings briefly into the hard mist, pulled up and rolled. Sure enough, dwindling behind us, a curling white flag of cloud to mark the jump. Hi, Dickie! I thought, louder than a shout. Hi Dickie crosstime to the kid on the ground thirty years before. Hold your passion for the sky, kiddo, and I promise: what you love will find a way to sweep you up from the earth, high into its joyful scary answers for every question you can ask.
A level rocket, we were, cloudscape changing highspeed around us.
Did he hear?
Do I remember hearing then the promise I just this minute gave the kid watching from the grass of a different year? Maybe. Not the words, but the dead-sure knowing that I would someday fly.
We slowed, rolled inverted, plunged straight down for a long way. What a thought! What if we could talk between us, from one time to another, Richard-now encouraging Dickie-then, touching not in words but in way-deep rememberings of adventures yet to be. Like psychic radio, transmitting wishes, hearing intuitions.
How much to learn if we could spend one hour, spend twenty minutes with the us-we-will-become! How much could we say to us-we-were?
Smoothly smoothly, with the gentlest touch of one finger on the control stick, the little airplane eased out of its dive. At redline airspeed one does nothing sudden with an aircraft, lest it become a puff of separate parts stopped midflight, fluttering here and there into swamps.
Lower clouds shot past like bursts of peaceful flak; a lonely road flicked below and was gone.
Such an experiment that would be! To say hello to all the other Richards flown out ahead of me in time, to find a way to listen to what they’d say! And the alternate me’s in alternate futures, the ones who made different decisions along the way, who turned left at corners I turned right, what would they have to tell me? Is their life better or not? How would they change it, knowing what they know now? And none of this, I thought, is to mention the Richards in other lifetimes, in the far futures and the far pasts of the Now. If we all live Now, why can’t we communicate?
By the time the airport was in sight, the little jet had forgiven me my neglects and we were friends again. It was harder to forgive myself, but so it usually is.
We slowed and entered the landing pattern, that same pattern that I had seen the day I got off the bus and walked to the airport. Can I see him now, walking there with his bedroll and news he was a millionaire? What do I have to say to him? Oh, my, what do I have to say?
As easy to land as it was tricky to take off, the BD-5 hushed down final approach, touched its miniature wheels to the ground, rolled long and straight to the last taxiway. Then primly she turned and in a minute we were back at the hangar, engine-fire off, turbine spinning slower and slower and stopped at last.
I patted her canopy-bow and thanked her for the flight, the custom of any pilot who’s flown longer than he or she thinks they’ve deserved.
The other airplanes watched enviously. They wanted to fly, too; needed to fly. Here the poor Widgeon, oil leaking from the nose-case of her right engine. The seal had dried from being still for so long.
Could I listen to airplane’s futures, as well as my own? Had I practiced and known her future then, I would not have felt sad. She would become a television-star airplane, opening each episode of a wildly popular TV series, flying to a beautiful island, landing on the water, taxiing to dock sparkling and pretty, no oil leaks anywhere. And she couldn’t have that future without the present she lived right now, dusty in my hangar after flying her few hundred hours with me.
So was there some future ahead of me that could not possibly happen without my first having lived this free lonely present.
I climbed the stairs back to the house, absorbed in the possibility of contact with the other aspects of me, Richards-before and Richards-yet-to-be, the I’s of other lifetimes, other planets, other hypnotic space-times.
Would any of them have looked for a soulmate? Would any of them have found her?
Intuition – the future/past always-me – whispered back, that moment on the stairs: