Glen was born in a maternity hospital in the capitol city of the kingdom, a hospital which closed a short time later. There was a good hospital in the town where the family lived, but Mother was in the city most of the day. She worked at the Great Central Government Library while Father went to work, writing for the print shop he would stay with his whole life. He could not always be nearby, so Glen’s parents picked a hospital in the city to be safe as a place Mother could get to. Sadly, shortly after Glen was born the hospital closed down, and there is without a doubt the first great metaphor for his life: Every time he found something good they discontinue it.
Glen’s parents were convinced they were going to have a girl. They already had a son and Mother lived a magical kind of life, without much struggle – somehow things always broke her way. She was so convinced that Glen would be a girl she neglected to pick out a boy’s name. The unthinkable would not dare happen, but it did.
“This can’t be my baby.” Mother tried to hand the baby back. “There must be some mistake.”
“This is your son. There is no mistake.” The nurse refused to take the baby back.
Mother could only frown as she wrapped Glen in his baby blanket – a lovely blanket by the way, covered with little girls in pink dresses holding cute parasols reminiscent of the girl on the Morton Salt packages. Once she was convinced that this mistake was hers, Mother desperately tried to decide on a boy’s name.
Both grandfathers were already off the list. Neither Millard nor Cecil would have been a wise choice in that time and place, so perhaps Glen should be grateful for some things. Still, that left a gap, and Mother had already used the only boy’s name she liked for Brother Tom.
Mother only had one sibling, but that was a sister. Father also had only one sibling, a younger brother named Glen. Glen was a good ol’ boy from the Southland, so he spelled the name as any good southern boy would: G-L-E-N. But Mother was from the Northland and thought of the South like she imagined a foreign country, like Nepal or Mozambique. What did she know? She naturally wrote on Glen’s birth certificate: G-L-E-N-N (with two Ns) which is the way any reasonable northlander would spell it. So while Glen was named after his uncle, in a sense you could say on the day he was born his own mother misspelled his name. After that, life did not get any easier.
Just before Glen was born, Brother Tom, who was breast fed, became very colicky. For the first year of Glen’s bottle fed life, he got fed and put down in the playpen or crib or on the rug. Years later, Mother admitted how glad she was that Glen was a good baby and did not require much attention, since Brother Tom required so much attention. That was a matter of opinion.
All Glen knew was Father had the kind of job where he brought work home and worked at his papers all night. Father was not the kind to hug and hold in any case. And with Mother, first being disappointed that Glen was not her girl and then needing to focus so much time and energy on Brother Tom, Glen was easy to ignore. After a year of that, Brother Tom grew out of the colic. He began on solid food, but by then the pattern and habits were set. Glen was the neglected disappointment.
For Glen, it was not as bad as you might think. Yes, a baby needs attention. It is how they learn to bond with their mother and father, and then with siblings and finally with the larger world. True, Glen has always been stunted in his ability to make connections and form attachments, but it was not a total loss because so very often Glen was not there. He was wandering and wondering about things like Crusading for Christ.
Glen looked out from the cliffs over the endless sea, and that was enough. The cliffs were called creativity, and Glen spent considerable time in the grotto between the great pillar stones of inspiration and imagination. There was a third pillar at his back, but he could never quite grasp its name. Often, Glen stayed and slept in the cave above, the artist’s alcove, and from there he could look out to where the water met the sky and listen to the waves crash on the beach far below.
Most often, there was no one around to disturb his tranquility. In those times he drew pictures in the chalk-stone, not yet having the words. Sometimes he let the daylight shadows form shapes on the walls and ceiling. Sometimes he watched the dancing sparkles of light that fell on the pools of water that collected in the grotto during the night. And at night, he watched the stars sparkle in the same way across the darkened sky.
Sometimes at night Glen felt like he was riding in a ship between the stars, and not just riding but somehow driving and directing the ship to some unknown destination. He heard the whispers in the night of people long ago, and the soft words of familiar strangers that lived in some far away future. At the same time, while he never heard the words, he felt the presence of God with him. The Lord was never far away, and perhaps that is why his being rejected, neglected and ignored back home did not bother him as it might. The Lord was never far away.
Sometimes in the day he would see people. Some came to fish and others, with children, came to collect sea shells and wade in the water. Couples came to the grotto to rest in the shade and hold hands. Old men and old women walked slowly across the sand. Some saw him, but no one paid him any attention. They might wave once, but then they ignored him, and it made him wonder more than once if perhaps he was a ghost after all. He was an outsider looking in at life and wondering what it might be like to be connected to someone or to the world in a way he could not imagine.
He was in the cliffs of creativity, in the artist’s alcove above the grotto where the three pillars of inspiration, imagination and the unnamed third stood, but some things were hard for him to know.
Sometimes, he saw boats on the water: canoes, row boats, pleasure boats with big sails and fishing boats, though none ever strayed far from shore. He once saw a fisherman beach his boat and bring his net to shore, full of fish. He made a fire there and a bloody mess cleaning and cooking and consuming his catch. Glen wondered what fish might taste like, but he was content and survived well enough on the fresh water that dripped into the cave from above. He knew the water was a gift for him, and he was grateful. No one and nothing else was needed and long as the Lord was near.
Often, Glen would simply sit, alone, and look out over the water to the islands he saw scattered across the sea. The view was never the same. It seemed in the night the islands came unglued and shifted positions. Some days, he could only see one, very far away on the horizon. Sometimes he saw bunches of islands close together. Often they remained beyond his ability to make out details, but sometimes they appeared almost close enough to see the trees, if the island had trees. Once, he thought he saw a pinnacle with a flag, like a tower of some castle, but he was not sure. All he could really do was guess at the life those islands surely contained.
He considered every form of spiritual creature from the ancient gods to the littlest sprite lived on those islands. He imagined monsters, like dragons and werewolves, though he preferred to think about unicorns. He considered that more than one island might have a space port to shoot rockets into the night toward the ceiling of the grand ship in which he rode. He imagined all of history played out in bits and pieces on those distant lands. The islands were innumerable, and he could never claim to have seen the same one twice over all his time there.
And somehow, he too lived on those islands, even if he never left the cave. There was something of himself alive in those strange and distant places. It was something he could not quite touch.
One thing he had trouble seeing on the islands was daily, ordinary life on earth. He never imagined the happy family full of love and joy in each other’s company. He never imagined a myriad of friends and fellow travelers. He never imagined the good times to be had in the simple things of life. He never imagined such things because he never knew such things. He was in the creative cliffs, in the cave of artistry, supported by the pillars of imagination and inspiration and the third. But all he had for sustenance was water from above, and he was gaunt and starving for something, even if he did not know what that something might be. Still, it was enough just to be. As long as the Lord was near. It was still enough when he got sick. It was still enough when he died. Yes, he did.