|THE LAST TIME I SAW the Messiah’s Handbook was when I threw it away.I had been using it as I was taught in Illusions: hold question in mind, close eyes, open handbook at random, pick left page or right. Eyes open, read answer.Always before it worked: fear dissolved in a smile, doubt lifted by sudden understanding. Always had I been charmed and entertained by what these pages had to tell me.
So that dark day I opened the book, trusting. “Why did my friend Donald Shimoda, who had so much to teach that we so needed to learn, why did he have to die such a senseless death?”
Eyes open, listen to the answer:
Everything in this book may be wrong.
A burst of night and rage, I remember, instant fury. I turn to it for help and this is my answer? I threw the book as hard and as far from me as I could, pages fluttering above that nameless Iowa hayfield, the thing tumbling in slow motion, shuddering forever down toward the weeds. I didn’t watch to see where it fell.
I flew from that field and never flew back. The handbook, that senseless hurtful agony-page, was gone.
Twenty years later came a package to a writer in care of the publisher. In the package a note:
Dear Richard Bach, I found this when I was plowing my dad’s soybean field. The field’s a quarter-section used to be in hay and he told me you landed there once with the guy they killed they said was magic. So this has been plowed under I guess for a long time else it’s been disked and harrowed every year and nobody’s seen it till now. For all that, it’s not much hurt and I figured it’s your property and if you’re still alive you ought to have it.
No return address. On the pages, my own fingerprints in engine oil from an old Fleet biplane, a sifting of coarse dusts, a stem or two of grass falling out when I fanned it open.
Rage gone, I held the book a long time, remembering.
Everything in this book may be wrong. Sure enough. But everything may be right, as well. Right and wrong’s not up to a book. I’m the only one to say what’s true for me. I’m responsible.
I leafed through the pages, wondering. Is the book returned to me the same one I threw away, so long ago? Had it been resting quietly underground or had it been changing to become what some future reader needed to remember?
At last, eyes closed, I held the handbook once more and asked.
Dear strange mystical volume, why did you come back?
Riffled the pages for a moment, opened my eyes and saw.
all the events of your life,
are there because you have drawn them there.
What you choose to do with them
is up to you.
I smiled, reading that. And I chose, this time, instead of throwing it away, to keep the Messiah’s Handbook.
And I choose now, instead of wrapping it in silence, to let you unwrap the whole of it and listen to its whisper for yourself, whenever you wish.
Some of the ideas I’ve found in this book I’ve said in others: There are words here from Illusions and One and Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Out of My Mind and The Ferret Chronicles. A writer’s life, like a reader’s, is fiction and fact; it’s almost-happened and half-remembered and once-dreamed. The smallest part of our being is history that somebody else can verify.
Yet fiction and truth are friends; the only way to tell some truths is in the language of stories.
Donald Shimoda, for instance, my reluctant Messiah, is a real person, though as far as I know he’s never had a mortal body or a voice that anyone else could hear. So is Stormy Ferret real, flying her miniature transport through a terrible storm because she believes in her mission; so is Harley Ferret throwing himself into a midnight sea to save his friend; so are all these characters real who have brought me to life.
Enough explaining. Before you may take a handbook home, however, test this copy, be sure it works.
Hold a question in mind, please. Now close your eyes, open the handbook at random and pick left page or right,
— Richard Bach