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Gail Ylitalo

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A Conversation With Lazarus
By Gail Ylitalo
Tuesday, October 14, 2003

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Recent stories by Gail Ylitalo
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I can’t remember what he looked like. I thought I did, but the more I dwell on him, the more the appearance fades. I’m still troubled by what he told me. I search the newspapers and watch the news channels, waiting for it to happen. Deep in my soul, I know it will.

I suddenly realize I’m experiencing and understanding someone else’s thoughts—a woman’s. Slowly our psyches merge, and I live in her words.

One beautiful fall day, he entered my gallery. I was standing in front of a very vivid landscape and, out of the corner of my eye, I watched him slowly approach. I prided myself on having only the most talented painters on my payroll and could always sense a true artist—pretenders were quickly eased out the door. Which was this to be? Gently touching me on my shoulder, he asked, “Ruth?”

Turning around in surprise, I smiled at him. “Yes, but I haven’t been called Ruth in years. I go by Ann,” I said, before adding, “It’s less biblical.”

“I see,” he said.

I couldn’t place the accent. It sang in my ears and sent icy fingers up my spine. His eyes were very blue and held my gaze. I felt as if I were talking to a very old man, but he didn’t look much older than thirty. “What can I do for you?” I asked, as I eased out of reach.

“My name is Lazarus,” he said. “I’m a very old friend of your family and I need to talk to you, Ann.”

“Lazarus, like the Lazarus in the Bible?”

“Exactly,” he answered, clapping his hands together. “I can tell you are well read; that’s quite rare in this day and time. As for me, I think I’ve read everything of importance.”

“You know my family?”

“Not the American side, but the family in Bethany.”

“I didn’t know I had any family there,” I said, searching for some memory I could offer. My parents had never mentioned anyone in Bethany. They had been good, religious people, who believed that one should love the sinner but hate the sin.

“Well, you could say I’m your long-lost uncle.”

“Who has the unusual name, Lazarus. You’ll pardon me for having doubts about this,” I said.

“The times we live in cause many doubts. May I take you to lunch—in a very public place so you’ll have nothing to fear? I wish to talk to you about your family.”

I didn’t know what to say. I did not feel threatened by this man, but I did feel strange—a supernatural feeling, as if he was an angel, and I was about to be warned to change my life. “Repent or face Hell.” I remembered my minister’s words well. Lazarus had made me think about church, about God—something I’d not done in a very long while.

“I understand your hesitation, but this is really urgent. Won’t you give me an hour or so of your time?” He looked at me pleadingly, his hands clasped together as if praying.

“We can talk in my office.”

“That will be fine,” he said, and took my hand.

Startled by his sudden touch, I was about to jerk away, when my mind was suddenly filled with images, and a cavalcade of past events played itself out. I saw two thousand years of history swirling through my head.

I was standing at the foot of a cross. Women around me were crying, and the man next to me was on his knees, praying. I heard a voice call him John. Looking up at me, John said, “Poor Lazarus, our Lord has deemed it necessary for you to wait for His return.”

“It will be soon?” a voice asked.

“You will not die until his return—the Second Coming.”

I fell to my knees and wept, crying out, “My Lord, please do not leave me here!”

The mist curled about me and blew apart, as if a curtain had parted. I was seated among many, and the crowd cheered as a Christian was thrown to the lions. The stench was overpowering, a rancid smell of sweat, blood, and death. A man named Saul looked at me and said, “These followers of Jesus must be stopped! They tear at the heart of our religion.”

“Fear not,” said this voice within my mind, “Jesus will never forsake thee.”

I floated above cities that no longer exist. I watched the rise and fall of many empires, until I couldn’t endure it any longer. I welcomed the darkness that shielded me from his penetrating eyes—eyes that peered into my very soul.

I awoke to find Lazarus and my assistant, Nancy, hovering over me. I was lying on the leather couch in my office.

“Ann, are you okay? Should I call 911?” she asked, in a panic-filled voice.

“Ruth will be fine,” answered Lazarus. His words seemed to have a hypnotic effect on Nancy. “Would you be so kind as to bring me a glass of water?”

“Yes—yes,” she stammered, before scurrying out of the office as if her life depended on it.

“What did you do to me?” I whispered hoarsely, as I forced myself to sit up.

“You looked through my eyes. That was the only way I could get your attention. If I’d not done that, you would have thrown me out of here.”

“I should toss you out on your ear!” I cried, indignantly. “Why have you come here?”

“To bring the good news,” he said, gesturing for me to calm down.

“Drink this, it will help bring you to your senses!” Nancy said, firmly, as she rushed up with a glass of water. “You almost caused me to have a heart attack—finding you on the floor like that! Thank God, this gentleman happened to be around to catch you! Are you feeling any better?” she asked, breathlessly.

I took the glass and nodded yes. “I’m grateful that Mister Lazarus happened by,” I said, still struggling with my speech. “We were discussing some art work. I’ll be fine, Nancy. You go finish your work. Mister Lazarus and I have some business to discuss. Important business, so don’t try to give me a lecture,” I said, a little too gruffly. I saw in her eyes the hurt my words had caused and quickly added, “I’ll be okay; I’m grateful for your concern.”

“If you’re sure….”

“I’m sure.”

“Okay, then,” she said, briskly, “I’ll get back to it.”

I watched as Lazarus walked her to the door. He led her by the elbow, and I could see that a mere touch from this man could soothe souls. Lazarus then sat beside me on the couch. I moved away from him, putting some distance between us. I didn’t want to feel his “touch” again.

“What is this all about?” I asked, not really wanting to know but sensing that I had to understand.

“Are you a spiritual person?” he asked.

“I’m not sure. I mean, to me, spirituality and sacrifice go together. The horrors of what people have done to each other in the name of God, frighten me.”

“Do you believe in Jesus?”

“As the Son of God?” He nodded yes. “Jesus Christ is considered by Christians to be mankind’s sacrificial lamb. He suffered and died on the cross for the sins of the world. He saved man. I was raised by very religious parents.”

“You did not answer my question. Why are you so afraid to admit that you’ve accepted Christ as your savior?” He looked at me, and I could sense his anger and pity.

“I’m not afraid to state what I believe in. I’m just not sure, exactly, what it is I believe in.”

Lazarus reached into his coat pocket and held out a newspaper clipping. “This is a sign. My time here in this body is almost at an end. There is a light in the heavens that cannot be explained. Man cannot solve the mystery of God’s pure light.”

“I read the article,” I said. I watched as he folded the clipping and returned it to his pocket. “I felt something comforting when I read it, but there was doubt as well. Man seems to go on and on, no matter the consequences.”

“There will be wars and rumors of wars—starvation and disease, viruses that are new. Knowledge will increase beyond man’s need. All of this points to our Lord’s arrival. You could say I am one who doesn’t die. I can sense your fear. You think I’m on drugs or out of my mind, but remain calm, and let’s talk. First, I want you to believe that I’m immortal.”

“Okay, let’s say I believe you’re immortal,” I answered, deciding it was best to play along. He didn’t appear to be violent, and if I let him have his say, he’d be satisfied and move on to some other person. “If that’s the case, then there truly is no death.”

“There is death of the spirit,” he answered, “which is far worse than a body simply dying.”

“But there is so much more than this brief existence. Your being here proves that. Why not let the world know about you?” I asked, easing as far away from him as the couch allowed. He smiled; I was certain he knew that I was merely humoring him.

“I was brought back from the dead. I am the very Lazarus whom our Lord commanded to rise.”

My mouth dropped open, and for a moment, I wanted to jump up and run away from him—run away from the past memories he was stirring up in me. My mind fought against his words, but my heart knew the truth. I knew I had to see this through. He reached over and gently touched my hand. A jolt of recognition startled me. I felt as if we did know each other! Then I saw a slight movement, a shadow, directly behind him and felt a tingling go up my spine. The periodic law sprang to mind. Are we nothing more than atoms and elements? Nothing random but all connected?

“I was there when the Holy Roman Crusades left rivers of blood. I cried as Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. I watched as a man named Friedrick Nietzsche wrote about a super race and set in motion ideas that would cost millions their lives; and a man named Hitler became a mortal devil—dwelling on the earth with one purpose—to wipe out God’s chosen people. I witnessed the birth of the Nazi party as it took control of Germany and slaughtered people they considered to be genetically flawed. I heard the cries of the innocent and their pleas to be saved.”

My mind shifted gears. If all of this were true , then why share it with me—a nobody? There were plenty of true believers walking around, claiming to hear the angels, talking to God, and sensing God’s answers. I could be sitting next to a real psycho, but there was something whispering in my ear. I felt as if I were two people—myself and a former self. I decided to keep humoring him and gave him my “I’m with you” smile. Slowly I stood and walked to my desk, keeping the smile glued to my face as I eased into my chair. Calmly, I reached for the phone.

“It will not work,” he said. “I’ve learned how to control things—electronics, for example.”

“We’ll just see about that,” I said, as firmly as I could. I picked up the receiver but heard no dial tone, only a whispering voice. I dropped it on my desk and glared at Lazarus. “What are you doing to me?”

“I’m doing nothing. It seems you are more like myself than I realized. I’m not here to harm you or force you to accept anything, but there are others who control our visit,” he replied, with a look of amusement. “The wonders of this time can distort ones impressions of the worlds around us. Make-believe is no longer a children’s game. I’m tired,” he said. “I was lonely and wanted to talk to someone like yourself.”

“Like myself?” I asked.

“Because you walk through time. I know that, for this brief encounter, it sounds insane—but we are linked.”

“Like all humans,” I answered, while trying to shield my fears from him. My thoughts were scrambling around inside my head, but I couldn’t hang on to any of them. My heart told me to see this through and to learn. Focusing on my words, I said, “I always wondered what really happened to Lazarus after he came back from the dead and now, right in front of me, sitting on my couch, is the man who beat death.”

“There’s a part of you, the spirit, that knows the truth has been spoken.” He came over and sat down in what served as the buyer’s chair. He looked so eternal that my heart started to beat faster, and my face turned red. Pretending not to notice, he said, “The light is within you. Accept it.”

“I don’t want the light, and I don’t want my life to change, or for this world to end! You should’ve left me alone. I want to live in a life I’ve created from dreams!”

“Any life empty of faith is not life. All time is brief, but God’s kingdom is forever.”

“That’s easy for you to say! Look at how you came to be! If I were given the blessing you were given, I wouldn’t fear the unknown.”

“You still don’t understand,” he said, sadly. “I was taken from the light. These centuries have been filled with blackness! You have never been touched by the dead, nor by those lost to the one of darkness. I only long for the Kingdom and suffer in this earthly Hell with each day that passes.”

“Death offered something?” I shook my head and tried to stop the emotional swell building inside me.

“I had lived the life of faith. I loved God, so when my body died, there was the beginning of the journey to everlasting peace. The Angel of Death greeted me with the light of our Savior. I was told that I could go no further—that the Son of God would call me forth.”

“You said you’d been touched by the dead, and now you say you weren’t allowed to go further. Go further where?”


“This is sounding more bizarre by the moment! You certainly can’t expect me to believe what you’re saying is the truth! Just for the record, are you on any medications for this Lazarus complex because you’re sounding quite disturbed!” I saw the hurt in his eyes and instantly regretted my sarcasm.

“Stop living for the moment, and let your soul hear my words. It pains me that you are so afraid of the whispers, you’ll block out a chance for salvation. I’ve lived far too long in this place not to give others the chance to escape Hell.”

I paused to consider what he was trying to tell me. Thoughts of a Heaven or a Hell had no room in this life, for me. I wanted to be comfortable and safe from the eternal. My memories were fragmented, and if I didn’t do something, everything would crumble right before my eyes. “Please let me be!” I pleaded. “No more!”

“Let me finish what I have to tell you,” he said. “I must follow the plan, and you must respond in kind. If you don’t, you will only feel pain.”

I started to protest, but my mind exploded in agony! I slumped in my chair, and he rushed to my side. Bending over me, he said, “Leave her, and let it be as written!” Suddenly all was made right, and I tearfully clutched his hand. He warmly kissed my cheek and returned to his chair.

I sat up and could only let my words go where they were willed. “So you came to me because I’m from your distant past. We have a connection?”

“Yes. I’m lonely and longed to look at a familiar face. There are characteristics that pass through the generations.”

“My parents are dead, and I’m an only child,” I muttered.

“I know about you.”

“Then you also know that my parents had no siblings, which makes me as alone as you are.”

“I was called here,” he said. Despite my misgivings, there was nothing in his voice to indicate he wasn’t being entirely truthful. “I follow a power that is far greater than man can even begin to know. Look around and watch those who refuse to see. They live their lives afraid, and they hurt others because of their fear. You know that evil keeps growing in its deception; it walks beside you.”

“I don’t want to hear anymore. I don’t want to know about the ‘Second Coming’, and I don’t want to know you.” Standing, I pointed to the door. “I think you should leave. I’m not feeling well.”

He shook his head and stared at me with an icy coldness that went far beyond this world. “You have the opportunity to ask questions about death and how life has evolved over creation, but you choose to think of me as a lunatic. At this very moment, man has created the substance of the universe that will allow him to study the interior of atomic nuclei. This knowledge didn’t simply come to man. It was served up like a favorite dish. You can call this delight quark-gluon plasma. Mortals are like willful children. Don’t you see? Man has always been played!”

I sat down. Lazarus wasn’t going anywhere until he told me exactly what I had to know. “Played by whom?” I asked, feebly.

Lazarus froze and, when he finally spoke, his lips appeared to be glued to his face. “Do you really believe that certain people are so gifted? Where do you think Poe got his inspiration, or Shakespeare? How about Milton or Dante? Even your great scientists and leaders had...,” he smiled, before adding, “”

“So where does faith fit in all of this? Does this great cosmic plan merely use man?” I spit out the words. “The only quote I remember from reading Shakespeare was something about life being like a candle.”

“Life is like a candle in that it begins and ends in darkness,” he said, barely above a whisper.

“I rest my case,” I said, defiantly.

“Only the one true Savior can call me home. I have been a witness to the fall of man, to all things. You have been given a chance to redeem yourselves but refuse to accept the spiritual truth. Deeds will not save you. Charity, mercy, goodness, and sacrifice, will not save you. They are what follow, after acceptance. There is only one way and that is through the Son of the living God.”

“Why punish you?”

“I wasn’t punished,” he said, with conviction. “Why would you call this existence a punishment?”

“I should think that living for some two thousand years roaming the planet is punishment enough. I’m sure the plus side to all of this is that you don’t age and are brilliant. You can answer any question put to you and can create whatever you want. When you think about it, the riches of this world await you. There are millions of people who’d sell their souls for immortality, they love this life so much. For me, I wouldn’t want to be stuck here at all; it’s too cruel,” I said. Feeling caged in and panic-stricken, I desperately wanted to leave this room. Lazarus read my thoughts.

“Let’s stroll down the channel walk, shall we?” He walked to the door and held it open. “Some fresh air will clear the cobwebs from your mind.”

In awe, I followed Lazarus. I didn’t come to my senses until a cool blast of autumn air rushed to greet me. I breathed in the air, relishing the comfort it afforded. We said nothing as we walked, and it wasn’t long until my mind and body relaxed.

“I’ve never liked living,” I confessed, as we paused at a refreshment stand. “It’s so ugly when you actually look around. People can be so evil.”

“You are not supposed to love this life,” he replied, lightly patting my back. “I serve a purpose. You serve a purpose. There have been many who have heard my story.”

“Well, Lazarus,” I said, smiling, “I don’t know why, but I believe you. You witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus and the resurrection. You are a part of everything. I’m still not sure how to process your visit, but I’m sure that, in time, I will.”

His eyes filled with tears as he turned away from me. We walked in the chilly air until the sun’s light began to fade. I shivered, and he removed his jacket and placed it around my shoulders. I felt at peace as we walked along, together. The amber light crowned his head in spiritual glory.

“You must prepare yourself for the next journey,” he said. “There are those who will use you to rearrange time. Jesus told me that my days would be long, and my battles with Satan would slowly drain me. Now a battle is about to rage, and you must seek the path of light. I have many more of you to see. You know that my words ring true . Trust in what you hold dear, and you will decide wisely. Dear daughter, the shadow of evil lingers over you.”

Before I could speak, he was gone. There was no other soul around, only the echoes from the empty walkway. I peered into a forming mist and saw a figure beckoning to me. Pulled towards the mist, I glanced back and saw myself standing there, alone and full of sadness. The vapor embraced me, and I was taken away to the green hilltop of my past.

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