In Search of “The Cure” (and Truth)

First, while I am disappointed that I did not receive any recommendations for exorcists, I fully understand. They are all very busy right now.

In the meantime, I am desperately seeking other options. I learned this week that one of my neighbors thought an exorcist now lived in our apartment house. I could not pass up the opportunity. I got his apartment number and with fear and trembling knocked on his door not knowing exactly what to expect. A middle-aged, thin gentleman, with tan skin, slightly graying hair, a black beard, kind eyes, and wearing a turban, a white shirt, white pants and sandals opened the door. He spoke with a slight accent, which I guessed was probably Indian.

“Excuse me, sir,” I humbly asked, “I understand you might be an exorcist.”

“Mr. Howell, I presume?”

“Yes, how did you know?”

“Well,” he replied gently, “the word has gotten around that you have been frantically looking for an exorcist, and a lot of people think that is what I am, but I am afraid that I must disappoint you. I am not an exorcist. I suppose it is the way I dress and my accent. Frankly, it drives me crazy.”

“Oh,” I said, “That is too bad, but what are you?”

“I am a guru.”

“What is the difference between a guru and an exorcist?”

“A guru is a wise and holy person. An exorcist is a quack.”

While naturally I was disappointed with his answer, I felt very comfortable in his presence. He invited me to come in and motioned for me to sit at a small table where incense was burning. His small apartment was tastefully decorated with artifacts, which I guessed were from Asia.

What followed next was a transformative experience which I have been told is often associated with being in the presence of a holy and wise person. He poured me a cup of tea and then sat across from me explaining that he usually sat on the floor but had heard that I was elderly and that probably I would not be able to get up.

The conversation started off slowly. He said he was indeed from India and had been in the U.S. for about ten years, working at odd jobs and providing “spiritual support.” His name was Akash. The conversation only lasted for a little over an hour but in some respects seemed like an eternity. We briefly started with the covid pandemic and then moved on to other things. What follows is my feeble attempt to summarize what he said:

According to Akash, the covid pandemic that the world is experiencing is merely one sign of the troubled state of the planet Earth. He enumerated various other signs of stress: rising temperatures, rising sea levels, more severe storms, prolonged droughts, polluted streams and rivers, toxic air, raging wildfires, destructive flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, the increasing chasm between the haves and have-nots, endless wars, and the Sixth Mass Extension where thousands of species on the planet Earth are disappearing. His brief conclusion regarding the natural disasters and the pandemic was this: Mother Earth is fighting back. Furthermore, we humans are responsible. While this did not come as news, the way he described the situation had an authenticity and alarm about it that caused me to realize how desperate the situation is and how short the time frame is for doing something about it.

“Look,” he said, “We humans have had our time in the sun. In only several hundred thousand years, we worked our way up from being in the middle of the food chain to sitting at the top of the heap and look what we have done with it. We have blown it. Sure, we have all this technology and have transformed how humans live on the planet, but at what cost? We have polluted this wonderous planet. We have caused unnecessary suffering. We have not learned how to tame our violence. We also now have had for more than 75 years the power to destroy life on this planet as we know it with our nuclear weapons; and odds are that at some point, we will do just that.  But make no mistake, Mother Earth will eventually win this battle. She is now middle aged, about 4.5 billion years old, and she has about another 3-4 billion years to go before her star gives out. That is a lot of time for her to get life back in shape.

“It will turn out that our time on the planet Earth was a mere blip on the screen. Just think about it. The human population on this planet at the time of Jesus was around 300 million and remained close to that number until the Industrial Revolution. The industrial revolution began a little over 150 years ago, the technological revolution only about 50 years ago. Today the population of the planet is almost 7 billion. The “modern era” we are in now will turn out to be a mere grain of sand on a beach of over six billion grains of sand. It could all disappear in a heartbeat, or it could be a slow agonizing decline, but rest assured: It will happen. Our time  on the planet Earth is limited. But Mother Earth will go on about her business with new life and new life forms.”

When he mentioned Jesus, this prompted me to ask about his religious beliefs since gurus are supposed to be wise and holy. My first question was whether he believed in God.

“I do not use the term ‘god,’ he said. It means so many different things to different people. There were people storming the Capitol on January 6 who carried crosses and said they were acting in God’s name. Some evangelical Christians believe Trump to be the son of God. The Islamist extremists who destroyed the World Trade Center on Nine Eleven did so in the name of Allah. I do not doubt their sincerity. Catholics and Protestants killed each other by the millions during the 30 Years War in Europe because each side believed the other side did not worship the true God. The list is long.

“I use the term ‘Great Spirit.’ And I believe there is a Great Spirit beyond what we humans can comprehend, and a touch of the Great Spirit resides in all of us though few of us realize this or act upon it. Some do, like Jesus, though I do not call myself a Christian because I do not believe Christians have exclusive access to the Great Spirit. The challenge we face is that we often do not realize that there is a Great Spirit or we put up barriers because we feel threatened. Ultimately, of course, the Great Spirit remains a mystery. One manifestation of the Great Spirit is the planet Earth or Mother Earth as I call her, but there are so many more, and so much that we will never fully understand. And by the way, who is to say that the Great Spirit is not present in all animals or even in all life. It is a mystery and will remain so. When humans think we have it all figured out, that is when we get into trouble.”

“So do you think that there is any value in formal religion or formal religious practice?”

“Absolutely. One destination, many pathways. The problem comes when you think your pathway is the only pathway.”

“And what about the rest of the universe? What is that all about?”

“Well, I have to tell you that anyone who thinks that life exists only on this precious though run-of-the-mill planet is blind and arrogant. And if someone says that “God” or the Great Spirit is exclusively theirs, that person is hopelessly ignorant. All this started with the Big Bang about 13.8 billion years ago. Do the arithmetic. We are one planet in a solar system circling an average star about four billion years old. We are in a smallish galaxy with many billions of other stars. Scientists now have the technology to detect planets circling other stars, and just about every star they have examined appears to have planets. There are estimated to be trillions of galaxies in the universe. Not only that, but astronomers also now estimate that in our galaxy alone there are over two billion rocky planets about the same distance from their star as the Earth is from the sun. And astronomers, philosophers and theologians are still unsure whether any life exists elsewhere in the universe? Please.

“The challenge, of course, is the great distance between stars and the likely limited life spans of so-called intelligent beings, that is, creatures smart like us, who end up eventually blowing themselves up just when they think they have it all together. But remember: The ultimate reality will remain a mystery, and that is all well and good.”

When I realized I had been with this extraordinary person for over an hour and did not want to wear out my welcome, I thanked him profusely and told him I would be back for more. I had so many more questions to ask.  He bowed, shook my hand, and thanked me for coming.

When a couple of days later I returned to knock on his door, there was no answer. When I asked the front desk if they had seen the occupant of that apartment recently, the clerk responded that the apartment had been vacant for over a month, and a new tenant was supposed to move in next week.


A fake story by Joseph Howell

July 27, 2022






Covid Saga (Continued)

 I know many of my devoted followers have been sitting on pins and needles wondering what has become of the ill-fated traveler. So here is the latest:

I am three days away from reaching the covid one-month milestone, which according to the CDC technically will put me into the dreaded “Long Covid Club.”  But it is also true that no one really understands this hideous disease or how long I will be under its spell.

The good  news is that I am still alive, surely due to my two vaccinations and two boosters. Note also that compared to what so many have experienced, I am actually in pretty good shape. I have not had to go to the emergency room. I have been able to breathe and to sort of go about life as usual though not without spending most of the time in bed, constant complaining and according to Embry being “ornery.” This week we have been staying at an inn on the Chesapeake Bay while our youngest grandchild, Parker Howell, almost age 13, has been attending sailing camp. However, I have remained indoors sleeping most of the time when I am not being ornery or complaining incessantly.

I am sure the covid experience is not the same for any two people. Total exhaustion, joint and muscle pains, and just feeling lousy sum it up for me. It could be a lot worse.

But here is the thing about covid. As soon as you feel a tad better and maybe try an activity or two like taking a short stroll or watching TV or a movie, or helping prepare a meal or cleaning up, or staying up past 8:00 PM, the next day you pay the price. Covid strikes back with a vengeance. You are hammered and feel so bad that you dread having to get out of bed. This only lasts about a day, however, and then you are back to where you were the day before and able to take a short walk, watch TV, read the news online, and complain incessantly. The time that there is a break in the cycle, I will declare myself on the mend. While this has not actually  happened quite yet, each day I keep hoping that tomorrow will be the day.

The revolutionary insight that I have gained from this horrid experience is that covid is actually not a disease. It is an Evil Spirit. The doctors and experts have it all wrong. Until people figure this out, we will continue to be in a mess. Evil Spirits have been around forever. Remember how much time Jesus spent casting out Evil Spirits? This has been true of a lot of holy people. Nobody knows where these Evil Spirits come from or why they enter the human body, only that this has been happening from time immemorial. In my case on a bad night I awake the next morning totally exhausted due to a real life battle between the Evil Spirit and my body. So far my body has been winning or at least holding its own. Afterall, I am still alive, but at a price; and the big question is when will the Evil Spirit give up and go back where it came from.

This profound insight turned me to exorcism. I realized that I do not need a doctor. I need an exorcist. It turns out that exorcists are all over the place. I typed in Google “Exorcist Near Me” and all kinds of names came up. I’ll bet if you check on it, you will find at least one exorcist within a five minute walk of where you live. So many exorcists, how to choose?

It is hard to find out detailed information without entering a ton of personal data on their website and in many cases paying a fee or “retainer” up front before they will cast out your demon.  And there are all kind of options: exorcism by email, exorcism over the phone, mail order exorcism, Zoom exorcism (said to be the most popular but also a bit pricey) and in rare cases face-to-face exorcism though it appears that many of these exorcists are in the deep jungles of sub-Saharan Africa or remote islands in Indonesia. A whole bunch of exorcists are Roman Catholic priests exceeded only by “former Roman Catholic priests.”

I have been trying to locate a trade association of exorcists and maybe something about best practices. In any event, if any of you know of a real good and affordable exorcist, please pass the name along to me along with whether the exorcist will accept exorcism insurance, which I am planning to get before hiring anyone.

And do not worry. I will let you know when the Evil Spirit is exorcised or simply gives up and goes home.



Getting Home

Well, I guess you could say I was lucky. The evening before the ship’s arrival in Copenhagen, when I was beginning to feel almost normal again, the medical people called to inform me that the covid test they had given  me that day turned out to be negative. That meant I was free from quarantine and “able to enjoy all the activities and amenities on the ship,” plus I would not have to join those with positive covid tests who in the wee hours of the next morning would be surreptitiously whisked off the vessel before anyone could see them.

I could imagine what the next chapter would be for those unfortunate souls. Certainly no “hotel” would take a boatload of miserable, covid-infected passengers, some near death. I figured it would probably be a makeshift medical ward in some abandoned, ramshackled warehouse with 100 beds lined up on one side and another 100 beds on the other, separated only by inches with overworked doctors and nurses going from bed to bed as patients groaned and gasped for breath. You have seen pictures showing makeshift hospitals in obscure African or Indian villages–ceiling fans whirring to reduce the agony of sweltering heat and flies everywhere. Dead bodies carted off, covered by sheets.

And what would have happened to Embry or other spouses or cabin mates who did not have covid? Where would they go? How would they get home? And how would I get home when I was finally released? Indeed, if I was finally released.

Those hypothetical questions remain thankfully unanswered. It was all I could do to keep from letting out a cheer as I set foot on dry land.

But situations like this do happen. Embry and I took a cruise around South America in the early fall of 2019—before anyone had heard the name, “covid,” starting in Fort Lauderdale and after a dozen or so stops in Panama, Peru, Chili, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil, we spent two weeks on our own in Rio and then Buenos Aries before flying home to the U.S. It was a fabulous trip. This was also a Holland America cruise on the vessel, Zaandam. In October that ship took on new passengers in Rio and then returned to Fort Lauderdale on the reverse of the route that we had taken. By late fall, however, covid had showed up. The very same ship we had been on was the ship where covid raged with most of the passengers and crew getting very sick and many dying. No port would allow the boat to enter, and they went weeks without docking before they finally made it through the Panama Canal and back to Florida. Food had to be brought in by supply ship or helicopter, and all passengers on the ship were quarantined. On the first day of our cruise this time, we chatted with a very friendly bar tender who was on that doomed ship and described the experience as something worse than hell itself. Several of his close friends died.

Situations like this do happen.

We thanked our lucky stars, boarded a bus with other relieved passengers and were taken to the Clarion Hotel at the Copenhagen airport. And I have to say that looking back on it all,   this “cruise from hell” was not so bad and could have been a whole lot worse. I only missed two excursions, one in Iceland and one in Scotland to Loch Ness, and the food delivered to our room was actually very good. I did feel terrible, especially during the first four or five days—sore throat, cough, chills, body aches, fatigue, etc.–but never felt I was not going to make it. Our cabin had a balcony, which we  used when I began to recover, and if it was not too chilly. Embry and I watched a bunch of good movies (“Here Today” was my favorite.). Embry was able to come and go. Many others on board must have had a much tougher time. I estimate that over 80 cabins had been converted to isolation wards, and many other afflicted passengers, like me, remained in their rooms because there was no more quarantine space. Since the dreaded c-word was never mentioned nor any formal acknowledgement that there might be a problem on board, there is no way to know exactly how many passengers had been affected. I figured it had to be in the hundreds.

Following the intervention by our children, who were now taking over all decisions from their distressed, elderly parents, the plan was to ditch the original trip we had planned to Edinburgh, Scotland, where we were supposed to meet old friends and instead to take the first flight out from Copenhagen to Washington. After we understood that all our flights and accommodations would be cancelled, we heard from Andrew the next day that it actually was not possible to get a direct flight from Copenhagen to anywhere in the U.S. due to the major Scandinavian airline, SAS, not flying. Rebooking from Copenhagen  to Washington was said to take weeks.

What? All our plans cancelled and now we find we are not even able to get to the U.S. from Copenhagen? Surely, he must jest.

Well, he did not jest, but fortunately we had not lost our reservations on the flight to Edinburgh or the flight home. Back to the original schedule.

The two days we spent in a B&B, stately townhouse on a quiet street within walking distance of charming, downtown Edinburgh were fabulous. We met our British friends, Roger, and his wife, Geraldine, there, who joined us in the B&B and spent a wonderful two days with them– dinner at a nice restaurant a few blocks away, a tour of this fabulous, ancient city on a hop-on-hop-off bus, followed by a spectacular ride along the coast in their car. I was feeling weak but able to enjoy the time with them immensely.

What eventually did me in, however, were the airports. We had to take two flights. The first was on a British budget airline, Easy Jet, to Edinburgh from Copenhagen. The second was on a United flight from Edinburgh to Washington Dulles. The huge Copenhagen airport was in chaos, with thousands of distressed passengers trying to deal with the SAS crisis. Lines could be measured in miles rather than yards. We arrived at 9:00 AM for a 12:30 PM flight and barely made it. My iPhone pedometer measured the distance from the check-in to the gate at 1.7 miles. By the time we stumbled into the packed airplane, we were both exhausted.

Even though the Edinburgh airport is only a small fraction of the size of the Copenhagen airport, it was just as crowded and woefully understaffed. It took over an hour standing in line to get our bags checked, an hour and 20 minutes to get through the security check point, and another 45 minutes to get through passport control, then a run to the gate to catch the flight with only a few minutes to spare. The widebody airplane was jampacked. Finally, arriving at Dulles was not much easier. I had never seen so many people in line to get through passport control. My guess was well over 500 people and almost a two-hour wait, standing in line.

And by the way, at none of these airports was anyone wearing a face mask except the Iron Lady and her beleaguered traveling companion. Ok, maybe a few, but still you had to look hard to see anyone masked.

“What on earth is going on?” we asked each other. “Don’t they realize covid is still here?”

Well, you can imagine by this time what my body was saying: “Look, I rallied and got you off the ship. I got you to Edinburg. I got you back to the U.S. I even gutted it out so you could have a good time in Scotland. And you put me through this? I’m done.”

I collapsed on July 9th, the day we stumbled into our apartment. Today, July 14, is the first day I have been able even sit up. Some of the same covid symptoms returned with a vengeance, but mostly for the last five days I have been overcome with complete and total exhaustion. You don’t mess around with covid. I could have been a dead duck. But what were the options? I pictured myself in one of the beds in a converted warehouse begging for food and a cup of tea.

And as for the overall experience?

“Well, Mrs. Lincoln, other than that, how did you enjoy the play…?”









Cruise 2020 Episode 4, July 6: The Chariot Turns Into a Pumpkin.

Note the date above, July 6. I have not posted since June 27—nine days ago. What is going on? Why no posts?

The first peculiar observation on board ship that was a harbinger of what was to come appeared on the day before my last post, that is, on June 26. In walking back to our stateroom I was blocked from going down the corridor by a huge door that had a big sign on it saying “no  admission, staff only.” In trying to maneuver around it by taking another hallway, I realized that about a fourth of the entire deck 5 was now off limits, which would translate to between 50 and 80 staterooms. I asked one of the stewards about it who replied, “Water pipe issue, they are working on it.”

Odd, I thought, and wondered how the passengers in the affected area were dealing with it. There was not so much as a word on the loudspeaker from the captain or anyone else about an emergency that would shut down 50 or more staterooms. Could it have something to do with covid? At no point so far in the journey had the “C-word” been uttered by anyone. It was taboo on this vessel. People had signed up for a good time, and the Holland America people were determined to do all in their power not to worry people needlessly and ruin their vacations.

Just to ease my curiosity, later in the day I asked another steward, who said he was not sure but thought it was an electrical issue of some sort. Still no official word: All fun and games, jewelry shows, piano bars, playing the slots, weight loss and wrinkle reduction classes, and all sorts of other fun stuff. And during this time, practically the only person wearing a mask in common areas besides all of the crew was one Embry Howell, henceforth to be referred to as “Iron Lady” for reasons soon to become apparent.

The next two days, June 28 and 29 involved stunning and spectacular land excursions to wild and scenic Iceland—towering cliffs, snow capped peaks, tiny fishing villages, long underground tunnels, majestic waterfalls—everything you would expect from one of the most isolated and magical spots on the planet.

Two events of note occurred on those two days. First, on June 28 I started feeling a little weak and had a slight cough, but, hey, no problem, just a normal cold. I took a covid test that afternoon to be sure, and it came out negative. So far so good.  Also that day we discovered that yet another hallway on the ship had been shut down and cordoned off, this time on level 4, effectively taking offline another 50-80 staterooms. Still no announcement and no mask protocols other than “masks recommended  but not required.” The Iron Lady was one of the few paying attention and wearing her mask all the time in common areas when not eating or drinking.

When I asked a steward pushing a cart of dishes as the door blocking level 5 opened, my inquiry was answered truthfully for the first time. “That is where they put the covid people.”

Mystery solved, but what did this mean, and why no information from the ship?

Then on the Iceland excursion on June 29, I probably should have stayed back because I was feeling worse; but since I had tested negative the previous afternoon, I decided to go on the excursion with Embry  to see glaciers and geysers. To my embarrassment, I coughed under my mask almost incessantly. When we returned to the ship, the cruise director came on the speaker announcing that masking was now mandatory in all common areas. By that time I was feeling terrible.

There was no mention of the dreaded word, “covid,” but  there was not a person on board who did not know exactly what was going on.

Party over.

That evening the symptoms set in—a throat so sore that it was painful to swallow, an incessant hacking cough, occasional chills, aching muscles, at times minor issues with breathing, and near total exhaustion. The next morning I called the medical center, and within an hour the PCR test was administered and the results conclusive: Covid 19.

No surprise.

 The nurse informed me of the rules: I  was now officially quarantined and would remain quarantined for at least five days; and following that to get off  quarantine I would also need to have a negative covid test. Room cleaning would be suspended, and no crew allowed in the room. Meal delivery would continue. At the end of the cruise, all covid passengers still quarantined would be transferred to a hotel exclusively for covid victims.

The good news was that since Embry’s test was negative, she was free to come and go as she pleased. The idea of a covid free person having to go to a covid hotel, however, was for her not a pleasing thought. It is still a mystery why she did not pick up the disease from me. In any event the Iron Lady’s persistence in wearing masks in common areas, even though not required, paid off.

The nurse almost apologized that because the ship’s covid isolation areas were totally full I would have to remain in our stateroom rather than relocate. When I asked her how many people  had covid on the ship, she said that she was not allowed to say. A couple  of days later I asked the same question to a person I presumed was a doctor who paused, took a deep breath and replied “Not above ten percent of the passengers but counting.” Six staterooms surrounding our room all were eating delivered meals.

Catastrophe, I thought. That would mean at a minimum 150-200 passengers with covid. Embry and I were the lucky ones. We have been on a lot of cruises and have seen a lot of the world. What about the people who had never been on a cruise before or those who had saved up for an experience of a lifetime? Plus, by some miracle, Embry, the Iron Lady, was fine and able to continue going on excursions and enjoying the amenities. What about the people whose spouse or partner was also sick or people traveling alone?   

The next five days were not happy ones for me or Embry. I was as sick as I can ever recall, and I have had a lot of bad respiratory viruses over the years including three bouts with pneumonia. I thought having had two vaccinations and two boosters was supposed to keep the virus at bay even if you got it. But, hey, I am alive, and that could well be the saving grace of the vaccine. Without it, for me  and probably many other covid victims on the ship (No one was allowed on the cruise who was not fully vaccinated), the ending could have been truly tragic.

It was not an easy time for the Iron Lady either. Embry was exhausted trying to take care of me plus overwhelmed by the thought of having to cancel and rebook at least three flights and one B&B. She has spent the better part of the last two days trying to get the flight from Edinburg to Washington rebooked only to be hung up on several times by the travel agent.

Worried about their elderly parents, our two children, Andrew and Jessica, with help from their spouses, staged an intervention where they informed us they were now in charge of getting us home immediately after the cruise was over, which involved cancelling a side trip to Edinburgh to visit old friends and then to depart from Copenhagen rather than Edinburgh. Embry and I are so proud to have such responsible and caring children. The only wrinkle was (and is) that there are no flights from Copenhagen to Washington or anywhere else in the U.S. due to a pilot strike by SAS pilots. We are still trying to figure this one out.

We are now at a very nice airport hotel and have a flight out tomorrow morning to Edinburgh.

Stand by for the next post.