A Jewish Story

What Came In the In Box?



   
    August 2009            
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A Domain Named Heaven

By Keith Bloomfield

David J. Green was the most irascible man it would never have been your pleasure to meet. "He's been that way as long as I've worked for him. I've seen the best men in our industry enter his office calm and collected and emerge pale and soaked in sweat. Trembling like leaves in a hurricane. He has that effect on people. In all the time I've worked for him, he's never had one kind word for anyone," droned Evelyn, his secretary of ten years.

"Then why do you stay?" asked the intern from Finance who had stopped by with a folder filled with checks for his signature.

"If you can get past his tantrums and his tirades, the pay is good and so are the benefits. There's plenty of vacation time. Actually, I feel sorry for him. Sometime, long ago, something must have soured him on the world and everyone who lives on it."

Suddenly Evelyn spotted David J. Green racing toward his office. He wore the same gray suit, white shirt, and striped tie that he wore everyday. Beneath his arm was the laptop computer that he was never seen without. Some of the staff thought that it was uncharacteristic of a man his age to be as networked as he was. He had heard the same rumors and didn't care.

"Aren't you the intern from Accounting?" he asked, though he already knew the answer.

"Yes Mr. Green."

"Don't you have anything better to do with your time than to stand around gossiping with my secretary?

"Yes, Mr. Green."

He bent slightly in her direction so that he was eye-to-eye with the young girl. "Then why are you still here?" The terrified intern ran on down the hall.

"She was dropping off some checks for you to sign," said Evelyn.

"I know. I saw the folder on your desk."

"Then why did you have to be so sharp with her?"

"It keeps them on their toes. Now don't bother me for the next two hours."

Green was equally brusque and unforgiving with the people he met online. He had been less than discreet in his on line contacts. In fact, he had been banished from a half-dozen social networking sites and even more chat rooms. He was even verboten from logging on to several of the world’s largest websites for his often abusive behavior.

His personal virtual life was a disaster, but his Director of Information Technology made certain that he always had the most up to date hardware and software to keep him occupied.  While his laptop computer accompanied Green to and from the office each day, his Personal Digital Assistant was seldom out of his sight.  He simply called it "the Box." The Box was his telephone and a repository for his company email and instant messages from his staff and clients. His IT Director had configured the Box so that it was difficult to determine if he was in or out of the office when he used its various applications. At home, the laptop sat on his desk, but the Box was rarely out of reach no matter what he was doing.

One night while Green sat alone in his dimly lit apartment, pouring over sales projections for the next quarter, the Box chirped at him.  The chirp announced the receipt of a new email.  His IT Director had installed a highly effective spam trap on the company's computer server, but sometimes, things slipped through. "Another piece of pesky spam," mumbled Green glancing at the subject line.  Absentmindedly, he deleted it.  Moments later the Box chirped again.  Green looked at the screen.  "Again?" he grumbled.  The same message as before had returned to the Box's screen:  FREE EMAIL AND INSTANT MESSAGING.  Once again, Green deleted the message and returned to his office work.

"CHIRP," growled the Box in a voice Green had never heard before.

"Persistent!" snorted Green as he picked up the device in both hands and opened the message.

"You've been selected to receive a free email account with Instant Messaging.  No personal information required.  Scroll down to select your ID and password."

Green had seen such spam many times before, but it always asked for a name, a phone number, and an address. Then, no sooner would he enter the information, than he would be besieged with even more junk mail and spam.  This site was different; it seemed to ask for nothing and had so very much to offer.  Green decided to call himself "Josh," his middle name was Joshua. For his password, he chose his birthday, something that he was cautioned never to do. But he did it anyway. The system immediately accepted his choice.  That surprised Green.  It did not come back to him with a ridiculous alternative like Josh365 or Josh_Josh. Green now had a new email address: Josh@heaven.XXX and an instant message screen name: Josh.*

"Chirp," sang the Box.

"What now?" Green read the message. "Just your basic welcome message," he noted. The words on the Box directed him to log on to the web site for more information. Green grabbed his laptop and did so obediently. He was given detailed directions on how to add Heaven as an instant messaging option to his specific model of Personal Digital Assistant. At the time, Green did not think it at all unusual.

The Box chimed. It was a new sound, totally unfamiliar to Green. It was more felt than heard, but unmistakable when it rang and demanded his full attention. He was certain that it was not a choice the device presented when he first setup the unit. "Lovely," he thought, looking at the Box. He was now logged into the instant messaging application and his first IM was waiting for him.

E: Welcome to the domain. That's a good choice of screen name. I have always liked the name Joshua, but there is certainly nothing wrong with the name David.

Green stared at the cryptic note. "E, the writer couldn't have been a little more creative than to use a single letter." He said to himself.

The Box chimed again and Green read the message. E: Are you there Josh?

Josh: Yes, I'm here. He responded. Josh: E, you want me to call you just E? He added.

Chime. E: It has held me in good stead for a very long time.

Josh: It's nice that we can exchange pleasantries, but there has to be more to it. You seem to have gone out of your way to contact me. You appear to know much more about me than I know of you. Green was characteristically direct. It was a trait with which most people had difficulty.

Chime. E: You're very observant. In fact, I know more about you than you will ever know about yourself and that is exactly why I've reached out to you. Since your family left you, you've been successful in business and a failure as a human being. This has to stop. You can be successful in both worlds.

Green was not sure how to respond. He lost his family in a hit and run traffic accident. He should have been with them, but he was working late at the office. He never forgave himself. "Maybe if I had been with them, I could have steered them clear of the truck," he used to catch himself whispering in the middle of the night.

Chime. E: There is nothing you could have done, David. Now you have a chance to change yourself.

"How did E know what I was thinking?"

Chime. E: If you haven't figured it out yet, give it a chance and I'm sure that you will. I have others to contact.

Josh: I'm not your only subscriber?

Chime. E: Certainly not. You might say I invented multi-tasking. We will talk again soon.

That was the last IM that Green received from the mysterious E, but he spent the rest of the evening thinking about what he had said.

The next morning, Green arrived earlier than usual. He sailed past his secretary with his laptop under one arm and the Box tucked into the breast pocket of a dark gray pinstriped suit. "Tell Ferguson to drop everything and get to my office immediately," he charged his secretary as his office door closed behind him.

Nate Ferguson was one of Green's first hires. He knew everything about the computer systems that drove the firm's success and of the fate of Green's family, but it was not a topic for conversation. As Director of IT, it was Nate who took pleasure in appeasing Green's thirst for electronic gadgets. The laptop and the Box were just the most recent additions to Green's toy chest.

Nate was at Green's door in seconds. "What's the story?" he asked Evelyn.

"Beats me! He stormed in a few minutes ago and asked for you."

Ferguson knocked on the door. "Get in here!" barked Green, through the thick wooden door.

"He's such a joy to work for," mouthed Nate as he opened the door and entered Green's office.

Green was seated behind his desk; the Box and the laptop were on the edge of the desk facing the visitor's chair. As Ferguson approached, Green stood to greet him. "Nate, you have to help me. I think I'm losing it."

"What's the matter Boss?" Ferguson was the only employee that Green allowed to call him "Boss."

Green swore his IT Director to secrecy and in painstaking detail; he told him the story of the previous evening, while Ferguson fiddled with the Box and the laptop. "So what do you think?"

"Unless you cleared the browser history, there is no record of the web site you told me about and when I tried to ping it, the domain doesn't even exist. The PDA has no extraneous applications loaded and there's no IM trail," declared Ferguson, folding his arms in front of his chest.

Green took a deep breath. "I don't understand a word you said, but I think you're trying to tell me that I imagined the whole thing." Green slipped down into his shiny, overstuffed, leather desk chair and spun around to look out of his office window.

"That's not what I said Boss."

"I know Nate. Thank you."

"If you could only print something out for me . . . Did you thank me?"

Green swiveled around in the chair. "Yes, thanks for stopping in."

"You're welcome Boss. You're very welcome."

Nate let himself out of the office shaking his head in disbelief.

"What happened?" asked Evelyn.

"He thanked me. For the first time in fifteen years he said thank you." Nate continued to shake his head as he slowly walked down the hall.

Chime. David grabbed the Box and read the tiny screen. A: That was nicely done David. You haven't forgotten.

"Is 'A' someone else or does 'E' have more than one name?" he pondered.

Chime. A: What I call myself depends on what I want to say. What you said to Ferguson really made an impact.

Josh: What did I say to him?

Chime. A: Actually, you thanked him twice.

Josh: How can you possibly know what happened in the privacy of my office? Have you bugged this Box? Green was about to throw the PDA into the wastepaper basket.

Chime.

Green hesitated and it chimed a second time. He continued to hesitate and it chimed a third time. Green gingerly placed the Box on the top of his highly polished mahogany desk and stared at the screen. A: You still don't understand do you David Joshua Green? I could have easily whispered in your ear or spoken to you in a dream.  I was afraid that you would have simply questioned your sanity or disavowed me as a product of indigestion.  No, this is a very good way for us to communicate.  I am usually impressed with what you creatures do with my gifts.  From wheat, you made bread. From grapes, you made wine.  I admit that I am not always pleased with the products of your hands and your minds.  I have reservations about what you did with uranium.  Who would have thought about the wonders you would create with sand?

David leaned back in his well-worn leather chair and closed his eyes. The idea that it was all his imagination was much easier for him to face than the possible alternative.

The Box chimed again and Green slowly opened his eyes and leaned forward. A: When I speak as E, I am the all powerful creator, and preserver. As A, I am the Lord. I was hoping that I wouldn't have to say it.

David did not know how to respond. "This kind of thing happens in books and movies. In either case, its just make-believe."

Words form on the tiny screen even before he finishes his sentence. A: I have other names as well David. S. Y. L. Each is as real as the other. You'll see; we'll be spending a lot of time together. Once, I gave up on the entire world and put my faith in one man. The second time, one man convinced me to trust in ten. Now you have to trust in me. The change is already starting. Just give yourself a chance, David.

That night David searched his apartment for a book he had not seen since the death of his family.  He knew he had one.  He had enjoyed the hours he had spent with it.  He used to read it from cover to cover and each time he did, he learned something new.  He scoured the bookshelves and the cabinets.  He searched his drawers and tabletops.  He thought of all the places he would have intentionally stored it and those where it could have ended up by happenstance.  In the end, he located it, dust-covered and cushioned on a slightly moth-eaten blue velvet tallis bag, with a siddur and a machzor on a shelf, high up in his hall closet.

"I had totally forgotten where I had these," he admonished himself, clutching the Tanach in one hand. He settled into his favorite easy chair, placed the crumpled kippah he found in the tallis bag on his head and opened the book to Bereshit. Slowly, page after page, parsha after parsha, David J. Green began to work his way through the Torah. He started by reading the commentaries at the bottom of the pages and then the English translations. Soon, he was reading the Hebrew and what he thought he had forgotten rushed to the forefront of his consciousness.

After working his way though portions of the text, he closed the Tanach and sat silently looking out of the window, refusing to believe what had become so obvious to him. Each of the letters that his mysterious correspondent on the Internet and through the Box used as a shorthand for his name, was the first letter of one the various names used in the Torah to identify the Lord in his various relationships with our biblical forebears. "It would all make good sense," he tried to tell himself. The idea that he and the Lord were on speaking terms, at least on "texting" terms was too difficult for him to accept. He needed to know and he promised himself that he would find out.

The following morning was uneventful. He sent no messages, nor did he receive any. Just before noon, David could not contain himself any longer. He reached for the Box. Josh: Can I ask you a question?

Chime. S: A question; yes, but don't begin blaming me for everything.  Don't blame me for war and famine. Or poverty and disease.  Don't blame me for the haves and have- nots of the world.  Good and evil are not my decision. I didn't start the Shoah.  Most of all David J. Green, don't ask me about your family. And thanks for covering your head last night.

David's eyes opened wide as he read the comment about covering his head, but "S's" statement about his family took him a back.

Josh: Why did you think I was going to ask you about my family? He typed on the Box's keyboard. He pushed the Enter button, put the Box down on the desk in front of him, and waited.

Chime. S: Weren't you? Read the screen.

David typed – Josh: Yes, but. . . And before he could even send the message. . .

Chime.

S: Don't forget whom you're talking to. You've been punishing yourself and everyone around you for the last fifteen years. It's time to stop dying and start living. I saw a glimmer when you thanked Ferguson. You're about to have a visitor.

There was a hesitant knock on the door to Green's office. Though he usually screams at the door for a visitor to enter, this time, he walked to the door himself and opened it. The intern from his Finance Department stood in the doorway looking up at him.

"I'm sorry for bothering you, Mr. Green. Evelyn is away from her desk and I needed to speak to you." Her hazel eyes were rimmed with tears. "I have to go home for a few days, but I can't afford to lose the internship. My dad had a heart attack."

"Please come in and sit down." He escorted her to his couch and handed her a tissue from a box in one of his drawers. She was probably about as old as his daughter would have been. She plopped down on one of the thick leather cushions. "Where is home?"

"Michigan."

"And how are you getting there?"

"I'll fly as far as my credit card will take me and then hitch or beg rides the rest of the way."

David leaped to his feet. "I can't have one of my staff do that." He dialed Evelyn and she answered immediately. "I need you to call the travel agency and arrange for a round-trip ticket to. . ." He covered the phone with his hand. "Where in Michigan are you going?"

"Detroit."

"Get a round trip ticket to Detroit, Michigan. Open return date. Put it on my account."

"I can't afford. . ."

He put his finger to his lips. "We will talk about it later. Do you have to go home and pack?"

"I have my backpack with me."

"Next flight out and send a car for the passenger. Who is the passenger?" He covered the phone with his hand and turned to the intern. A silly grin spread across his face. "I don't even know your name."

"It's Sarah, Mr. Green. Sarah Cohen."

"Did you catch that Evelyn? Good." He returned to the phone to its cradle. "You had better get going and stop in when you get back. I'll say a mishaberach for your father."

"Would you really Mr. Green?"

David nodded. "The car will be waiting for your downstairs. You had better leave now."

Sarah began to walk towards the door. Then she stopped and ran towards David locking him in a tender hug. He hesitated, not knowing what to do with his hands and then, he returned the embrace. The girl rushed out of his office and pulled the door shut behind her.

Chime. David picked up the Box and looked at its screen. A: How uncharacteristically human of you. How do you feel?

"I feel good," he said to the empty room. "I feel as though I did something important."

Chime. David looked at the screen. A: You did! Will wonders never cease? I think you're starting to make some progress.

David heard a knock at the door and Evelyn entered without being invited. She looked around at the empty office. "I thought I heard you talking to someone."

"Do you see anyone here with me?"

Evelyn shrugged it off. "First Ferguson and now Sarah. There is something different about you Mr. Green. I can't put my finger on it, but if I didn't know better, I would think that you were someone other than David J. Green."

"You may be right. Please ask Dean Harris to stop by when he has a chance. Now if you would excuse me Evelyn, I have a few phone calls to make."

"Certainly Mr. Green," she said, self-consciously looking over her shoulder as she left the office and closed the door behind her.

Back behind her desk, Evelyn called Dean. "Mr. Green wants to speak with you when you have a chance."

"I know Green; that means twenty minutes ago."

"I don't think so."

"He probably saw the sales forecast for next quarter and after he screams at me for an hour, I'll be leaving his office with my head tucked under my arm."

"I don't think so."

"You mean, he's going to fire me?"

"Dean, stop by when you have a chance." She hung up the telephone and returned to what she had been doing.

In the distance, Evelyn could hear the firm's Vice President of Sales, Dean Harris, galloping down the long hallway.

"Has he called out the National Guard yet?" asked Dean, as he struggled to catch his breath.

"You're in for a big surprise Dean," smiled Evelyn.

Suddenly, the heavy door opened and David Green stepped out. "Dean, it's good to see you. I have some ideas I wanted to bounce off you," he said, draping his arm around his Vice President's shoulder. "Come on in. And Evelyn."

"Yes, Mr. Green."

David stabbed the air with his finger. "You know what. If I can call you Evelyn, shouldn't you be calling me David?"

"Why yes Mr. Green. I mean David."

"Dean and I have a lot to talk about. Make sure we're not disturbed."

"Yes. . . David."

Dean and David disappeared behind the thick office door. Evelyn continued to work, glancing up periodically to check the hands on the wall clock as they made their slow untiring excursion from 12 to 6 and back to 6 again. Noon came and went. Her phone rang. "Yes; David, a turkey sandwich on rye and a bag of chips." She began to remove the phone from her ear, but he kept talking. "And Dean wants a tuna fish salad on a roll?" David never would order lunch for someone else. She was sure that he would pick up the check for a client, but never for an employee. "I'll place the order right now; David. Thank you." Evelyn could not believe her senses.

It was sometime after two o'clock when the door finally opened and Dean emerged with a huge smile on his face. "I had no idea how much you knew about marketing David. With your ideas."

David quickly corrected him. "Our ideas."

"Right. With our ideas, I'll recalculate the forecast. Thanks again." Dean slowly closed the door behind him and stood silently nodding his head. "He's a pretty good guy," he said to Evelyn. "Once you get to know him." Without another word, Dean walked back to his office with a spring in his step that was becoming more and more common after dealings with David Joshua Green.

Chime. David had not looked at the Box since Sarah left that morning. Y: You keep getting better at being human. We'll make a mentsh out of you yet.

He typed: Josh: I have a good teacher.

Chime. Y: It's all about image. It's the way people see you. Now Sarah and Dean have a totally different image of who you are. They see the real you, not the mask you've been wearing for so very long."

David knew that Y was right. Josh: It's not too difficult to follow in your image. Then David realized that perhaps he was getting a bit too friendly. Josh: I hope you don't mind my little joke, he typed.

David waited for the chime.

And he waited.

And waited.

Chime. Y: Of course I have a sense of humor. I continue to let creatures of your ilk roam the earth. Don't I? LOL.

David was not amused by the response. He flung the Box across his office.  It struck the wall and fell onto one of the couch's thick leather pillows. He sat on the edge of his desk and stared at the device lying across the room from him. The screen was dark. Was this all in his head? He realized that the past few weeks had been punctuated with a series of personal victories. He had finally come out of the shell he had grown around himself. He was doing things for others and after so very many years he was feeling good about himself. Was the source of his faith and courage in the Box, or was it his imagination? Did he have to lose his mind to find himself?

Chime. A: What were you expecting to happen?  Did you think it would shatter into a mountain of a thousand shards like a slab of quarried stone? I don't do special effects David. I leave them to your motion pictures. Everything I do is special. Now it's your turn. Surprise me! Do something that even I would never expect you to do.

Their dialogue ended abruptly. David was afraid for the first time since the messages in the Box began. He hoped that he had not angered this collaborator with many names. If he accepted what he thought was the truth, he knew his life would be radically changed forevermore. He decided to take the risk and do something that he saw as even riskier for him.

David's wife had a younger brother and sister. After his family died, his brother-in-law and sister-in-law did what they could to help him. David's response was stoic and they soon grew apart. Perhaps it was now time to try to heal that relationship. Even without his wife as glue, there was still a family bond.

That evening he found his sister-in-law's phone number in an old address book. He dialed it wrong three times before he finally punched in the correct numbers. The phone seemed to ring forever and then a small voice answered. "Hello," said a young boy. It must have been his nephew, Michael. He received the birth announcement, but never acknowledged it. In fact, they had never met.

"Hello," said David. "Can I speak to your mom? This is David Green. I'm your. . ." But it was too late. He never had the chance to finish the sentence. "I'm your uncle."

"Mommy," called his nephew, now several feet from the telephone. "There's a Mr. Green on the phone for you."

David could hear his sister-in- law approaching and placing the receiver against her ear. He didn't wait for her to say "Hello." "Nancy, its Dave Green."

There was a long and uncomfortable pause. "David, is something wrong?"

"Does something have to be wrong for me to call my sister-in-law?"

"Of course not, but we haven't heard from you in," she stopped to calculate the gap. "It's been more than thirteen years."

"You're right. I've been a rotten brother-in-law and a lousy uncle."

"You said it, not me. Why are you calling now? "

"A lot has happened to me in the last few weeks. All of it good and I wanted to share it with. . ." The words were difficult to get out of his mouth. His lips revolted against forming them. "My family."

"What happened?"

"I need to tell you in person. What are you doing this weekend?"

"We're busy this weekend. It's Michael's Bar Mitzvah." David had no idea. "We didn't invite you because we didn't think you cared," she told him. "Maybe we were wrong," she said, slowly pronouncing each word, as though they were individual terms, not tied together as part of a larger thought. "I know its short notice, but can you join us? Everyone will be there."

"Yes," he exclaimed without hesitation. "I can't wait to see all of you!"

The next Shabbat David Green attended the Bar Mitzvah of the nephew he had never met. David sat quietly in a seat on the aisle near the rear of the sanctuary as Michael led the congregation in song and prayer. When he was called to the bimah to say the brachot over the Torah, his eyes filled with tears. His voice was strong as the words came from a place deep within him. David listened to his nephew read from the book of Bresheit. When the parsha was completed, David said the bracha. While everyone wished him "yasha koach," Michael hugged his uncle for the first time. David returned to his seat and watched the family he had pushed away from him celebrate the simcha.

When the service was complete, David saw them alone in the hallway. He embraced his brother-in-law and sister-in-law around their necks and wept. He kissed his mishpacha and wept on them; only then were they able to talk to David. They talked about their lives and the lives of his family so long gone. They talked about the past and made plans for the future. They talked about business and social matters. They never talked about the Box or the conversations that made David's transformation possible.

When the party ended in the wee hours of Sunday, David found his car in the parking lot. He removed the Box from the locked glove compartment and read the single message on its screen: A: Sleep well David Joshua Green. You have earned it!

A smile tracked across his face and brightened his morning. Not even the most disagreeable truck driver, blinking his high beams in the rear view mirror or the toll taker who could not make change, was able to wipe the smile from his lips. That night, he slept better than he had in years.

The next message arrived on Monday morning as David was dressing for work. Chime. S: I'm an old hand at dealing with stiff-necked people. Read the screen.

David typed back -- Josh: I deserve that, but after the miracles you've performed. . .

Another Chime, before he could finish his message. S: I neither softened nor hardened anyone's heart. And the only miracle is that people can change — if they want to and I had very little to do that.

David typed a quick response. Josh: But considering who you are. . .

Chime. S: I am who I am.  That explanation has worked pretty well for me in the past. Your problem, David, is that like a child playing hide and seek; you became so good at hiding, that when the game ended, you remained hidden. Eventually, no one was interested in finding you. You came out of your lair on your own and now you're surprised that people are actually glad to see you. Now, finish what you started. You don't need me to intervene. But don't forget me either.

When Sarah returned from Michigan, he offered her a job when she was graduated from college. He said it was an easy way for her to reimburse him for the airfare. Of course he never accepted the money. Evelyn was promoted to Office Manager and took responsibility for the entire administrative staff. Dean's sales strategy was a huge success and David's firm prospered. He saw more and more of his family and hardly an occasion went by that did not prompt a visit from Uncle David.

Then one day, the IMs stopped.  Green received error messages when he attempted to reach the website.  He could no longer connect with a domain named Heaven, but it really didn't matter.  Green was well on his way to becoming a new man. Tam Ve'lo Nishlam – It is finished, but not completed.

(*Author's note: To prevent the website's host from being deluged with email, the domain name's suffix has been changed.)

~~~~~~~

from the August 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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