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September 3, 2009 By:
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SPEAKING VOLUMES

I approached Dan Gordon's slim little book, Postcards From Heaven, recently published by the Free Press, with a certain amount of trepidation.

First, there was the subtitle: Messages of Love From the Other Side, and the fact that Gordon was head writer of the TV series "Highway to Heaven." That's the one where actor Michael Landon played an angel who returns to earth and joins forces with an ex-cop in order to help people. On principle, I try to steer clear of these sorts of books, which seem to be offshoots of TV ideas, even when there's not so clear-cut a connection as here, and so aimed to satisfy the basest of popular tastes.

But Gordon proved me wrong right off the bat. Postcardsmay not be the most profound take on the subject of some sort of life after death, but it is a serious effort and at times quite moving, without a touch of sentimentality or real pandering to readers' emotions.

The premise is clearly stated in the book's first paragraph: "I would venture that nearly all of us either have had or have heard of an experience in which a soul already departed reaches back to those of us who have been left behind in this world with a reassuring touch. Sometimes it's no more than a whisper, a familiar smell in the air, or just the feeling of presence as vivid as when the loved one was still alive. These moments are just that ... moments, a glimpse behind the veil; not a letter from heaven, but a postcard."

Gordon makes no bones about it. He believes in the soul, and although he says that our ability to define and measure it is still evolving, there are two guides available to us: faith and anecdotal evidence. His book is an attestation to both. He eventually offers examples of the messages that he's personally received, but in his introduction, he only provides a glimpse. In essence, he believes he's been told: Got here safe. It's really beautiful. Much much love till we meet again.

Loss After Loss

By highlighting that quote, some people might begin to question my judgment, and whether or not I know sentiment when I see it. But this is really about all there is in the whole enterprise, and I don't think it's quite so bad, especially when you stop and consider what the man has had to go through to get to his particular -- and hard-won -- vision of life and death.

His first chapter deals with his older brother David.

At age 42, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and given three months to live. The malignancy was a glioblastoma multiforme, to be precise, as Gordon writes, and it was pressing on David's brain.

"He underwent surgery that night, which was successful in that they were able to remove most of the tumor. But this particular tumor was of such a virulent nature that it would have grown back on his brain stem even if the doctor had removed all of it and David's brain as well. The doctor told my brother that he was fortunate to have three months to live, which would allow him to put his affairs in order before he died."

But not only did Gordon have to watch helplessly as his beloved brother struggled with the fatal disease eating away at him, their father died within a matter of months of his oldest son.

That wasn't even the worst burden that Gordon was asked to shoulder.

His oldest child, whose name was Zaki, died in a horrific car crash when he was just 22 years old.

Gordon writes of his son that he "was blessed with almost everything -- talent, wit, beauty, a fair and sunny disposition, wisdom far beyond his years, an enormous capacity to love and accept love, an ability to enjoy all that life had to offer, and the gifts that enabled him to offer something back to life. He was blessed with everything ... except the gift of years. He walked this earth for 22 glorious summers and left a legacy that increases in size and strength with each passing year."

And perhaps the worst thing about the crash -- aside from the devastating loss that the Gordon family suffered -- was that Zaki's two younger brothers were in the car, and were pulled from the blaze without a scratch and had to watch from safety as their brother died.

I will not disclose anything about the "postcards" Gordon has received stemming from these various instances. That would seem to be to be unfair, both undermining the writer's purpose and blunting the point of his book. And whether you "buy" his explanations or not, you'll definitely have to agree that he has achieved whatever insight he has -- and I think it's considerable -- by way of crucibles that few of us have been asked to withstand.

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