On the Crash of Two Fliers near Baltic,
S.D., Earth I, January 1947
Strange man, this oddball, “half-Polish” Lakota called Ira Sulkowsky! He seemed to have Gabriel Tall Chief’s ability, and later Horace Brave Scout’s, to catch other people’s dreams, however evil, and turn them to some good.
Men with such ability should be encouraged, you would think. However, it doesn’t usually happen that way. They usually end up in old trailers on a barren, frozen prairie on the backside of the Dakotas--just as Ira did.
A million years after his death, a cold one in an abandoned cabin, the colony of a very lost tribe benefitted by his scribbles and paintings--immeasurably, as it would turn out.
petalled flames upon a stem.
Two-leaved flower death had bred
poured rare scent of Jerusalem!
What a man purposed in heart of blight--
returning evil for good trust--
now was turned by God’s hand right.
Another heart clamped tight with rust
opened like a creaking gate.
Now the Savior could enter in.
Out went bitterness--the Devil’s mate--
and love and sweetness spread within.
Is this strange to your ear, friend?
That two men’s deaths bloomed a rose?
That two lives lost could thus amend
an old man’s heart where canker grows?
Evenso, it happened thus;
the widow and her son can tell
how Light pierced through deep darkness
as covered Joseph in a well.
God sees all that hearts can hide.
His purposes will someday show
the glory won when two men died
like lambs struck down--oh, ‘tis so!
Winter Rose, you draw forth tears
that like the rain upon the flower--
when we’ve finished out these years--
scarcely last in heav’n an hour.
For Christ, God’s Lamb, our Cross-slain Lord,
will stand and face us, hands held toward
all widows and the fatherless,*
His nail-prints more sweet, more red,
more rose than roses!
“Do I believe in God?” a highly amused Carl Sagan had asked rhetorically in an interview, deepening his voice to approximate what most people imagined would be a Yahweh divinity’s portentous manner of speaking.
Certainly, he believed, if he was ever really hard-pressed, for that is only natural for a finite human being. The rest of the time--fully 99.9 per cent of Sagan’s conscious time on Earth--he did his best to heap scorn on the notion any Supreme Being existed in the Universe that was so fine-tuned it could support human life and not just a lifeless chaos that you would suppose a Big Bang would naturally generate. To heap scorn, you need not say or write anything demeaning. Sustained indifference serves the purpose just as well as a professional’s published broadside. Rejoicing in the Cosmos, rejoicing without one mention of God as a possible explanation for the existence of so wondrously orchesrated a display of magnificent design in the heavens, Sagan joined the ranks of all the scoffers who ever dared to dethrone the Almighty with so puny a thing as human intelligence.
Ira, admittedly, was one of these--though the cowhide paintings he worked on, with the Christmas cards as his inspiration--made a mark on him he could not ignore. Drunk or sick or in deep trouble, he was a believer, even a Christian. It took an intervention to bring him face to face with God, and then he no longer could muster a denial. It is amazing what he put into that refrigerator when he finally came down to it. It is no wonder the 11,000th Century was revolutionized, for when Ira’s skeptical, fighting, wayward heart finally and fully believed, it believed all the way.
Just as amazing in its way, the Alpha Centauri account as it came out in production on a giant set of its own told the story of two men betrayed by another whom they both trusted. Few ACs could not identify with the story, since the colony had been wracked with betrayal since its founding. The Ibsenite Revival, so-called, had been betrayed again and again by its own people. Then, after experiencing victory over the forces of Chillingsworth the world dictator, their own leader had vanished, leaving his organization bereft of vital leadership at a critical time when he was most needed to give directiion for the future of Earth.
Then, the ARGO, sent on a mission to retrieve some of Chillingsworth’s gold stockpiles, was betrayed--for they were lost to Earth, and Earth sent no one to call them back. They wandered through the Universe, and when they found Earth it was changed beyond any possibility of their return.
Forsaken, betrayed, forgotten, they again wandered the Universe, cast out of Earth, cast out of Alpha Centauri by an attacking star of some unknow kind, they fled to the inner galactic region of their present home away from home. All this travel and building of refuges in exile, for what? Now once again they were facing removal from their base planet. The star system was unstable and might go nova before too long--where next should they go?
Betrayal, loss, and death were things the Alpha Centaurii knew as their lot in life, for these were their accompanying angels, from the beginning of their long, million year exile until now. “A Rose in Winter,” thus, was their experience, and a suitable script was easily written that brought the experience Ira Sulkowsky was describing, brought it graphically home to them where they lived.
Yes, half the colonists thought no God, no Supreme Being with a big, deep, Orson Welles voice could exist in such a Universe and Cosmos as they knew and experienced, but half knew better. And even the half that disbelieved, if they were honest had to admit they quite often wished He did. How else could it be explained that the first word that invariably rolled out of their mouths concerning some calamity or trouble was God’s name? In their very curses they acknowleged the existence of the One they thought, or liked to pretend, they did not know.
In any event, statistics are not the best indicators after all. The secular-mechanists’ fifty per cent? The true percentage was shrinking by the hour, for Sulkowsky’s epochal “Christmas Factor” via the CCRP’s productions and theme-parks was fast tipping the scales of belief in the colony decidedly and unchangeably toward a resounding Affirmative.
It helped, too, that a researcher for the CCRP production staff did some extra digging in the database and turned more on the the event that inspired Ira to write and paint “Winter Rose,” drunk or not. Whether it was Earth I's hompkins in NYC or some other agent for inter-galactic communication, it happened. The link was made in the form of a transferrance of this information.
Apparently, little Baltic could not hold the tale indefinitely, nor could the small town of Bryant, where the families lived. Widely covered in the papers of the time, the event touched many lives. Much more was involved than mere death in a plane crash. People met death nearly every week in planes somewhere in the world, sometimes hundreds in one go, but these two were different somehow. Betrayal, especially betrayal of trust, made their deaths different. How much betrayal had Ira Sulkowsky known personally?
How many people had betrayed him in his lifetime? He perhaps had good reason to preserve this account of the Winter Rose when it crossed his path in the grass or blowing snow of the Rosebud plains.
In any case, the event reached him, and he identified strongly enough to remember it all his life, setting it down at the end of it upon cowhide with the best he could do in the way of versifying and painting.
A million years later, over 10,000 centuries, someone he could not have imagined in his wildest drunken stupors would catch his dream, his re-creation of a tragedy he had somehow learned of thathappened to two fliers in the Dakota sky of another Earth, and translate it into terms the Alpha Centauri could understand. Appended to his research paper was this simple “Explanation” composed by some unknown witness or participant of the affair
. In every particular and fact, it might be noted, the Explanation agreed with Sulkowsky’s account.
Wasn’t it possible that Sulkowsky read this anonymous account first, then was moved to compose his own in verses and finish by painting the” winter rose” that consumed two men’s lives with fire and bloomed with their very life blood?
Mr. Shoup, formerly so defensive and self-justifying in the tragedy, taking no responsibility and using lawyers to exact full payment for the destroyed plane from the widow, evidenced later a change of heart after the widow, Pearl Ginther, came to him with full payment for the plane, and love and forgiveness for his role in the crash. Estranged from his wife, living with another woman, Shoup went back to his wife--a true sign that he intended to do what was right--as Bob Ginther had said was true of Mr. Shoup in his last letter.
Alfred Stadem was the old man who also experienced a profound change of heart. As a number of his family testify and can testify today, bitterness and judgmentalism had overtaken his spirit, poisoning his walk with God and his dealings with other Christians. It required two men’s deaths--deaths of the two dearest to him besides his wife--to effect a break-through into the grace and foregiveness and healing of Christ. He was, as his eldest daughter Pearl and others can testify, a changed man at the funerals. She can tell how she knew one death would not have been enough. He was a very strong man. No, it required two, and two it turned out to be.
If just these effects occurred, their deaths were not in vain. However, as others have testified, those who had not yet made decisions for Christ then settled their destiny on both earthy and heavenly sides after seeing in these sudden deaths how tragically brief life can be and how suddenly it can be cut off.
The crash had a profound effect on the wider community too, as it was printed in headlines, and announced on the radio. The still unyielded father of Bob Ginther was struck to his knees by the news as he listened. Did he pray to God and confess his sins and become right with God? Ethel Barrymore the legendary stage actress said that being knocked to your knees by life is a good thing, because that is a good opportunity to pray.
We do not know if he prayed then, but later he did, turning his life and soul over to Jesus Christ just before he died. As Christ will reveal someday, there may have been literally hundreds of souls transformed and saved in like manner throughout South Dakota and even neighboring states, as the news of the crash spread widely at the time.