Imagine a fantastic machine capable of spinning sweet wispy filaments — as delicate as spider webs — into wondrous cloudlike creations that can make children, and even some adults, believe in miracles.
Well, there is such a machine, and I once had a chance use it. I call it “the Loom of Heaven” because I found out what this amazing thing could do on one long, hot summer day, which was the 4th of July, a magical day for Americans. I was 11 years old, and using the machine caused me to experience heaven for the second time in my short life.
First, I’ll tell you what heaven smells like. It smells like melted sugar — pure white sugar thawed by blasts of hot air. Close your eyes and think of it.
When I take my first look at heaven and see all the fluffy clouds, I'll know that these are not made of water vapor like ordinary earth clouds. No, I wouldn’t be surprised if heaven's clouds will be made of cotton candy — pure, white sugar melted by blasts of hot air. What could be more magnificent? What could be more holy?
You may have guessed by now that the Loom of Heaven is an ordinary cotton candy machine, all though nothing in the world is truly ordinary. Take cotton candy, for example. It is born from the center of a burning, whirling eye of torrid steel driven by tamed electricity. Pure crystalline grains are poured into this central humming vortex and wispy filaments of wonder are hurled outward to gather up in sugary, circular cobwebs, waiting to be subdued and spun by a skillful hand.Perhaps no hands are more adept at spinning the sweet silken webs of the gods than those of a nimble 11-year-old boy on a bright summer day. I was once such an 11-year-old, and if I live to be a 100, I'll never forget the long summer days I spent laboring over the fantastic loom of heaven — a hot cotton candy machine.
Every summer, a small carnival called Dugan's Rides came to my northern Minnesota village of Greenbush and set up in the dirt parking lot next to my dad's Red Owl grocery store.
This little traveling fair wasn't one of those dirty, scary traveling fun parks staffed by greasy carnies and petty criminals that sneered at you from under the shade of their tarps extending out from plywood stands.
Dugan's Rides was run by an elderly, soft-spoken white-haired man and a couple of his old buddies. Mr. Dugan always came and looking for me and my brother soon after they rolled into town. He knew where to find us because my dad owned the parking lot next to the Red Owl store where he set up his carnival. My family lived right in the back of the store.
At first I was dismayed to see him coming because I wasn't keen about spending the entire fourth of July working — from early morning to late in the evening — in the sweltering heat of the cotton candy stand. All my friends would spend the day taking rides, lighting firecrackers, going to the demolition derby and watching the parade pass through downtown Greenbush.
But for some reason I always accepted old Dugan's offer, which I think was 10 percent of total sales. I remember the end of my three-day shift at fair’s end when Dugan counted up the cash box in front of me as if I was as sharp as an old business crony, and then peeled off 22 rumpled dollar bills into my tired, sticky hands.
Twenty two dollars!
What a take for an 11-year-old! Riches and splendor! Money for the rest of the summer! If I made $22 that day, and if each cotton candy cone cost 25 cents, that means I dipped the sacred white staff into the Loom of Heaven 880 times and produced 880 clouds of divine edible fluff.
And the thing was, I was the only one who could do it. Two or three of us worked the cotton candy stand, while a couple of my other friends helped out with running some of the easier of Dugan’s rides — really just a bunch of glorified merry-go-rounds and spinning swings. But making cotton candy required a special kind of touch; a certain finesse of the hands and wrists.
I had that finesse.
The others took money, made change and performed the grunt work, like carrying bags of sugar and keeping me supplied with cones. But it was I who worked the Loom of Heaven … or I should say, it was I who ministered the Loom of Heaven.
Flicking up a tight stainless steel switch ignited the machine to a roaring start. Once the device heated up and the sugar was poured in the whirling center, it took a few seconds for the melted wisps to start hurling outward and forming a coating around the outer basin rim. You had to start spinning the paper stick at just the right instant. If you got the timing wrong, the fluffy stuff might glob up, fall off the stick or build up unevenly on the cone.
Spinning a stick of cotton candy requires a certain rhythm, balance and cooperation between all parts of your body. You spin the paper cone with the tips of your fingers at just the right speed and with just the right pressure as you circle your hands and arms around the basin, like a rotating planet orbiting a sun. As your fingers spin and your arms rotate, your back is arched over the wonderful machine, and your entire body rocks gently back and forth in a perfectly synchronized motion, a circular motion.All the while, blasts of hot air swell up from the machine pushing the aroma of melted white sugar into your face. You feel it on your cheeks and draw the scent into your nostrils.
And right here I’ll stop my story for a moment to explain something that will help you understand rest of the story.
Scientific observation shows us that the action of revolving is a basic and fundamental aspect of all reality. There is no object which does not revolve, and no human being that does not also revolve in an essential an integral way. Our bodies are made up of atoms, which are electrons, protons and neutrons all in a tiny systems of orbital revolution. We lead out daily lives on a planet that rotates while revolving around a star, which in turn revolves around a galaxy, and a galaxy is a gigantic spinning whirlpool of stars. We also observe nature revolving in many ways — whirlpools in water, tornadoes and hurricanes, the helicopter spin of the box elder tree seed dropping to the ground.
We can even create electricity itself by rotating magnets around a system of copper coils.
So not only do we ride along on revolving systems of planets and stars, but the very atoms of our bodies revolve to make up the building blocks of what we are, and our very existence depends on this constant revolution.
And there I was standing above a whirling, circular contraption, staring down into it hour after hour being hypnotized by the motion, and all the while I was spinning a circular cone around in a greater circle surrounding the inner circle. Not only was I spinning the cone in my hands, but I was rotating the cone as I spun it.
When you work long hours and get very tired, when you are hungry and hot, the outer shell of your mind also gets tired and it does not so much go away as that you stop paying attention to it. You stop paying attention to your own mind, which informs you about how you are, what you are, and what you’re doing in the present moment.
But that’s not you. It’s only who you think you are. I won’t get into that right now. Spinning and rocking and breathing, the sugar melted, and then I melted — the whole world went away — the sunny summer day, the crowding customers, your brother taking money and making change, your aching back and fingers.
All-That-Is bled into one — the heat, the aroma of sugar, my mind, the world, the universe — everything melded within a vibrant, exotic singularity.
Fortunately, I was able to recognize this for what it was. As I said, it was the second time I encountered it. The first time I went to this place when I was shot and nearly killed in a hunting accident two years earlier. But that’s another story, too. I’ll only say I was lucky to had the previous experience because I might not have recognized this one for what it truly was.
It's true that I missed the all-day fun of a bright Fourth-of-July day, but losing that pales next to what I received that day in the loom of heaven.