Something To Be

Everything is arbitrary. Everything is naturally devoid of meaning. Everything is pointless. All these things going on around us, all the tragedy, all the travesty, all the horror, destruction, and decay…it’s all meaningless. And that fact is glorious.

The human potential to breathe purpose into their time on this planet is a near-godlike ability. Think about it: in its natural state, existence is nothingness and darkness, perfectly neutral, neither good or bad. Things simply…are. We assign good and evil to these events. When someone dies, we are the ones that decide it is sad. When crimes are committed, we are the ones who decide that those acts are evil. When someone saves the life of another, it is we who commend that individual for the “good” they have done.

We take this innate understanding of the ill-defined subjects of good and evil and we apply those labels to the things around us. We convene as a community to decide if acts committed were evil or not. We see the acts of nature, and we deem them to be good or ill on a whim.

This power makes us kings. It makes us creators. We take the circumstances by which we are surrounded and we create our own reality. We have the authority to revel and wallow in darkness or to rise above and change our position. We have the right to ignore the voices that say something is impossible, irreparable, or beyond saving and decide for ourselves if something is worthwhile.

It is marvelous, really. We have the power to give value to that which would otherwise be worthless.

It’s beautiful.

There is natural beauty. Sunsets, mothers with children, the singing of birds. And then there is beauty that supersedes all that is natural, being something completely original and unique: the act of taking a broken situation and imbuing purpose into a purposeless circumstance. Be it good or bad, right or wrong, tragic or triumphant, they take the meaningless and make it a moment worth living through.

The true testament of the tenacity and strength of mankind is their ability to stand tall among the scattered ashes of what was once considered a life, survey the destruction and the chaos, and rebuild. The propensity of man to reinvent himself after his near-complete annihilation is remarkable. The ability to not just find and live out a purpose, but to change direction and find a new purpose to pursue when everything they had previously built is stripped away, is what has inspired the human race to believe that they truly are in the image of god.

They are wonderful creatures. Not only can they influence the world around them, bringing life and purpose wherever they go, but they can even tame the most powerful being: themselves. Out of nothing, they create.


Explosions In The Sky

Floating in the darkness, watching the planets spin and orbit around a far-off star, there is utter silence. She watched, knowing the star would soon burn itself out, ending all life it supports, returning the solar system to its original state: quiet, inky dark. She turned her gaze to another star system, seeing at once the burgeoning life that was sprouting there, pondering the potential outcomes, and the courses and paths those tiny beings could put in place. The events in this relatively nearby solar system would have little to no impact upon them, no matter how catastrophic. Even with her billions and billions of years watching the universe, it was still curious to her that there was a limit to the so-called “butterfly effect.”

She allowed her mind to wander over all the other systems she had overseen, thinking of all the species that had risen and fallen, all the wars that had been waged, both natural and manufactured, all the knowledge that had been gained and lost, all the lives that had been lived, all the minutes that made up all the days of all the years, all those moments that, while universally insignificant, that had meant everything to someone. It was a thought that sometimes even she struggled to comprehend. Of course, given that this was her realm, she understood, but to her, sometimes it felt as though her creation was beyond even her mental grasp.

Her eyes wandered through the blinking heavens, landing once again on the dying star. It was not long now. To the beings on the planets it supported, it would be thousands of years in their eyes, but to her, it would be mere moments. It would sputter and flare before fizzling out, and ultimately, suddenly, the light would be no more. The heat it gave off would live on for quite some time, but the heat was nothing without the light. The planets would eventually crash into one another, breaking into trillions upon trillions of pieces, each floating off into the nothingness, away from every other.

Was it arbitrary? Was there any point to all of this? While every life was unique from every other, did any life really matter? Perhaps on a much smaller scale. It was conceivable that each moment of those beings’ lives was monumental to them, and to some extent, to those around them. But on a universal level, on the grand scale, none of it seemed to matter at all. Yet those little creatures carried on as if their every moment had cosmic significance.

It was likely a good thing that they could not comprehend just how miniscule they were. If they could see the universe in all its expansive grandeur, they would probably just cease to live from pure depression; the revelation of their insignificance would cause them to simply fade away…much like the star before her. She noticed a slight shimmer and crackle, and a soft smile crept onto her face. The time was soon upon them, and their defining moments would arrive. She had hope that they would greet their final days with grace and posture; at heart, they were a decent people. They went on their wayward travels, but when all was stripped away, they had a wonderful habit of rising to the occasion and showing their best.

All of time was hinged on those events. The life span of every intelligent species was a three act play; there was the birth and sudden arrival of the beings. Then, there was the fall; the beings would reach a public and open depravity, displaying their very worst. Then, finally, in their very final moments, they faced the sundown of their species with courage and strength. In between, there were thousands of years of fluff; years and decades and centuries of things that, while they carried the tale from one act to the next, they held no direct weight. The story rose and fell and rose again, making the cosmic theater worth watching; it was captivating, utterly, consumingly captivating. And that was where the individuals gained their universal value. Those tiny beings all impacted the outcome. They all bore the weight of the story on their shoulders, and they had full control of the course of the epic saga. While they were, on the surface, totally unnecessary, they were each intrinsic to the ultimate outcome.

Even to the embodiment of death itself, a being considered by some creatures to be a deity of one form or another, that concept was inspiring and uplifting. It was the very reason she allowed the universe to continue playing out as it had for all this time. Perhaps someday she would bring the theater to a conclusion and move on to another venture, but for now, it still moved her deeply, and she considered it to be her crowning achievement. Carry on, little ones; despite all your many flaws, you still manage to captivate the gods.

A Cruel And Sweet Mistress

Stoplights change, and change again. Trains pass by slowly, coming and going without a thought. The sun rises and sets again and again. Church bells toll, and on a nondescript day, nondescript people shuffle quietly into a room intended for comfort in the most trying of times.

Those in attendance speak with quivering voices in hushed tones, praying silently to gods they neither understand nor believe in, wishing themselves to wake from their grief. But there is no reprieve from this depth of pain; no healing but time.

Time. Our sweet, cruel mistress. Time, tragic and gracious, quietly carries us onward. On from our struggles, on from our triumphs, and on from our wounds. One thing it cannot carry us away from is the scar that remains, the mark that is left on us, the visual memory of the hurt. These scars may fade as memory fails, but they never truly leave us, occasionally reminding us of our loss with phantom pains that come as swift and unexpected as cold water during a deep sleep.

Those moments will leave us gasping, desperately grasping for peace. That peace may seem to slip beyond our reach for a while, but time has a way of bringing it back around in season. And sometimes that thought is all that is left for us to hold onto.

The cruelest, yet sweetest, thing that time perpetually brings to the forefront of our minds, is that no matter what has happened, the world kept turning. No matter what is happening, the world is still turning. And that one day, something shocking and terrible will happen, long after we are all passed beyond the veil, and despite the horrendous nature of that event…the world will move on. The world will grip tight the hand of time and continue to carry on as it always has. And that is both comforting and sad, but that is the way of life. Cruel and sweet.

The Warrior’s Dilemma

Staring out across the plain before him, he sighed deeply. The sun was setting, and a quaint breeze gently caressed his cheeks. Birds sang quietly, off in the trees several hundred yards to his right. High overhead, a hawk circled in a hunting pattern. He eyed the hawk jealously, wishing he still had something to hunt.

He sniffed the air, realizing that the scent of fresh blood had not been on it for some time now. He had seemingly vanquished his last foe. What was a warrior to do when there was no war left to be waged? It was not in his blood to beat his swords into plowshares when the battle was won. There had always been another enemy on the horizon ahead, some new reason to keep his weapons drawn.

An old lullaby from his childhood played in the background of his mind.

“Mama, lay my guns in the ground, cuz I can’t use them anymore…”

He had no more use for them, but he had no purpose without them, it seemed. They were just as much a part of him as his lungs. They felt more than vital for his very survival. For a long time, his survival had leaned heavy upon their effectiveness. Now, he had no identity apart from the machines of war he wore on his hip.

A choice lay before him, if it could be called that. For what purpose does a soldier have in peacetime? What possible good does his only skillset have in times of tranquility? His existence has been planted firmly in chaos and death; when neither can be found, what can he do? What does he do now that steel and lead have taken a path apart from tearing flesh from bone?

He was so good at what he did, too. None had the expertise to rip a soul from a man’s body like he did. The thought made him shiver. What separated him from the monsters he fought was a very thin line. Perhaps he was the only monster left alive. Perhaps it was time for a new warrior to arise and end him as well.

Or perhaps he could lead what was left of his life on some Quixotian quest, searching for what imaginary demons might be lurking in the shadows, and what evils lie hidden behind the guise of windmills. Perhaps he could convince himself that he was still necessary.

Or maybe the only way to end the curse of war was to die in peace. If he truly was the only fighter left standing, maybe if he could die without raising his hands in destruction ever again, the world could be cured of the disease that had plagued it ever since brother struck down brother all those millennia ago.

If indeed that evil had been laid to rest for good, it was time to let the sun set on his wicked ways as well. For in times of evil and darkness, one must fight the enemy using their own dark ways. However, when the light shines again, there is no place for such things. There is no room for the furies of war in a world of peace. His time had come and gone.

And so he was left behind, it seemed. His work had been done, and now he must find out what happens after the gunslinger rides off into the sunset. It was time to face his own fate, whatever that might be. His chapter in the great annals of time had come to a close, and he must fade into the murky memory of legend and myth. He had lived a good life. Or perhaps the horrible things he had done to achieve peace and all the lives he had snuffed out precluded him from saying that. At the very least, he had lived a full life, and there was no room in it for the calm that had come to settle on the land. It was time for him to disappear.

The wind gave a sudden surprising gust, and his coat flapped violently, he leaned his head back and outstretched his arms to either side. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. And then, as quickly and silently as the night, he was gone.

Post-Shower Thoughts

He stood at the sink, staring at the faucet for several quiet moments. Without thinking, he turned on the cold water and splashed his face a few times. The water was icy, and it stung his cheeks. He turned the faucet back off and shook the water from his hands. Drops trailed down his face and off his nose and closed eyelids. He took a deep breath and looked into the mirror. It was time to face his reflection.

The man who stared back at him was only vaguely familiar. The features were the ones he remembered; the deep eyes, the high cheekbones, the dimpled chin. Those things were the same, but something about it looked like someone he had never seen before, on an existential level.

It amazed him that the face can stay the same, but the person behind the image can be so different from who he once knew; it was especially surprising considering he was looking at himself, and had such a hard time identifying the man he saw. He looked into his own eyes, searching desperately for the person he felt he should be, the man he thought he was. The eyes that looked back were dead, cold, and empty.

He wasn’t sure where he went wrong. Or, for that matter, if he had actually screwed up in the first place. Things were just sideways, and he didn’t know why. He had done what he had thought was right. He tried to be good to people, he tried not to interfere where he didn’t belong, and he struggled constantly with always making the best decision. But it seemed as though his efforts had been all for nothing. His life was in shambles, and perhaps so was his soul.

His mind drifted slightly to matters somewhat adjacent. He thought of his friends. Several in particular. He wasn’t sure what to do with them anymore. Things had happened, things he’d rather not think about, and now the relationships were strained at best. These people he had been so close with, that he had confided in and who had confided in him, were distant and closed off. They pretended that everything was fine, but he could tell that everyone noticed it. No one was oblivious to the rift, this schism in the group.

He knew it wasn’t all them, though. He knew he wasn’t the same. He knew that, unbeknownst to him, he had undergone a metamorphosis and become this thing that stood in the mirror. It burned him inside, the shame of knowing he should be a better man, but he had no idea how. He felt like there was something wrong with him, but he didn’t know what it was or how to fix it. He didn’t quite feel completely human…whatever that might be.

Maybe this was exactly what it meant to be human. Maybe the essence of man boiled down to a state of total confusion. At least in part.

Perhaps it was simply his age. Maybe he wasn’t old enough or wise enough or experienced enough to handle his circumstances properly. They say youth is wasted on the young; maybe this is what they mean by that.

He wished he knew how to fix things. He wished he knew what needed to be fixed. He wished his problems were much less…cerebral, and much more, well, real. If he were hungry, he could deal with that. If someone were injured, he could handle that. But this personal, emotional, social garbage…man, was he lost. Was everyone else this lost? Or was he the idiot in the masses?

He reached for the towel and dried his face. He had to get to work, so it looked like he was going to have to figure all this out on the fly. Joy.

Children of Forgotten Gods

The dwarves, the children of stone, loved the stone and the riches they yielded. They toiled and sweat, straining gems and metals from the mountains, and they were content.

The elves, children of the earth, sons and daughters of the forests, loved the trees and the life found beneath them. They ran with the fauna and rested with the flora, they danced beneath the boughs, and meandered along the fields with grace and beauty, and they were content.

The men, the children of the gods, loved knowledge, exploration, and adventure. They loved to live, but somehow their love of such rich things had twisted and tangled itself seemingly beyond repair. Their love of life turned into a habit of taking and destroying it. Their love of knowledge morphed into a thirst for hidden truth and secrets best left alone. Their love of adventure changed into a desire to crush the dreams and aspirations of their kin.

Like their gods before them, the fell victim to their own curiosity, growing further and further apart, even as their accomplishments and feats seemed to bring them ever closer together. The flame of their communal nature was slowly starved, being steadily snuffed out by their growing, cancerous lusts.

The race of men was a tragic one. Their lives were short, compared to those of their elven and dwarven brethren. Their race was a young one as well, having risen up in more recent times, while the elder two had been walking the earth longer than time could even remember. Perhaps, in days long since forgotten, the elves and the dwarves had stumbled through similar such sins and learned from their mistakes. However, time was no friend to humankind, as they had but a few short years to experience all that life had to show them.

Perhaps it was for this reason that they lived so furiously. Perhaps it was because of this that they yearned to explore the world as they did, and chased after knowledge and adventure. Perhaps it was the very nature of their short lives that taught them to live while they were yet alive, and to cherish every moment. Even with all their sins, this innocent aspect of their true nature remained mostly intact; in fact, it was possibly their greatest trait.

And so they were never content, because they inherently knew that contentment was not the goal. The goal was to live, and to find all that this life had to offer; the good, the bad, the dark, the light, and all the moments in between.

Anatomy Of An Engram

Music holds a very special place in my memory. When a song plays, moments in my life flash before the foreground of my mind, unbidden and unbridled. Today has been a day of musical memories.

It all started with “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones. It came across the airwaves and brought me back to the day of my father’s wake. It will forever be burned into my mind.

My dad’s favorite movie was The Big Chill. It’s about a funeral, and the reunion of the friends that attend. In it, that song plays, and my old man had told me my whole life that when he died, he wanted us to play it at his funeral. So as I organized the songs for the wake, that one was the first one on the list.

Before everything started, I took a moment to see see his body by myself. I needed to be sure I could compose myself before I went through the rest of this day; I figured the easiest way to do that was to get my emotions out of the way right off the bat. I stood there as Kieth Richards serenaded me with those opening chords, staring down at my dad’s lifeless body. I placed my hand on his chest. He was cold and stiff, almost like he wasn’t real. It was then that I realized that this body no longer contained my old man. It was simply a collection of bones and tendons that somehow used to hold the entirety of the man I once knew.

My thoughts returned to me, and my day carried on. Later, I heard “When The Time Comes” by the Classic Crime. It carried me back to a moment from that same day. My baby sister didn’t want to see our dad’s body. She refused to go up to the casket with the family for the whole day, knowing that it would be the hardest thing she had ever done in her short fifteen years so far.

She came up to me when everyone had left and it was just us at the funeral home. She slipped under my arm and hugged me close.

“Joshua, I want to see dad, but I just want you there with me. Will you go see him with me?”

I blinked away tears, trying to be strong in this difficult time for her.

“Of course, little one. Let’s go.”

We held hands as we slowly made our way to the front of the visitation room, and that song began to play. It was perfect. It’s a quiet song, one that talks about the loss, confusion, and pain that unfortunately accompany love. We reached the casket, and my sister burst into silent tears, hugging me once more, even tighter than before, he little body shaking as she attempted to hold herself together. We stood there until the song faded out. She reached out and touched his cold face, breaking into tears anew. It was heartbreaking to see, but at the same time…it was one of the most tender moments I have ever experienced. In those short three and a half minutes, we shared something special that no one else will ever know or understand, something special and unique that will forever be just between her and I.

I returned to today with a sigh as the memory gave me one last kiss and left me with my mixed emotions.

And then, I heard bagpipes in the distance. Don’t ask me from where, or why someone was playing bagpipes at 8:30 at night, but there I was once more, burying my father in my mind.

My dad was in the Marine Corps, and so when we finally laid him to rest, the Marines sent out several men to perform a flag ceremony and play Amazing Grace on the bagpipes. That, by far, is the hardest, most intense, most emotional ten minutes of my life. Nothing will ever hit me like that again. It destroyed me. Those sweet notes sounded strong and tender as the casket was lowered into the ground, and the freshly folded flag was presented to my family.

I do not cry. At all. Freaking ever. But that day, as Amazing Grace hit me like a ton of bricks, every hair on my body stood on end as if at attention, and I bawled like a newborn baby. My heart shattered, and if I had not been sitting down already, I would have collapsed to my knees from the weight of it. I tried to look away. I tried to close my eyes and shut out the sound, but my body straight refused the commands my brain was giving. My heart sped up and slowed down, my breathing stopped entirely for what seemed like an eternity.

And then, as the echos of the music bounded away, it was over. He was in the ground. It was final. It was over. It was real. This was no show, this was no test. I and my family were short a very important member. Our team captain was down for the count, and we were never the same.

And here I am at the end of this walk down memory lane, left with some weird mess of memories and moments parading through my mind’s eye, making me relive those life-altering two days. Later that week, I turned twenty-one. I had my first legal drink without him, and with every drink I’ve had since then, I’ve been confronted with one very important piece of information: Life Goes On.

It is vital to remember these things together. Remember what happened. Remember where you’ve been. And just as importantly, remember that life graciously doe not leave you in your most painful moments. Time moves on, and therefore, so should we.