Ghost Stories #4: James
Below is a piece of fiction I wrote when I was living in Bogotá in 2014. It was very much inspired by Dave Eggers’ Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?, which I’d just finished reading when I wrote it.
Eggers’ book was written all in dialogue. And I remember wanting to write my own dialogue, too. I didn’t care if it was imitative or anything. And since I’m sharing it here again, I guess I still don’t. In any case, I do think it’s important to at least give credit where it’s due.
The story came to mind while I was editing something earlier this week. So I tracked it down in an old file on my computer, and it surprised me.
Our memories of ourselves, I have found, are very different from those actual past selves. I wrote this story when I was at my most atheist. And yet, it speaks to many of the same “God”-oriented things I think and write about today, which I’d thought, up until this week, were very different from the things I used to think and write about.
There were a few differences. Ideas that I now see as clichéd and couldn’t help but roll my eyes at. They made me cringe enough when I reread them that I couldn’t resist making some edits. But for the most part, the story is now as it was then: Man is mad at God.
One more thing: The story was also inspired by my even younger self’s repeat watchings of Inside the Actors Studio, where James Lipton always asked his guests in closing: “If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?” My answer was always, “I’m sorry.” (This has changed some, but I do still relate.) Anyway, hence the first few lines of dialogue.
—You know well what.
—I’m not who you think I am.
—Then who are you?
—I’m sort of an assistant.
—Yes. We don’t really call it that here. But we’ve learned over the years to adapt to your ways. It’s the only way to move the process along. Do you know where you are?
—Yes. I mean, I think I do.
—Good. And do you know how you got here?
—Why didn’t you just give them your phone?
—Because I don’t have a phone. I didn’t have a phone. Shouldn’t you know that?
—We have access to all things. But we don’t necessarily know them all.
—I see. So you’re no different from us then? That explains a lot.
—Ha. No. We’re very different. Your capabilities for understanding things are extremely limited. Only you don’t see that because your capabilities for understanding things are extremely limited.
—I think I do see that actually.
—Well, you see some semblance of it, sure. But what you don’t understand is that you don’t even know how to see. You don’t even know what that means. You’re so caught up in the self that you think your thoughts are separate and unique. But they’re not. You’re a part of something much larger than you could ever, ever begin to imagine. You’re a part of Him.
—Yes. Again, we don’t actually call Him that here. And He is not merely a Him, or a Her, or anything you could fathom. But you call Him Him, so we call Him Him. Again, speeds things along.
—What did you call Him before?
—Many things. The Forests. The Oceans. The Mountains. The Sun. He is Everything. He is even a he and a she and a rhino wandering the plains. But the key distinction is that He is every he and she and rhino. He is every tree in every forest and every drop of water in every ocean. He is every molecule in the air. Every beam of light bursting from every sun. Every seed. Every egg. Every small wailing life emerging from water.
—And what are you?
—I told you. I’m His assistant. You’re welcome to call me James if you think that might help.
—No offense, James. But I don’t understand why something that is Everything would need an assistant. Seems kind of unnecessary, don’t you think?
—I know you don’t understand. I’m here to help you gain an understanding, of this and other things.
—Yes. There are certain things, concepts you need to begin to understand before Proceeding.
—What if I told you that I don’t want to Proceed? What if I told you I want only nothingness? What if I told you that there are things about me, concepts about me and my life, and about so many others and their lives, that I think He needs to begin to understand? What if I told you and Him that I think you’re failures? What if I told you that there’s a disappointment and anger that has been growing in me and pulsing in my heart since I can remember? What if I told you that these things were and are more present in me than He has ever been?
—I know these things already. And He knows these things already. Because He is you and your life. He is all the yous and your lives. He is your anger and sadness and disillusionment. You live in His light and His reflection. You feel what you feel because He feels what He feels. Imagine His disappointment with you. Consider how let down you are by some of the others and, even more so, yeah, by yourself. Now, imagine if you could observe all of this in its intricate entirety over thousands of years. Imagine if you created it and then watched it all unfold. Imagine watching it fall apart. Imagine watching it be squandered again and again by your own children. Imagine how it would feel.
—It would feel exactly how you felt. But billions and trillions of times over. Despite all you’ve been told, He is not an authority. He does not punish. He only exists and loves and hurts. He experienced all that you experienced. And what you experienced was really only a tiny fragment of a fragment of a fragment of the totality of what He experienced. You have no idea. You are ill-equipped.
—No doubt. But He’s the one who made me so ill-equipped. You just said it. I’m His light. I’m His reflection. Why replicate something or someone so ill-equipped and inferior? To entertain? To amuse?
—You’re not following me. He didn’t make you. He had nothing to do with you. He made existence in the form of Himself. Existence eventually led to human existence. And human existence led to all the ways in which things have gone wrong. This includes you. You were created by a flawed existence, born into a flawed existence, and you yourself were a flawed existence. Only there never was a you or yourself. “You” and “Yourself” were only a small part of Him.
—Well, if my parents were flawed and got it wrong, and their parents were flawed and got it wrong, and we were all just small parts of Him, then He’s the one who got it wrong. He’s the one who fucked this whole thing up. And He did create us. By His lack of accountability He created us. And we’re right back where we started. With me and others like me wanting answers. And Him hiding out somewhere, as always, absent and invisible, and leaving it up to us to figure things out. Us. His ill-equipped. Who are really just the small ill-equipped parts of Himself. Therefore making Him wholly ill-equipped. And therefore making all of us inherently doomed.
—Yes. Short of the inherently doomed part, all of this is true.
—If the rest is true then the inherently doomed part is also true.
—But there’s one thing you’re not considering. One crucial thing.
—He gave you light. But He did not attempt to dictate or influence the ways in which you cast your light.
—Okay. Stop. My life was little more than (1) trips to bathrooms and grocery stores, (2) insufferable self-analysis, and (3) sifting through cryptic bullshit. So please, don’t feed me any more of number three. Be fucking straight with me.
—He did not control your actions. You were at the wheel. You steered yourselves off the cliff. Separately and individually you were flawed. But there is nothing inherently wrong with being flawed. What was needed for you to flourish was to come together, to bring the broken and flawed pieces of Him that you call “selves” together to form one divine and beautiful whole. You did the opposite. You created divisions. Borders. Classes. Colors. Battles. Wars. You did away with love and replaced it with barriers and bitter disputes. You exploited fear and tribalism. In doing so, Everything and Everyone except those things and ones exactly like you became an adversary. But you were also a part of Everything and Everyone. So you became an adversary, too. But because you were so self-absorbed, you saw yourself as an adversary only to yourself. It was all about you. Even when you did things for others it was still all really about you, wasn’t it? You splintered, when all you really needed to do was stick together and love each other. You invented religion. You invented religious conflict. You invented all styles of conflict. You burned the whole thing down, man! And in doing so you broke His heart. You broke His arms and His legs. You broke Everything. You. You did it. You.
—Not all of us did the things you said. I loved. My heart was open to the joys and plights of every living thing. I did my best, at least. I fought hard to keep my thoughts kind and empathetic, despite all my sadness and frustration and rage. When I found myself deviating from what I thought was true, I trudged through layers and layers of struggle and torment in an effort to get back on track. I was not a saint. But I tried. Over and over again. I tried to do the right thing.
—Yes. But you did this alone. You did this from solitary apartments and corner seats in coffee shops in whatever faraway cities would have you. You hungered for others and denied this hunger because you felt more comfortable alone. You mistook comfort for reason. You convinced yourself that thoughts of kindness and empathy were the same as the real thing.
—What’s more real than thought?
—Everything. Which you broke away from. And which you therefore also broke apart. Selfishly. So you could feel more comfortable.
—Look. I know it’s a lot to absorb. And I know you thought you were doing the right thing. I know you thought you were increasing your capacity for love by positioning yourself at a distance and insulating yourself. And in some ways, that’s exactly what you did. But in the one way that mattered, all you really did was take the easy way out. You stayed alone to the detriment of Him. You created a situation in which you were able to generate a rich flow of kindness and empathy and love. This was spot on. But your downfall was that you’d also created a situation in which you were only able to produce these things alone. You stockpiled more than you needed. And this became the greatest source of your sadness and frustration and rage. Your anguish. And your anguish is what negated your kindness and empathy and love. Yes, you kept all three things flowing. But because of the limitations of the situation you’d created, that flow ceased every time you left your aloneness. Yes, you made these things. But then you just sat with them until they starved. With no one else there to receive them, that was always their fate. To starve. And then as you left your solitude you felt starved, too. You felt a loss. A deficit. And in came the anguish. And that’s what you carried out the door with you. Your anguish is what you gave out. It’s what you contributed to Everything. And it’s what you got back.
—So what happens now?
—Now? Now you go back. You try again. You get yourself a phone. You go out and you make some friends. You call them on your new phone and answer when they call you. You get close to people. You let them get close to you. You be there for them whenever they need you. You let it hurt whenever it has to.
—You begin again as a bright new light. You know “yourself” enough to forget about yourself and just be this light. You know to take care of this light. You know to nurture it. You know to act as a conduit for it. You know this. And you know it with all you’ve got because you sure as shit aren’t going to remember it. You aren’t going to remember anything. But never mind that. Because you know it already. Okay? Deep down, you know Everything already. You know Everything already and you always have. Okay?
—You are His light. And you are the only thing that stands in the way of His light. And you know this already.
—You know this already.
WOW!! an amazing piece of fiction... Are you his light, Brian?? moonhugs from me, Carol g.