The Promise of Life
You open your eyes and see blue sky. You find this odd, because the last thing you remember was drinking a mixture of oxycontin and vodka and laying in a full steaming tub. Your eyes fluttered closed and you assumed you drowned as planned.
You sit up and look around. You are on a blue checked blanket in the middle of a huge green lawn in the center of a park. Past the trees, the city beckons, but all around you is leafy green. Happy children play some distance away. A middle-aged man in a plaid shirt and jeans sits in a picnic chair next to your blanket.
“Hello,” the man says. He speaks with a slight British accent. “You’re probably wondering where you are?”
“I’m dead aren’t I?” you ask.
“I’m afraid so,” he says. You nod. Your concoction and the water worked as planned.
“Does this mean you’re God and this is heaven?”
“Goodness no,” the man says, chuckling. “More like tech support. This is a simulated construct designed to relax you.”
“Hmm,” you mutter, sad feelings creeping back in. “I was hoping for nothing. I just killed myself.”
“Yes,” the man says, frowning. “We rather wanted to speak to you about that. We’re wondering what went wrong?”
You’re surprised at this question. “What went wrong where? With my life?”
“Yes,” the man says, “quite. You see, we specialize in creating compelling simulated life experiences for our clients. This is one of them,” he says, gesturing around the park. “Most people find their lives satisfying, if not wholly enjoyable all the time. Others find life tolerable even if they don’t enjoy most of it. Only a small number hate their lives so much they kill themselves. We want to know why.”
You slide your bare feet up so you can hug your legs. Your toes play in the blades of grass and dig into the dirt. You scoop up a ladybug from the grass and hold it in your hand before it flies away.
“This is a nice simulation,” you say. “Maybe if my life had been like this all the time I wouldn’t have done it.”
“Life can’t always be a perfect day in the park,” the man says. “Is that why you did it? Is this how you thought life should be? Sunny blue skies and children playing all the time?”
“You frown a bit, thinking back. The feelings are still there, but are more like longings remembered than freshly experienced. But they ache dully still.
“I guess I did it because of emptiness,” you say. “After he left I just felt so lonely and hopeless. I had been unhappy for so long I just didn’t think I’d ever feel good again.”
“You never felt happy those last few years,” the man asked. “Ever?”
“Oh I felt happy at times,” you say. “But it was more like suggestions of happiness. Glimpses of what I used to feel. And inevitably every time I did feel good, things would immediately turn to shit. No matter how hard I tried, I could never quite get back.”
The man sighs and nods. “I understand completely,” he says.
“Yes,” he says, “you were living a life without joy. Pleasure and pain, happiness and sadness, most emotions really all are two sides of the same coin. They are often commingled with each other and turn into each other quite quickly. But that’s not where the true satisfaction in life comes from.”
“No,” the man says, “the real satisfaction in life is learning to enjoy it no matter what happens. Contentment is learning to love your experience and yourself when things are going well and when you are miserable. Pleasure and pain are fleeting. Joy and love can be present no matter what emotion you’re feeling. You can be dying of agonizing cancer or freezing to death in a snowstorm and still love life. You can feel joy and misery at the same time.”
“I guess so,” you say. “I mean I understand that on an intellectual level but I never really felt that. When I was happy I was up and everything was fine. When I was down, life sucked.”
“I know,” the man says, sighing a bit. “I’ve sent you back dozens of times and at the end of every life you wind up dead at your own hands. It makes no difference if you’re rich or poor, black or white, male or female, loved or unloved — you always end your own life. I’m struggling to understand why.”
“I guess I just never really experienced what you’re talking about,” you say. “I don’t find life enjoyable if it’s not enjoyable.”
“I’ve left so many clues, so many hints,” he says, “so many paths to the right solution. But every time you lead yourself down the wrong path.”
“You seem frustrated,” you say. “I’m sorry.”
“Yes,” he says, “frustrated and confused. I can’t seem to find a solution to this dilemma.”
You nod, understanding his feelings. You felt the same in life. Eternally frustrated and confused, never quite knowing the right thing to do to make it right. Never knowing how to get back on the right track. You think for a minute and then look at the man.
“You’re not really tech support are you?”
“No,” the man says, his forehead wrinkles a bit.
“And there are no clients…”
“No,” he says, a twinkle in his eye.
“You’re God aren’t you?”
The man smiles and laughs softly. “Well I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a god. A bit presumptuous, yes?”
“But you created all this?” you ask.
The man smiles more broadly. “You always were too smart for your own good. You know that incisive mind can be a liability, especially when you spend so much time trying to figure yourself out rather than just living your life.”
You bristle a bit. “You know, that’s how your world feels sometimes. Like a never ending lecture on the right way to do things. Preachy. You might lighten up on the religion.”
You nod and smile contentedly. It feels good to tell off God.
The man shrugs. “The lessons and underlying truth are mine,” he says, “the religion on top of it is solely mankind’s I’m afraid. Other animals seem to get it just fine. Dogs perhaps too well. But only man needs to question their purpose and their existence constantly.”
“You made us,” you say.
“I did indeed.”
The man holds up his hands and gestures to the park. “Why do painters paint? Why do writers write?” he asks. “I have something inside myself I need to get out and express.”
“I thought maybe it was just because you’re bored.”
“Interesting,” he says, leaning closer. “Why would you think that?”
“Well,” you say, “I always figured if I had the power to do everything, I’d spend the first couple of million years exercising all those abilities and exploring life, but eventually having ultimate power would get old. Where’s the challenge when you can just think a thought and all your problems are solved? It would get boring. So you created life to challenge you, to keep you from getting bored.”
“Perhaps,” the man says smirking a bit, “you might consider that you are boring waiting to happen.”
“How do you mean?”
“In all the world, all the things to do, all the places to go, all the things to see all the books to read…all the people to meet, learn about, make love to, hate, make up with, whatever…if somewhere in all that potential experience you find yourself bored I would suggest that the problem is one of self-infliction rather than affection.”
“Oh, yeah, I get it. Looking for boring…”
“…rather than looking for the magic,” he says.
“Yes, I do that.”
“I know,” he says. “It’s one of my niggling conundrums.”
“Don’t be,” he says patting you on the arm. “We all need challenges right?”
You nod. “So what now?” you ask. “Do I go back again?”
“Do you want to go back again?” he asks. “You don’t seem to like it much.”
You shrug. “What’s the alternative? Stay here with you?”
The man smiles like a loving parent. “I’m afraid that’s not possible,” he says. “it back to life or total extinction. The latter you know — full of pleasure and pain and everything in between. The former is without sensation or emotion and is permanent. You would simply cease to be. Is that what you want?”
“I don’t know. I mean I guess that’s what I wanted before. But if there’s a chance to go back and try again, maybe I’d give it a shot. I killed myself because I felt like it was hopeless. Another chance is hope. I need hope.”
“As you wish,” he says. He is looking at you expectantly.
“Is there something you want?”
“I love you and I really want you to find joy in your life,” he says. “It’s actually quite important to me.” He pauses and places a reassuring hand on your arm. “You are quite important to me. Promise me you won’t kill yourself again.”
You blink a few times as the realization hits you. God cares about you. You individually. He loves you and wants you to be happy. You feel a warm center to your universe that you never experienced before. You wonder if, during your darkest times, that will be enough to carry you through.
He answers your un-asked question. “It will be enough if you want it to be enough.”
You smile and feel the first stirrings of something. Perhaps not happiness, but maybe a little bit of joy. And love.
“I think I’m ready…I’m ready to go back now and try again.”
“And your promise?”
“Yes, I promise.”
You just made a promise to God.
You wonder what happens if you break that one.
God smiles on you and winks. And back you go for another try.