An Old Barn

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On County Road 7, about three miles south of Clearwater, on the right side of the road just past 1000 East, there is a barn. To be accurate, it is no longer quite a barn. The roof collapsed long ago. Two of the walls have fallen in. Mostly it is splintered wood and debris.

It stood once. Even then its wood was aged and faded. Inside was dark and dusty and smelled of the remembrance of livestock and hay. Shafts of sunlight sometimes pierced through cracks and holes unto narrow passages of rough ground, shimmering on ropes tied onto a slat at one end and frayed at the other, on misshapen metal in corners and hanging from posts.

Before that, even, it might have been different. But how is one to know? Goats and pigs and chickens in the stalls, maybe. A small tractor parked inside, or a workshop in a corner. Daily chores, probably. Was there once a boy hiding away in the loft with sullen thoughts? Or was it with bright daydreams? Let’s say a man visited in early morning or on all mornings. Was he struggling, striving, or thriving? He had a face, most likely. Was it worried, carefree, or just tired? Imagine an accident there or a muttered conversation or a rendezvous or a workaday repetition of actions or a thing that happened because such things happened at such a time. Whichever seems pleasing. Or none at all. How is one to know?

Now cars pass daily in a steady stream. They see the fallen heap, possibly, the rotten boards and sagging remnant. If they do not, who can blame them? It is a pile of trash along a busy road, and it is not their destination.

It needs removed. Finish the demolition, gather the pieces, and dump it somewhere. What was is no longer.

Perhaps in a year or two on County Road 7 south of Clearwater just past 1000 East there’ll stand a solid brown residence, two stories tall with a three-car garage and a swimming pool out back. No one will ask what was there before. No one will wonder and no one will care. And a driver, if he notices the new house, can comment on the well-kept landscaping. Neither boy nor man will enter his thoughts, neither livestock nor machinery, neither whiff of manure nor snatch of yesterday. He will continue on, unimpeded.

Then, one day, when the bypass is finally completed, he may cease to travel the road at all.

Choose Wisely

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The crystal blade waited for him.

Andros did not know if this were dream or reality. He climbed the steps of the platform. The sword emitted a faint glow, the only light in the cavern except for a gray haze as if the moon looked in through a window far, far above. The sword sat upon an altar. It called to him. He lifted it. In his hand, it seemed to become an extension of his body. He swung it. It cut the air with a silver whisper.

“You have been chosen.”

Andros turned. Below, a hooded figure waited. “Who are you?” he asked.

“I am the Doorkeeper. You could not have come here unless the sword had chosen you. You must have many questions, but time is short. The space between realms is thin here, and you are needed. Beyond the door you will find your people are in great need. Go to them.”

“Which door?”

“The door that was hidden and is now revealed.”

“Which one?”

“The door that was not there before. The magic one.”

“But which one?”

The Doorkeeper looked over his shoulder. Twelve doors stood unsupported in a line behind him. “Oh bother.” He rubbed his shadowed face. “There was only suppose to be the one.” He reached into one of his voluminous sleeves and pulled out a scroll. He opened it and ran his fingers down the rows.  “Let’s see…the farmboy on the seventh day of the seventh month…. Are you an orphan?”

“No,” Andros answered.

“How many brothers and sisters?”

“I’m the youngest of three. My two brothers died in the king’s war.”

“Youngest…here we are…wait…maybe…. Are you of royal blood?”

Andros frowned. “No.”

“…not yet aware of…. Yes. Here it is. The metal one is yours.” The robed figure examined the doors. “That one, third from the end. Now, enter through it–and begin your quest!”

Andros stepped toward the door then stopped. “But what of the other doors?”

“They don’t concern you.”

“Where do they lead?”

“Other lands. Other planets. Other spaces. None of your concern.” He drew himself up. “Now enter your destiny!”

“Are there other people behind those doors?”

“What? Yes, of course. What else would there be? Well, for except this one.” The Doorkeeper tapped a rune-covered stone set in a rough frame. “This one leads to a mostly dead world. Just some mutant scavengers and lots of nasty creatures. That one needs brought to life. The Wellspring needs unplugged.”

Andros stared at the runes, considering solemnly. “I will go and unplug it.”

“No, no, no!” The Doorkeeper waved his arms. “That’s not your quest. Yours is behind this door. It’s a nice solid door. Behind it is a harrowing journey. You’ll learn how little separates you from your worst enemy. And other such lessons. Very edifying. Now go, go on! We’ve wasted enough time.” He pointed and declared, “Go, young savior!”

“But what about the dead world?”

“Someone will come along.”

“Are you certain?”

“Fairly certain.”

“Fairly certain?”

The Doorkeeper shrugged. “Prophecy’s more an art than a science. And sometimes the Wrong One wins.”

“Which is most urgent?” Andros demanded.

“Oh, your door, definitely. Ominous rumblings. Sign and portents everywhere. It’s all quite on the brink.”

“And the other doors?”

“What other doors?” the Doorkeeper asked innocently.

“Are any of their fates in the balance?”

“Well….”

“Yes?”

“That airlock there? Yeah, the real future-y one. It’s getting a tad desperate. The sun’ll go supernova soon, and the insane wildcard is pretty darn close to unlocking the secret to harnessing cosmic power. But that’s not really your kind of place. You’d be very fish out of water.”

“Is there a man destined for that quest?”

“Oh, yeah, absolutely.”

“Where is he?”

“He’ll be around.”

“When?”

“Um, soon? I’m not sure exactly, to be honest. Last I knew, there’d been some drinking and some dice and this woman…. He’s just a little sidetracked. He’ll come around.”

“I’ll go in his place.”

The Doorkeeper pushed back his hood, revealing a pale bald bespectacled head. “No. Absolutely not. What is it with you? Just go through the door already! We’re way past mysterious beginnings. Look, I know you’re trying to be heroic. That’s why you were chosen. But you weren’t supposed to see the other doors, right? You aren’t even supposed to know other worlds exist. That’s not your place.”

“Why not? Can I not aid them?”

“Why not?” The man gripped his scalp, exasperated. “Do you want to see the backlog we have here?” He pulled out a scroll, then another, then a thin rectangular disk, then a crystal, then a tapestry that floated in the air. “Here you go. All the upcoming cataclysms, upheavals, and end-of-an-age events. The ones we know about, anyway. You want to save them all? Do you?” He softened suddenly. “Look, you have a lot ahead of you. Raising that army and discovering your latent abilities is going to take all your concentration. You can’t afford to be distracted by an invasion of undying sentient avians in some corner of the cosmos you didn’t know existed five minutes ago. You need to focus on what you’ve been given. Slay your own dragon. Understand?”

Andros looked him in the eye. Slowly, he nodded. “I understand. My path is my own.”

“Yes! Yes! Now you’ve got it.”

Suddenly, they heard footsteps. A man in strange, disheveled clothes stumbled in, supported by a tall, half-clad woman. “We must have made a wrong turn,” he muttered. “Oh, my head.”

“Maybe if we–”

“I just need to lie down. I shouldn’t have had that seventh glass. That, that’s my room, I’m certain.”

They opened the metal door and walked through. The portal blinked out of existence.

The Doorkeeper and Andros stared at the empty space.

“Well,” the Doorkeeper said slowly, putting his arm around Andros, “let me give you a quick history of the hyperdrive….”

Images of Light

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They came not in ships but in beams of light. Creatures of many eyes, their forms wavered insubstantial before us. They did not speak but when one of their eyes, a film of colored photons, a mere hologram projected across the expanse of space, touched us, we saw–landscapes and constellations, caves of crystal and deserts of blue sand, twisted plants and writhing phosphorescence.

They were like Ezekiel’s vision, appalling and fascinating and unearthly.

They must be advanced, to have come so far, to have seen such things. They peered at us patiently and we turned our efforts to teaching them our language, certain we could not comprehend theirs. We began with the alphabet. We showed them A and they touched us–a mountain peak against an orange sky, a violet streak of sunset stretched against calm waters. We spoke the sound, ah, and they stared at us.

We continued with B. The touch came, the shiver of light upon flesh–a single cloud in a green-tinged sky, a creature fat and lazy nursing its young, two rocks stacked one upon another. We spoke the sound, bee, and their many eyes stared unblinkingly.

Through all 26 symbols we continued, our wide smiles and exaggerated gestures veiling our dwindling confidence. We could not help but think these celestial beings were like children on the first day of school who looked uncomprehendingly at the big bold letters that ran the border of the room and at the hieroglyphs of their own name printed and taped onto their desk and understood nothing.

But, no, the aliens were processing our feeble language in their condescension, we told ourselves. Or, at worst, they struggled to imitate a method of verbalization so foreign to their own, like Americans learning the Bushmen’s clicks.

We signed to them to speak in their own tongue, or if they had no tongue (for we had yet to locate their mouths), then in their own way, whether by whistle or gesture or an intricate Morse code of blinks and winks.

They stared at us with hundreds of eyes, and made no sound we could detect, even with our instruments, and no patterns we could determine by man or machine.

In all our striving they answered or asked (we could not tell) image after image–a torn body, a hole in soft sand, a bird (or something like it) upon the water, their people harvesting crystals with crude tools, a sky full of stars, a great mob of aliens like a soup of eyes, the closing of the eyes and the reopening like birth or revelation or morning, our own forms as seen by them, and so on. Perhaps these were their speech, and not merely images of their experiences, but with what meaning, we did not know.

Then, realizing that we must show what our language was, just as they had attempted to show us theirs, we led them to the library. Here were words, millions of words, so that they could not be taken as unique creations but as plentiful and purposeful. We opened book after book before them, pointing out the letters and the words, showing how they repeated, speaking them out in repetition as to infants, hoping to form a Rosetta stone for these advanced beings. We found the word book and pointed to the book. We found man and chair and alien and did the same.

After long hours, when we pointed to the word, all we were shown in return was an image of the letters themselves: b-o-o-k and m-a-n and c-h-a-i-r.

With the setting of the sun and the rising of the moon, the visitors’ forms shifted and shook. The connection (the innate ability?) that brought them weakened.

They were aliens and had seen much. They could insinuate a hundred associations with a powerful remembrance but they could not say one thing definite, which we all understood the same.

And so they faded away, and my brain is full of wonders and vision, but what can I say? I know nothing for sure. I have tried here to record what I saw, to put into language what was merely sight. I am left with dreams but nothing to grasp, with possibilities but not a single fact. They came from the stars in beams of light that shone with brilliancy and cast nothing but shadows.

In Search of Flying Squirrels

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“Does everyone have an axe?”

It was not a question Tony had expected to hear when he agreed to visit his fiancee’s aunt and uncle over the weekend. Last time he had held an axe was at a Renaissance Festival.

“I think I have another in the garage,” said Joy’s uncle Paul. He ran off to fetch it.

The older man who had been invited to lead this expedition, Ronny, looked at the trees bordering the lawn. “So you’ve never seen any flying squirrels ’round here?”

Joy’s cousin Eric answered. “Not that I know of.”

Paul returned and handed Tony the axe. Then Ronny led the five of them, Tony, Joy, Paul, Eric, and Eric’s friend Chris into the woods. Joy’s aunt had decided to stay home and cook dinner.

“What we’re looking for is any tree with a hole in it,” Ronny said over the crunching of dead leaves. “Like this here.”

He stopped before a big, smooth-barked tree. Tony had never been able to name different trees. Halfway up was a dark hole. Ronny gripped his axe tight, pulled back, and hammered the trunk with the blunt side of the head. The wooden shock rang out three times. Ronny studied the hole. “It’ll come jumping out after a few whacks if it’s in there. You gotta watch carefully and see where it goes. I’ve followed one halfway up a mountain before I snagged it.”

Chris raised the net he carried triumphantly. He’d never been flying squirrel hunting before. None of them had.

Ronny stomped deeper into the forest, examining each tree. “Here’s another. Someone else try.”

Paul knocked the trunk four times. He’d been the one who’d invited Ronny.

“No luck,” Ronny said. “These are exactly the type of trees you’ll find them in. I bet we find one. Just takes some time. Fan out.”

Tony started forward uncertainly, Joy following him. The land sloped downward. Soon, when Tony looked back, he could not see the house. The cool autumn air gave a crispness to the woods. There was little undergrowth, just trees rising from the orange and brown carpet of leaves. The branches above were bare, with an ashen sky enveloping them.

“How about this one?” Joy said.

Tony looked up. It seemed a good specimen. “Just smack it, huh?”

“I guess.”

Tony swung the metal head hard against the trunk, feeling the impact in his arms, two, three, four, five times. Nothing. He looked at Joy, shrugged, and continued on.

It was silent except for the swish of their feet and the occasional thud-thud resounding through the woods. Tony could see the others wandering slowly downward, tiny amid the trees and expanse of land, drawn forward by the expectation of a grey rodent shooting out of a hole.

Eventually, the several groups meandered back into a loose formation. Ronny led, smacking away now and then, staring upward and shaking his head.

At the slope’s bottom was a dry stream that etched a deep path through the flat land. Tony remembered his grandparents’ cabin. They had sold it when he was eight or nine. He used to follow the creek, wading in and out of the water, trying to jump across at the narrowest sections or crawl across a fallen log. He jumped down into the streambed, where water had uncovered smoothed rocks. He followed it as the others continued on, Joy talking with her cousin.

Tony had left his phone back at the house. He didn’t know how long they’d been out. Most of the others were walking up the opposite slope now. He climbed out of the stream and angled toward them.

He ascended the height still some distance from them. Nearby was a beaten trail and two junk cars rusting peacefully like lost relics. Tony beat a tree and watched the hole, not expecting much. He didn’t hear the others pounding often.

By the time he reached them, they had reached the edge of someone’s property. Tony could see the back of a house and hear a car on a road somewhere beyond. “These woods are perfect for flying squirrels,” Ronny was saying. “Sometimes it’s like that, you strike out, but it’s the right kinda trees.”

Paul pointed the way back to his house, and they started the return journey. The wind was rising a bit, and Tony was getting hungry.

“Sorry we didn’t find any squirrels,” Joy said. She smiled a bit, like she didn’t think there were any.

Tony just nodded. He didn’t want to talk. It was quiet in the forest. He let Joy go ahead and he followed, surrounded by trees and leaves and slow hills, and hoped the way back was not too short.

Monday Musings: The Rest We Need

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It’s been a busy couple weeks. I’ve spent most of a week at a youth conference, being on, and when I returned, I had a week of meetings and catch-up and generally busy family life. I needed some extra sleep, some space, some downtime. But there is something more I needed.

It was last Saturday night and I had some time. I started a game of Myst V for the first time. There is something about exploring deserted worlds filled with enigmatic machinery that excites my imagination. I ended my session playing feeling lighter. Maybe it was just the free time and the new entertainment that lifted the burden, but I think it was more.

I took a walk afterward with my iPod, but I didn’t start the music. I didn’t want to spoil the impression that surrounded me. I sensed again that somewhere beyond there was mystery–an unexplored world–a sense of answers and adventure. I had been given the gift of wonder. That is what I needed.

Sometimes movies strive to impress us with eye candy, but that is not wonder. That is merely entertainment.

Wonder is not the song full of power but the snatch of melody, the snatch of five seconds in which the music lifts you up, even though you can’t get others to hear it.

Wonder is not the plot twist but the moment where the story stops being words on the page and opens up the flash of another world.

Wonder is not the solving of an equation but the revelation of the answer’s elegance and necessity.

Wonder is not restful because it removes you from the world but because it returns the world to you.

Wonder is not beauty seen but beauty felt, not beauty captured in a picture but beauty that encaptures us, if only for a moment.

I don’t think wonder can be re-lived in the same way again, at least not on purpose, but perhaps it can be courted.

That night, walking without my music, headphones in, I remembered something. If I write, I want to write what is true and what is beautiful. Perhaps, if I am lucky, and if God allows, it will be wonder-full to someone.

For that is what we need, as much as rest, as much as food, to be revived in a dark world. We need a glimpse of God’s beauty and limitlessness so we can lift our eyes and see beyond our enclosed little realms.

The House of the Future!

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Photo-Mix / Pixabay

Jordon inserted the key into the lock. “This is kinda disappointing, actually,” he said, opening the door for his girlfriend. “The fingerprint scanner won’t be changed over to my until next week.”

It was dark inside, and all the windows were tinted. “Aleya,” he said, “turn on the lights.”

The lights rose, slowly revealing the open floorplan. You could see the entire first floor from the entryway. Addilyn gasped. “It’s so cool!”

“My uncle paid top dollar for this place. Cutting edge stuff. Aleya, bring up Netflix.”

In the back left corner, an entire wall shimmered to life, the newest series lined in four-foot high rows. “It’s very Bradbury,” he said proudly. He wasn’t sure what that meant, but his uncle had joked about the screen that way and it sounded clever.

“It’s like owning an iMax,” Addilyn said, wandering over.

“Come here, into the kitchen.” The sleek cabinets and space capsule fridge occupied a corner where the screen was not visible–except once they entered the kitchen, the image slid to the wall opposite them. “Aleya, open the recipe book, subcategory Thai.”

The surface of the kitchen’s island lit up, displaying the names of dishes beside mouth-watering images. Jordon flicked through a few screens. “How about panang chicken curry?” He touched the image, chose Dinner Planning, selected next Tuesday, and hit Confirm. “The ingredients will arrive from Amazon that morning, and we can follow the video directions or let Aleya cook.”

Addilyn squealed. “I can’t believe this! What else is there?”

The dining room table could project the gameboards of a hundred different games, with buttons to handle the rolling and math and shuffling.

The den had curtains that extended from the wall for privacy, if desired, and a massage chair that customized to the tightness of your muscles.

Addilyn closed her eyes and sighed as the chair kneaded her neck and feet. “This can’t be real. This is really your place now?”

Jordon grinned. “Kevin left it to me.”

“I’m almost glad he died. Is that horrible?”

“Naw. He’d been depressed for like a year. He’s not suffering any more.”

The den had a few Easton Press classics, mostly for looks, and a pair of Kindle Infernos preloaded with close to 10,000 books, comics, and magazines.

As Addilyn reluctantly told Aleya to turn off the chair, she watched a small flat robot hum along the floor. “What’s that?”

“One of the cleaners. Looking for dust, I think. You want to check out the bedroom?”

Addilyn smiled seductively. “Yes.”

The bed was a grand king with two remotes. The closet had a track upon which the hangers moved, a wall of mirrors, and a smaller closet within. An exercise room with another wall screen, an elliptical, and a multipurpose weight machine opened on one side of the bedroom.

Sometime later, Addilyn was staring at the ceiling from the bed. “What are those holes? Do you see them?”

They were small, like the pinpricks in a showerhead.

“They control the atmosphere. Watch. Aleya, cinnamon scent.” Soon, they could smell the comforting aroma. “This room can be sealed off from the rest. We can change temperature, humidity, aroma, style of lighting, background noise, pheromones, anything. It even comes with a release setting.”

“You mean, it happened here?”

“Painlessly, like falling asleep. Don’t worry. I’ve changed the sheets since.”

Addilyn closed her eyes, wiggling deeper under the covers. “They’ve thought of everything, haven’t they?”

“Want to try the hot tub?”

She answered with a laugh and sprinted for the bathroom/spa/sauna complex that took up half the second floor.

Monday Musings: You Have to Be There

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IWaldner / Pixabay

Soon after we were married, Natasha and I took a road trip out west. We had no particular plan besides, “Head west, young man!” and stopping at as many cool places as we could find before we hitting the Pacific.

Eventually, we were driving into Wyoming, toward Devil’s Tower. The land was a bit hilly, if I remember correctly, green and lazy. Then, suddenly, there’s Devil’s Tower in the distant, a column of rock standing proud and lonely among the low hills. It was a striking sight. The national monument is no less impressive up close. It draws your eyes and makes you wonder, “How in the world did this get here?”

I was reminded of this because occasionally some place will come up in conversation with my kids and I’ll pull up YouTube and show them what I’m talking about. You know, things like the Great Wall of China and Ayers Rock and Stonehenge and how water works in space.

I’ve never been to any of these places (or played with water in space). But I have been to Devil’s Tower. The videos I show my kids are usually cool. The Devil’s Tower one was underwhelming. Why?

Obviously, you had to be there.

Despite all our various and ever-increasing methods of recording the world, nothing is the same as being there. Sure, an iMax video of the Grand Canyon is gorgeous and awe-inspiring, it’ll show you parts you may never see, but it’s just not quite the same as being there. Pixelated reality, no matter how crystal clear, is not true reality.

I suppose, someday, we’ll claim that VR is just like being there, but my guess is that it’ll actually be the next best thing to being there.

A letter is not a visit. A Skype chat is not a chat over coffee. A home video is not your child’s fifth birthday. There is a real difference between being present and being presented.

This seems simple, except we need to relearn simple things all the time. Life is found in the living, in the here and now. It’s not found, first or foremost, in the screen or scrapbook. It’s not as well-framed or as well-paced. It’s a little repetitive and rather hard and not always pleasant. But we were made for it.

What the video of Devil’s Tower gave me was the desire to return to the real Devil’s Tower. A love letter causes the longing to increase. A good book says, “What you see here is only a shadow.”

We need these secondhand experiences. We need them desperately, to expand our horizons, to color our faded vision, and to draw us into the true and deep things of the world. But we should not stay there.

That’s no way to live.

City Renewal

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tpsdave / Pixabay

Dennis Darling, dressed in full business attire, sat at the corner table of Old Joe’s. It was a quaint little coffee shop with more patrons than table space. Quaint, in this case, also meant fashionably dilapidated. The local photos on the wall were badly faded, the paint chipped, and Dennis’s table, at least, had shims wedged underneath to keep it from wobbling as badly as it might. He took another sip of his mocha, which was surprisingly good, and tapped out an email to his subordinates on his phone.

Seven minutes late, Mayor Robert Ryland sat down across from him, hiding his discomfort tolerably well.

“Aren’t you going to order something?” Dennis asked, checking Twitter.

“I thought this would be quick.”

“It’s a business meeting. Get something. It’s a work expense.”

“Just get on with it.”

Dennis pocketed his phone. “Give me your elevator pitch.”

“Me? You’re the one selling.”

“Offering,” Dennis said. “This is one city. There are hundreds like it. Why should we work with you?”

Robert stared at him then shrugged. “All right. Factories made this town. They moved overseas or went bankrupt. Half the family businesses have been wiped out by regulations and Amazon, except for niche holdouts like this place. We’re a dying town. People need work, but there’s nothing here. In ten years, we’ll be gutted. Just like a hundred other towns.”

“Not just like. You were wise enough to contact us.”

“I’ve been rethinking that.”

“Have you?”

“Your boss has been in the news again.”

Dennis retrieved his phone and pulled up a photo from CNN of police pushing a business-suited man into his car. The headline read “Doctor Destructo’s Minions Foiled in Jacksonville.”

“This?” Dennis asked. “You saw the report on the TV?”

“Yeah. Everyone did.”

“How many casualties?”

“None, thanks to Teflon.”

“That’s a horrible codename, isn’t it?” Dennis said, laughing.

“Bullets bounce right off him.”

“How much damage? Did you hear?”

“I don’t remember,” Robert said. “Millions of dollars.”

Dennis nodded. “Millions of dollars of damage. One thing you don’t know: Mayor Daniel Yellin asked us to be there. Being caught was part of the plan. We can do the same thing for you.”

Robert shook his head. “You’re as insane as your boss.”

“How many acres of abandoned industry do you have in the city? How many deserted neighborhoods? Say we set up base in an old warehouse, and we let it slip through the right channels that we’re here. Teflon shows up. Or Victoria. Or even Justice James. A whole section of town goes up in flames, superhuman fisticuffs, and ray guns. No one’s hurt. Everyone’s relieved. Insurance kicks in. Better yet, the whole country sees it on TV. The money starts flowing in. Charities, churches, everyone’s fighting to help rebuild. You see?”

Robert studied him. Dennis could see him slowly understand. “And no one gets hurt?”

“No one. Human resources are a vital commodity. You arrange some fair or festival, something exciting. Something with fireworks and free food. If a few remain home, the good guys are there to protect him. That’s what they’re good at.”

Robert kept staring, bewildered. “What’s in it for you?”

“My boss is a business man. We have a tech company we’d like to start in the area. We’d like your cooperation, tax abatements, that sort of thing. A willing and happy workforce. A friendly face in the government. Et cetera.” Dennis stood. “Think on it. Here’s my card. Call Den Yellin, ask how Jacksonville’s recovering.”

Robert stood, too, in a daze. Dennis extended his hand and shook firmly. “I’ll call you in a few weeks. Just let us know how we can help.”

Monday Musing: We Don’t Exist

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Tobias_ET / Pixabay

Okay, I confess, the blog title is a lie. We do exist. (I do, at least.) It is, however, quite in style to wonder if maybe, really, we don’t.

All sorts of super-smart tech people, like that eccentric inventor Elon Musk, wonder if we aren’t just simulations in a giant computer, a la The Matrix.

If you’ve ever spoken with a moody, introspective teenager (or if, perhaps, you were a moody, introspective teenager), you’ve heard the question: What if this is all a dream?

Is it not strange that we can even conceive of such questions? Why on earth would a living creature doubt that he is truly living? Some might say, Aha! The fact that we can imagine being other than we are–an illusion, a fancy of some alien consciousness, a string of zeroes and ones–means that it is at least possible that we are.

I, however, as a Christian, take the same observation and conclude, How utterly broken we are, to conceive of being less than we are!

Let me put it another way. You can focus on certain material aspects of our being. You can say that we are just cells, just DNA, just neurons firing, just a sack of flesh with an organic computer inserted in a bone container. You can look at these things and say, I am not what I think I am. The fact that I matter, or my friends and family matter, that my decisions mean anything, is a lie. I am just a collection of natural processes. The soul is an illusion.

This is what you might call dreaming down. We look at an aspect of the processes that make up life, or make us, and say, Well, that must be what we are–that and that alone. In the case of the matrix idea, we look at what we’ve created and say, That must be the end of our intelligence. What we can create must by the answer to what we are.

There is another type of dreaming, however. I recently finished reading The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis to my kids, which is a close second for my favorite Narnia book and features the best Narnia character of all time, Puddleglum. (Sorry, Reepicheep fans.) At the climax, our heroes are trapped in Underland, a lightless, joyless underground kingdom. The Queen of this land is enchanting our heroes to believe that the world above never existed, that it’s all just a dream. Large chunks of the chapter are worth quoting, but I’ll limit it to Puddleglum’s final speech:

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things–trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black bit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.

Puddleglum dreams “upward,” using a cat to prove the existence of a lion and a lamp the existence of a sun.

Those who believe we live in a simulation believe in a “play world” like Puddleglum, but it’s less than the real world, not more. Their dream makes the world more hollow, not more glorious.

To dream “up” means to believe there is more meaning and reality in the world than meets the eye, not less, to believe that creation is not just natural, but supernatural, that the body holds not just synapses but a soul. Even if I entirely ignore the compelling arguments for such a reality, I’d much rather live in a world where humans are not just biological computers but moral beings created with inexpressible worth. And, honestly, most people inherently live more in the second reality, at least as concerns their own well-being, than in the first.

If we don’t exist–and live like it–we won’t much live at all. The danger to dreaming down is that you eventually become what you believe.

But if everyone lived as if life were real and precious and right, well, I think the world would be a pretty swell place to live.

A man can dream, can’t he?

Blind

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I am blinded by uncounted lightless days, by a half mile of stone, by walls that do not yield and cannot listen. My wide open eyes have absorbed darkness until I dream black and wake and know no change. When food comes, scraps, I hear nothing or I hear their voices, brutal voices, until the darkness crawls with shapeless, vengeful creatures that burrow in my ears and whisper venom.

I am condemned. No protestation of innocence, no begging or weeping or screaming, opens the door. I am innocent, I am innocent–I was innocent, and for lost years I have stared into the darkness. It is my mirror, and I am condemned.

The cell is small, but so am I, shrinking to match my cage, expanding to fill the days, the months, the–I shudder. Time exhales the last breath of the dying. Nothing moves and nothing changes and nothing is. I sleep and I wake and I sometimes eat. I stare into my blindness and listen to the silence. What I think is what I see is what I hear. What I knew is no longer, or seems a shadow, a flicker of night against night, the echo of a shape or the remembrance of the idea of a color.

But I feel. I feel the rock beneath me. I rub my hand, my fingers, along the same smoothed spot. I ache in my hips and my legs and my back. This is pleasure, for it changes, it has a rise and a fall, a contour. It visits me and does not remain silent.

I will not die here. I will cease here. I will no longer open my mouth, I will shut my useless eyes, and I will remain, motionless, until I become one with my prison, perhaps a warm thing for a time but a senseless thing, a rock in the shape of a man, until I become what I see and what I hear and what I am.

A voice comes. I do not stir. Always they come and always they leave, like memories and earthquakes, signs of an epoch passing. The door opens. I am struck. I was beat in the beginning. This is different. It is a force, a blast. I burn. Within, I burn. I turn away from this new torture, shut my eyes. I am in its grip, and it burns, these others, these foreign things on my lonely flesh. The world is spinning, the air cuts my face. I cannot scream; I can moan. They pull my limbs, force me to collect the expanse of my existence into my body, force me into the void as a solid thing. It is too much, too much noise, too many sensations–the world is catching fire. I burn and I weep. “No, no, no….,” I whimper. The darkness will burn away and I am only darkness. I will burst. I will break into a million pieces. I cannot survive this, I cannot bear this touch, this light. “Take me back,” I beg, weeping, convulsing. “Take me back.”

“You’re free.”

I cannot. I am paper thin, I am smoke, I am the depth of the earth and human hearts. “Take me back.” It is forcing its way into my closed eyes, into my brain, a blaze that is warmth that is fire that is death. I pull away, desperate, strong for the moment, escaping their claws. I stumble, I crawl back to the black opening, to the pit, and tumble down into the hole where I belong.

The stone is hard as I fall and I ache and I am blind once again.