The spotlight hit me in the face.
It was warm, friendly even, not too red, not too green, not too yellow, just a pure light of unjudgmental being.
You know, far from what any religion says it should be.
I blinked up at the light.
“Hello,” I said.
DID YOU HAVE FUN?
“I guess,” I said. “I wasn’t ready to go.”
THAT HAPPENS SOMETIMES.
“I always miss everyone when I leave.”
THAT HAPPENS A LOT.
“It hurts. But it hurts more knowing they’ll miss me too.”
THAT’S NOT THE POINT.
I sighed heavily and looked at where the floor should be. “I know.”
YOU ARE SAD.
“I am sad.”
WOULD YOU LIKE A HAPPY LIFE THIS TIME?
“Will I be happy when I wind up back here?”
I HAVE NO IDEA.
“You know, you speak like Death in Terry Pratchett books.”
THE SOUL THAT WAS SIR PRATCHETT TENDS TO CARRY OVER THIS WORLD INTO EACH REALM.
“Well then . . .”
“Is he sad when he returns?”
“Is life sadness?”
LIFE IS SUFFERING.
“Buddha got it right.”
EVERYONE GETS IT RIGHT.
I thought for a beat about that statement.
“I don’t understand,” I finally said. “What does everyone get right?”
“Everyone gets life right?”
“That makes no sense.”
LIFE DOES NOT MAKE SENSE.
“Now that makes sense.”
BUT EVERYONE GETS LIFE RIGHT.
“How on earth can that be true?”
IT IS TRUE. NO MATTER WHERE ANYONE IS.
I sighed and sat where the floor should be. The spotlight moved down a little to follow me.
LIFE IS LIVING. FIRST BREATH TO LAST. THERE IS NO WAY TO LIVE WRONG. YOU BREATHE. YOU STOP BREATHING. THESE SIMPLE TWO ACTIONS DEFINE LIFE.
“Do they define existence?”
AH, THERE IS THE DIFFERENCE.
“So everyone gets life right, but not existence?”
I fell over dramatically where there should be a floor, wondering if I’d tumble into some sort of abyss. I did not. The spotlight grew wider to accommodate my whole being on the floor.
YOU ARE ESPECIALLY SAD.
“I had a puppy.”
HE IS CUTE. HE WILL GROW UP AND HAVE NEW PUPPIES AND ALWAYS THINK OF YOU WHEN HE EATS HOT DOGS.
If I had eyes, I would’ve cried.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE THE PUPPY?
“What? No.” I sat up.
YOU HAVEN’T BEEN AN ANIMAL IN A LONG WHILE. MAYBE THAT WOULD CHEER YOU UP.
“I did like being a cat. A dog might be fun.”
AND IT’S A SHORT LIFE. YOU’LL BE BACK HERE IN NO TIME.
“Are you trying to further depress me?”
MY PURPOSE IS NOT TO DEPRESS ANYONE.
“What is your purpose?”
TO SHINE THE SPOTLIGHT.
SO DOG THEN?
I stood. The spotlight raised slightly. I wished I had arms so I could stretch my shoulders and feel them pop. I tried to turn my head to crack my neck, but had no neck to crack. Nor head to turn. I looked up and saw nothing.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO STAY HERE?
“No!” I shouted. “No. I don’t like boring.”
YOU THINK I AM-
“No, no, no, no, I just. . . . I love life. Existing. Breathing. Dogs. Cats. Music. Family. Friends. Love. Flowers. Wind. There is none of that here.”
YOU ARE CORRECT.
“This place is only a possibility.”
YOU ARE CORRECT.
“And I’d rather experience than ponder.”
THEN THAT SHALL BE YOUR NEW MANTRA GOING FORWARD.
“I need to be more complex than a dog then.”
THAT’S NOT A PROBLEM. DO YOU WANT TO REMAIN SAD?
I thought about this. I looked to where there should be a floor, wishing there was a pattern or a crack or something to look at while I made this literal life-changing decision. Even though I’d made it an infinite number of times before.
“I carried it over the last time too, didn’t I?” I remembered.
“When I was the cat.”
WHEN YOU WERE THE CAT. AND THEN YOU CHOSE TO BE THE LITTLE GIRL.
“The little girl was crying. The poor cat didn’t – I didn’t have a chance.”
PEOPLE ARE ASSHOLES.
“Wow, strong language. But you make those too.”
I DON’T MAKE ANYTHING.
“What do you do?”
I SHINE THE SPOTLIGHT.
I squared shoulders I didn’t have yet. “Put me in, coach. Leave the sadness.”
The spotlight increased intensity and took on a blue cast.
“Wait!” I cried. “Can I have a little better heads-up this time?”
YOU WANT THE GIFT OF PREM-
“No, no. I had that once and got burned at the stake. I’d like to know where I’m going.”
NO ONE KNOWS THAT.
“Surely someone does.”
NOT EVEN HE.
“So what’s the point?”
“For what purpose?”
ONLY YOU CAN DETERMINE THAT.
Feeling defeated, I crouched down on knees I didn’t have. I put my palms that didn’t exist on a floor that didn’t exist. “I only want to start out knowing why.”
IF YOU KNOW WHY, THERE IS NO POINT.
Miserable, I didn’t answer.
IF I TOLD YOU THAT YOUR GOAL WAS TO PAINT THINGS – TO MAKE ART FULL OF WONDER AND BEAUTY AND TRUTH AND PAIN, YOU WOULD BE HAPPY KNOWING THAT YOU WERE GOING TO BE SUCCESSFUL. BUT THE BEST ARTISTS ARE IN PAIN. ARE FULL OF SUFFERING.
“Yeah, why is that?”
HOW SHOULD I KNOW? I JUST SHINE THE SPOTLIGHT.
IF I TOLD YOU WHERE YOU WERE GOING, YOU WOULD NOT TAKE THE PATH TO GATHER THE TOOLS TO ACCOMPLISH YOUR PURPOSE.
“What if my purpose is to not have a purpose?”
THEN YOU WOULD START OUT LIFE SAD, WOULD YOU NOT?
AND THAT SADNESS COULD LEAD TO CREATING GREAT ART.
“Which means my life wouldn’t be meaningless?”
YOU’RE CATCHING ON.
“So you can’t tell me because it might change my life’s trajectory?”
“Well, fine” I stood up and pretended to dust off pants. “I guess let’s fucking do this.”
SADNESS TINGED WITH ANGER. GOT IT.
The spotlight became bluer and bluer around the edges. Then the edges began to grow. A wind blew through hair I didn’t have. The edges of the spotlight grew until they filled my entire field of vision. As the last lines of blue edging faded from my peripheral sight, I saw an image in the distance.
I inhaled sharply. “I forgot about this part.”
YOU ALWAYS DO.
“So you do plant an idea in my head?”
I SHINE THE SPOTLIGHT.
In front of me was a paintbrush. I walked towards it. As I walked, it painted wonderful things on the walls of my eyesight. Paintings I would create. All of them. I saw every one of them from the moment I would paint my first brushstroke to the time I last hold a brush in my hand and take my last breath as it hits the floor from my fingers. Around the paintings were frames of numbers – thumbtacks in my future existence. Around the numbers were auras of color and around the auras were emotions I would experience.
And sadness. The whole existence was tied together with silver threads of sadness. To be successful at my purpose I had to experience everything I was going to experience in this life, and it all began because of the collective sadness I brought with me.
I turned behind me. “Thank you!” I shouted.
NO THANKS NECESSARY. ALL I DO IS SHINE THE SPOT-
The brightness overcame my vision. I heard screaming and realized it was me. I scrunched my eyes and wailed. My brand-new brain synapses tried desperately to hold on to the image of a spotlight – to capture and record the velvet voice and the words
but in pain from childbirth
sadness mixed with happiness
on her shirt