Josh considered the oiled, metallic ’35 resting in the palm of his right hand as the dirty bubble of his thoughts burst free from the surface.
What did it matter? It was all gone. Ended in as little as a month and a half. His parents? Gone. His friends? As few as they were? As well as gone. No job. No home. Nowhere to go. No one to be.
His back was wrecked violently by a cough that never seemed to end, which prompted that other dirty bubble: Was this it? Was it the Corona Virus? Like his parents, did he only have a little time left, before dying alone, struggling to breathe, air shoved down his throat by a respirator, like some kind of an affront against nature?
And there was the slick and alien feel of the metal against his flesh, promising escape, whispering that he didn’t need to be afraid of dying like that. There was another way. He wasn’t going out like his parents. And the best part of all was that today was the day.
So, why did he feel so confused, so frightened of what was next?
It’s evolution, baby. Nothing comes next. There’s nothing after this life. His death would pass unnoticed by everyone now that mom and dad were gone. He’d be just another statistic, another Covid-19 number used by one political party to attack another. He would cease to be, leaving less of a mark than a rock or a shrub or some dead possum on the side of a backwoods road.
That just increased Josh’s depression. He life was worth less than a dead possum. Josh’s hand lifted and he felt the cold metal pressed against his forehead, his eyes clenched shut in anticipation. He was ready. It just took the slightest bit of pressure from his index finger and then…
“If I were in your shoes, and all that crap was happening to me, you know what I’d do first?” The words of Josh’s co-worker came hauntingly back to him. “First thing I’d do is stick a big middle finger up to God. I’d say screw you. Thanks for less than nothing. I’d probably take out a church or something.”
That was stupid. There was no God. Anybody who thought there was a God after all this crap went down was nuts.
My life is proof that there is no God, Josh concluded.
To deny the good was simply vilifying the evil. There was good, some voice said way down deep inside where the memories dwelt, where long forgotten volumes of lore once held dominion over his waking days still lived. You can’t just allow in the darkness and shut out all the light in your life. The light won’t allow it. The light is there whether you care to admit it or not.
The light! What did it care? Josh had seen what kind of world the light had provided: a world of pain and misery and regret. The light was worse than the darkness because at least the darkness didn’t masquerade as something it wasn’t. With the darkness, you knew what you were getting. With the darkness, there was no caveat emptor, there was no buyer’s remorse. No slick marketing. No promises left unfulfilled. The darkness was a generic can of beans.
But the light…oh, the light lied. The light said everything was gonna be alright…and then it wasn’t. The rain still flowed. The walls still shook and fell down. The light still died around you until there was nothing left but pain gripped tightly in one hand and regret’s steel tip shoved against your forehead. The light promised the world and the world delivered the darkness.
The light never promised that the rain wouldn’t fall or that your feet would never walk through the valleys of darkness. No, the light said that you would never walk though those valleys all by yourself.
Well, that was crap. Where was the light to walk with him now. Where was the light to hold him now.
Josh’s eyes sprang open, scanning the almost bare room of his apartment. There was no one. There was nothing. There was Josh…and the gun.
See, that crap when he was a kid in Sunday School and they told him that Jesus was in his heart and would always be there. That was just another lie, like the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. It was something you told babies so they’d shut up and they’d never need to know how desperately dark the world really was. It was something to pacify the children and keep them from the true knowledge: that the world is just some big, empty, primordial soup and we’re just another step in the cosmic dance of futility. We dance for someone’s entertainment, just used by the powerful for a moment’s diversion and then tossed aside like the refuse we are. Ten seconds of light followed by a life’s length of darkness.
But here’s the thing, said the voice, it’s never too late as long as there is blood coursing through your veins, as long as your eyes can see through just one more day.
Yeah, it’s never too late for one more disappointment, for one more loss.
No. It’s never too late for hope.
“And what’s hope ever given me?” Josh screamed at the walls as the gun slid down into his lap. “The world’s given me death and darkness and futility and nothing. The world…”
No, said the voice, not the world. The world doesn’t give. The world doesn’t offer. Only I give and only I offer. This darkness you’re in is not the world, it’s not life. It’s you. You only see the darkness because you choose not to see the light.
“The light? Are you crazy? Where’s the light in my family dying? Where’s the light in me losing my job? Where’s the light in any of this? There is no light. There’s only darkness.”
No, you know light. You’ve seen light. It’s still there where it’s always been.
“If the light is still there, then why doesn’t it do something?”
It has. It’s working right now. The light may seem like it’s sleeping, but that’s just because you’ve trained your eyes to only see the darkness. You’ve allowed your mind to be consumed by the darkness so much so that it only registers the darkness and never the light around you. You’ve cut yourself off from the light. The light has never left you.
Josh’s eyes scanned the room, looking for the light, seeking hope. There was no hope anywhere he looked. There were cracks in the walls and the floor. There were cobwebs in the corners of the ceiling, where the darkness had reign. There was dirt and muck and filth and empty, disregarded cans and trash everywhere. Everywhere chaos reigned, choking out the light and hope.
“If the light is still with me,” Josh said, “then where are you? Are you in the trash or the empty beer cans? Are you hiding in the cracks or maybe you’re up behind the cobwebs, looking at me like a celestial security camera, waiting to see how I’ll react, what I’ll do. Maybe the light is watching, but maybe it’s waiting for me to slip up so it can pounce and say, I told you. This is what you get. This is your just desserts. I created this prison cell and now I get to rest in it. Is that what the light offers?”
No, said the voice. You cannot see what the light offers, because you have become blinded by the promises of the darkness. Can the darkness reveal the secrets of the light? Can the blind describe the colors of the world or explain the path so that the dangers can be avoided? Only the light can reveal. Only the light can guide and direct. The darkness sees only death, destruction and pain. The light sees the hope behind the death. The light sees the rebuilding beyond the destruction. The light knows the purpose of the pain. Only those who open their eyes can see the beauty of the sunrise, the promise of a new day.
Josh felt the tears run down his cheeks but they traveled well-worn paths. The tears were old friends. But these tears were not bitter, filled with pain and death. These tears were something more. These tears felt new and fresh.
“I want to see the sun rise. I want to have the promise. I need something more than this. What can the light give me that the darkness can’t?”
Everything. The light reveals hope.
“But I don’t understand. If the light can give everything, then why didn’t the light just give it to me? Why did I have to travel the darkness to find the light?”
Do you know the difference between a man blind from birth and a man who was blinded later in life?
“The pain would be felt that much deeply by the man who was blinded later in life,” Josh said, “because he knew what had been lost, whereas the man blind from birth would only know the darkness.”
And how would the man blind from birth know what could be revealed by the light?
“He would know only if his eyes were opened.”
And how would he know that he needed his eyes to be opened to see the light?
“If the man was blind from birth, then the only way he could know that there was a world waiting to be revealed by the light would be if he gained knowledge of the light and the world was revealed to him. Then he would know that there was such a thing as light and he could ask for his eyes to be opened.”
Yes, said the voice. Only those who know they are blind can have their eyes opened. Those who deny their blindness will never ask. They will choose to live in darkness because they think it is the only way.
“But why? Why would anyone ever choose to be blind?”
Why did you?