I apologize for my long absence, I’ve had some problems with my laptop and connectivity. I’m hoping that things are turning around. Below is a little story I’ve been thinking about for a while. I hope you enjoy it.
People say that life is short. I always wonder what makes them say that. I’ve lived a thousand lifetimes watching a small speck of dust drifting in a sunbeam. There are millions of sub-atomic particles in that dust, and every one of those particles has been around since the beginning of time. Every electron, proton, and neutron has existed through eternity, and those tiny pieces are in me, and in that speck of dust, all the way to galaxies and stars so far away that I can’t see them. Well I can’t see them right now but I know they are there. All the energy it takes to make electrical impulses in my brain came through forever to form a single thought, a solitary impulse, a lone tear. When you’re made up of immortality, how can you say life is short? It’s not. It just takes some interior awakening to see it, to feel its reality, and to take comfort in that fact.
I knew all this by the time I was five years old. Yes, that is a very young age to have such an epiphany, but age has nothing to do with wisdom. Not really. Some of the wisest people in the world are five years old, old enough to experience life but not so hardened by suffering, still un-calloused by the thin veil of reality we have cloaking our lives. They still see the unseen; they still hear the unheard. Their energy is raw from the stars, fresh, but billions of years old. I felt this when I was that age, and I never forgot it. I learned it all because of, well, I have to explain.
Today we have much more modern and safe Christmas decorations than when I was five years old. Injection-molded polyethylene trees give new meaning to the term evergreen. They soften in hot attics over the summer, stuffed into boxes on high shelves in stale garages, hidden away in backroom closets only to bloom forth every December. The balls that go on them are all unbreakable plastic, collectable kitsch, child-proof and non-toxic. And the lights- UL Approved LED color-changing chasers, energy efficient and hundreds to a strand- are draped cooly all over the tree.
But when I was five, everything was different. The trees were real, sticky with sap, grown on distant farms to be cut down by crews right after Thanksgiving. By the time they arrived at our local Christmas tree lot, they were already dying, leaking life out through saw cuts on their trunks. The ornaments that dangled adorning the limbs were thin glass held to the firs by wire hooks that often failed, leading to the delicate baubles crashing to the floor erupting in shards. There was shiny tinsel made of lead strands, and flocks of “angel hair” which was spun of fiberglass that scratched and inflamed the skin when you touched it.
Then there were the lights. The bulbs were huge, the size of large grapes, strung on heavy rubber-insulated wire. They were painted bright colors on the outside, red, green, yellow, and, my favorite, blue. There were about fifty lights on the whole tree, enough to illuminate the whole room and reflect off of the ornaments. Because they were incandescent, as they glowed, they heated up to the point where they would give harsh red burns if you held one. My parents warned me never to touch them. I don’t know why they would even bother to say anything because telling a small child not to touch something bright and colorful is about as useful as telling a man dying of thirst not to drink a cool glass of water as you hold it in front of his face. To top off their foolhardiness, they left me alone in the living room for hours after dark when they lit the tree. I begged them to allow me to sit on the couch and listen to Christmas records from the big stereo enclosed in a cabinet on the far wall, and they gave in. Children can be good at wearing their parents’ conviction down. My mother loaded up the vinyl discs on the turntable, and went into the den to watch television with my father.
At first I sat on the couch just marveling at the beauty before me. Carols floated on the air around me, and the aroma of the tree was heavy in the air. I turned off the lamp on the table next to the couch and allowed the lights to shine and the ornaments to glitter, spinning in the breeze created by the heat register just to the tree’s left side. As the songs went on, I became more and more attracted to the tree. I got off the couch and tiptoed over to it, standing near the limbs with my arms at my side. My fingers twitched, then I reached out and touched the candy-colored lights.
They all burned me.
I touched a blue one again, very quickly. I did it again and again, each time letting my fingers linger longer on the light. Still, I couldn’t touch it for very long, but I wanted that brightness, that color, that energy on me. So I crawled to the back of the tree and took the plug out of the socket at the base.
The carols continued. The room dimmed.
The bulbs eventually cooled to the point where I could hold them without pain. The only lights in the room came from the red plastic “jewel” on the front of the stereo cabinet and the silvery fluorescence from a mercury vapor streetlight streaming through the parted curtains on the picture window. The shadows were deep, dark, but not scary. I still had the music. I still had the scent of pine. But the color was gone.
Then I decided to turn the lights back on. The record player was spinning the last disc, and there were only four songs before it would quit and turn off. I had maybe ten more minutes before my mother would break the spell and take me to bed. I held the large round plug and reached towards where I thought the socket was, scraping the wall with the metal tines. Finally I found the holes, inserted the plug, and the tree came back to life.
The bulbs had not yet heated up, so I held the blue one in my hand. It amazed me how translucent my fingertips were, a fiery pink against the deep blue of the light. It was warm, but not hot. I stared at the filament through the clear blue paint, letting its light burn little spots on my retinas that danced about before they faded away.
Then I put the bulb in my mouth. I don’t know why I did it. It was a compulsion, something I couldn’t stop. My lips wrapped around the glass which felt smooth and warm on my tongue. At first I only touched the tip. The light got hotter and hotter, but not unbearable. I slipped more of it into my mouth until I had all the glass inside on my tongue. The metal base was fractions of an inch from my lips.
The blue light whispered. “All of me,” it said.
The metal was very warm, almost too warm while I pushed it deeper. I had plastic base of the bulb’s socket touching my teeth. I wanted to swallow that blue light. I wanted to taste its energy, feel what it felt, but I had no words for what I desired. But I did know that I couldn’t stop myself. Then everything tingled, went bright, and mind mind exploded.
I saw the middle of a sun, a distant star. I was only five, but I still somehow knew what I was seeing. There were small things inside it that were trying to escape, flowing and dancing before they were thrust out through the surface of the star, then jetted through black space, faster than I knew possible. I was suddenly one of the things, flying along, traveling for millions of years. Nothing could stop me from going as fast as anything could go. There was music echoing in my ears, though I had no real ears. I was only consciousness. Space was dark all around me, yet I knew I was light. Time meant nothing. I was everything and nothing, all at the same moment. And that moment didn’t exist, not as I had known it before, but something else, like the space between thoughts in your mind, sweet, irresistible, calm.
I saw other things around me, other objects from billions of other stars. They were made of nothing and everything. They too were the spaces between thoughts, little bits traveling just as fast as I was. Some bent downwards and disappeared into darkness further away from me. Others whizzed right beside me, arching and skipping while we went aimlessly and purposely forward. Then I was alone, going forward into the unknown.
Large things manifested as I whirled onwards. They were round and colored like the Christmas light, a cold blue that warmed me despite their frigidness. Ahead of me was a bright light and I streamed towards it. Suddenly a big blue marble was in front of me, beautiful as anything I had ever seen. I burst through into air and oriented to the center of the marble. I crashed through clouds, through dark into flesh. A thumping filled my being, replacing the music with a heartbeat. I felt my feet, my legs, my stomach. Finally I felt my arms, hands, and my head. The thumping ended. I opened my eyes.
My mother and father were standing over me, their faces contorted into things I didn’t recognize, but I knew who they were. I blinked a couple of times, the living room coming into focus. I felt oddly refreshed, reborn. My mouth tasted a little like metal and a little like blood. My tongue began throbbing. My lips felt hard and brittle.
They say I was knocked out for about five minutes. My mother told me later on that my eyes were rolled back in my head, and my father couldn’t find a pulse. I was dead, she said. I was a lucky child to be alive. It scared them both badly, she told me. When I woke up, they both held me tightly until the ambulance came and took me to the hospital. The doctor in the emergency room warned me to never do something like that again. He said I was a lucky kid that got a second chance. It’s what everyone said.
I don’t think I was lucky. I don’t think I got a second chance. What happened to me was that I became aware of things beyond me but all around me. These things are made up of everything and nothing at the same time. I now know that life is a dream, a gift and a destiny at the same time. If I didn’t exist, nothing would exist yet everything would exist in possibility. I am made up of the same stuff that everything else is made of- stars. I know that space is eternal, and that makes me and everything that comprises me, my soul, my being, my body eternal too. Air, birds, earth, water, light, all creation is never-ending as long as I am aware of it, and even after I’m gone. So I’m glad I went to the blue light. I’m happy that I got that shock. And every Christmas when I see blue bulbs I feel a peace and happiness that I don’t know whether anyone else has experienced or not. But I hope they have. I really hope they have, because I know that if they do, they’ll know they’re eternal too.