Thursday, March 2, 2017

Eternal Misfit (Part 3 of 3)

This is a short story I wrote a few years ago that was published in Dialogue. I’ve broken it into three parts because it’s fairly lengthy. The idea came to me one day when I was wondering what living in the terrestrial kingdom would be like. Trying to put flesh on the bones of that question revealed some perplexing paradoxes.

The next day fifty people gathered at Kim’s house. A few new faces were there simply out of curiosity, but others had heard about the soccer and the discussions and wanted to learn about Kim’s changes.
After giving the group a few minutes to visit, Kim tapped a crystal goblet with a spoon to get their attention.
“Let me get to the point,” he said. “Alma was right yesterday. Soccer isn’t enough. If we want our lives to be meaningful, if we want a purpose that can sustain us for an eternity, we need more opposition, more conflict.”
“What are you thinking of?” asked Leslie.
“We can’t do much to cause physical pain or illness or even poverty, and we don’t have any natural disasters here. I’ve thought recently that what we need in the terrestrial world is a massive forest fire. We need a little Nevada here to help us appreciate all the beauty. Unfortunately, our trees are as eternal and indestructible as we are. And we can’t cause a drought or an earthquake or a hurricane. So what we’re left with is what we can control.”
“What would that be?” asked Ronny.
“We can create inequality.”
Kim looked around and saw puzzled expressions. Everyone in the room could remember inequality, of course, but none of them had experienced it since the resurrection.
“Inequality creates tension,” Kim explained, “and tension creates conflict, and conflict gives people opportunities to rise or fall, to conquer or surrender. In all of mortal history, the goal was always to overcome conflict and create a peaceful, prosperous society. Mortals achieved this ideal state only a handful of times; but when they did, they tended to stagnate. That’s why Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden of Eden. It was nice, but it was a sort of damnation for them. As it is for us. There’s something about inequality and conflict and adversity that pushes people to improve. If there is no conflict, there can be no victory. And Alma was right—soccer is just a surrogate conflict, so it can’t produce a genuine victory. Or a meaningful defeat.”
“Just how do you propose we create this inequality?” asked Cory. “We all have everything we need.”
“Maybe we’ll create money,” Kim answered. “Money is the seedbed of inequality.”
“But what could we buy or sell? And who would buy it?”
“We start accumulating things we don’t need.”
“Such as?” Leslie asked.
“For starters, I’m going to take a surname. Nobody in this entire world uses a surname. So from now on I want you all to call me Kim Contra.”
Cory laughed. “People will just think you’re vain.”
“Good. That’s a start. And next, we’ll start charging people to watch our soccer games and listen to us speak about our plans for a more unequal society.”
“But what will we use for money?” asked Ronny.
“Jewelry, polished stones, bottles of colored sand, whatever. Money is just a symbol. On earth we used paper, which was only worth something because of what it symbolized. Or maybe we can have our spectators pay with a contract to serve us in some way.”
“But why would anyone want to watch us play soccer, let alone pay for the privilege?” asked Leslie.
“Because it is forbidden.” Kim flashed a devious grin.
After everyone left, Kim was lying on the sofa when a strange thing happened: He fell asleep. And he dreamed. He was standing in a field of rocky soil and tiny corn plants, holding a crude hoe made of a carved wooden shaft and a flat rock. He was trying to keep the weeds from strangling his corn crop. Kim marveled. He hadn’t seen a weed in over six thousand years. A cow was lowing softly in the distance, and the clucking of nearby chickens almost drowned out the cow’s complaints. A wooden fence separated the corn from several squat buildings made of rough wood and adobe with thatched roofs.
“Sam,” a voice called from somewhere near the buildings. “Sam!”
“Over here,” he yelled, not even wondering why he answered to the name Sam.
A woman came from behind one of the buildings, a genuine woman, leading a black and white spotted cow behind her on a braided rope.
“Sam, Melba has gotten into my garden again. You need to mend that fence.”
“I’ll get to it this afternoon, Nori,” he said. Somehow he not only knew her name but knew that she was his wife.
“No, you’ll get to it right now. I can’t have Melba eating my peas. Your weeding will wait.”
“Yes, dear,” he said with just a hint of impatience, and yet inside he felt a zest for life and a bond to Nori that was as tangible as the hoe he held in his hands.
He was tired. He was always tired, and his body ached from hard work, but it felt good. He leaned the hoe against the fence and walked toward Nori with a broad grin on his face. He took her in his arms, and then suddenly he was awake.
His heart was pounding, a physical reaction even four hours of soccer had not produced.
* * *
Their next meeting was at Ronny’s house. When the others found out about Kim’s dream, they were both jealous and nervous.
“Why did it happen?” asked Leslie. “It’s not normal.”
“What we’re doing is not normal,” answered Kim. “I think it’s a sign.”
“Of what?” asked Ronny.
“That we’re doing something right. We’re changing things.”
“What’s next?” asked Cory.
“We need to create some real opposition in this world.”
“What do you have in mind?” asked Pat, looking concerned.
“Well, without evil in this world, there is no real virtue. And because there is neither good nor evil, we have no stories here worth telling or history worth writing. If people here are to be virtuous or creative, there must be something for them to oppose, to rise up against. There must be evil. And if no one else will provide it, then I will.”
A collective gasp escaped the group.
“You can’t be serious,” said Ronny.
“Of course I am. Where do you think this little experiment has been heading all along, Ronny? An eternal soccer league? I’m bored. You’re all bored too. We’re all stagnant here. Do you want that for eternity? Do you think anybody does—even Alma? Of course not. But nobody is willing to give us opposition, so I have to. I am willing to make that sacrifice for the good of all. You can join me if you like.”
“But no unclean thing can dwell in the kingdoms of God,” said Cory. “That’s an eternal truth. It’s the condition for our staying here. If we rebel, we’ll be cast out.”
“Then let them cast me out,” Kim stated defiantly. “Because I don’t want to live here if there is nothing to fight for, nothing worth losing everything over.”
He stared at the group, but only a handful dared look him in the eye. Everyone knew the meeting was over, and slowly, most of them slipped away. Eventually only five remained.
“Well, there goes our soccer league,” said Leslie with a wry grin.
Kim laughed. “There will be more. But we have work to do. Go home and think about this. If you’re committed, then come to my house tomorrow at noon. If not, I’ll understand.”
He turned away and walked home.
Later that evening Alma stopped by.
“Some of your former disciples came to see me, Kim Contra,” he said. Kim thought he heard a hint of sarcasm in Alma’s voice.
“They’re not my disciples. They’re my friends.”
“Not anymore.”
“Maybe they don’t consider me their friend, but I consider them mine.”
“Whatever,” Alma shrugged. “They told me what you want to do.”
“Have to do,” Kim corrected him.
“This is unprecedented, you know,” Alma said. “Creating evil intentionally so that others can achieve genuine goodness. Admirable, but misguided.”
“I’m amazed it took me over five thousand years. And I’m amazed I was the first to reach this conclusion.”
“Don’t flatter yourself.”
“There have been others?” Kim asked, genuinely surprised.
Alma shrugged. “Not in Caldora.”
“Not anywhere else either, I’d wager.”
“The terrestrial world isn’t exactly a hotbed of former revolutionaries,” Alma conceded. “All the creative geniuses and real leaders from earth ended up in either the celestial kingdom or the telestial. We’re the ones who were unwilling to pay the price.”
“Maybe we’re just slow,” Kim offered.
“So, have you come to try to talk me out of my heretical plans?”
“Oh no, not at all.”
“You want to join me?” Kim grinned.
Now Alma smiled too. “Not that either.”
“Then why are you here?”
“When your disappointed disciples left me, I made contact with the authorities.”
“I’m too big of a problem for you and Marn?”
“Quite frankly, yes,” replied Alma. “I told them what you’ve been doing and what you’re planning.”
“You’ll be receiving a guest tomorrow.”
“From the capital?”
“No, from the celestial world.”
“Then I’d better clean the place up.”
“Good luck, Kim.”
Alma turned and walked out.
Kim didn’t bother cleaning. He sat alone and wondered what the authorities would do. No one had ever been imprisoned in the terrestrial world. And no one had ever been banished. It had been a point of doctrinal discussion on earth whether there was advancement from lower to higher kingdoms in the hereafter, but after the resurrection, no one needed to ask. The nature of resurrected bodies in the various kingdoms rendered all discussion moot. But now Kim pondered the opposite question. Was it possible for a person to regress, to be demoted from a higher kingdom to a lower one, or even to outer darkness? This last thought chilled his soul, but he knew he couldn’t turn back.
Sometime in the middle of the night Kim heard, and ignored, a knock at the door. After a minute or so, Cory and Leslie walked in.
“We talked with Alma,” said Cory. “He told us what’s happening.”
“You’re here because you’re curious? You want to see what happens to me?”
“No,” Leslie replied. “We’re here because we’re your friends. And we support you.”
“What if I’m no longer fit to stay in this world?”
“Then we’ll leave with you.”
“What if I’m sent to outer darkness?”
“They can’t do that to you,” said Cory
“How do you know?”
“Because you’re not trying to do anything wrong.”
“Sure I am. I’m rebelling. I want to create evil.”
“No, you’re trying to create opposition, which people need, even if they don’t realize it.”
“Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe people don’t need it. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I don’t belong here.”
“Then we don’t either.”
“Thanks for your support,” Kim said. “But I think I need to be alone until they come.”
“We understand,” Leslie offered. “We just wanted you to know we’re with you.”
Kim nodded, and his two friends left.
 * * *
The next day at exactly noon the celestial visitor arrived.
Kim had limited experience with celestial beings, but the light streaming from this one was so intense he had to shield his eyes.
Kim motioned toward the sofa. “Please sit down.” The being did not sit, but planted himself squarely before Kim and looked down on him with both compassion and curiosity.
“Kim,” he said, “I am Raphael. Do you know why I am here?”
“I think so.”
“We have been aware of your little movement here. I’m afraid you have reached the point of no return. You cannot stay in the terrestrial world any longer.”
Kim’s head drooped. This is what he had feared.
“So, where are you sending me? The telestial world? Outer darkness? A planet where I will spend eternity all alone? How do you handle cases like mine?”
“Fortunately,” Raphael answered, “there are few cases like yours. But we have a special program that you might find interesting.”
“What do you do with eternal misfits like me? I don’t really belong anywhere, except maybe mortality.” Kim sighed. “I guess I’m trying to finish finding the purpose I couldn’t figure out on earth.”
“Yes, you are right. So that is what we offer you.”
“Go back to mortality?”
“But I’m immortal. The resurrection is permanent.”
“Maybe not as permanent as you think.”
Kim squinted into the bright celestial light and stared at his visitor.
“There is a fruit,” Raphael stated. “You know this, but you have never made the connection. It is a fruit with the power to change an immortal body back into a mortal one, but it does not grow in this world.”
“The tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” Kim whispered. “I don’t understand.”
“When we people a new world, we need two first parents who are immortal and are willing to fall.”
“But I have a terrestrial body. I can’t very well procreate, you know.”
“The fruit is very potent.” Raphael’s expression was serious, but his voice betrayed mild amusement. “What do you say?”
“Do I have a choice?” Kim asked.
“Not really. We know what you will choose.”
Suddenly a light went on in Kim’s mind. “And where will Nori come from?”
Now Raphael smiled openly. “Her name at present is Leslie.”
“And what will happen to Cory and the others?”
“If they follow in your footsteps, they will also partake of the fruit.”
“And if I find a greater purpose than I did in my first try at mortality?”
“Then you will lead your posterity into a celestial world.”
“And Julie?”
“You know the answer.”
“Yes, I do. And I know it will be hard.”
“Then shall we go?”
Kim nodded.
“Take my hand.”
As Kim touched the celestial flesh, a calm came over him, and then a subtle breeze that shook him to the core, and suddenly he could remember nothing.
“Come, Sam,” said Raphael. “There is much you need to learn before we place you in the Garden.”

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