Saintly Stories

The Divine Spider

The story is key.  One cannot convey ones message without the story.  The story preexists mankind, and stretches back to the very dawn of creation.  We may escape from everything but the story, and the absence of the story is nihilism, is death.  Do not be deceived, we did not create this story, or at least, we did not consciously create it, and as such, we are not responsible for its creation.  But we may be responsible for its propagation.  For if we have seen the story, have seen its efficacy, and denied that efficacy, then we have denied life, and life will be denied to us in turn.  What is the story, you may ask?  Whence lies its beginnings?  What threads may we grasp onto in order that we may follow its course backwards and forwards in time?  All stories are one, I answer.  If I know nothing else, I know that much.  But not all threads of the story are as clear and pristine as others.  There are threads of the story that will lead us into darkness just as surely as the denial of the story.  But only if we follow these threads in the wrong direction, for even the weakest and most sullied of her threads meet eventually in the nexus of the web that is the story of human beginnings.  If we can hold onto nothing else, it must be the thread of the story where we find ourselves, for one cannot jump from one thread to another, for an infinity of darkness lies between them.  So long as you grasp onto the thread, whether you have travelled in the right direction, towards the center and the lights of being, or whether you have travelled in the opposite direction, mistaking a mere reflection of that light for the light itself, one may always find ones way back to the center.  But what is the center of the story, you may ask?  I wish I knew, I respond.  All I know is that there is one, and it is One truly.  But the thread of each person's attachment to the story is unique, and each person must find their way either to this center, or to the outer darkness.  And these threads do not travel in a straight line, but may be full of twists and turns.  False alleys, that appearing to lead to the light, lead instead into the darkness.  And other threads, appearing dark and futile, will in a short while, make a sharp turn towards the light.  There are symbols along the way, there are guides to help us, and some of those guides are the voices of others who travel alongside us for a time.  But even these voices, through no fault of their own, may deceive us.  Truly, this great web of being is a terrifying thing, and we tame her and deny her efficacy at our peril.  But yet, when seen from the outside, when seen from the perspective of Being Itself, the patterns woven in this great web of being are beautiful; more beautiful than the thoughts of those who travel her courses can possibly imagine.  More beautiful than the sun and the stars.  More beautiful than the depths of quantum entanglements.  More beautiful than the heights of human passion, and more terrible than the depths of human despair.  So beautiful that the despair of the most wretched lost voices, rising out of the dark mists lying at the edges of the entrails of being are but a dissonant chorus in the Ear of the Divine Being who perceives the workings of Her web.  Do I speak of the Master of Being as a Spider?  I suppose that is the logical end of this metaphor.  Perhaps the metaphor is untrue, but imagine, if you can, the Divine Being as such an awesome Spider.  For the spider is terrible to behold, yet she exudes a beauty both profound and terrible.  And mind you, in this metaphor, mankind is not a miserable fly caught within the web of this spider, but the very material of the web that she has woven; her silk.  A spider may devour her children, but does not the spider tend to and care for her web?  She cares for even the weakest strand, and will not lightly abide its destruction.  But of course, in the end, the spider is dependent upon her web.  Is this a true metaphor for the Divine One?  Well, I suppose all metaphors must break down at some level, and I have a suspicion that this metaphor has outlived its usefulness.  But I wish you to see the majesty and the terror of our condition.  I wish you to stand before the Divine One in awe and reverence and fear at Her very otherness to us.  Yet, I wish you to see that She has not abandoned this web of being, and will repair its broken threads, (may we hope even to the last one?) before its delicate material may be reintegrated into the bosom of the One from whence it sprang. 

She Remains My Beloved: A Philosophic Lament

My beloved is gone and I am alone.  I lost my beloved many years ago and the intervening days have been full of emptiness and regret and grief.  Some say that time heals all wounds but I have found it to be just the opposite.  With each passing moment and day and month and year, the ache of loss pierces me ever more deeply—pierces like a thorn in my foot worming its way deeper into my tender flesh with each excruciating step.  There is no remedy.  I cannot be with my beloved, for my beloved no longer exists.  Oh, the body of my beloved yet lives, but the beloved that I love is not the body that is but the soul that might have been, the soul which is no more.  I cannot now love in truth, cannot love bodily, for the phantom specter of my beloved's soul yet holds my heart.  Might I reclaim my heart from that specter?  Might I relinquish this ghost from out of my past and love again?  Perhaps...perhaps.  But to exorcise my beloved...I would lose the only link to her spirit still left me, and perhaps lose my very soul; for my soul abides with my beloved, and my beloved abides in what was and what shall never be.  Though my beloved is now merely a phantom of some alternate future--bleeding into my present out of the mists of the past—she remains my beloved. 

            And so the years pass.  The days creep by as the weeks and months fly one after the other, and I grow old—I grow old.  My body begins its slow decline; I can feel its ebbing energy with each beating of my heart.  I try to conjure the face of my beloved, but her memory fades as my beloved slips further and further into the shadows of the past; a phantom out of time.  As memory fades the phantom grows ever more indistinct, but does not mellow with age.  While the hair and lips and eyes and breasts of my beloved fade into obscurity, the memory of her touch, of her embrace, of her tears blossom and grow ever more prickly and powerful in my soul.  What now remains are the sharp joys of my beloved in my arms, and the dull pain of her terror in the night...especially her terror, for her terror has left wounds upon my own soul, wounds too deep to heal; wounds which at times open and bleed, seeping puss and offal, needful of nursing and care.  These wounds are tender and painful but I mind them not, for it is in the nursing of them that I can almost, almost, summon an image of my beloved.  For when I lick and bind these new-opened wounds I remember—with a memory that transcends my meager powers of recollection—I remember when I could hold my beloved and quell her terrors, for a time.  But the terror would rise again with such fury that it would overpower me, and I too would be overcome by her terror and her pain.  Her terror and her pain became my terror and my pain, and so they still remain.  And the terror morphed into disappointment, and disappointment into bitterness, and bitterness into pride, and then pride solidified into hatred.  One may only hate that which one would love, and as much as we began in love so my beloved and I ended in nothing but hatred.  We absorbed and reflected our shared hatred one upon the other; I on my beloved, the mirror of myself, and my beloved upon me.  The fires of hatred burn dark and deep, billowing up out of the forge lying at the intersection between the human soul and oblivion.  And amidst the fires of that forge we perished, one mind and one flesh, consumed in an inferno leaving nothing but ashes and embers and pain!  

            But she lives still in me, that phantasm of the past.  How could this be, you ask?  How could it be otherwise, I respond?  Do not reject the deep wisdom of old, the hard anthropological truth that when we persons bind ourselves in love one to another midst the flux of time and space, the bond of our love's joy echoes across the barren and rocky shores of the abyss to the very seat of Being, to the very Throne of Heaven.  For is it not said that what is bound on earth shall be bound also in heaven?  What is bound to our souls in those lands, lands far more substantial than our own, we shall surely carry inside of us to the grave, and perhaps beyond.  For in love, our spirits commingle and intertwine—melding as perfectly and indistinguishably as the light of two stars in eclipse.  And no force of separation or dissimulation—even the fires of Tartarus—may sunder what once was bound before the seat of Being Itself.  Such bonds, once secured, may be shredded and torn—leaving their fleshly threads bleeding and tattered by the roadside, exposed to the flies and maggots of despair and grief, and the mocking censure of the crowds of hatred and shame.  But such bonds, once made, will abide even these indignities.  And so, against will and even against nature, she remains my beloved. 

            There is no hope in this world for my beloved and I.  So I will shrink back from the wounds of that still throbbing and bloody bond and sink into the empty shell that has become myself, my soul.  I will stoop over my fire, tend my wounds, and brood as the embers fade and play dancing images of my beloved's form before my mind's eye.  And my brooding will turn to regret, and my regret to anger, and my anger to shame, and my shame to grief, and my grief to sleep, and my sleep to dreams—dreams of my beloved.  As my memory of my beloved passes from my waking to my sleeping self, her essence metamorphoses from phantasm into myth.  And in myth my beloved lives again as she may have been, for the land of myth lies adjacent to heaven and is itself a land of power and mystery.  And just as the newly awakened butterfly emerges from the chrysalis and slowly spreads its fast-drying wings towards the sun so the myth of my beloved rises from the ashes of the past and gains in strength and vigor and beauty and power as she raises her arms to the heat of my embrace.  And I dream of the myth of my beloved, and the myth of my beloved becomes alive in my arms!  And I must believe—I must!—that my dreams are truer than my waking hours, for my dreamscape is the only realm where I might still live with my beloved as more than phantom memory, where I might still love my beloved and be loved by my beloved in turn.  Thus I prefer the life of my dreams, for there my beloved yet lives as she was, as she might have been, as she should have been.    

            And I will sleep but a few moments more, a few moments more, just a few moments more. That I may spend a few moments more with my beloved before the sun rises and burns away the dewy haze from my eyes, evaporating the body held in my arms, and driving the form of my beloved once more into the blackened depths of my broken heart.  To live forever in that dream, holding my beloved as she was, as she might have been...but no...no; now I am awake, and it is time to sleep-walk through the day until the night returns and I may once again hold my beloved in my arms.

The Middle Place

...She awakens suspended between water and air. 
 
Her feet vainly churn the encircling waters, seeking a bottom…finding not even a strand of algae promising mooring. The waters are impenetrably deep. She strains against the malevolent will of those waters. She frantically thrashes against the waves seeking an answer, gasping. As yet, the waters refuse her their secrets. "Wait," they whisper in her ears, "We will tell you someday… but not yet, not while you yet have the strength to swim a little longer." 
 
If she is brave she may attempt to dive a few feet below but she will only find that the waters become somewhat colder. She will hear nothing new there and see less. She must, in the end, return to the surface; or not…it makes little difference in the end. There are no ships that plow  these seas; at least none that any has ever seen. 
 
She knows not how she came to be here, held in the water's loose but inescapable embrace. As far back as she can remember, she has always been here. And thus she remains. Hour after hour. Day after day. Night after night. Or, perhaps not. If night and day there are upon these waters, they are both indistinguishably gray and cold. Whether she has been here ten minutes or ten years, she doesn't know. She knows of nothing but water; and the waters, even now, refuse her their secrets. "Wait" they chant to the rhythms of the swells and waves.  "Wait." 
 
At times, an object brushes against an arm, a leg, a thigh. She can’t tell what it is, what they are they never show themselves— but monsters swim in those inky depths; she knows this just as she knows that she is helpless against them. No matter how strong she is, no matter how fast she swims, if they have marked her out as their prey, she will not escape them. Yet oddly, while they terrify, there is a strange comfort to be found in them. Their brief touch is the closest thing to living contact she knows. And though they terrify, they are warmer than the cold waters . Even in the bloody sacrament of a feeding frenzy--that marriage of two flesh made one--they promise a warm embrace which the cold ambivalent waters will never offer.  Perhaps, she sometimes thinks, it would be better to dissemble swiftly in the hot belly of the beast rather than the slow, cold, bloodless embrace which the deep offers once her strength gives way. She can court this end if she will, beating her limbs boldly against the black waters or thrusting toes and fingers against some solid mass of flesh as it redounds off of her skin.  But even for one courting such an end there is a risk that she will not be saved from the inevitable sea but may only quicken its envelopment. For what if the monsters ignore her pleas, and she simply expends her finite strength? What if they merely sever a limb, leaving the waters to claim their inevitable prey?  They have unpredictable appetites, the monsters, and may just as likely pluck the facile and un-moving and ignore those who court their release. 
 
And all the while, the waters await her. Sometimes, they speak to her. "Think your thoughts," they whisper. "Dream your dreams, hope your hopes. You are ours in the end. You are ours even now. Play your games, we will be here waiting for you in the end." 
 
At times, most times, these whispered entreaties strike her as macabre. Yet sometimes, she feels as though the waters are her special destiny.  She feels as though they call her as a savior calls to his disciple.  That they beckon her into their eternal bed as the tenderest of lovers. She feels this especially strongly when she cries, which is often. When she cries, she senses her saline tears meld seamlessly with the brackish, briny waters and can feel her very being melding with the encircling waves.  In fact, if she had the understanding, she would know that the salt water is chemically interacting with her skin, molecules bouncing back and forth between her individual self and the seemingly infinite waters. She does not consciously know this, but her soul feels it nonetheless. 
 
"That's right", they coo. "You are becoming as we have always been. With each lap of our infinite waves, you become less your autonomous self, and more a mere atom within us." 
 
Just imagine, she thinks, dissembling into the seas. Becoming not the alien other in that vastness but a welcome, it indistinct, part of that greater whole.  What bliss, she thinks; to belong, to inhabit, to be.  She who has had no knowledge or memory of comfort or love begins to feel something of both.  For her, in her condition, the feeling must have been stronger than what Paris felt when he first took Helen into his arms, or when Dante first beheld Beatrice.  She begins to shut her eyes; her breathing becomes shallower. She slackens the rhythmic back and forth of her arms.  She feels the waters slowly creep up the sides of her cheekbones; with each lap of the waves, the waters draw ever closer to the corners of her mouth. With each shallow breath, she feels a slight misting of cool, delectable sea water. It is as though she is breathing through a rainbow. She lets a little water slip through her nose into the back of her throat. It is harsh at first, acrid, but also sweet with the assuring knowledge of dissimulation and release. 
 
"Ah," sighs the waters, which have by now thoroughly penetrated and surrounded her ears.  "That's right. Let yourself go. Just a moment of discomfort, and then, all will be well." 
 
Suddenly, her eyes shoot wide open. "No!" she shouts. "Not that, anything but that!" She shoots as far heavenwards as she is able, almost three feet above the breakers. Inevitably, she falls just as quickly into the water's unwelcome embrace. She knows not why she feels such sudden abhorrence. Is it mannish nobility or pure animal terror? She knows not even how to distinguish between the two. All she knows is that to bend to the immutable will of her watery master is foreordained, as certain as the turning of the earth. "No! A thousand times no!" It may be immutable, but it isn't right--right?--yes, it is not right. The waters are not her master unless she allows them to become thus; she is a guest here but is being treated as an intruder. The waters, in their ancient wisdom, may wish to lull her with cosmopolitan splendor, but such is not for her.  The waters have enough molecules, they shall not have hers... at least, not ALL of hers... at least, not while she has still the breath to call herself by that phantom moniker "I, myself." When such is gone, when the inevitable comes because her strength fails, or because some other terror of the deep claims her--then very well. But until that time, she will be as she is. 
 
Her eyes turn skyward; if salvation does not lie somewhere in those heavens, where can it lie? But she knows, if she knows nothing else, that there is no home for her there amidst the clouds. The waters provide no resting place, but the sky provides no place at all, is no place at all. Besides, even if she could fly, the air is even colder than the waters; harsh eddies continually blow and relentlessly re-construct…re-construct...what? She doesn't know. She fears the waters, but she cannot hope in the harsh and insubstantial sky. She cannot live as she is, but she cannot even be midst that ethereal element. Turning her attention back to the waters, she listens. The waters have ceased their siren song; for the moment. But what of the wind? He speaks, but whereas the waters speak a language intelligible to such as her, the language of the air leaves her merely bewildered. No, she cannot put her hope in the sky. 
 
What is she then left with? A puzzle? A story? Yes, a story. A story of, what? A story of land?  Land, what is land; what is story? What is this thing which she longs for? How can she know of it? She has never been told this story, for there has never been anyone to tell her. She has never seen land, has never seen a picture of it, has no clear conceptualization of what it might be, has no word by which to call it. Nothing but a yearning...nothing but an unnamed and unknown hope. Is it enough? If not, then surely despair is the only option. 
 
The waters takes up again their ancient chant. She cannot make out the words this time, only the indistinct deep rumbling of an old and mystical mass; like the sonorous melody of a hundred thousand Gregorian Monks chanting midst the pillars of some infinite crumbling stone Monastery.  She turns inward. 
 
Despair, the final harbor of the dispossessed. Its promises are even more seductive than the water's; for while the waters promise truth, they do not promise the knowledge of truth that would seem to make truth worth having. Despair promises not the rest that are the waters' to give, but promises something infinitely more alluring: the capacity to stand in judgment of the unfeeling waters which holds in their hands her fate. For anyone, such must be as desirous as the most precious jewel. For one who has never felt what it is to stand, intoxicating as the strongest opium. "Fine then, I will revel in despair," her mind screams. "I do not resign myself to my fate, but I stand in judgment of it! I curse you oh treacherous waters! I curse you though I know that I cannot overcome you! I curse you for creation itself! You have power over me, but it is I who judge you!" 
 
Thus the final refuge of despair, the aphrodisiac of pride. And it was good. The warmth of disintegration into the abyss could not compare to the heat of self-righteous indignation. For a brief moment, fate did not matter. All that mattered was that she, who was less than a reed against the universe--for she was not even moored--stood in dread judgment of that unfeeling expanse. 
 
But, after what was for her too short a time, this fire cooled. If the waters had reached out to pluck her in that moment, perhaps it would have been enough to carry her laughing into the abyss; but that moment was past. What lies beyond despair...what of the land? What of the untold story? But a rumor. Yet she yearned for it, more than she yearned for her life; for life was contingent upon that land, whether known or unknown. Without the story, what was mere life? Could she still be judge of the waters when she did not even know of the lands that were her true home?  Her true home, whether or not such a home truly existed? 
 
She sighed...no, she had not the right to stand in judgment, not the power, she who could not even stand, who had not even the knowledge of the land to stand upon. 
 
And so, her song of fire and vengeance was forgotten, preceding her journey into the waters' depths of forgetfulness. What could she now do, but continue to swim? But, she had so little strength left; her arms were so tired and her legs felt as lead. Her eyes slowly began to close. 
Slowly, ever so slowly, it became harder and harder to move her arms and legs against the waters' ever present pull. Each rise to take a gasping and salty breath came with ever more difficulty. Dark spots began to form before her eyes as her oxygen deprived brain began desperately rerouting its most vital functions. She became ever more aware of the labored beating of her heart. As her soul ebbed into the abyss, the deep chanting of the darkening waters grew ever louder and more distinct. "It is time," they droned. "It has come, join us and be no more." She was underneath now, surrounded on all sides by muck, and grime, and bilge, and darkness. Her last conscious act was to open her eyes. Her last conscious feeling was the sharp pain of salt and sand digging into her iris, her throat, her belly. She didn't even have the breath to let out a scream. 
 
She awakens suspended between water and air... 

 

The Message (A Nightmare?)

It was a cool clear morning.  A young man stood alone, cold stone steps beneath his bare hard feet.  He turned his face and beheld the harsh glint of the rising sun.  He stared into the sun as long as his eyes could stand its gaze, and then blinking, raised a cup of hot tea to his lips and sipped the steaming bitter liquid.  He felt the thin stream trickle down his throat, burning slightly, until it at last collected in the reservoir of his empty stomach.  He sighed and turned his back to the sun.

---

One day, the Prophet came.  The multitude listened.  They listened, but they did not hear; they listened but they did not comprehend the words.  The words were sharp enough to cut through the weariness that had descended upon humanity's soul, but not sharp enough to cut through the haze of lies and self-deceit that traced its hidden origins to the sins of mankind's youth.

"I come" the Prophet said,  "not bearing a message of hope, nor a message of love, nor a message of peace, but a message to end all hope, to destroy all love, and to abolish the very need for peace."  Such were the rhythms of his words.

"You have all stumbled from one false god to another" he intoned.  "From false idol to falser ideology.  Where has this led you?  Each successive master has promised you happiness, but has any master delivered? Each king promised freedom, but in the end did not each one come bearing chains?  When will you stop being deceived?"    

"How do we know you have not come to deceive us?"  asked the multitude.  "We have been deceived many times before.  We are tired of being deceived and would rather believe nothing, follow no one.  We have learned to empty ourselves and live.  What new thing can you promise us?"  They had heard such speeches before. 

"I promise you nothing," said the prophet, "but nothingness.  You say that you have emptied yourselves.  Then you must know that you know nothing and accept that nothingness.  If nothingness there is, then there is nothing to live for.  But you continue to live on--is this nothingness?  No, verily I say unto you, you do not believe in your so-called nothingness."

"No", they responded, "Not nothingness, but mere unadorned life.  The acceptance of our mortality, the unsteady but true acquiescence to the god that lives and dies in the moment.  A reliance on the minuteness of bare pity and empathy that prevent us from embracing that final nothingness; that hideous end.  We have accepted our place as the pinnacle of the evolved animal kingdom, but know that we are nothing more.  You unsettle us."

"What end does nothingness suggest?" asked the prophet.  "Do you suppose that you have understood my message?"

"Yes", replied the multitude, stirring.  "You suggest that end which we have rejected, which we reject, and which we will reject; the annihilation of a whole race of beings--the wholesale suicide of the human race.  You ask us to take up the mantle of violence, as did all the prophets of old.  Except this time, you wish us to turn not only against that external other, but against our internal selves.  To kill ourselves as we would kill others."

"Destruction is what I offer," said the prophet,  "that much you have understood.  But further you do not understand, and I have not the power to make you to understand...but there will be another."

The Prophet fell silent.  He retreated into the wilderness.  He waited.  They came for him.  They murdered him and displayed his head as a trophy.

---

Humanity grew older.  There were wars and rumors of wars.  Weariness quickened in their hearts.  Some dreamed dreams and saw visions of the Prophet.  Clans of dirty and deluded men slaughtered in the Prophet's name.  For a time, it would seem as though that galaxy of silence might re-descend upon the face of the waters.  But each time humanity rallied...for a season.  Faced with the coldness of oblivion, they united.  For a time some even dared hope that they had thwarted the Prophet and his message.  But the weariness always returned in the end.  Some new devil would arise and the cycle began anew.  With each successive triumph, more weariness.  

---

Then came the one the Prophet had foretold--the Teacher.  The Teacher spoke as the Prophet had spoken, but he spoke with authority.

"I come to show you the way" he said.  "Will you listen to me?"

"We will listen," said the multitude.  "We will listen but we have not the strength to respond or to obey or to object, for we are weary."

"I know that you are weary," he said,  "and I know why you are weary.  You are weary because you have lost that which was your birthright.  You were given this world to live in for a time, to love in for a time.  This was meant to be an abundant world, if only you would love one another and abide in that love.  But long ago you marked those who loved as though they harbored some hideous defect.  You killed those with love in their hearts, for they illumined the lie of your soul's lack.  For a time some of you, having no love yourselves, yet recognized its necessity and protected those who still had love in their hearts.  But such was not to last--in the end, you murdered your lovers alongside the rest.  At last, love's bloodline was extinguished--life was all that was left.  But this life could not sustain, was empty without the love that you had lost, that you had killed.  Yet still you clung to life.  You cling to life still out of habit, but you are weary and will grow more weary until your last gasping and futile breath.  Now, now I offer you salvation.  Are you ready to hear?"

"Tell us," they said.  "We do not know if it is salvation that we yearn for, but we feel empty.  We are weary.  We will not cast aside our lives and we refuse to let anyone else take what is ours from us--for we are selfish and afraid--but we are weary.  Tell us."

"My burden is light" answered the Teacher, "my yoke is easy.   For too long you have multiplied--spreading this doomed race upon the face of the earth.  You desired an end to your torment, but fought back against the hands of those who would deliver you to oblivion.  You did not know why you did thus, but I tell you that you were right to do so.  Those violent men who claimed the sanction of the Prophet knew not his message; nevertheless they did my will, but they knew it not.  You did my will, but you knew it not.  They quickened your weariness,  prepared you for the end.  Are you not now ready for the end?"

The multitude stirred.  Some replied, "we believe the end is nigh, but we know not the way.  If the way of the sword is not the end, how may we be freed?"

"The answer has always been with you," said the Prophet.  "You have ignored all of the commandments but this one...'Be fruitful and multiply.'  If you would but forget this one commandment as you have forgotten all the others, you would be saved."

At this the multitude laughed.  "Do you not think we have considered that?" said one.  "Do you not think we have tried?" spoke another. "Many who took up the mantle of the Prophet sought this end to no avail.  What you propose is no solution."

"I tell you the truth," said the Teacher.  "The power to do this thing has always been with you, but to sacrifice yourselves for the sake of those who should never be requires a love greater than you have known since the very beginning--and in those days such need not have been your fate.  I could give you this gift, I could take away from you the power to reproduce which has become such a burden to you."

At this the multitude trembled, but whether it was in fear or in expectation, they knew not.  "Would you give us this gift?" they entreated.

"No," replied the Teacher.  "I have come only to teach.  This is the final act to which you have been called, the fate assigned to loveless humanity.  You have known this for millenia, but you refused to comprehend. I tell you the truth, this is the final generation of man--this is your final chance.  If you fail in this you will become as the walking dead and the weariness which you feel will become so great that you will not be able to bear it.  If that end comes it will be monstrous.  Hear me and ponder on the riddle of my words: in the end the result shall be the same.  The universe shall live on in either case and shall not mourn you.  Such is the fate of all life.  But the end that I offer unto you, which will gently undo the scar which you have etched upon the face of creation, shall be the one creative act of which you are now capable, and it will be good.  It will be good even if there is none left to call it good."

With these words the Teacher fell silent.  The multitude stood in awe and pondered his words.  An acolyte of the Prophet emerged from the throng and struck down the Teacher.  The Teacher fell to the earth and breathed his last.  The multitude stood impassive--then wept.

---

Thus began the age of the Students, who went out into the world to spread the Message of the Teacher.  The Message they taught was a hard one and found infertile soil across much of the face of the globe.  But they tilled the soil until some of the seeds they sowed began to sprout.  Some seeds bore good fruit; communities blossomed in their wake.  Some floundered and failed.  Some, in weariness and despair, turned from the Teacher.  In the renewed vigor of mankind--for such was the paradox of the Teacher's philosophy--some forgot the gift of death and oblivion that was their birthright.  They tried to rebuild upon the lost promise of a long-forgotten and buried age--creating new empires that prolonged the suffering of the just and the unjust.  These were the first death pangs.

Slowly, the Message took hold.  One by one the peoples of the earth accepted the Message and rejected that which had once been the gift of procreation but was now the curse of a weary half-life.  In some places, this process of natural life annihilation--which did not kill, but merely resisted the urge to perpetuate itself--was aided by policies of good government and wise council; in others it was unduly hastened by an unnatural desire to quicken the end and caused great pain to millions.  These were the second death pangs.

The peoples of the world began to age.  An aging humanity sang songs of the past--of adventures that belonged to mankind's youthful vigor.  These old men and women saw visions, both horrible and grand, of an heroic and vital infancy.  These songs saddened them, but they were content--for such things were gone and their like could never more be.  Such were the beginnings of wisdom in the last days.

Some began to be afraid.  "What if," they said, "we all have done this thing only to have some remnant of our doomed species that was hidden away, unknown and unseen, arise and repopulate the world?  What if humanity is fated to relive this tragedy all over again?"  For a time, those who remained pondered the possibility of this question and were filled with hate and fear.  Some hunted the earth for this supposed remainder.  These were the third death pangs.  

Humanity became, finally, wise.  They ceased to build.  They ceased to fear for the fate of their planet in their absence.  One by one, each light flickered and went out across the face of the planet.  Slowly at first, and then more quickly--the antithesis of the spark which sets off a roaring blaze--the earth descended into the darkness.

---

It was a cool clear morning.  A man sat huddled under a blanket.  Shivering, his leathery barefooted soles perched atop cold stone steps.  He was very old, wizened with the wrinkles of a lifetime's worth of cold mornings.  He sipped a cup of hot tea as the rising sun spread its warm embrace across his shrunken face and hands.  He lifted his eyes and smiled, slightly.  He smiled because he had just felt the last faint beating of his heart.  As his body pitched forward all pain, and suffering, and hate, and evil slipped into the abyss--a fitting coda to mankind's brief sojourn in the universe.  It was good.  There may have been no one left to call it thus, but it was good.