Monday, May 3, 2010

Where Dreams Come True

-i-

It was a special providence that Nathan managed to be born at all. His parents intended to be a childfree couple. This was, in part, a protest against socially defined gender roles. They also resented the imposition on their autonomy which childbearing and childrearing would bring. Kids are so demanding, you know.

But their deeper reason lay in their firmly-held conviction that it was better not to burden a child with existence. It was unfair to a child to drag him into this stressful and depressing world. Forcing them to exist without their informed consent.

Yet despite their best efforts to avoid procreation, they found, to their disgust, that sex sometimes had the unintended consequence of producing a child. This alone confirmed their pessimistic outlook. Life was so unfair. And if you needed proof, the fact that sex had the disagreeable side-effect of producing a child was reason enough. It was clearly a design flaw that sex resulted in sexual reproduction. If there were a God, he would surely have engineered us in such a way that our procreative activities didn’t result in this unforeseen and undesirable consequence.

So Nathan’s mother underwent an abortion. Unfortunately, the procedure accidentally triggered a live birth. Needless to say, that outcome furnished additional evidence–as if any additional evidence were even necessary–for the cosmic injustice of human existence.

-ii-

So his parents were stuck with this thing, this organism, this consumer, this…this… baby.

It also put a strain on their friendships. For their friends, who shared their modern outlook, were deeply suspicious. They suspected that Nathan’s parents were closet breeders. His parents intended to have a child all along, and the business about defective contraceptives and a botched abortion was just a cover-story. It was all a little too coincidental.

Needless to say, Nate was an only child. One mistake was more than enough.

As a boy, he used to play with the neighborhood kids. Some of his friends had siblings. That made him feel lonely. He was sorry he had no brothers of his own. He felt that he was missing out on something. The companionship of younger and older brothers.

He noticed that brothers told each other things they didn’t even tell their parents. Brothers understood each other in a way that no one else did. A deep, unspoken understanding.

When he was young, he asked his parents to give him a brother, but, of course, they refused.

Nate once saw a science fiction show in which an only-child traveled to a parallel universe where he discovered another family he thought he never had. The character met his double in the parallel universe. What is more, his double had brothers.

The initial meeting was a bit awkward–like identical twins separated at birth. But his alternate siblings welcomed him into the family as one of their own. As a long lost brother. And in a very real sense, so he was. He shared the story of his life with them. They did the same. They quickly made up for lost time.

Watching that show made Nate feel even more alone. He yearned for something like that to happen to him. But, of course, it was only science fiction. Nothing in this world could make that happen. Nothing in this world could fill the gnawing void.

-iii-

When he hit the teen years, Nate became curious about how he got here. The discrepancy between his evident existence and his parents’ principles was striking.

So he asked his mother. And she told him all about the unplanned pregnancy and botched abortion. Needless to say, this explanation left him stunned. He was never able to look at his parents the same way after that.

In fact, he was so disillusioned that, to their utter consternation, he took it upon himself to begin attending church.

His mom found out when she was making his bed. As she was tucking the sheets underneath the mattress, she felt something. At first she assumed it was something innocent, like a syringe or Playboy magazine. But, to her horror, it was a Bible! Nate was hiding a Bible under his bed!

It took a while to compose herself before she confronted him with the offending object. She brought her husband along for moral support.

They let him know in no uncertain terms that he was a great disappointment to them. They had hoped that he was better than that. For him to turn his back on everything they held dear, to traffick with dark side of ancient superstition, was simply unacceptable.

But this fell on deaf ears. His parents had already blown their moral credit, so Nathan didn’t really care whether or not he was living up to their expectations.

His parents never overcame the shame of having such a child. They tried to keep it a secret from their friends. They’d tell little lies about what their son was up to. You couldn’t very tell them that he was attending a “Bible college.” To mention his college major (“Bible studies”) was out of the question. When he went to seminary, that was even worse. They tried to get by with nervous talk about a “graduate” program in the “social sciences.”

As time wore on, they were barely on speaking terms with Nate. They had nothing to talk about. They couldn’t talk about the grandkids since they didn’t approve of grandkids. They couldn’t talk about his ministry.

Nathan tried to bring them over to the “dark side” (as they put it), but they wouldn’t hear of it. That was an instant conversation-stopper.

Nathan and his wife had nine children. Hey held several pastorates until declining health finally forced him to retire at the age of 77.

-iv-

When he died, Nathan was assigned an angel to be his tour-guide. Heaven was a big, complicated place. Indeed, heaven was a geometrical paradox. You see, heaven was bigger on the inside than the outside. Rooms within rooms, leading to alternate dimensions. You needed a tour-guide to help you get your bearings.

If some of your friends or relatives made it to heaven before you did, one of them would be your tour-guide. But if you predeceased your Christian friends and relatives, an angel was assigned to your case–to give you the grand tour.

Nate had many questions. And Ariel had many questions for Nate. What did he want to see first?

Nate blurted out that the one thing he always wanted was the one thing he could never have. “What was that?” Ariel asked.

“A brother or two,” Nathan answered. But he apologized for asking the impossible.

“Here, all things are possible,” Ariel replied, nonchalantly. “Heaven is where all good dreams come true. Heaven is where all undreamt of goods come true.”

“What about hell?”

“That’s where all nightmares come true. Between what’s here and there, what might have been in your world is real in the next. Or real enough for all practical purpose.”

Nathan was confused. How could he now have brothers when he never had any brothers?

“You never had brothers in your world,” Ariel explained. “But that doesn’t mean you never had any brothers. Just not in your world.”

Nathan was still a bit confused. “You see,” Ariel continued, “there’s another you in another world, where you do have some brothers. Would you like to meet them?”

“How is that possible?” Nathan asked.

“It wasn’t possible in your world–since your world was a different world. So it wasn’t possible to get there from your world. But in heaven, you can go to any possible world you please.”

Nathan was a bit dumbstruck at the prospect. “We do it all the time,” Ariel assured him. “Why, just last week I set up a meeting between an orphan and his parents. They died when he was 7…in his world.”

“Can I go now?”

“Sure.”

“Are they waiting for me?

“There’s a possible world where they’re waiting for you, and another possible world where they’re not. But, in any case, they’d be happy to meet you–whether they’re expecting to see your or whether it’s a pleasant surprise. Either way, it’s like a family reunion. You just have to specify the time and place.”

“The time?”

“At what point in their life do you wish to drop in? When they were teenagers? Or twenty-somethings? We can age you up or down to the corresponding timeline. That’s part of the package, you know.”

“What about 14? Could I take it from there?”

“Sure.”

And with that, Nate suddenly found himself standing in the backyard of a house. He saw another boy who looked exactly like he was at the same age. And there were two other boys, one a bit younger and the other a bit older, who bore a family resemblance.

They were a bit started at first when he introduced himself.