© Drake Dunaway 2020. All rights reserved.
Little Bessemer had lots of toys in his cubby. And if there were one thing that Bessemer liked, it was toys. Here in Heaven there were barrows of toys; there were big ones, teeny tiny ones, fuzzy, and colorful toys. Most of the other toys that the children of Earth lost ended up here, where angels cleaned them and fixed them up like new for the great nursery behind the Throne.
He couldn’t remember when God made him, but Bessemer was a soul. He didn’t have a soul — he was a soul. That of a little boy, namely. Bessemer was a little boy to be. And until the day he truly was, he had his toys.
Every child in the Nursery wanted to be born. “When do I get born?” remained the most popular question among each grain of sand on a neverending shore, and that eager question gaily wrested the imagination of every last soul child as they waited in their cubbies. The anticipation rapt everyone like an ever-running Christmas Eve as they awaited their name to be called by the Creator Himself for the beforetalk. What made you get called to the beforetalk and get born? Some said you got born by praying the hardest. Other said that it came from being special. But whatever the case, today was Bessemer’s lucky day.
The Nursery gaped wide and high as the oceans, a vast honeycomb stippled with billions of cubbies like his own. From airy climes aloft, an oculus the breadth of a continent poured in living, supernal radiance that shone in full the mysterious and unsearchable love of God. The light of the occulus spilled down a carillon of brass bells whose battery loomed like a city in the sky. And where was the Allfather? Who knew? Perhaps he was just loving everyone from far off somewhere and that ought to be the best anyone could say of it.
A knock on the door. “Bessemer.”
“Hineini. Here I am.”
“‘Tis I, my son.”
“Can I live?”
“Of course you can, Bessemer. Now’s the time you’ve waited for.”
Together the two of them found themselves sitting before the Throne of Glory on a mat sharing grape juice and jelly beans. The great hall was the apotheosis of every megaron, cleared of every being in the kingdom and reserved for just the two of them, alone together.
“Is this your big chair?”
“You guessed it, kiddo.”
“So when do I get to go? Who will my parents be?”
“Oh, you will soon enough. And I’m sure you’ll pick very nice ones. But first, I need to have a conversation with you. Every leaver gets one. It’s a must, Bessemer.”
“For many things. To ask you what you hope to do, who you hope to be, how you plan to build the world, what you hope to get out of this life, and so much more.”
And so both of them chatted together, solitary in the gargantuan intimacy at the pinnacle of the universe. And oh what a delight Bessemer found it to tell the Lord God all he planned to do. God mostly listened, nodded, and smiled. And it didn’t seem that Bessemer knew any wrong answers, which left him quite relieved.
“Kid, I’m going to tell you something you’ll seldom hear about me down there,” God said.
“What is it?”
“I like you.”
Bessemer smiled across his doughy little cheeks.
“That’s right. Everyone always yaks on about how I love everyone — and I do. But love…it’s always so heavy and deep. So solemn. But you must know, Bessemer, that I like you. All of you, and you yourself. I like everything about you. I made your soul, and I wouldn’t make something I don’t like. I like your company, I like to hear from you, and I like to pop in at your gatherings as a mysterious guest and watch my creatures be happy. You have the divine spark, Bessemer. I like you. And I know this world will be lucky to have you.”
Little Bessemer kvelled in a glow of light.
“You will recognize me in the world if you seek my voice. And you will recognize my Son, the ruler of it.”
“He who wears the Mask of Eternity. He cannot be everyone, but everyone can be him. He who forfeited the Pearl in his crown to save his friend. He who died and conquered Death to save all.”
“Um, God? I don’t know who that is.”
“You’ve met him already many times, but don’t worry. All will be clear in time. You have no memory here, and you won’t until you incarnate. But you should strive to remember what was said here, because that remembrance will be your highest call. Out there in the life of the world, wherever you are, a still small voice will tell you, Bessemer, that I am with you always and to remember our palaver here at the top of things. It will be a sea beacon to you. Your north star.”
Bessemer looked up above the Throne. On each side, planetary statues of looming cherubs held censers the span of orbital rings. Bessemer shuddered. God was very nice, but so many things about him were so scary.
“Remember also, Bessemer. Because one day you and I will meet here again in this great room to match your dreams with your life.”
With that final utterance, God and Bessemer got up from the mat and strolled down the colonnade. A statuary of ice came into view, and as they walked past all the frozen poses Bessemer asked who they were.
“Funny you should ask, my son,” God mused, “Everyone knows what a martyr is. Someone who suffers to remember their talk with me, and who suffers to bring that talk into the world — even unto death. But these? These are the frozen martyrs.”
Some of the men and women looked saintly, ennobled in their grief, dragging cataracts of flowing beard, monastic raiments, beautifully ugly foreheads, chiseled noses, gaunt ribs, folded hands, and all the classical trappings of when glory extrudes through pain. Yet they varied and broke their own molds as saints were fain to do, as other figures appeared workaday, unsaintly, and plain. Some had mobile phones and hoodies. Others wore tailored suits and cast vibes of slick, sexy in-crowders. Faith disguised all averages.
“Temples are funny things, you see,” seeming to change the subject, “They’re not just places for serving me, as that can be done anywhere. It’s where my presence abides as more than just a tingle up your leg. More than an idea. What’s behind the curtain will open your third eye and kill you where you stand. In fact, the very conversation you’re having, and all babies have, is one that Moses and Aaron could only dream of having at the Ark of the Covenant. And what’s more, every temple rehearsed the cosmic drama in miniature. Some temples around the world boasted domes bejeweled with sapphires to stand for the constellations. Others still with their stalwart pillars and blocks represented terra firma, or brazen baths of water in the narthex depicting the seas. The Babylonians believed creation birthed from a fusion of opposites like heaven and earth, and so their sky god and earth goddess met for a tryst on their harvest feast atop the ziggurat. The sky gave water and sun to earth, and earth gave him life back. And so it went.”
“Judaism calls these frozen martyrs the Lamed Vavniks. Back when the Jewish Temple stood (may it be rebuilt swiftly and in our days), it was serviced by a regiment of 36 priests at each shift. And as one regiment of 36 left, another 36 entered to relieve them. And for their time, each sacred regiment interceded to me on the community’s behalf. But as I said, temples are a microcosm of the total. And so all this coming and going of righteous mediators hinted something to the rabbis, and it’s this: in every generation a regiment of 36 righteous sufferers enters the world to continuously justify it before my throne. All are pious, but not always outwardly. They go unsung and they go in shadow, bearing up under fathomless sorrow throughout their lives, and they die in that very sorrow. And when one dies, the torch passes to another immediately. If their ranks lacked but one, the temple of the universe would cease. And while millions suffer in their own ways, their suffering stands apart. It’s not just the depth of suffering, but also what the sufferers know that causes their suffering.”
“What do they know, God?”
“Exactly what you know right now. You see, Bessemer, you don’t have memory as most of the people in the world reckon it, what with serialized events, data, fact and reason. And so none of this talk will translate directly. Nothing survives the jump. Nor should it, as life has to happen. If people remembered our beforetalk directly, or the supernal light of this place, then they would all become forlorn poets and crooners, whiling their lives away trying to wake up to what they all know that they saw. They’d be pondering the Guph, the Well of Souls all the time. They’d foreswear the call of adventure and they’d all pine away. Mercifully, nearly everyone forgets this enough to become the happy little people of the world with their two-story in the burbs and fractionally-expressed nuclear family, nicely rounding the wheel of plough-and-grave allotted to the children of men. But then there are the Kurt Cobains, Edgar Allan Poes, and Vincent Van Goghs. All saints whose turbulent lives were marred by loss, addiction, and tragedy, crushing from them the gris of all genius as they recounted their pain to themselves and it recognized the pain in others. Longing, failure, and suicide are their desserts. They remembered too much, they knew what they saw, and they settled for nothing less. And it costed them. You can find all three out here in statuary of the 36ers. They all come to me frozen in their lungless grief, and so for their sakes they are always before my Throne. They yearn to return to their source, the world stands on them, and so really, the world stands on desire.”
“It sounds like you want me to forget, but not really.”
“Ha! Clever if you want to shade it like that. Didn’t I say you had the divine spark?”
The floor of the nave formed a planar sea of crystal and above in the skies the hidden geometry of God unfolded. And now, finally, they were no longer alone. Bessemer looked back at the Merkabah, that is, the Throne, and the granite threshold guardians with their braziers — they now lived! And they towered and ministered in terrible splendor. Before the Merkabah on its vitreous sea stood seven serpents whose skin was of burnished bronze and fire. Bessemer knew that they were the Seraphim, and they rose as they did before the prophet Isaiah and hailed the King of the Universe, Blessed Be He.
At the right hand of the Great Merkabah stood another throne as shadow cast to object. Plunging umbras canted over the adjunct seat in chiaroscuro as thick darkness surrounded a persona gothic, beautiful, and dark — born in shroud. There sat a concealed light reigning as a king undying with a smoldering countenance and an aspect like lightning, receiving from the Allfather glory and dominion after suffering for the Oneness of the Name. The Scion’s face remained ever hidden, for it was he who wore the Mask of Eternity.
The shapeshifting mask settled on no form, but all the living partook in the Messiah in a silken thread of moments that went on for all time. From instant to instant, the mask floated off to reveal a new one underneath, a new personage from the world of men. Every moment someone did an act of kindness, forgave, or comforted the weary and in every moment a person’s face became that of the king himself. Lawyers, teachers, artists, mothers, soldiers, and gondoliers, saints, prophets, and even sinners damned to hell earned the right to become him momently before yielding to masques ensuing, slipstreaming divers dazzling vizards that floated and compassed him like streamers wind a maypole. And so he was in everyone, and everyone in their fêted king. Moved to compassion, he suffered with every orphan, every dreamer, and in every sparrow’s shattered wing, rolling like gentle breath through and beneath the world entire as he passed his hand over her, feeling her groan, feeling her ache.
Here, at the ordered sum of all things, where finitude swooned before the Never, the king’s robe spilt a luscious twilight sable spangled in the chimes of midnight. On either side of the mask were two goat faces, one red, one white, and these faces never changed and their names were known only to themselves. The shadow king wore phylacteries, the box on his arm housed the names of every soul alive, and the one on his brow enveloped every name in existence. The box on his pate formed a swart billet of cool onyx, girded by a fretwork of gold intaglio inscribing his names in all the worlds. An empty socket nestled in the center of his royal diadem, fit for the Pearl of Great Price that was fenced for everything long ago, and he would not reign until it returned to him freely. Rubies fell from his pierced hands as an Abyssinian maid on a hassock thereby laid, and on a dulcimer she played, singing of dissolving horizons giving way to further ones anon.
The seven serpents stood up once more, walked forward, and bellowed gouts of fire. “Heaven bars no fruit or tree from the people of the Sovereign!” the serpents pealed in sacred dread. This was whom God told Bessemer to seek out in the world, but really, who could forget?
“Bessemer, my sweet, sweet son. You are not even yet a baby. The look on your face tells me you have no idea what I’m talking about. But don’t worry. You shouldn’t. My words will not make sense to you now, but as you become more loving and wise and the more you encounter your own humanity, the more you will grow into them. They will guide you as happenstance, conscience, and your rapport with the mystery of all being. Some people call it deja-vu, fleeting reverie, wanderlust, or awe. A salesman walks briskly down a boulevard and suddenly the buildings take a strange radiance. An 8th color. Your smallness before an ocean. A smell from childhood. A tune in a dream half-forgotten that strikes you to your inner quick, haunts your waking, and slips through your fingers even still. For from those needful nooks my eyes will pierce you with a clear blue gaze that spans the infinite chasm between myself and any one thing. I am the Aleph and the Tav, the Ein Sof, the No-End. I am the origin, the course, and the destiny of all things. I Am. I am enthroned on the praises of all life, and existence became the mantle in which I am garmented and concealed. I am the God of Avraham, Yizchakh, and Yaakov. I will establish the throne of The Last David and the horn of Jesse will be exalted above the cedars of Lebanon. I will rebuild my temple, and by my right hand I will revive the dead, gather Israel to her land, and I will thaw every frozen martyr to serve me there in the place of my Name with burnt offerings and ringing songs. I will humble every steeple as the Torah goes forth from Zion, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem. Then from one new moon to another, and one sabbath to another, all flesh shall come to worship before me. I shall judge among the nations, and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor learn war anymore. My Kingdom shall be with men, and it shall be an everlasting kingdom. On that day, the Lord shall be One and His Name One. I am the Lord your God.”
“Baruch shem k’vod malchuto l’olam vaed!” the seven serpents roared.
God and Bessemer stood at an escarpment at the end of a boggy heath. Above them tilted, whorling galaxies ranged along, and below them lumbering marble clouds dappled a moist orb coated in perilous splashes of cerulean. It was Earth, the improbable, precessing vacuole wherein all the paradoxes of being clashed unresolved, Eternity’s umbilical tied off by the hand of the Creator to form a crude navel in Time that souls could spend a lifetime gazing into for answers. 70 years or 10,000; what more would you learn? Earth: a “just because” to every philosopher. All this made Bessemer wonder why there was anything at all, but he couldn’t ponder long on it.
“Here is the place,” God shouted above the loping wind, “This is the drop. All you have to do is fall. This is where the Morning Star sowed his wild oats in his climacteric fall before Creation’s first gleaming, and oh was the scene dramatic; the frescos and lithographs are a half-hearted attempt. I bid him so many times to step back from the ledge, but growing up in daddy’s long shadow is seldom easy. Ever since, my luminous, prodigal son and I have yet to reconcile. I do miss him. I would run out to meet him, and he’d surely beclown many end-time prophets with Jonah’s day that never came. It’s on him, though. And soon it’ll be on you.”
“Will it hurt?”
“It will do many things, and hurt might be one of them, son.”
“If I change my mind, can I stay?”
“Of course. And many are apt to repent that they were ever born, wishing they could take it back once they’ve alighted. Especially the Lamed Vavniks. Especially them.”
Bessemer peered down over the edge, his chubby little feet inching to where the wet grass attenuated to give way to marl before the expanse. He glowed pure white.
God raised his hand and the wind died down. “Some things before you go, son,” He said, “This is a real journey, with real stakes. And so this journey is not without its perils. You can either lose yourself and succumb to the snares of this world, or bring me into it. The choice I leave to you. And you will have to answer for your deeds while you were there. Now if you want, I can pick your parents for you, or let you pick.”
“I’ll pick, God.”
“Good initiative. Furthermore, getting there alone is fraught with danger and darkness. You’ll happen upon a twisted nether that lay between the worlds. Here you will encounter many doors, and all are worthy if they open to you. And remember: you cannot choose wrongly the circumstances of your birth. Wealth vouchsafes no guarantee, nor poverty any shame to those who bear it well. But you will be bound to a door once you walk through one.”
“What will happen? Can you tell me my future?”
“Soothsaying, is it? That’s a very good question (and a venial peccancy I can overlook for today). People say I’m everywhere, all-powerful, and that I know everything. And they’re not lying. But I can also withhold my presence so that I do not destroy, my power so I do not overwhelm. So too can I withhold my knowing and treat your life as though it’s real. Because it is.”
“I don’t know what will happen, Bessemer! I waive that claim. It’s truly exciting, isn’t it? Who will you be? What will you do? Nobody has the foggiest but you!”
“But you’re God! Don’t you know everything?”
“I am the Lord your God, now and forever. I needn’t enslave myself to satisfying theology or closing a syllogism. I am Truth and Truth is me. I love you with a love both drastic and surreal, more than you yourself will ever have the bandwidth to comprehend. You’re my spectral image and my special miracle — one of my scattered fragments. And if you’re confused, then you’re in mighty company. I do not love you for what you know, Bessemer, and I never will. I love you simply because I do and that’s a mystery that will crown every eon.”
A trillion angels swelled oceanically under the pinwheel stars to bid farewell to another soul as it plummeted like a sparrow from the Guph and became. The great aviary emptied as Bessemer’s numberless buddies poured from their alveoli with well-wishes sung in orisons as all of Outer Heaven swirled around that axial plot in ringing unison for a maiden voyage beyond astounding.
“Now before you fall, Bessemer, tell me: what’s your favorite toy?”
“My stuffed red wolf,” he replied holding the plushie up to God.
“Does he have a name?”
“Well,” said God, looking to land his eyes on something, “Do you see that grouping over there? No intelligent life nor even simple life. That star system is completely sterile, yet it’s one of the most recognizable since shepherds lay sleepless on the grass. The heavens were named by shepherds who couldn’t find a cozy enough rock, Bessemer, not by astronomers. We will call your dog Orion. The hunter. He will hunt destiny.”
“As you enter into the nether and you take in the myriad of doors, Orion will act as your guide. I will instill him with keen instincts and he will find paths for you in the outer darkness. A familiar. A tutelary. A psychopomp, like Hermes or the Ferryman of Styx, who themselves were both angels in my service to the Greeks before they started worshipping them. And when Orion has seen you to your birth he will return to me. Sometimes it’s a holy crow or dove, a ray or voice; the guide varies for everyone, but there’s just something natural between a boy and his pup, wouldn’t you agree? Something just for you, Bessemer.”
Orion sprang to life, a feisty royal blush licking Bessemer as he giggled.
“So all the babies get born this way, God?”
“I have no grandchildren, Bessemer. Now go.”