The chrysalis of the idea for this story came to me the week after Karen told us on Facebook that she only had a few weeks left to live. This was the story I mentioned when I wrote the blog post on the day she died. I knew the story was in there, waiting to be written, but I’d been putting it off since before Thanksgiving, as though that would somehow make the whole thing less real or postpone the inevitable.
It wasn’t until the day we were driving down to attend her memorial service that I realized how I needed to write this thing, and I swear I heard Karen laugh.
See, I have this thing about books.
I love them.
But also, because I write [and am generally competent at it] I have Very Strong Opinions about how it should be done. Specifically, I loathe [as in, white-hot passionate hatred] anything written in First Person Present Tense. If you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about, it’s how I’m writing right now. Instead of writing, “She placed the cup on the table,” you write, “I place the cup on the table.”
For the most part, anything longer than a blog post written in First Person Present Tense strikes me as pretentious and annoying. It always feels like someone is doing a creative writing assignment because almost nobody writes in it.
I hate it enough that it’s quite possible I told Karen about it more than once, but specifically, I remember once when we were talking books during one of our ‘parking lot chats’ and she recommended that I read The Hunger Games. I had avoided the books because I’d heard that they were written in the dreaded First Person Present Tense, and I’m pretty sure I waxed poetic [read: Raved Like a Lunatic] about it after she suggested them.
Karen gave me a look, laughed at my crazy, and said something like, “Trust me. You’ll like them.”
And she was right.
So as we were driving down on the day of her life celebration, I was thinking about the story I needed to write and was trying to figure out why I still couldn’t get it out, and I realized it was because I had to write the thing in First Person Present Tense.
I suspect Steve thought I was losing it, because I rolled my eyes and laughed out loud for no apparent reason just as we were driving by KCI.
But it fit, and not just because Karen totally would have laughed at me.
Having said all that, this is fiction and totally made up, but I love the idea that something like this could happen. At the very least, I hope it isn’t completely outside the realm of possibility.
I wish I’d have gotten it done before she was gone. I suspect she would have gotten a kick out of having a story [albeit an entirely fiction one] written about her.
I also like to think she would have thought it didn’t suck. 🙂
So we’re all in heaven, and even though heaven is outside the confines of time and space, the only way to tell what happens there, is to do it in chronological order, and of necessity, I’m gonna use Earth’s time so it’ll make some sense to my very limited intellect [FYI, writing a scene from within time and space and setting it outside time and space is considerably taxing to my fragile human brain].
I’m standing there with some of the people I’ll be entering earth’s time with, and Jesus, who is handing out lifetime assignments, starts a rundown of one of the lives in our region and decade.
“Okay, people, gather around. We’re working on mid 1970s, Midwest here. I’ve gotten some of you your assignments, but I’ve got a few more that need to be filled. Have a look at this one, and we’ll see if we’ve got any volunteers.”
The souls gather around and watch as the Life unfolds before them. They laugh and watch as the child grows up as the baby and the only girl in a huge family, full of love and music. We mist up as we watch her bring forth three new Lives and settle into her Purpose.
I already know where I’ll be spending my time on earth, but I’ve been watching visions of these lifetimes unfold because I’m nosy, and I want a heads up of the people I’m gonna be spending some time with on earth.
So I’m watching this one unfold, and I see that we do intersect about two decades into our lives. I start looking around to see which soul will step up and volunteer for this lifetime. I hope it’s someone I already like, because from the looks of things, we’re going to be spending several years seeing each other at least once a week, and for most of that time, three or four times a week!
I glance back just in time to watch the end of this lifetime, which comes far too soon. I stare in shock as Jesus looks around and says, “Who will do it? Who will go live this Life and bring about this Purpose for us?”
A small, Son-Bright Soul steps forward, and says, “I’ll go. Send me.”
Christ’s eyes light up with joy as he says, “I thought you might, Karen.”
I watch as the souls who don’t yet have assignments step back and wait for the next life to be revealed, and the souls who have already returned from earth surge forward and offer Karen love and support and congratulations on finding the right fit for her soul’s needs.
I step over to the place where I know Karen spends a lot of her time and wait for the opportunity to speak to her in semi-privacy. She finally makes her way over to me, grins, and gives me a look like she knows what I’m getting ready to say.
“Are you sure about this?”
“Definitely. It’s exactly what I want.”
“But the end…did you see it? You don’t even get to be 40. How is that what you want?”
“It’s not the end that I want, it’s the middle. Look at this.”
Karen shows me scenes from her life, plays for me some of the amazing music her family makes together, shows me the births of her kids, and I begin to understand why she couldn’t say no to this life she’s chosen.
Then she laughs when she realizes that at one point, Steve and I play couple’s tennis with her and Chris.
I look on in horror as my earthly body flails around like a land-locked Albatross and swear it’s never gonna happen. Karen throws her head back and laughs. “No way am I missing THAT! Look how much fun we’re having!” I squint a little and move my head in time to my ridiculous paroxysms, trying to see the expression on my own face as I’m thrashing and flapping around like a blue footed booby in full-on mating dance, and I realize, she’s right. There’s pure, unadulterated joy right there in my eyes.
Then she gets serious for a minute.
“Look, Shelbi. The ending sucks, there’s no doubt about it, but this life, this family and these friends. They’re the ones that called to me. My soul needs them, and I can’t refuse them just because I don’t get to stay as long as I’d like.”
She gives me a hug and goes to say hi to the people who will be the primary players in her life, and I stand and watch her go.
An arm wraps around my shoulders, and a Voice says, “What’s up, baby sister?”
“It’s not fair.”
“It almost never is.”
“But cancer? That just sucks.”
He holds up a hand, and I see the silvery scar from the nail that pierced it so long ago, “If it’s any consolation, even I didn’t get out of dying, and my death sucked pretty bad, too.”
“Oh sure. Play the Savior Card.”
He throws his head back and laughs. “You know, you’re really lucky we don’t actually do the lightning bolt thing.”
I crack a smile. “You’d never smite me anyway. I’m A Breath of Fresh, Irreverent Air.”
“Well, there’s that.” He rolls his eyes.
“I want to show you something.” He waves his hand over the vision of Karen’s life, and I watch as the lights of our souls begin to glow. I watch as she’s born, and the brightness of her spirit radiates out and touches everyone close to her.
“Look at what happens to you when she’s around.” And my slightly dimmer soul gets a little brighter when she enters my life.
“See, that happens with everyone.” And sure enough, each soul-light gets a little brighter as she enters their lives.
“Now watch this.”
I watch in silent awe as Karen’s soul leaves the confines of her body and her true brilliance blots out the sun for an instant. As I watch, it seems that her spirit spreads to infinity and then becomes a brilliant pinpoint of light again as she ascends into the arms of Heaven.
I see my own soul and the souls of those of us who love her shatter into a million pieces as the news of her passing into eternity reaches us.
It spreads out like a nuclear blast, and tears fall as I realize that this isn’t just a vision of someone else’s experiences. My own soul breaks from across the state when I hear the news, and this is after years of not spending a lot of time together.
Ripples of light and pain and grief spread across the landscape of the spiritual realm, and I see a pale string of light begin to form connections between my soul and the spirits of people I’ve never met before.
We are united in grief, but also in our love for Karen, and it strikes me anew that even in the earthly illusion of our separateness, I am united as one with everyone else who carries Karen’s fingerprints on their soul.
But then, as I watch us gather together to celebrate her life, I notice a strange, gossamer web that seems to connect us all in our grief and grow brighter as we relive our love for Karen. It’s the web of Karen’s memory, the fingerprint of her soul, left on each of our hearts.
I watch as we all go home that night and continue the healing process that began as we celebrated her life together. Jesus waves his hand and we zoom in on my own healing process, and I notice that as I start to come back together, my soul light is a little brighter than it was before, almost as if a part of Karen’s radiance lives inside of me. And the web of connection that she leaves grows stronger as we heal, even though our paths won’t necessarily intersect again on earth.
“Even when she’s gone from earth, she’ll still be with you.”
“But it hurts. I don’t know if I can take it. And what about everyone else? What about her family? I’m just part of the outer circle and I can’t breathe. How are they going to survive losing her?”
Tears fall as I look up from the vision in front of me, but before the lights fade, I look around me at the thousands of fellow souls getting ready to make the trek to earth, and I see the web of connection between my own spirit and all of the people she will touch on earth, and for an instant, I recognize them, and I know their stories, and I also realize that I will never meet very many of them during my earthly lifetime.
Our earthly lives only intersect in our love for Karen, and I’m sad for a moment because I won’t know them personally. The beauty of these souls touched by Karen’s life takes my breath away, and I feel deprived for a second, even though I know that our time on earth is a brief flash of light in all that is. When we return to our real home, we will be whole again and remember all of it.
I know this is True, and yet I try to memorize their faces, hoping beyond hope that I will remember them, even though I know that’s not how this thing works.
Then the lights fade, and Jesus nudges me on the shoulder.
“It’s almost time for you to get going, kiddo. You ready?”
I stare into his eyes, filled with wonder at the gift he’s just given me. I close my eyes and savor the fading feeling of Oneness and connection with the thousands of people whose lives Karen will touch, and my heart aches with love and sorrow, and suddenly I know that even if I could, I wouldn’t give up knowing her on earth for anything.
I take a deep breath and say, “Let’s do this.”
Jesus gazes at me with what looks just a little bit like pride, and he hugs me and says, “Hey. When they ask, go play tennis. You won’t regret it.”
I laugh and roll my eyes and hug him back, I feel a strange stirring in my soul that I can’t quite define, but I figure it’ll make sense eventually.
As I head toward the stairs that will take me to earth, I feel my memories begin to fade. My breath stops, and Jesus is beside me again.
“This happens with everyone. It’s no big deal. You’ll remember what you need when you need it, and you don’t need to worry about the rest, okay?”
“But what if I never remember the important stuff? How am I going to live my purpose if I can’t take it with me?”
Jesus grabs my shoulders and holds me at arm’s length, “Seriously? Do you doubt my ability to call you into your purpose without giving you a cheat sheet?”
“No. But I doubt my ability to hear it. You KNOW how I am!”
Jesus laughs and says, “Yup. You’re exactly the way I want you. Now go. You’ve got some work to do.”
I give him one last squeeze and turn to go, and I hear a voice behind me yell,
I turn and see Karen, glowing as brilliantly as any soul could. She’s waving and laughing and she says to me, “Tell everyone I’ll save them a spot, and I’ll see them soon!”
I feel the stirring in my soul again, and my eyes fill with tears as I nod and whisper, “Okay.”