Vessels

~ a short story

Plane-Storm-Final

“Hey buddy, you wanna hear something cool?”

A strange looking person speaks to me. I awake with a startled restart of my breath. My eyes weren’t necessarily closed, but it was one of those times where you space out so hard you might as well be asleep. I didn’t actually register what he just said. But as is often the case when a stranger talks to you in a strange place, I nod my head and smile ignorantly to him on instinct. He responds with a vigorous smile. He is old, but the energy in his eyes reveals something much more than I expect.

I groan with subtle exhaustion, not considering the presence of this man just yet. Wasn’t able to ever really get to sleep. Sleeping was the thing I always tried to do on flights, but consistently failed to properly execute. I find that I can never quite get comfortable enough to fully release. Needless to say, I always hate it when folks try to strike up a conversation.

Whatever man, you are awake anyway… just deal with it.

The old man continued on, his voice rich with animation, vivacious enough to dispel the notion that he was truly aged. It resounded into my ears in such a way that I couldn’t tune him out if I consciously tried to.

“Where to begin, where to begin… a metaphor, yes, yes of course,” he mumbles under his breath, the old man’s eyes dart around with frantic ferocity. He, in fact, looks everywhere but at me. I sit back in my seat and look back out the window, at the darkening clouds. The sun has just set. The night sky presents itself. It’s rather breathtakingly beautiful. I shift in my seat, adjusting my body somewhere towards maximal comfort for the long flight ahead.

The old man is speaking once more. I soon realize, he is very clearly speaking to me.

“Well, what are we doing here? On this plane. Flying through the air. Above the earth itself. We are this meat, these brains, these little components of the whole… that resides inside the plane. Oh but we think we are whole, don’t we? Oh yes. But we are only along for the ride. BUT we are also the only thing that really matters. But the plane is doing most of the work, a machine, an organism, in a way, but without any intelligence. Intelligence, we have that. Or we think we do. It’s really a bad word for what it actually is. But where to begin…

I find that I have turned back and forth between the old man’s cracking countenance and the view from the window during his continued linguistic meander. I am wincing without thought. A part of me hopes he doesn’t see my discomfort.

“Well, I should just cut to the chase,” the old man states with finality after rambling for a few more moments.

“Yes, you should. What is it exactly you are trying to say?” I say without reservation while turning back to face him. Hiding my annoyance and confusion, I forcibly return my expression to one of feigned interest.

“Do you have love sir? Do you have something to strive for? Do you enjoy existence?” The old man asks the questions like bullets, in rapid succession. He awaits my answer expectantly.

“Yes, yes, and yes. Mostly. What… well, how about your own self?” I respond with confidence. I believe what I am saying is true, while simultaneously bouncing the inquiry right back at him, on instinct and to remove myself from it.

“No, no, and no. Mostly. Thanks for asking,” he returns.

Now he appears distracted again. He has re-lost himself in his thoughts once more.

“The chase… yes, the chase,” he blurts, focusing so hard on that word. By the look of his face, it appears to be much more than a word to him.

“I have this theory… about our lives, about existence, about the Universe,” he continues. Full steam ahead, he goes on while I listen with honestly heightening intrigue. I wear my grimace like a mantle, like it’s my job. I wonder about who this person is.

“This plane ride — this right here,” he motions all around to the cabin, to me and to the windows, to the sky and the horizons, and the seats, and the up to the cockpit, “this is everything. This is the Universe in its entirety. Right here, right now.”

He pauses for a reflectively long moment. His eyes are closed. I don’t blink.

“Like I was saying, the plane, the sky, the ground, the us. It all fits!” he proclaims suddenly, excitably. He is practically yelling. I am surprised no one else has noticed his verbal outburst.

“What are you talking about?” I ask but with sincerity. At this point, I really want to know what he is talking about.

Suddenly, his demeanor changes. He nods and looks at me with a certain level of understanding. He begins to speak in lower, more controlled tones.

“I am talking about physics, and about metaphysics. It’s all essential, each component. Every single aspect is just as salient as the other. If you were to talk about, inspect, examine, break down any single machine, or organism, or the starry landscapes backdropping our very conversation, it would be filled with practically infinite curiosity, unlimited discovery, endless complexity. But combine them…” he pauses. There are new theatrics to how he speaks, and how he conveys the idea. His speech is gaining momentum. And I find I am being caught up in it.

He continues, “Combine them. And you have something quite unique. Our Universe. One of a kind. But magnificently generated by all these infinitely curious and complex things in of themselves. But combine them all? All our star stuff together then? Forget about it!”

The old man now turns away from me, facing forward and steepling his fingers, deep in thought.

“But in all this, there’s inherent conflict. You must already understand this. Always conflict. And we do not even see it! We don’t detect it; and even if we try to it is still a challenge to find it! This dance we speak of leans ever towards discord over harmony,” his eyes are closed, he remains turned away from me.

His words concern me. Mostly because I can tell they concern him.

“Everything around us wishes to do us harm, the ultimate harm in some — no most — cases. Namely gravity. It wants this plane to go down. To go down hard. Gravity, the harsh taskmaster of physicality. Gravity, the mechanism for so much of our ingenuity, our spires and structures. Our very bodies and our dreams are filled up, bearing down against it and in an opposition to it. Gravity, the dragon of entropy. It works against us, and in turn, we defy it. But we don’t get away with it. No… We. Do. Not. Not for long…” he trails off. Blazing flames outline his person for a moment, sitting in the seat next to me. But I blink it away. Definitely a hallucination.

“But the mere fact that we can get away with it, even for a second, makes us Gods. Don’t you see? Entropy is filled with an infinite reserve of guile. But there is something even greater than it… Yes, it’s incredible isn’t it! I almost didn’t believe it myself. But there is something better than entropy, something stronger, surer of itself and more brilliantly beautiful in its steady work… Do you know what this thing is of which I speak?”

He turns back to me and awaits my answer. I don’t take long to give it.

“God?”

“Ha. You are right, but you don’t even know how. I am not speaking of God, I am speaking of God. I am speaking of consciousness. Consciousness itself is the greatest wizard of all time. And we are its greatest spell. Continually upkeeping its own fragility through passive action and reaction and its own special brand of guile. A greater guile guiding us onward! Ha-ha! The wizard succeeded in creating God, in creating Himself — through us. Beings like us are the ultimate, and perhaps only, manifestation of consciousness in this whole Universe. Us! Here in the sky, in this big metal monster cutting across horizon to horizon, endlessly shifting away from that all-encompassing shadow at our rear. Escaping and escaping onward and toward… discovering!”

Lately, he speaks with cool quiet mannerisms. He talks with an affective expressionism. But it’s silently vibrant, like water at a stillness but still flowing in a way. I can’t look away even as I cannot fully understand.

“We are vessels,” the old man blurts. His gaze meets mine in confidence. My grimace has transformed into something else. He sees it and smiles widely, beginning to nod before continuing on.

“Vessels in which the theatrical perseverance of consciousness continually escapes the tenebrous march of entropy.”

His words and his countenance in combination carry with them a calming, almost hypnotic tenor. He cocks his head to the left while he continues to stare me down.

“Don’t you see the play, the beauty of it? It’s extraordinary,” he breathes out finally.

It is. I can’t help but admit it. And I do.

The old man puts his hand up and holds up three fingers.

“In this grand conflict, there are really three Gods. If that’s how you want to think about it, in terms of Gods. And you can, if you want. It is in our nature to comprehend the significance of Gods. Creators, powerful ones, the forefathers and allmothers.”

While the man speaks and I listen, the plane begins to experience some turbulence. I hardly notice.

“Well anyway, consciousness makes up the third God, the best, in my opinion. But of course, I am biased,” he chuckles to himself. “So are you.”

“The other two Gods are, of course, Time and Space. And each is in conflict with the others. This being the same conflict I spoke about earlier, unseen but everpresent. For many many many years, or however you want to mark that long temporal void before… us… this conflict was indirect, a shadow war fought in the moments in between the passages of Time and experience. But none of that really matters anymore. Not that it’s interesting anyhow. We don’t really have the capacity to understand it on the level that it deserves to be understood. So don’t worry your pretty little head about it.”

“Okay. I won’t,” I find myself saying.

“With the introduction of consciousness, the third and final and most imperative God enters the fold. Needless to say, it really shakes things up in this eternal bout for Universal dominion. Because truly — consciousness is the weakest — by default, and to a fault. Consciousness is not eternal. It suffers much more from entropy than the other two do. From the get-go, the clock is ticking on consciousness; whereas Time is the clock and Space doesn’t know what a clock is. Do you follow me?”

“I do.”

I am telling the truth.

“Well, consciousness knows this. This is the key part of this game being played — the cosmic dance, if you will… and you will… All the parameters are set, and what was a shadow war becomes an all-out brawl for the reigns of existence. Can you imagine a more important fight? {laughs} I know I can’t… You see, consciousness searches out the reaches of the Universe for something it can exist inside of. And it finds its vessels — living, breathing, fucking organisms — and goes to work, growing and evolving and progressing its vessel into a being. Time — without thinking, on instinct, but also in direct opposition to this cosmic competitor — sets itself upon these vessels-turned-beings, shifting them and transforming all of it, every last one, without fail, mercilessly into death after death after death. Space bears witness, allowing the battle to be waged among its wide halls, witlessly and banally.”

The old man is spitting fire and he knows it.

“But what Time doesn’t understand and Space cannot hope to intuit, is that Consciousness is using Time for its own gain. It knew Time would intervene, it wouldn’t have any choice but to — and it is exactly what ole Con wants! It has the capacity to pull off this gambit, with both parties fully aware of it happening but helpless to even see it as a problemo!”

The old man is beyond chuckling, he laughs and smiles with vivacity. I almost can’t help but join him. I’d never seen someone so into their own words.

“The difference is in all of this is perspective. It’s in part due to the greater guile of consciousness, as I spoke of previously. Consciousness designs to make itself stronger, knowing it to be the weakest. It plans to make its own essence, within the vessels and beings and persons it cultivates as strong as anything else out there. You see, we — being these vessels — are the thing which allows consciousness to persist in this impossible strife of the cosmos. Through us, we can prolong the moments until the void, the end times… The Long Absence as it were. And this makes all the difference! Per-spect-ive child!”

The old man waves his hand with random and residual significance. These motions somehow amplify his words.

“C starts with so much less than T and S. In the field of eternity, it’s without a sword, without a shield, without a paddle. But that isn’t important to it, no… Language is though, introspection is, love is. The real stuff. The good stuff. And consciousness understands from the beginning these are the very things we spend most of our lives trying to get at. But we do it while running up against a nut. This is the big nut. The biggest. The one we absolutely gotta try to crack. It’s a tough nut to crack. Do you know of the nut of which I speak?”

“I must admit sir, I do not,” I respond as honestly and clearly as I can, trying to hide my snickering laughter.

Although, I ashamed to admit this before him.

“Well that’s alright. It is simply this: that transience is the best thing there is. It’s the only possible thing that makes things interesting. When you know something will not last forever, you pay attention! It’s… it is one of those intuitive things… we cannot understand it, we take it for granted, we don’t want to believe it sometimes… we want stuff to last forever… but in our hearts, we know it to be true. Our mortality is our greatest thing!”

The old man breathes heavily, sighing after each little expository message. I welcome the pauses and the time to reflect.

“And Time has it all wrong, of course. Time values its eternal awning continuum as its final and best and only score. Believing the only score worth keeping is one in which no other parties can compete. In Time’s game, with its wayward rules, there is no competition, no conflict, not even a conversation. And without any of those things, then there is truly nothing. And with nothing, comes nothing interesting, nothing good, nothing bad, nothing nuthin.’ And all the while, Space just sits there, waiting Time out… you get it. Nuthin’. As I mentioned, it was quite boring before Big C… No arguments, no drama, no conflict, no wars followed by moments of peace, no unrequited love… ”

I nod.

“You see consciousness merely deigns to play within this continuum Time and Space have outlined. Not to win, but to play! We just want to be in the game. Space seeks out its own self — which it cannot possibly hope to find, by the way — in arrays and grids and big math. That’s fine. Time, on the other hand, is seeking nothing, as I have laid out for you. It’s actively searching out an endgame in which nothing can any longer be had, riding the wave right alongside its winged entropy to the very end…

“But alas, we cannot scold Time for wasting so much of it… In the Before-Time, maybe it had other designs, maybe it and Space used to be as one. Now that would be something to behold… The point being, we don’t know of Time’s possible other incarnations… We only know of the Time we have been given…”

The old man’s gaze has wandered away, but now he returns it to me and his message.

“But that doesn’t matter, because C is here and it’s ready to go. We are ready! Aren’t we? So, what does consciousness want? Outside of what I have already generally laid out — that C’s chief aim is only to be in the game and not necessarily win the game {because it knows it cannot} — what does it seek?

“Well, what we seek!” I answer with a smirk, thinking myself clever.

“Bravo. Yes, in a way consciousness seeks the very same things we want. It yearns for passion, for a path to walk down, for love, experience, meaningful suffering, conflict and chaos and peace and movement, and LOVE. It’s true. But this isn’t always a good thing. Human beings are wild, rambunctious, and spiteful and stupid and everything else. Consciousness inherits those things and all other attributes, good and bad. It’s all coming along with us. As its vessels, it takes on everything that we are; and everything we are is often very, very troublesome and very often at cross-purpose with its other vessels, collectively…

“In Truth, consciousness, uses us — and others like us, I am sure — to try to escape Time and and overcome Space. This might seem counterintuitive to what we have been talking about. About just wanting to participate in the conflict, about just wanting in on the grand game… And it is — I know it, you know it, even consciousness knows it. We cannot win, we cannot best Time or Space.

“But there’s the rub. Consciousness knows it is Sisyphus,” the old man smiles profoundly.

I am on the edge of my seat. I have forgotten where I am going, what I am doing. Big C rages within me.

The old man’s tone gets more quiet, more serious. Thus, the words become more impactful, to me.

“Listen to me carefully, my son… You see, every second that consciousness is allowed to persist, is an infinitely reverberating victory resounding through the endless halls of Time. If Time had its own consciousness {as we could comprehend it}, it would feel the Loss, capital L, of each of consciousness’ steps in Space for exactly 1 eternity. Don’t you get how damning that is? … Of course you don’t. Neither can I. We simply aren’t cut out for it. But Time is, oh yes, that’s just about the only thing it is cut out for.

“It is an eternal loss for a Time, and merely a moment playing in the sand for Big C. And let me tell you something you may or may not know — Gods cannot suffer suffering. They hate it. Even more than we do. Because we eventually come to expect it… but a God… forget about it. They are Gods! Ha-ha…”

I shake my head alongside him, the poignancy, the Truth.

“Oh Cronos, you old dog! Hahaha,” I exclaim with fervor. Together, we are laughing about it all.

He jumps back in, continuing and motioning with his hands all around. In the controlled chaos of these movements, I begin to make out the mental diagram he draws. The man continues.

“So we come to The Metaphor. Let me break it down for you, although you have probably already figured it out:

The plane is the vessel, the physical body and by extension our machines and devices, ha — our planes! // The passengers, us — we are the mind, the self, the Consciousness // The ground is Space — a hard, unforgiving, and dangerously shapeless force // The air around us — the everything else — is none other than Time itself, the entropic-laced revealer of a continuous fate we are beholden to but not always held down by…

“But there’s something you now must know…”

His serious voice trails off in my mindspace. In a sudden moment of clarity, I begin to look around the cabin. I am shocked at what I see.

“…Time has changed the game. It now seeks beyond what we previously could comprehend. It is no longer so attached to nothingness. Even Space is coming out from underneath its grounded sense of waiting, waiting, and waiting…”

I stand up from my seat, darting my head around, looking everywhere but at the old man sitting next to me. There’s no one else. Everyone in the other seats, the other passengers — they are all gone.

“…Time now chases us, the harbingers of growing consciousness, into a hopeful oblivion. It seeks a return to the status quo, to the shadow war from the Before-Time, from the time before C… don’t you see…

I turn back to him, the old man, panic on my face and in my body. I try to blink the thoughts away, but his every word hinges my actions.

“…and in all of this, this new game we have now entered, we — Mankind — have become sought!”

The old man raises his voice to me.

“Aren’t you glad I woke you up!”

I nod, but confused. I say uncertainly, “But I never actually managed to make it to sleep… I was just… resting my eyes… “

He stands, smiling, his arms outstretched and indicating to the rest of the plane’s cabin, the vessel of former passengers surround us. Their absence is felt, somehow, someway. I look into his eyes, searching for much-needed solidarity.

“It’s time, old friend, to begin again. As we both know, only the truly conscious can participate. Come.”

I nod again, agreeing unconsciously. I follow him.

We both head towards the cockpit. ~