Oftentimes I find the concept of “eternity” difficult to comprehend. Suppose you’re a painter, with what colors do you paint eternity? Suppose you’re a songwriter, in what chords, what progressions, what tonality do you compose?
It’s just over midnight when I decide to have a short walk before sleeping. I find all the boys are sound asleep except one.
“That your wife?”
“Uh, no, sir,” he replies while swiftly tucking a photograph of a beautiful young lady inside his pocket.
“You’re a lucky guy.”
“I guess so.”
“How long have you two been together?”
“Wow. That’s quite a long time.”
“Not without our ups and downs.” He chuckles nervously.
“Have some trouble sleepin’ in the dirt?”
“No, sarge, it’s just I don’t feel like sleeping already.”
I sat down next to him. It was full moon and I could see his weary face clearly. There’s a momentary silence as his mind begins to wander.
“I really miss her,” he says, out of nowhere. Then another silence follows.
“Do you think the war will soon be over, sir?”
“I don’t know.” I know that sort of answer would not give him relief but I honestly don’t know. Personally, I’m tired of this war.
His face becomes solemn. “When I go back to Jakarta, I will propose to her.”
“I’ll cut your throat if you don’t invite me.”
He chuckles again. This young man has a contagious kind of jolly and warm chuckle which immediately lifts your mood up.
“Tell me, do you believe in heaven and hell, private?”
“Yeah, I do. What of it, sir?” He turns his head towards me, interested in my unexpected question.
“I never get it.” I pause for a moment. “It’s funny, though, how temporary our lives here on Earth seem to be.” He looks intently at me, waiting to hear my next sentences.
“This war makes me think again, deep inside. I’ve seen plenty of deaths already. A grenade falls, bang! You’re dead. Just weeks ago we’re hit by an ambush. We were eating! There was this man, he hadn’t even finished sayin’ his prayer yet.”
“It’s horrible,” he says. He looks upset. Now he turns his head back, looking to the darkness in front of us. The darkness seems to stare back, as if mocking our complete inability in knowing when the war will be over.
“Sarge, what if this war won’t be over? What if… this war continues forever?”
“Oh, you don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, kid. What’s ‘forever’? What do you mean by that?”
“Uh, like, forever, sir.”
“I can’t make sense of ‘forever’. Guess that’s why I have trouble believin’ in heaven and hell.”
“I too, sir, have a difficulty in making sense of it. But dare I say to you, it might help if you look at it from another perspective.”
“Yeah. I mean, ‘forever’ is almost crazy, right? You have this stretch of time,” he stretches his arms wide open, “and it has no beginning and no end. But then again, if you think about it, there is no time there.”
He is silent for a while, trying to find a way to communicate his idea. “Oh, now I’m blabbering.”
“No, no. Please continue.”
“Are you sure? My friends would be bored whenever I start to talk about things like this.” He chuckles again.
“Right. So you have this concept of a place where there is no time. How can a man make sense of a place without time? It’s very puzzling! We’re so used to the concept of time. All our lives, we cannot escape from time.
“But I try to approach it from the other direction. In my attempt to make sense of the ‘forever’, I’d think first of the ‘never’. The two are somewhat similar, in a sense that they’re both timeless. There is no time also in the ‘never’. I’d ponder about things that hasn’t happened yet, and extrapolate it so that it would never happen. Like, what if we’d never land on Mars, or… or, what if I would never marry her. Well, that knocks my brain!”
We look again into the darkness. Sometimes I have the feeling that I would never see peace again. This war has been going for three years I almost forget my previous life. Experiencing so many horrors sets a new normal in my mind.
“And then I’d compare those images of ’never’ with images of ‘ever’: the image of me living in Mars, for example. Or, the image of my wedding day. Well, even though ‘ever’ isn’t exactly the same as ‘forever’, but it helps, you know.”
Now it’s me who chuckle. “Funny. I compare the images of war and peace side by side. I can vividly imagine this war going on and on and on, but it just no longer makes sense to me that we can have eternal peace. Guess I’ve been here for too long.”
“Uh, in our original context of heaven and hell, it does make sense, sir. If I’m asked to imagine a place where there is torture forever, I cannot do that. But if I am to picture a place where no one can ever see Peace and Love, well, I can do that. Same goes for the opposite.”
The darkness in front of us is pitch black. It is a terrible thing to have no light at all. I get up, quietly thanking in my downtrodden heart for the full moon above us.
“It’s a helpful technique, sarge,” says he, with a cordial smile on his face.
“It is. Go to sleep, private, it’s almost one.”
As I walk back, I’m reminded of a story my grandmother used to tell me when I was a little boy. It was about a really bad man who never did any good during his life. He stole, he beat people up, he lied, he cheated. As the story goes, one day he was arrested and sentenced to death. No one would even dare to think that he could be forgiven. But on his last day on Earth, he said to the man beside him, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” And as the story goes, that criminal be with him in paradise.
All of a sudden, the ‘never’ becomes ‘forever’.
Yesterday was special. Yesterday was unforgettable. Yesterday was special and unforgettable, yet the dreadful aftertaste remains. To where can I seek refuge other than aboard my own ship? Alas, it was broken.
Woe to me, oh woe, and the birds no longer sing.”
―Rammstein, Ohne Dich
It was nine in the morning and the alarm was blaring like a newborn species of idiot. Snooze. His head was severely aching and his ears hurt. A short message written on a yellow sticky note caught his glimpse.
TOEFL Test―Tue 11.00 a.m.
His eyebrows frowned. It hurt badly, the headache. He closed his eyes, as if it might alleviate the pain, but the pain didn’t recede so he got up and sat on his bed, trying to figure out what was happening. Confusion set in when he saw there were blood stains on his bed. His head still ached. He was very slow in getting himself together.
Where did these stains come from?
He checked his arms first, but there were no wounds. He checked his legs, but there were no wounds. He rechecked and then he saw a single drop of blood clot on his bedside. He was on the point of near collapse when suddenly the alarm blared again. Almost with no beckoning, something electrified his mind. He was unconscious, apparently. What the neighbors didn’t know was that it was intentionally done. He chose to electrocute himself, he chose to drown, he chose to die.
The path to Paradise begins in Hell.”
―Dante Alighieri, Inferno
There was no one in Hell. There was only the Grand Inquisitor with his many loyal servants.
Facing this highly-personalized version of Hell, he was struck with terror. It was frightening, indeed, but somehow it imposed respect because of its sheer resplendence. Even the Joker didn’t dare to play his music out loud here.
“You were found guilty, and, because of the nature of your crime, I sentence you to a slow and agonizing death by a lifetime of exile, here. Your name shall be for nothing, your rights will be abdicated, and your many hours to come will not be worthwhile,” said the Judge. The Judge closed his book and turned himself into the Executioner as he walked solemnly down the staircase. One by one, the people attending the trial mysteriously disappeared, until―exactly when the Executioner stepped on the last stair―there were none left but the Just Knight.
No, please, no! Pardon, mercy, please! Please!
The Executioner stopped. “What is it, convict?” he asked with a harsh and aggressive tone.
Woe to those who live but choose not to be alive.
Suddenly, a new set of fresh pains hurled themselves at him. His vision blurred, his sensory perception numbed. His body trembled, his skin burned; his teeth clenched as the pains slowly made their way towards his brain.
The pains were tormenting. Tip-toeing on the brink of mental exhaustion, he tried to lift his blood-stained head. The crows squawked and flew in circle, just above his head. His shoulder was still shuddering when a pebble―thrown by a boy―hit him in his temple. A fresh stream of blood flowed through his cheekbone and straight into his lips. He mumbled indistinctly. His pale and tired voice was drowned by the crowd’s accusations; he knew he was a criminal. He cried, but it seemed like it hardly mattered at that point.
Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
The tear was mingling with the blood when he saw the Hand reaching out to him. He would be home, soon.
Can the ship sail with its rudders broken? Can the flower blossom with no water?
In His will, our peace.