This is something I wrote several years back, when I was going through one of the most difficult times in my life. Admittedly, it is kind of “out there,” but it is one of the most personal things I have written. Up to this point, only a couple of people have read it, and both said they didn’t get it.
At any rate, take it for what it is-
“The End of Myself”
I found myself in what I can describe only as a void; I had knowledge of neither why I was there nor how I had arrived. I strained my ears in an attempt to hear anything at all, but was greeted by thunderous silence. In my vision I saw nothing of any discernible color or size; nothing with enough form to allow for description of any kind. For a while, I know not how long, it was an area and a time in which I was aware of nothing but my solitude.
Interestingly enough, I could not then, nor yet can I now bring myself to say that I was either surprised or concerned by what I saw or experienced; it seemed strangely natural to me.
I suddenly felt as though someone or something had pushed me from behind, though I was certain that I had been and still was alone in my existence. I began to feel the sensation of falling, experiencing something other than total isolation for the first time. Now began a descent comprising both solitude and helplessness. But into what? I still had awareness of very little outside myself.
I continued my coerced journey until it abruptly ended, with me lying face down experiencing what I would now describe as the joy of pain. I say ‘joy’ because, for the first time in recent memory, I was in touch with something around me. I found some degree of comfort in the knowledge that I was not alone, even if I shared this miserable existence only with someone or something that caused me pain.
My first attempts to lift my head were futile to say the least. I so desperately wanted to be able to be a part of this new environment. My desire was to be not just a fixture or an obstacle, but an integral part of my surroundings. Alas, I had not the strength to so much as lift my head, let alone the ability to stand in an upright position.
This was a struggle that I determined to overcome. It was not just a challenge, it had become a necessity. To fail to lift my head meant to cease to exist, and this was not an option. Though I had no real awareness of it, and since we think of our existence in terms of time, I am sure that considerable time must have passed. My sole purpose in being was still to lift my head, to somehow become a part of my environment. Well into my struggle, I became aware of something that had escaped my attention thus far; I had actually become able to hear something. I was initially unsure of exactly what these sounds were, but later came to accept the fact that the noises were most likely voices, though I could not comprehend what was being said. These voices were such a help to me. They gave me no real advice, for I could not understand them, but what they offered me was much more important than mere advice. They offered me repose from my struggle. I would strain to raise my head until I had no more strength, then when I would collapse in exhaustion, I would listen to the euphony of these voices, finding that there was a rather soothing quality about them. It was as though for some reason unbeknownst to me, they wanted my success as much as I.
Eventually I would find myself in a position to claim success. My efforts were rewarded with the ability to lift my head just enough to look at my surroundings. The joy I had been certain that I would experience upon accomplishing this feat was soon to be replaced by anger, sorrow and confusion. As my eyes began to focus, I looked around in an attempt to see the source of the voices that I had grown accustomed to. Instead of being greeted by a human form, there was nothing. I could see nothing of any real benefit to me, there were just voices I could hear and yet not understand.
My inability to talk or express my emotions in any other way was frustrating beyond imagination. I so desperately wanted to cry out, but even if I could, there seemed to be no one to so much as care, let alone help me. It was just then that the voices subsided. I dropped my head once more, perhaps from disgust more than exhaustion. I contemplated my existence or lack thereof, for an unknown (at least to me) period of time, and came to one conclusion: although I had no idea where I was, or how I had come to be in this predicament, I must take the next logical step. I had to stand to my feet.
A struggle ensued that rivaled my initial battle, my only advantage this time was that I had a small taste of victory to fuel my desire. As I began to will my arms closer to my chest in order to force myself up, I heard the voices once again. I rolled my head as I tried to lift myself to my knees, thinking that this time I might catch a glimpse of the source, but once again I had no such luck. Eventually, my labor was rewarded with a small degree of success. I made it to my knees, and, in my mind at least, victory was in sight.
When the time finally came that I was able to rise to my feet, my conquest was celebrated by an enormous outburst by the unseen host. It was impossible for me to tell whether I was hearing the shout of a multitude, or a burst of thunder, but with one quick celebratory explosion, it became ghostly silent once again. I stood erect, in fear of falling if I dare try to move and I was certain that I could not bear any more physical demands so soon. Instead I just stood there, cold and seemingly all alone. Now what? Do I dare move? Do I really have a choice? Still I saw no one, and silence seemed to be both my enemy and my friend. Perhaps I could have stood there for eternity. Maybe I should have, but inside, I was compelled to do what I assume most would find perfectly natural; I took my first step.
I could not tell if it happened when I actually took the step, or if it happened when I simply made my decision (though I am inclined to believe the latter), but immediately my surroundings were changed. In front of me, there was a dim glow, as of a distant light on a foggy night. It provided barely enough illumination for me to see to take one more step, though I was in no hurry to do so. I turned my head slowly and found that in place of my footprints, there was a great chasm. My heels were just at the edge of the cliff, and I was certain that it would require minimal effort for me to plummet into the darkness below.
Remarkably, I recall feeling very little, if any apprehension at this. For a moment, I did not move; I just stared into the blackness of the abyss, then turned my gaze forward once again.
Time for a decision had come once again. To stand, or move forward, a choice had to be made. Since there was just enough light to make forward progress, I felt the decision was largely made for me. The source of the illumination was not much of a concern to me at this point. The fact was that I could not go backward, for fear of falling into the gulf that I was leaving behind, so then my journey began. One small step at a time, cautiously and anxiously peering into the foreground with each step, hoping to catch a glimpse of something that might help me understand.
I walked on, and with each step was greeted with just enough light to continue, never more than enough for just one more step. I was surrounded by this unknown haze, seeing very little, and, at least in the beginning, nothing discernible. I stopped in my tracks briefly at one point, just long enough to look behind me. I was greeted by the pit that I thought I had left behind. Still less than a step behind me, though I had been walking for quite some time. Had I given it much thought, I would surely have gone mad, but I continued on my way.
The path I was given was growing increasingly difficult. At first, it was nearly undetectable, but as I continued, the obstacles became more frequent and more challenging. There were brief interludes when the path before me seemed to grow a bit brighter and I was able to see for several steps, but just as quickly it would fade to grey once more. As for that which was left behind, it was never too far away. The voices which had become my companions would come and go with no apparent order. Thus it went for what seemed to be a rather lengthy time, step by step, obstacle by obstacle. Making little if any apparent progress, until at length I spied something in my path that seemed almost comforting to me. I stooped to pick it up, hoping it was not an illusion. A book, seeming as out of place as myself. As I knelt in my path, I felt the cover as I opened it, revealing the pages within. As my fortune would have it, the print was illegible to me. My heart dropped as I quickly thumbed through the pages, hoping against hope that I would find something that could help me.
When the futility of the situation finally set in, I rose to an upright position to find the entire pathway littered with books. I saw books of all shapes and sizes. There were many that I could not make sense of, and yet some that I could. There were books of theology, philosophy, education and entertainment. I would take a step, bend down and retrieve a book, opening it to see what it held. The farther I went the more I was able to absorb, but in the end it seemed that there was very little there to help me on this journey. The deeper I traveled into the mist, the higher the stacks of books became, eventually climbing to heights that were seemingly impossible. I was surrounded by walls of books on either side of my narrow path, all there for the taking. Periodically I would find a title (mostly by accident) that would grab my attention, but for the most part, they struck me more as ogres of mockery, speaking of a life that I had never quite been able to apprehend, so I traveled on with little more than a passing glance.
The trek drudged on, and in spite of frequent fatigue, discouragement and doubts, I found myself able to continue, one step at a time. Periodically I would glance over my shoulder just to find that miserable gulf still at my heels. It made it appear as though I had made no progress at all, though certainly I had. In front of me, just enough light to take one more step, books at either hand (though they were little more than part of the landscape to me at this point).
At one point, the path opened up into what seemed to be a small clearing, and I was blessed with more light than I had previously experienced. My eyes had to adjust to the extra light, and then I saw that all around me were flowers which provided unparalleled beauty at every stem. I was enthralled by their appearance and fragrance, so much so in fact that I could not move for fear of trampling even one of them. It was absolute bliss to me, and then, as I continued my gaze, their beauty began to fade. Slowly, but surely, each and every one became little more than a weed, and the fragrance had become a sickening stench in my nostrils. I waded through them as the darkness returned, yet again I was left with just enough light to take one miserable step at a time. These colorful weeds were no more than a menace whose sole purpose was to impede my progress, the books just a shelter from what precious light I might have had, and the voices were just there to ridicule me.
I had scarcely become aware of the fact that my path had gradually become an incline, so much so, in fact, that after a while, I had to force each step just to make any progress at all. This was my lot for quite some time, until my path eventually led me from its gentle incline to what I can describe only as a mountain. For the first time since my attempts to raise my head so long ago, I would now have to use more than just the strength of my legs to get me through; I had to climb. There was no way around this mountain, and with the abyss at my back, I had no other option; I must go over. I looked up as I stretched my arms upward in an attempt to find a place to get a grip, and I saw that there was no end in sight. The mist that had teased me so far was now preventing me from seeing what lie at the summit. Finally, my hands found a place in the rock to latch on to, and I was able to pull my legs upward. I counted it as progress, slow, but sure. I looked down after those first few awkward feet, only to find my former footing on the ground had now been swallowed up by that relentless black hole. Now there was no other option. I must go on, having no clue what lie at the top, but knowing for sure that the abyss awaited my fall.
Inch by inch I pulled myself up the face of this mountain. Nothing came easy at this point, but at least I was experiencing progress. Several times I came close to losing my footing, but I always found the fortitude to carry on. The only means I had of finding any degree of rest was when I encountered enough of a ledge to firmly plant my feet upon. During those times, I still had to strain my arms to keep my torso close to the face of the hill itself, otherwise, gravity would win (as it always does).
The voices in the air had subsided somewhat. Instead of a myriad of unintelligible noises, it had come to the point of being just a few distinct sounds. I was always conscious of them now, and in fact, had come to the place of not only being able to distinguish one from another, but was able to pick up on some of what they were saying. I found that they spoke at me more than to me, and like everything else in this wicked place, they offered no real help.
At what I suppose was the halfway point of the climb, I reached an area that seemed to me to be a path, winding its way up the mountain. I really couldn’t tell, mainly due to the ever-present mist. There was at least enough room for my feet to comfortably rest. Should I abandon my efforts to climb, and instead follow this narrow path? At this point, I was losing patience with myself and this place. I had no idea of what lie ahead, or if my choice would make any real difference in the end. I felt that this would most likely be some kind of cruel hoax, so I opted for a brief interlude of rest, then continued my climb.
At one point, the unthinkable happened. I lost my footing and began to slide back down the steep slope. I have no idea how far I went before my instincts took over. I reached out my left hand and caught hold of a cleft in the face of the rock, stopping my decline almost instantly. I fought with my feet in an effort to gain my footing once more, and upon doing so, I turned my eyes skyward once more. Out of the mist, there came the form of a human hand. I was frightened and confused by this, since this was my first real contact with anyone since the journey began so long ago. As the appendage reached out of the haze toward me, I heard one of those familiar voices, encouraging me to reach for its safety. I debated within myself, and then chose to pull myself up, slapping the strange hand away as I did so. I resolved that I would accept no help, as I had made it thus far on my own.
After many more near-misses, I finally reached the summit. It took all the strength I could muster to pull myself up and onto the flat ground at the peak. Upon reaching the top, I collapsed, rolling onto my back, those voices still crying out for attention as I gasped for breath. For the first time, I actually thought of staying down. I still had no clue where I was, how I had gotten there, or why. It became easy for me to argue within myself that there was no point in continuing. It was then that I began to hear something mingled with those strange voices. It was difficult to make out at first, but like everything else on this journey, it was coming from out of the mist. I heard the sound of the laughter of children, of music, and strangely enough, of running water. I forced myself to my feet once more, and looked ahead. I had even more light at this point than I had previously. I could see well beyond my feet, all the way to the brink of what seemed to be a rather large body of water, so I walked on.
As I neared the water’s edge, the sounds became more resonant, more inviting. I could see nothing on either side of my path, and knew all too well what followed me, so I walked to the brim of the water. I distinctly remember looking into the water and seeing no reflection. I cannot say that I was overly surprised at this, as not much else had made sense to me up to this point. It seemed to me that the water was no more than knee deep, and as calm as running water could be. Beyond all of that, it seemed to be the source of those strange, wonderful noises, so I sat on the river’s bank and looked into the water, debating my future.
To attempt to walk around would offer the same questions as the path I had seen on the side of the mountain. What would I find? I knew what lie immediately ahead of me, did I dare trade that for the unknown? I came to the conclusion that either path would have its share of risks involved, so it could not matter too much either way. I chose to wade the river.
My first steps into the water proved to be rather surprising. The water was not cold; it was quite warm, in fact. In all honesty, it was difficult to tell that I was in water at all. The moment I stepped into the river, the menacing fog gave way to brilliant light, and the sounds I had been hearing seemed more soothing than ever. For perhaps the first time since my travels began, I experienced a sense of calm and peace. Even though each step was met with the resistance of the water, still it brought joy to my soul. I was so mesmerized by the wonder of it all that I failed to notice that the water had risen to the level of my chest, and each step brought it higher. Soon I was submerged, as though I had stepped into a large hole. In the beginning, I could not make my way to the surface; it was as though I was in limbo.
Oddly enough, I could still see the light, hear the laughter and the music, and found there to be no struggle for oxygen. Soon however, I began to panic. I was out of my element and hated it. Had I taken time to think, I would have realized that even before I was in the water, I was out of my element. Instead, I fought to free myself from this watery grave. As soon as I resolved to get out of this situation, I floated to the top, only to find something not unlike a thin layer of ice on the surface of the water. I failed to notice that the closer I came to the surface, the more the light faded, the less the music played, and the weaker the laughter became. I pushed the ice away, and as I broke through the water’s surface, I found myself in relative darkness, at the opposite shore of the river, those dwindling voices my only companions once more.
Upon pulling myself up out of the water, I looked back, only to find the blackness of that foreboding hole in the river’s place. I sat once more, neither understanding nor appreciating what I had endured. As I looked ahead, I was greeted by that strange familiar glow, providing just enough light for one more step. At this point, I felt that one more step was about all that I could give. At my feet, a few remaining books, though they were more sparsely scattered than ever. I tried to lift one, and though I could, it was not easy. They felt as though they weighed a ton, so instead of reading, I sat in silence, thinking.
The voices had now been reduced primarily to one. Periodically I would hear the chattering of another, but that one lone voice was dominant, and finally I was reaching a place where I could understand more than just a passing word or phrase. The voice was talking to me on my terms, and I hated it for that, just as I had grown to hate this place and the journey that had brought me here.
I stood once more, and forced myself to take another step. It hurt just to think about it at that point, but I did it anyway. Frankly, there was nothing else that I could do. Each movement was rewarded as it had been in the early stages of my travels, with just enough light to continue. The further I walked, the louder my footsteps became, until they echoed loudly in the distance. My path was littered with much debris. There were the books, which were now being trampled underfoot, the flowers, which I saw as weeds, photographs and paintings, myriads of things, yet I trampled it all under my heels. All that concerned me was the end of my journey.
Gradually, all these things just turned to dust under my feet. At one point in my existence, I would have given everything for any trace of beauty, or even just a sense of companionship, now I had nothing but contempt for it all, so I walked on.
My path opened up gradually, until it reached a point where I could tell I was in something like a large open room. I stood there for a moment, and saw the fog slowly begin to lift. Directly in my path, I saw the silhouette of what seemed to be a human form. As if by instinct alone, I hated him. It didn’t matter who he was, or why he was here. I hated him because he was in my path. I hated him because now, with the end in sight, he had decided to show up. I hated him with perfect hatred, and longed for the opportunity to show him how I felt. The shadowy figure slowly made his way toward me, and I could feel my jaw tightening as I stared in his direction. His gait was slow and deliberate, or at least it seemed so to me, until he was a little more than an arms length away from me.
I looked into his eyes, and there was something strangely familiar about him. His features seemed to remind me of someone I once knew, with the exception being that he appeared to be a bit more weathered than I recalled. He looked at me with an almost sorrowful look on his face, a look that was all too familiar to me. As he stared blankly into my eyes, a single tear rolled down his cheek. I slowly felt my attitude beginning to change. While I still did not like what I saw, I viewed the scene with more anger than hatred. It was obvious that the stranger was a product of his own choices, and therefore he was (in my sight at least) worthy of very little pity.
Not a word was spoken as he stepped slowly around me. I turned my head just as he stepped off into the blackness of the abyss, and just like that, he was gone. It was some time before I could force myself to turn and face my journey, but when I finally found the courage to do so, I was forced to face the stark reality; I had finally come to the end of myself. All that I am or had been had was laid to rest, and in the future I am sure to be a better man for it.
For the first time in an often miserable and misunderstood existence, I put the past firmly behind me, and accepted responsibility for who and what I am. Life is made of choices, not of fate; I am no different than the rest of humanity. I stood there, contemplating my existence, what I had become and hating myself for it, realizing I was there because I chose to be.
The journey had been a difficult one, yet I knew in my heart it had been most productive.
Everything in life that is worth having comes with a certain degree of risk, and the path of least resistance and greatest security frequently offers the least reward. Armed with that knowledge, I turned my gaze forward once more and was startled at what I saw. No longer was there a solitary path, but hundreds of paths leading off into different directions. The time for yet another choice had come.
(C) Brian Johnson
After posting it seems the original formatting was lost. Oh well…