In the Forest Dark

A man in a robe carrying a shepherd's crook in a dark forest with glowing flowers and vegetation.
Brother Martin by John Bauer
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
- Dante (The Inferno)

I am in the middle of my life, and I am watching people die. It's interesting to face mortality not as a thing that comes for you nor as the dark-robed phantom we imagine, but as a universal constant. Death is not so much an entity, but an end to a journey that many of us are not ready to finish.

We all know that time is fleeting in some abstract way. One could argue it is an aspect of the human condition. The invincibility of youth is nearly a myth and lasts mere moments. Even as adolescents and young adults, we know an end is coming. It is just easy to put it off. It is a debt, but when we are young there is still plenty of time before payment comes due. Now, I hear the resignation in their voices. The acceptance in those around me that in just a few more years, the odds are they will be gone. Paid in full. It isn't bitterness, just an understanding that time keeps moving.

So it does, I suppose, but I am in the middle of this journey, and I am lost. My wood is dark but it flickers with light, bits clicking on and off, electrical matter sparks in the distance, and somewhere there is a screen of static, intermittent blacks and whites, hovering like witch-light on the horizon. I am drawn to it. Attraction not fatal but feral, animal driven and instinctual.

Family is the worst at such moments. "It was hard, but you had a good childhood, right? It was good, wasn't it?" the question is not a question, it is a plea. A request to be told that past is the past and that the wounds that linger will not carry into death. They won't. Wounds are wasted on the dead. It is the living who must suffer. But I am lost, and I say something non-committal—a lie wrapped in truth. They are my craft and specialty—my authorial intent is never clear sometimes even to me.

I tread past them, deeper into the wood. I imagine if there is an afterlife, I will not go to heaven. If it is anything like it is described, I cannot imagine it as anything but a sort of personal hell. Imagine being trapped for an eternity with a being who has the power to save everyone from hell but who refuses to do so. Instead, he bring souls into being knowing they will suffer for an eternity because they did not worship him appropriately. His heaven is nothing more that an eternal celebration of narcissism and pettiness.

The voices in the wood where I am lost sound hollow and glitchy now. I am moving to the flickering screen. Somewhere in a corner of my mind that never shuts off, there is a catalog of scenes playing. Static as a feature of fear, loss, and death. From Gibson's Neuromancer, to The Ring, to The Outer Limits, to Poltergeist, to every schlock horror movie, the flicker of the static-filled screen, random movement that our minds struggle to turn into meaningful data seeking monsters in a scatter of light and dark, compel us and leave us feeling lost and alone.

I should turn back to the wood. I should sit with those resigned to the end. There is a peace in that. Surrender to what may come and let it be. Reader, I don't know how to do that. If I am honest, if I did know, I would do everything to forget. I have no interest in peaceful surrender to the ebb of time. I may fall to it. Indeed, I likely will, but until I do how could I not continue to wander. I am lost in the forest dark, in the middle of my life. I do not know what comes next. I do not know what the future will bring and I am not resigned, I am exultant.

I am lost. Sing it with me. We are lost. Be lost. The past died. The future, who knows. We are in the woods. There is shadow and danger everywhere. There is risk and pain and all sorts of nastiness, but there is also dark pleasure, new mysteries, magic, knowledge, and a future that isn't scripted nor known. I am heading to that screen. Something is swirling there in the dark. Maybe it is the abyss, but if it takes me, then the next journey begins.



In the Deluge of the Slush Pile