It's a Long Story

"I'm sorry, I'm a bit new to this, and I'm not sure what went wrong. I kind of wish they had went over this in training, but…Anyway, I'll get it taken care of. You just hang with me, and we'll get you patched up. I promise.

"See, you're not so heavy. I know you worried about that a lot, but you're just fine, and don't worry about all of this. I mean, He's forgiving, and He does love you. I know some people will try and convince you that He doesn't, but that sort of hatred just isn't in His nature. I promise.

"You know, that's the funny thing about religion. It's all a bunch of words written by people. They make Him say a lot of stuff, stuff that isn't true, stuff that He would never say. Sometimes we ask why He doesn't just come down and interfere, and then He gives us that smile of his. That knowing smile, like, 'I've got a plan up my sleeve.'

"He's always smiling like that.

"Anyhow, we just have to trust Him. That's what's in OUR nature. We're tools, Instruments of His Hands, wrought to carry out his Divine Work. Everything goes according to his Divine Plan. Even this-especially this-so he will forgive you.

"Sorry if I'm talking too much. Like I said, I'm kind of new to this. I've only been at it for, oh, a few decades. I've kind of been bouncing around from post to post, trying to get a feel for it. I think I might like this one, though. I mean, I know it's a bit sad, what with all of the death, but I like to think I can make their final moments a bit brighter. Might be wishful thinking…

"You meet the most interesting people here, though. The other day I met with the sweetest old lady. She wanted to say goodbye to her kids before she went. I wasn't supposed to, but I went ahead and let her. I mean, what's a few extra minutes in the scope of eternity, you know? I wonder what happened to her, where she went and all of that?

"The senior staff tell me not to think like that. 'If you get too curious you'll burn out' That's what Azrael says, and he's been at this, well, forever, but that's his role. That's what he does. He says some stuff sometimes. I don't really approve, but he's set in his ways. Too old to change, to learn, you know?

"Like I said, sorry if I'm talking too much. I'm not sure what else to do, and I figure it might be scary in there. I mean, you did what you did expecting to find relief, and now all you have is a black void. You stare into it, and it stares back…Nothing but darkness, stretching on forever and ever. Just thought some company might be nice.

"When I was a Guardian, I knew a girl like you. She was young and impulsive, but she put herself into everything she did. She was vibrant that way. It's said that people have a spark of Him inside, and she shined so brightly. Too brightly, maybe, but she loved life so much. Maybe she loved it a bit too much. She overdosed at eighteen. That's when I learned that you can't save someone from themselves.

"That was hard on me. I mean, I've seen His Divine Light. I know that He exists. I've felt His presence and knew it to be true. I know His Plan is ineffable, and yet…I lost hope. I fell into darkness, couldn't do my job. I wondered what sort of plan requires a young girl to die, to kill herself with poisons that are manmade, and why man would be allowed to make such poisons…

"I couldn't protect, so that's when I went on to be an inspiration. Ironically, I was assigned to faith, and I found myself wondering how I could inspire it in man when I couldn't inspire it in myself. That is when I met him. He was a pastor when, but…He was in crisis.

"You see, he was married, expecting a child. His wife was on the way home. It was stormy out, like today, and she could barely see. She's halfway there when her water breaks. She shouldn't have been driving, but she insisted. She was strong, independent, and he loved her for it. She lost focus, ran a red light, tried to stop but the roads were too slick. Took a family with her and lost the child.

"When I met this man he was drinking himself into a stupor. He was alone in his room, in the darkness. He had a loaded gun on the desk and a photo of his wife beside it. I felt helpless, hopeless, and I would like to tell you that I saved him, but I didn't. I couldn't.

"That is when I learned that, in the darkest of times, the only person who can save someone is themselves. You see, he was drinking and crying, and he was lamenting Him and blaming Him and hating Him, and I couldn't stop him. I didn't want to. He put the gun in his mouth, and he said good bye and…He cried some more, set the gun aside, and stumbled off to bed, the photo of his dead wife clutched to his chest.

"He cried himself to sleep that night, and the following night, and many nights after. Then, one day, he got up, and he shaved, and he put away the gun. He had his sister over, saw his nephew for the first time in months. They played baseball, and he taught him a song on the guitar. Weeks later, he was before the church again, and he was speaking about how he was saved in the darkest hour, and all I could think was how he saved me.

"Let me tell you a secret, a secret that old man taught me as I did my best to inspire him for the years to come. Mankind needs no inspiration. Every great act of evil or kindness ever committed was born of the human heart. I believe that wholly and completely, and if there is one golden rule it is this: people are people. Make of that what you will.

"It is said that you were created in His image, and I always found that difficult to believe. For one, He is much taller. After being here, and seeing how you live your lives, seeing your small triumphs and your great sorrows, and seeing your days pass by empty and full in equal measure, I finally realized what it meant.

"Here's another secret: Creation didn't start with a big bang but with a murmur. In the beginning we would gather around and listen. He would tell us stories, of what was, what is, and what will come. He told these rich stories, filled with details both big and small, and they lasted a millennia, He told us our destinies and yours, and he told us our failings and our successes, and He told us that He loved us and that He loved you. He told us that we would make the world, and you with it, and that it's fate-your fate-was up to you to decide.

"Humans tell stories. It is a singularly human behavior, mimicked by no other creatures alive. You don't simply communicate, you embellish and you emote, and you empathize and you create. You spend hours in your fictions, crafting ever evolving tales, and you spend every day communicating your expectations and your failures to those who love you.

"I know this advice is coming a bit late, but I am what I am, and I so very rarely have the opportunity to share these things with a person. Here is my last great secret: Your life is a story, and you decide how it will go. Yes, there are moments that are out of your hands, but you decide what type of story it will be. Will you inspire those around you with your courage? Will you succumb to temptation? Will you leave the world better or greater than you found it?

"You see, Heaven and Hell exist, and they are right here with you every day. They exist in every single human being. There is a great plan, one that is ineffable, and you are it. You are preordained, with every action from the beginning of time folding into a point and leading up to you. It is your destiny, your duty, to seize that and create a future worth living. That is what I think, anyway.

"And look at me here, telling you all this. It's a bit late for a pep-talk, considering where you're at, but that's fine. If I've learned anything, I've learned this. Life is tough. It's bitter, it's hard, and it kills you slowly, a day at a time, until you decide to let it win, and yet despite that mankind keeps going on, and in each instant they prove themselves more wonderful and more terrible than I've ever thought possible.

"The story-this story-is never over. It just keeps going, on and on, forever. Because this is a long, long story, and it's only just the beginning…"