This story is by JC Papenberg and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
I pored over an expanse of blueprints laid before me, the dark room lit by the ethereal glow of each silver line. I traced one, pondering its path, until I was jolted from my concentration.
“Figure anything out yet?”
I turned to face the source of the voice. My friend’s arms were folded over his chest as he stood watching me, his lips pressed in a thin line and his eyes squinted.
I smirked at his expression as he stepped forward to join me. “I might make some changes… But I think I’m close.”
He rolled his eyes. “Some? You need to make more than that.”
Laughing, I asked, “What’s wrong with it?”
He squinted and touched a silver thread, which illuminated his fingertip, and glared in disbelief. “Really? You want cancer at age seven?”
I shrugged. “I want to learn perseverance!”
He exhaled through his nose. “Your husband cheats on you…” The line he traced crossed several more. “Which leads you to make a mistake that costs you your career?”
“Ugh! I want to learn patience. And humility!”
He shook his head. “Death… death… This is too much! You do this every time.”
My brows furrowed. “What? I want spiritual evolution! We’re on a journey toward enlightenment, and the best way to evolve is through hardships in our physical form!” I crossed my arms. This should have made perfect sense to him.
He turned to face me. “You forget how painful these experiences are as humans!” He gestured toward my blueprints, frowning. “All this pain… It bogs down the human spirit. You’ll find defeat before you find evolution. Don’t you remember your last life?”
My face and shoulders fell as I recalled my recent suicide. I saw his point. Why was it so easy to forget? Because we can’t experience pain here, I reminded myself.
“And did your soul evolve?”
I sighed. “No.”
“Okay. So. May I help you with this?” I arched a brow, and he finally cracked a smile. “I was thinking of joining you. Going down a few generations early. I’ll end up being a… mentor… to you.”
I grew rigid. “Mentor?” I shook my head defiantly. “You can’t make my life too easy! How will I learn anything for myself?”
He chuckled, eyes gleaming with new light. “Oh trust me, you’ll learn plenty. However, I believe you deserve a good life for once, so allow me to help you make this one a little more pleasant.” He faced the table again, and began waving away several of the lines. My body tensed, wanting to stop him, but I finally surrendered to trusting him. Perhaps he was right. Perhaps I was too hard on myself.
He stood back in satisfaction, clasping his hands together. “There. You’re born to comfortable middle-class parents who love you. You’ll be smart and talented with a bright future, and you’ll have plenty of friends. Including me.”
I grimaced as I felt myself tense all over again. “I have to have some kind of challenge!”
He gave me a gentle, knowing nod. “You will. I left one big challenge in there for you. That, combined with your free will, and you’ll get the chance to learn how to manifest goodness in your life for once. You’ve been missing out on exploring the inner workings of this great Universe. You don’t allow enough time to heal from your challenges, and without that, you can’t grow, and without that growth, how will you ever discover your inner power?”
I sighed in resignation, nodding my head. He had a point. I mused over the idea of exploring my inner power. I just hoped I had enough challenges in this next life to become aware of it. I couldn’t help but feel he didn’t leave me much to work with. And since we have no memory of this side, I also couldn’t help but feel the odds were stacked against me for spiritual evolution. But, I trusted him, and out of all my lives, he’s taught me the greatest lessons.
Before I could change my mind, I rolled up the altered blueprints, and released them to the Universe. We watched as a great dome lit up before us, displaying billions of tiny lights representing all the many souls on Earth, traveling down their own silver lines, learning and growing from the challenges they unknowingly planned for themselves. Time moved differently where we were in Kairos, watching the dome in Chronos. My friend smiled as he targeted his entry-point, and turned to face me. “Try to have fun this time, and let your challenges build you up.”
I exhaled and nodded, the smile I returned reached my eyes, and with a wink, he vanished into the physical world.
I watched the dome, moving forward from his time of entry by four and a half decades, and zeroed in on a young man and woman, locked in a loving embrace in a hotel room, an empty bottle of wine on the nightstand. “There’s my ride,” I said to myself.
I prepared myself for the crossover, and the world faded as I merged with my new human form.
I slid into the booth, Gramps taking a seat across from me, eyeing me with a grin as he could see I was eager to share some news with him. Our waitress came with my orange juice and his coffee without having to ask. We met at this diner almost every Saturday morning – it had been our routine ever since I got my driver’s license.
“Okay, Hon, what’s up?” he asked, the corners of his eyes wrinkling with his smile.
“I got the scholarship!” I burst. “Full ride! I can’t believe it!”
“Hot damn, Ivy, that’s wonderful!” He reached across the table and squeezed my hand. “You truly lead a charmed life!”
I chuckled brightly. “I owe it to you, Gramps. Everything you’ve ever taught me…” I shook my head as I reflected on all the years of his sage advice. The Law of Attraction – think positive and positive things will happen to you. Or, “God continues to bless you as you continue to show gratitude for the blessings,” he would say, though he wasn’t exactly a religious man. Thinking positive and counting my blessings became part of my nature, and I truly believed my life was so easy, and so wonderful, because of that.
We managed to meet as often as possible, though my University was three hours away so I didn’t always come home on the weekends. I would call regularly, however, and tell him of my adventures in college. Life continued to flow smoothly for me – charmed, just as Gramps described it.
It all came to a screeching halt as I packed a weekend bag one Friday night, eager to meet for breakfast the next morning after not having joined him for a month. My phone buzzed as my mother’s name flashed across the screen. I answered it with a cheerful hello.
“Ivy…” Her voice was strained, and she choked on a sob. “Gramps had a heart attack. He didn’t make it.”
My world shattered. What? No… My heart constricted as I dropped to my knees.
Wrought with anger, I felt my faith begin to crumble along with my emotions. I had nothing left to stand on.
I struggled through the next several years. Constantly I would reach for the phone, wanting to ask Gramps a question, then remembering I couldn’t.
One Saturday morning my friend Laney received the news that her mother had just passed after a long bout with cancer. She fell into my arms, sobbing and devastated, and as my shoulder grew damp, I reflected on my own life.
How was it, that a wonderful person like Laney, should have to experience so much pain? Her sister died in an accident six years ago, and her parents divorced two years before that. My only challenge had been losing Gramps. Otherwise, as he would say, I led a “charmed life”.
That one, solitary challenge caused me to abandon my faith in positive thinking, leaving me feeling lost and alone. Losing Gramps was not something I asked for, and was not something I could be grateful for. It went against everything I had come to believe in.
I thought about Laney’s life and reflected on what a strong person she had become. She pressed on, despite her challenges, and almost seemed enlightened, in a way. It took time, but finally a realization hit me, almost as though it had been blown my way from whatever great Beyond Gramps had gone to.
Perhaps this was my opportunity to achieve my own enlightenment. Pain is the best teacher, after all. Perhaps the Universe hands us exactly what we need, even if it might not be what we want. Perhaps this was my chance to evolve.
I sighed, tilting my head to the heavens, and whispered, “Thanks, Gramps.”