January First

A terrible burning sensation seared my shoulder. I opened my eyes. The angel was still there and his hand was on me.

“This is not a dream,” he declared.

January First

I woke up in the morning and there was an angel standing by my bed. He said, “You have been chosen in a lottery, one among ten so selected; not for merit, virtue or wisdom, simply a random lottery.”
“Of what lottery do you speak?” I asked, “Am I now a rich man?”

“No, each of you will be given a burdensome task, of long and terrible duration. Each will be given ten lifetimes, each lifetime to be in sequence, one after the other, in which you will accrue in the following lifetime the wisdom you have acquired in the previous and carry it forward. The knowledge you acquired by age ten, for example, in your first lifetime will restored in the second cumulatively at age ten in the second and thus successively through your ten lifetimes.”

“But what lottery?”

“God’s lottery. God wants to know if within this mankind he has created, there is a spark worthy of eternal life.”
My mind whirled,
what fearsome things might come to pass? How long would ten lifetimes be, perhaps average a hundred years each with the progress of science! A thousand years! What might occur during those ten lifetimes? The evidence from human past is not promising.

I looked at the angel and replied, “I think I’ll pass. Give someone else my lottery ticket.”

The angel scowled at me and said, “You have no choice, these are the rules.

“You must think carefully and select ten different occupations and assign them a fixed sequence, for once chosen your lives will follow the sequences you select. You will have twenty-four hours from the moment I woke you and I will return for your response; one day, so think carefully and choose wisely . . . and responsibly. Upon you and your other nine companions will depend the destiny of humankind . . . a thousand years and God will decide.”

“In twenty-four hours I must choose what may determine the destiny of mankind!” I exclaimed. “It is too great a burden! I am but a human!”

“Yes, you are just a human. It is time humans take some responsibility for their future, not just thrust their burden onto chance and the benevolence of God. Choose well.”

This angel could see into my soul, knew the terror that God had imposed upon me, and nine others.

“Yes,” the angel said, “God knows the terrible burden he has placed upon you, so he has decided that he will grant you one wish . . . a wish that you may choose to ease the burden of one thousand years. That choice may be the most burdensome of all.”

“Hah! This is all a bad dream.” I rolled away from the angel and closed my eyes, determined to sleep some more. A terrible burning sensation seared my shoulder. I opened my eyes. The angel was still there and his hand was on me.

“This is not a dream,” he declared.

He removed his hand, the pain went away, but the print of his hand remained on my shoulder. A reminder? “Now only twenty-three hours,” the angel intoned.

So what will it be? I asked myself. After an hour I decided, first learn, then apply. Twenty-two hours to go.
What would God want me to learn?
I thought for another hour and concluded that if God wanted to make the decision, the angel would have told me. So finally I decided I would learn those things that would best fulfill my dreams, my curiosities. Twenty-one hours to go.

I made coffee and breakfast, clearing my mind by doing simple tasks. My wife of fifty years had died one year ago and I had learned these simple tasks of necessity. Twenty hours to go.

Then I made my first choice;
I will become a linguist, learn as many languages and pass among as many people sharing their thoughts and perspectives as one hundred years would allow. I would become wise in how they saw the world and how they differ from one another, or are the same. Nineteen hours to go.

My second choice took longer, but I decided that I would become an archaeologist.
I will learn the building blocks of civilization; understand from whence we have come. Seventeen hours to go. Two hours wasted? No, not wasted, but I could not dawdle.

Next I determined I would study anthropology,
to learn how people and cultures evolved separately and created different visions of life and social interaction. Sixteen hours to go and I still had seven choices and a wish to decide. What would my wife have wished for me, if she were still by my side? She was my guide in so many things. I had not realized that until after she was gone.

Fourth, I would become a biologist.
I would learn about the science and history of living things; animals, plants, the bounties of this earth. Yes, my wife would have approved of that. She saw beauty in such things, marveled at the glory of flowers and trees and the exquisite joy in the birth of kittens and puppies . . . and of course the birth of our own children. Fifteen hours to go!

Fifth, now that was to be the most difficult, because I would allow myself only five tasks to learn and leave the last lifetimes to applications. What remaining course should I take in the learning phase? I thought long and hard. Stopped and rested, took a shower and then I knew! My wife had died a painful death of cancer . .
. I would study medicine; cure disease, relieve pain. Thirteen hours to go.

Sixth, now I faced what I should do with what I have learned, time was running out so I made the choice that had most affected my recent life:
Take the miracles of medicine to those who had no access. My wife had experienced such terrible emotional and physical pain in her going. No human deserved such a passing.

I will paint; express and share the beauty on canvas that I have seen in the world around me. Painting has the quality to expose inner beauty, both of the human heart and the glory of nature that surrounds us.

Eighth, I will lead in the preservation of bio-diversity and preserve the resources of the planet. In our urgency to tear wealth from the Earth, too often we destroy potential wealth . . . benefit to humankind . . . greater than the value of the wealth we extract in our present.

Ninth, I will write about everything I have learned. I will try to give depth to the obvious truths that humankind so often witnesses superficially. It will be a permanent record for those who follow.

Last and most important, I will teach. I will inspire others to follow in my path, to learn and preserve the wisdom and treasures that I have discovered, so that others may carry forward those vital lessons that God has imposed upon me. Mankind must prosper from the burden He has given me and turn that burden into the gift He has intended for them.

And my wish?

That my wife be returned to me to accompany me through these ten lifetimes, that we can learn to know and understand each other fully, as one lifetime was not enough. She will guide and comfort me in a thousand years joining us as one. I know I do not offer her a gift; rather I beg for her forgiveness that I should impose such an onus upon her. But this burden I could not bear, without her support and guidance. And we will prove to the generations of a thousand years that God’s greatest gift of all is in fact his gift of mortal love.

Copyright © 2019 by Robert Bruce Drynan
All rights reserved. This short story or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

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