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The Choice MAG
It's 11:47 p.m.
Alone in my room I feel the pressure. Questions from my teachers and family pulsate in my head: What's your plan? Have you chosen a college? Why don't you care? I try to respond, but can't. Why don't you say anything? Come on Luke, you must have some idea of where you want to go. The other seniors in your class have already applied to colleges. You can't waste any more time. You've got to do something.
12:01 a.m. Darkness obscures the world. I've never been this lost before. Every day my friends and family ask me about the future. I really don't know what to tell them. I do know what they want to hear. They want me to say that I'm excited about college and life. In other words, they want me to lie.
Even if I go to college, what then? Will I be stuck in a dull job for the next 50 years? Will I be forced to spend my days scavenging for money? Will life pass me by like a falling star? Sources say yes.
The truth is, I'm tired of hearing about war and disease. I'm sick of watching people suffer as they blindly follow their thoughtless desires in circles. My tolerance has been shattered. No longer can I stomach our materialistic decadence. The redundancy of our actions, mind-numbing television, our cyclic way of life - it is killing me.
These are the feelings I never share. People would think me crazy if I told them. Who knows, maybe I am crazy. Every rule has its exception; every system has its flaw.
Outside, the sky is dark with no moon in sight. For a moment my head is calm. Then, from deep in my thoughts, the question surfaces and takes control. It's the question that haunts us all. I can feel myself giving in to it. All I can do is find an answer.
1:23 a.m. Head aching, eyes stinging. I leave my room for the kitchen. I stare blankly into the fridge. Then, out of nowhere, something combusts inside me.
When I turn around, there is a tall, dark-haired girl standing there. Her brown eyes sparkle like diamonds. Her smile is glossy and warm.
"Hello," I whisper.
We stand on the shady tile, lost in each other. Then she asks, "Do you want to go somewhere fun?"
I nod. The girl's delicate hair brushes my cheek as she walks past me. She opens the oven door and vanishes down a wooden staircase. The girl waits a few steps down. "Don't be afraid," she says. "Follow me."
I hesitate, trying to analyze the situation. What are you doing? Who is that girl? You haven't slept in days, you're hallucinating. I give these comments a second's contemplation, then crawl into the oven and head down the staircase toward a new reality.
We rush down hundreds of steps. "We're almost there," she calls.
"What's your name?" I ask.
"My name means nothing."
"Yeah, I guess you're right."
At the bottom of the steps there is a golden doorway that we walk through.
"Where are we going now?"
The dark-haired girl looks over her shoulder and smiles. "To a beautiful place."
We're in a shimmering green valley set against a series of colossal mountains. The sky is vibrantly blue. The clouds seem to swirl around you like wisdom after knowledge. For the first time in my life, I feel pure.
We walk through the valley for hours, for days. Then we come upon a boundless ocean. The girl sits on the white sand and I join her. Her slender legs reflect light from the sun. Being with her makes me forget my problems in the other world. I feel totally peaceful.
The girl rises. Her eyes beckon me forward. We dive into the transparent water and swim downward. When my lungs are about to explode, I swim deeper. Incredibly, my chest opens up and I'm able to breathe. I swim past rocks and caves as hundreds of fish dart around me. I find the girl on the ocean's lowest level. She looks down at an area of sand that swirls until there is a hole big enough to swim through.
We fall for miles. I crash into pavement. I listen to my legs break and watch the blood seep down from my forehead. The girl stands close by.
"No, you're living." She lifts me up and our lips collide. Her taste and touch heal my body. I hold her tightly, already knowing what's next. She pulls away. "I'm sorry, but I must leave you. When I'm gone, a green door will appear. Enter it."
"But, wait, I -"
"Please, don't say anything. Just remember."
When the dark-haired girl is gone, a green door materializes. I open it. A shadowy room with a stool in the center appears. I go to it and sit. The room brightens into soft yellow. A lectern is on the stage in front of me. I hear the green door open and close. A stern-faced man in a brown cloak positions himself behind the lectern. Clumps of white hair show vertically from the back of his head. His eyes, like the girl's, are welcoming.
"Greetings," he says. "I am Arthur Schopenhauer."
Shock and disbelief overcome me. The greatest philosopher of the nineteenth century is alive and communicating with me?
"This evening I will be giving you a private lecture, my troubled friend. Let us begin with the past. More specifically, let us begin with your past." Schopenhauer clears his throat. "Youth, in all its glorious ignorance, is the only complete path to happiness. Consequently, your unhappiness can partially be explained by an early loss of youth. At the age of eleven your mind had already plunged into the depths of the human condition. By 13, questions of life's ultimate purpose were plentiful in your thoughts. The next few years brought you tragedy. You witnessed death and watched your family separate. You discovered the pitfalls of materialism. You realized the loopholes and hidden agendas of governments, societies and religions. Then, in a melancholic epiphany, the truth of this world blossomed inside you.
"Life is suffering. Everywhere you turned there was mass suffering. In an effort to combat this agony, you buried yourself in books. However, the misery survived, unwilling to succumb to fits of denial."
Schopenhauer pauses. The echo of his words reverberates through the room. He proceeds, "Now, Luke, we have reached the present. This is your darkest hour. The truth of life has crippled you. The idea of conforming has sickened you. Prematurely, you have absorbed the most profound philosophies. This is a tremendous burden, especially at the age of 17. I can see you have reached a breaking point. I can also see that in your desperation you have formulated a solution. Contrary to what you may think, your solution is entirely incorrect. Suicide will solve nothing. You shouldn't poison yourself with this cowardly thought. Killing yourself is merely adding to the suffering."
I am perplexed. How could he have known?
"Beyond suicide, there is one more alternative. You need to dig deeper. You must continue your quest for knowledge and truth. Embrace your chance to be alive. Transcend nihilism and welcome the unknown. Follow your soul in its search for purpose and peace. This alone is your salvation. This alone is your will to live."
Schopenhauer falls silent. He motions me to reply. "What you've said about my past is unarguably true. The world has made me suffer. I have contemplated suicide. What I don't understand is when you said that I should dig deeper. How can I keep going if I know that the torment will only strengthen? How can I move forward if it causes so much pain?"
"That is a decent question, Luke. The best answer I can give is a quote from my successor, Friedrich Nietzsche: 'The charm of knowledge would be small if so much shame did not have to be overcome on the road to it.' You will encounter detours and tribulations, that is certain. To conquer those, you must be aware of their impermanence. In the end you will find that the struggles you face are nothing compared to your gain."
"Okay," I say, "that makes sense. But what about college? What about the future?"
"The future is not to be feared. You're overlooking everything that is positive. In college you will have access to a plethora of valuable resources. You'll be around people of all cultures. After, you will find work. Remember, not every job is meaningless. Find something that appeals to you."
"I have only a few more questions left. What has been happening? Is this place real? Who was the girl? Who are you?"
Schopenhauer nods his head and his gray eyes widen. "I've been waiting for you to ask those questions. You already know the answers, but I'll tell you anyway. This is a hallucination. This is your subconscious attempting to solve a problem that your consciousness could not. The girl is your mental projection of the two aspects that have been misplaced in your life - love and beauty. I am the teacher you never had."
"So, if this is my subconscious solving my problems, why do I feel the same?"
"Because you alone are the one who must choose whether or not you want to live. I'm simply giving you an alternative. I'm showing you the side of yourself that you never see. I'm making sure you know that you have the ability to contribute meaningfully. To accomplish this, though, you have to accept your will. Ultimately, you have to make the choice."
I rise from the stool. "Thank you for the guidance. Your words will never be forgotten."
Schopenhauer shakes my hand and says, "You are most welcome. Now, please close your eyes. Upon opening them you will have returned home. Farewell, Luke."
The oven is closed. The darkness of the kitchen surrounds me.
4:59 a.m. I sit in my room. I'm having another melancholic epiphany. Let me tell you how I got here.
Picture life as a giant stream that is always rushing forward. Now picture millions of people cascading along this stream in boats and rafts, some are even swimming. Picture me below, on the stream's floor. See, over the years my raft kept losing air until it was completely deflated. I tried to swim like the others, but I just sank to the bottom.
5:20 a.m. Outside my window the darkness is fading. Streets, vehicles and houses are becoming visible. They're like emerging shadows in a changing world.
I'm in a state of harmony. I can feel the dark-haired girl standing next to me. I can hear Schopenhauer's compelling words floating through the air. I'm almost ready to make the choice.
6:13 a.m. The sun is rising. Rays of golden light are breaking through the window and illuminating my room. Night has finally passed.
7 a.m. I choose to live.