This world wasn’t real but then nothing he dreamed was real. Unfortunately, he was dead and all he had left were his dreams.
Jonathan Cypher stood on a salty white plain, the sky above a uniform gray mist. How had he gotten here? He woke up but the statement hardly did his situation justice. He was always dreaming and when he woke up, he was always in another dream.
The dream of the salt plain held two remarkable features. The first was a tree in the distance. Like everything else around him, it was presented in varying shades of charcoal, but it was lush and alive, or so it appeared as it stood on the distant horizon.
Then there were the tracks. Some looked like twin tire tracks but for others, the pair were too close together. What could have made them? There were no vehicles in sight, no sound of engines or people, not even birds. No wind, no rain, the only thing he could hear was the crunching of the salt that probably wasn’t salt under his feet as he stepped down.
The idea of following the tracks was compelling. Something had made them but whatever it was had disappeared at their vanishing points. The only reasonable destination, if reason could be said to apply here, was the tree.
He started walking.
“Usually the dreams make more sense, Raven.” He was speaking to his only companion, the woman who wasn’t a woman, though she was more beautiful than any vision of loveliness and grace he could possibly have imagined.
She didn’t answer. Raven was like that. Appearing only as she willed, speaking only of her cryptic purpose, sending him through doors and showing him the views through windows. They were always of different worlds and different times.
Jonathan steadily approached the tree.
He could hear the sound of his footsteps but there was also the sound of water. However there was no water in this desert, only sand or salt or “crunchy white stuff” underfoot. The air was warm and dry in spite of the appearance of fog.
There was no wind, but he could hear the leaves and the branches of the tree ahead rustling and creaking. No sun or clouds, but he could see golden and amber hues streaming through majestic cumulus castles above.
Jonathan Cypher stood near the base of the tree. He was standing on water, no not solid ice, liquid water. It shimmered around his feet yet he did not fall in. He wasn’t even wet. The water was a river but it was also the road he had been walking on, the one he had always been walking on ever since the beginning.
The tree was full and green. It stood on the river above a vast emerald forest. There was a fog sitting on the floor of the valley beyond and mountains sequestered against the west. The sun hung low, its light flickering through the clouds and then through the tree and finally being eagerly greeted by his eyes.
In the light, he could see a vision, an endless stream of human beings soaring out of the center, the beginning of everything, out of the heart of Creation.
“They are the neshamot of all people who ever lived and who will ever live, from the beginning of time until its end. They all come from one Source, all came into being in a single creative moment, and at the end, will all return to a single moment.”
She was standing between him and the tree. Her shoulder-length hair was a dark auburn, almost black as were her eyes. Her face was vaguely Eurasian, her lips as lavender as her flowing gown. The gown itself fluttering in a breeze but not the one he could feel, as if she lived and existed in a world outside of his dreams.
He finally understood her gown. At the bottom, it always shifted and twisted from cloth into water flowing around her feet and disappearing around a fold in space that did not exist.
Here, the gown became water and flowed back into the water upon which they and the tree were standing, but the water also flowed back into Raven, renewing her, sustaining her eternally.
“Who am I?”
“You are like them, like all of them, Jonathan. You are a living soul, a neshamah, and all of humanity are your brothers and sisters, billions upon billions of souls each created at the same instant and then distributed across all of time and space to be born, one here and then, another there and then, and on and on, to be sent forth, to be born, to live, to die, to return.”
“Am I here to be returned?”
“There are a few who take a different course on the return. Once the neshamah has been freed from the vessel, it is released back into the timestream but no longer bound by it.”
“That’s what I’ve been experiencing, living unbound by time and space.”
“You will return, you are returning, you have always returned, and yet what from one perspective occurs in an instant, from others may seem to take a tiny march of days or a journey across centuries.”
“Do you believe in fate, Jonathan?”
“Because I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life.”
“I know what you mean. Imagine a universe and in fact, the totality of all possible, conceivable quantum realities being created by an intelligent and planful being with an ending already written before the beginning has been quickened. Now imagine each and every sentient being within all of that possessing individual free will.”
“Isn’t that a contradiction?”
“Not at all. It allows for an infinite number of paths across all of existence that still have a single origin point and all have one unified destination.”
“The roads I saw in the desert. But those tracks didn’t all lead to the tree.”
“Not from the direction from which you came, but who is to say they didn’t loop back from behind the horizon?”
“I still don’t understand what this has to do with me.”
“Free will allows for a certain brokenness to be introduced at various points in the quantum realities. It allows for whole quantum realities, consequences, possibilities, that are the result of that free will. While the Creator is omnipotent and omnipresent, He chooses not to dispense with free will and thus chooses not to summarily correct the brokenness. Free will introduced the brokenness. Free will can heal it.”
“The people I’ve saved. The little girl on the battlefield.”
“Her death at the hands of German artillery in the conflict you call World War One was a brokenness which you healed.”
“Children, people die everyday. Why was her death part of the brokenness?”
“She will still die, Jonathan. She has always died. All humans die. It’s a matter whether the timing of that death is part of the brokenness.”
“Any child’s death is wrong, Raven.”
“I cannot judge. I can only be. You have free will, you must judge how best to heal.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“Yes it is. It’s just not the answer you want.”
“How long for what?”
“How long do I have to dance on the end of Geppetto’s strings before I return like everyone else?”
“You are no longer attached to a fixed point in timespace so there is no answer I can give you, or none your mind could comprehend.”
“It this it, the origin, this tree?”
“Consider the Tree of Life as a metaphor. After all, this is a dream, a world expressed as metaphor.”
“Who are you? God?”
She laughed. He had seen her smile before, but just once. He had never heard her laugh before. It was a gentle sound, not cruel or obnoxious, as if a mother had watched her small child do something silly, and foolish, and wholly endearing.
“My name is merely Raven. But I speak for one who is far greater than I. He has the soul of a poet and the heart of a lion. I am she who shows him the path and throughout time he must walk it with courage and with compassion, with honor and mercy. Many will come to know him and have always known him. His name is Jonathan David Cypher, but in whispered shadows and in worlds beyond reason he is something else, he is someone else. He is the Never Man.”
And then Jonathan woke up.
I wrote this for the Photo Challenge #204 hosted at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. The idea it to use the image at the top to author a poem, short story, or other creative work.
I leveraged my characters Jonathan Cypher and Raven who were last seen in the tale Dead Man’s Life for this project and am grateful to the comments of “ProclaimLiberty” which you can find HERE and HERE for providing the reason for Jonathan’s existence beyond his mortal life.
I borrowed the short exchange between Raven and Jonathan about fate from the one between Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Neo (Keanu Reeves) in the 1999 film “The Matrix.”
I found it necessary to use a second image to describe Jonathan’s destination and Raven’s source, a metaphorical representation of the Tree of Life, which Kabbalists believe to be a diagram of the process by which the Universe came into being.
Tikkun Olam generally means something like “repairing the world” and is also a concept found in Kabbalah. It describes any action that improves the world and brings it closer to the harmonious state for which it was created.
Jonathan’s and Raven’s previous adventures include:
9 thoughts on “Tikkun Olam”
Wow! That’s quite a smooth elaboration of the cosmology upon which my comments opened a window.
One minor correction is in order, though. The plural of “neshamah” is “neshamot”, to accord with your phrasing “They are …”. If you had wished to retain the simplicity of the singular form for the sake of not confusing your readers who may be unfamiliar with Hebrew terms and language structures, I suppose you could have said: “Each of these is the neshamah of someone who is but one of all the people that …”.
Hoist on my own petard or in this case, my own lack of knowledge of Hebrew. Thanks.
Of course, “fixing the world” is a task usually encouraged of humans while they are physically involved as living beings within the world that needs fixing. For Jonathan Cypher, it is actually a much harder task, and he needs to exercise essentially superhuman powers even to try.
He is no longer a physical human being in order to provide him with the superhuman abilities to “fix” things that a “normal” person wouldn’t be able to.
Hi James, you used the image so well, I could see how your tale was coming from the image, a lot of travel to places not always understood.
As I mentioned in the afterword, I have “ProclaimLiberty” to thank for a lot of that and although I make a terrible mystic, I know just enough about Kabbalah to “get my face slapped,” metaphorically speaking.
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