So Alone

Think what you want.
But be prepared to stand alone.
That is how martyrs are made.
Yet, who is to declare the difference, between a martyr and a fool?


1. So Alone

It had begun with the strangest dream. 

My mind had drifted into a deep slumber, so very tranquil that I might have believed the world to have stalled. A darkness consumed myself as I stood upright. Yet, no weight was set upon my feet, as if gravity had never laid a finger upon this plane. 

Before me was a woman, a feminine physique that poised quite rigid. A snow white night gown draped over her, and silver bands lay at her wrists, ankles, and over her head. All else remained bare, laden in a tone not unlike caramel. Dark locks cascaded past her shoulders, waved like a river's current, as amber resin glistened with consciousness amongst the murky ripples. 

I gazed on in fascination, taking in what stood in front of me. For a short while, I attempted to convince myself that this was merely a dream and nothing more. But the longer I looked, the more vicious the uncertainty grew, and I soon conceded that I had never seen such a lady before. I began to wonder if perhaps this were an angel, or a kindly specter that had, for some unknown reason, decided to grace me with her presence. 

So then, I asked her, "Are you an angel?" my voice bouncing about the enclosure that felt as vast and incalculable as eternity. 

At once, her eyes rested upon me, and she raised a tired smile. "If that is what you think that I am," she spoke, her tone a siren song. 

I didn't understand what she said, and I made that clear. "What do you mean?" 

She didn't spare a moment to consider an answer, as if she had been waiting for so very long to speak her piece. "If I told you that I was an angel, or perhaps just the contrary, would it matter?" 

I stared for a moment. "I...I guess not..." I stumbled. "...but it would be nice to know." 

"True," she commenced, "it would be nice. I believe that is what you call curiosity, correct?" 

I paused, and then nodded. "I guess it is," I realized. "I am curious, if you're an angel." 

Her smile grew. "Yes. Curiosity can be fruitful, yet it can also lead to discoveries that one might wish to forget." She glanced downward a moment, but immediately returned her gaze. "However, whether or not I am an angel, depends upon what you believe an angel is. Perhaps to some, I am most certainly not an angel, whereas others may be quick to assume as such." 

I considered. "Um, I guess angels are...flying people? And...they, like, live with God or something?" 

The woman giggled, which startled me. "Well then, I am not an angel," she answered. 

"Then," I puzzled, "what are you?" I stopped myself, and my eyes widened. "I—I mean, if I may ask! I'm sorry!" 

She herself seemed puzzled, as well as concerned. "Oh, why are you frightened? You have said nothing wrong." 

I looked to my feet, unable to make eye contact. I felt that she was being too humble, for I was sure that I was in the wrong here. 

She waited a while, and then spoke. "I am nothing extraordinary. I am no more omniscient than one as young as you." 

I didn't know what omniscient meant, but I was too ashamed to admit it, or to point out that she had not answered my question. "Oh. Well, if I may also ask...why are you here?" 

Her gaze seemed to divert. "I cannot answer that," she confessed, "for anything I said would be merely a theory." 

I heard a sole exhale alongside a half-laugh, which once again, I didn't understand. "Funny, is it not?" she uttered pathetically. 

I shook my head. "I don't...I don't understand." 

She looked back to me with a sad grin. "That a concept that seems so evidently wrong, would be as common as it is?" 

"You mean...I'm still not sure what you mean..." 

"Claiming estimations to be truth," she clarified. "Speaking assumptions as though they are any more than that." 

I took a moment to stare at her, and then another to stare at the floor—or, lack thereof. At once, my mind attributed her words to topics of politics and culture, so instinctively that I'd barely noted it. My gut churned and I crossed my arms, and in that moment, I forgot that she was a phantom. 

"That's," I blurt, "...that's bold of you." 

She winced through her smile. "Bold, perhaps. However, I feel you are being modest with your wording. I believe that what you think I am is insensitive.

I stepped back; I hadn't expected that course of travel. However, my gut wasn't settled. 

"But what makes my statements bold?" she commenced. "Is it because they are wrong, or because they state an idea that is convicting?" 

I could feel my face tighten, and I was aware that she had noticed it. 

"Yet, should it not be convicting?" she asked. "If it is true, then it is a malady of humanity, and something that should be discussed. And thus, not so very bold to declare when contemplated critically. For instance, might I try, is it easier to put together a file of evidence to support a claim, or to merely take another's word for it?" 

Slowly, my muscles loosened, and my expression calmed.

"But," I said, "what if the other person did the work and figured it out?" 

Her lips were just barely not a straight line. "Ah, now that is the real question," she responded. "And it cannot be answered, until you yourself conduct your own research, in order to find out if your source used credible evidence." 

I peered below her face, unable to hold eye contact. I wanted to pretend that I wasn't listening, and considering. 

"And then, you must find whether or not their sources were credible, and then if their own sources were credible as well. And that, my friend, leads into subjects of philosophy, which could carry on for thousands of years, and have thus far." 

I kept it all in mind, and I was proud of how well I was concealing the fact. "For someone who tries to make herself sound so logical," I pointed out with a chuckle, "you sure like to exaggerate." 

The woman furrowed her brow. "Exaggerate?" she reiterated. "How so?" 

I threw her a mighty smirk. "Thousands of years?" I reiterated myself. "I'm pretty sure people haven't been making up salty religious BS for thousands of years." 

Her brow remained as it were, yet her face emanated a sort of worry. "What makes you think this was the spawn of the religious?" she asked. 

"What? You serious?" I snarked. "You know they like to use that excuse to discredit things that don't line up with what they wanna think. A bunch'a whiners if you ask me." 

"Yes, that is valid," she simply confirmed, as if she weren't on the defense at all. "Many theists utilize such a thought process. Yet...does it not make you think? And, is the concept not logical?" 

I stared. 

"This thought, on the contrary, was originally humanistic and quite radical, and is primarily attributed to the ancient philosophers that we talk about in school," she continued. "They called it a matter of absolute truth, a concept which asks how humanity, if provided with no to-do-list of an omniscient being, can declare and prove what is true, false, right, wrong, good, evil, normal, obscene, so on and so forth." 

I forgot to look menacing, and accidentally contributed. "I've heard that phrase. I think we glossed over it in World History." 

That beautiful smile of hers returned, and I soon realized that I wasn't scowling, and so forced it back on. 

"Yes. And these philosophers and those who have proceeded them have been thinking about it ever since. Technically, it has been thousands of years." She paused for a moment, perhaps to organize her thoughts. "The answers to "What is true?" have varied, but many agree that since the earth came with no set of rules, there is no truth. Or perhaps, they create their own truths—this is called relativism. Those who grasp onto that idea and take advantage of this lack of morality, you might call an anarchist. Yet most others make up for this lack by providing themselves with a substitution. They tend to live their lives following a certain philosophy. Some strive to progress the evolution of mankind, some simply yearn to make others happy, some take strides to feed the hungry and give to the poor, and some just follow the simple, 'Eat, drink, and be merry.'"

Once again, I forgot to frown. Yet this time, I didn't really care to make the effort. 

"And funnily enough, the religious can bypass all of the hassle. Because the 'omniscient being with the to-do-list' provides humanity's long-sought-after absolute truth." 

"So...what do you imply?" I asked, for the first time, out of earnest. 

"I imply nothing," she answered. "The take-away is never the speaker's business. Does this mean that the religious are lazy and can't think critically? Does it mean that humanist philosophers are hopeless fanatics that are looking for answers where there are none? Or perhaps, does this mean that whether or not a religion is true, it may be beneficial to practice it, for it provides the individual with a specific sense of meaning and a primary goal of paradise?" She raised her eyebrows. "In a way, I guess I take after Socrates: always asking questions, but never answering them." 

All the while, I cringed until my cheeks grew sore, and she noted it. "Yes, my verbalizing of harmless questions might be considered offensive. In fact," she laughed, "it is offensive. But think about this: if we are so preoccupied with offending others and in turn being offended, then what will we ever accomplish?" 

That knot in my gut returned, but instead of adhering to it, I mulled upon it. "Are you saying it's dumb to be offended?" I said. 

The woman looked away. "Perhaps," she spoke, "or perhaps not. If that is what you take away, and if that is what you believe, who am I to deter you?" She gazed back at me. "What do you think?" 

I looked away myself. "Well, you asked what we—I assume humanity—would accomplish if we were worried about offending people. I guess, we would be a lot happier.....but, constantly worried." 

My face twisted, for I didn't like what I had found. 

"I would be paranoid about everything I did." I looked up to her. "And then, if I was offended by every...misunderstanding, I would be constantly upset. I.....I'd be mad all the time, every time I took offense." 

She only peered upon me, her eyes soft and proud. "So, people would be happy," she spoke up, "but they would be worried, and upset as well. This reasoning makes taking offense seem like a vicious cycle." 

My eyes never left her, and my face remained churned. "But, that can't be right. Being offended isn't bad," I retorted. "If someone's being racist or rude or sexist, then that's reason to take offense. I mean, isn't it?" 

She glanced downward a moment. "True," she said. "It seems that in that sense it is not, should we say, bad. However, what happens when the offended individual cannot let go of the fact that he or she has been wronged? And all that can ever come to mind or come up in conversation is the fact that 'it was so offensive'?" She looked back to me. "And do you know why we are encouraged to search for offense?" 

I shook my head. 

"It is because when we feel that we have been wronged," she stated, "is when we are the most vulnerable. The moments when we feel attacked, are when our defense is gradually chipped away. And when we are vulnerable, we look for shelter, for support, for a core, wherever is closest and promises the most protection. Yet looks can be deceiving, for the cores that we so readily grasp onto for dear life do not care about you, but about what you can give them. And sadly, it is working to perfection." 

I had nothing to argue, and at this point, I was disgusted at what I was considering. "I don't like this," I admitted. "It doesn't feel right. I don't like what I'm feeling." 

The woman's smile faded again. "I know," she consoled. "Most do not. No man or woman enjoys feeling the weight of judgement pressing upon one’s skulls. For no man or woman wants to admit that they do not agree, or do not know." 

I gawked at her. "What?" was all I could say. 

"Who would dare confess to a crowd of Republicans their adherence to Democracy? Or vice versa? Or perhaps they take different beliefs from different parties, and have the audacity not to adhere to the majority opinion of a group of people at all times and in all things. Nobody wants to be the outlier, and those who do outlie are thus disposed of." 

I winced. "I'm sorry but, I think you're exaggerating again." 

For the very first time, the woman frowned at me. It felt like a wave had flooded over top of me, and I was encased in smothering cold and discomfort. 

"My statement, mostly likely brings images of executions and martyrs to mind. Individuals persecuted for thinking, for believing, for sharing. Yet nowadays, we do not see guillotines and chopping blocks out in the city squares. Instead, we have media feeds that blacklist celebrities that dared to speak their mind. Twitter posts that respond to bold questions with no answer or thought, but with passionate assurance that offense has been taken. Simple and innocent statements regarding atheism, agnosticism, and creationism met with violent threats. News that has been twisted in order to fit an agenda, no matter whose life they happen to tear apart in the process. Harmless statements taken out of proportion by those searching for attention and pity. The list goes on, my friend. And as insignificant as these present themselves, they are perhaps even more powerful than a public execution." 

"How?" I interjected. "How is that even remotely possible?" 

"Because when one sees an execution, fear of death is the immediate response. But then comes the rush of determination, the resolve to rally an army and avenge the wrongly accused. 'If we die, so be it. It shall be valiant, and we shall be remembered.' Yet nowadays, opposition is silenced with a fear of shame, of ridicule. And not only opposition is frowned upon, but even theoretical questions only meant to spawn discussions. If one wishes to stand for a cause, there is an army of individuals around the world at their devices, ready to make life a living hell. If he fails, he must survive the barrage of threats and backlash, and consider his account null and void from this point on. It shall not be valiant, and he shall be remembered for his wrongfulness and evil. False guilt is induced, because how dare he even consider another possibility? How dare he think critically?" She stayed silent a moment, and just stared into my eyes. "And so, no one speaks. What use have we for public demonstrations these days? We are in no need of shackles anymore, for we create them in the minds of our populous. They bind themselves so abundantly and tightly that they cannot even breathe. They have become so used to their comforting restraint, that they truly believe that they are libertated. And they use this ignorance to convince themselves that this is freedom. And those shackles are not so easily broken, nor are their keys so easily found." 

"Aren't you," I spoke hopefully, "over-reacting just a little bit?" 

I could have sworn, that I saw her eyes grow fogged, glazed over in mist. "Did you believe, that I was clad in jewelry?" she spoke. 

I was taken aback by this, for I didn't know what her accessories had to do with the matter at hand. 

She forced a laugh. "I'm flattered," she uttered, "that you thought me so angelic to possess garnishes for my ankles and wrists, and so royal that I might wear a crown." She peered downward through diversion of eyes, and only that. "I guess I do seem to be suspended, and I may be rigid like an angel statuette would." Her pupils landed back upon me. "Looks can be deceiving, however." 

Her statement confused me, for all that she described had been my assumptions from the start. Had she implied that this was all false? 

I took a step forward, and then another, locking my gaze upon the woman all the while. And slowly as I drew near, I noted details upon the silver bands that I couldn't have seen from so far away. How in the front of all five, a thin grove was apparent. As if each band were a claw, and had clamped upon each limp as well as her head. Other than that, they were quite featureless, as if looking stylish were of subordinate concern. 

I crept even closer, and saw the skin of her wrists and ankles swimming in shades of black and blue and pink. Looming behind her, as well, the outline of a rectangle emerged from the dark. 

I stopped about a yard from her, and was close enough to understand her stillness throughout our talk. 

Not because she had wanted to, but because she couldn't be otherwise. 

"I..." she wavered, directing her pupils directly below her. "...I am alone. I did not...I only wanted to think for myself." She inhaled sharply. "And now I am here. I...I am so alone." 

She began to weep, as her face scrunched so tight it pained my own to look at her. Her sobs were the purest I've ever heard, of a soul that shouldn't have to shed tears. I couldn't remain indifferent before her, and I slapped a hand to my face once the first teardrop fell. 

Immediately I lunged for the cuff that restrained her wrist, and I tugged and pulled until my fingers went numb. The woman couldn't see me, but knew exactly what I was doing. "Not so easily broken," she trudged through her sobs. "Nor keys so easily found." 

But I continued to pull, and I wept all the while. I wept perhaps as hard as she, and I felt my arms were about to give. 

"Do not stop thinking," she cried. "Never stop thinking. Never be ashamed of thinking. Do not let your questions be silenced. And do not forget me. Please do not forget me." 

I pulled, I tugged, and I sobbed all the more. Her words filling my mind and echoing about the void in which we resided. 

                Not so easily broken                                    

                                  Nor keys so easily found 

                           Do not stop thinking 

                                                    Never stop thinking 

                                                                             Never be ashamed of thinking 

                                                                Do not let your questions be silenced 

                                                                   Do not forget me 

                                                   Please do not forget me 

                                        Please do not forget me

                                 I am so alone 

                         I am so alone 

                  I am so alone 

           I am so alone 

And I woke up. 

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