In the near future, in a typical office of a typical office building, in a typical downtown of a typical major city—two men sit talking. A large window on one wall extends from floor to ceiling so that pedestrians can be seen going about their daily routines. The first man appears to be in his mid-fifties. He is wearing a white suit and sitting behind a contemporary white office desk. Across the desk sits the second man, in his mid-thirties, dressed simply in blue jeans and a black T-shirt.
The kind of business that takes place in this office is not indicated—no signage on the walls, no nameplate on the desk.
The scene commences in mid dialogue where a deal or sale of some sort is underway.
“Yes, yes. We Advocates do frequently hear such complaints. It is indeed a challenge at times to live among the Suffering. But fortunately, we have something that can help.” The Advocate reaches for a bottle of black pills from within one of his desk drawers and places it in front of the Attendant. He unscrews the cap, removes a single black pill, and maneuvers it delicately between his thumb and forefinger. “One of these should do the trick,” he says grinning.
The Attendant picks up the bottle and begins to analyze it. “What do you mean exactly by do the trick?”
“You simply take one of these, and the Suffering,” he gestures to the throng of pedestrians moving about outside, “they go away.”
“They go away?” the Attendant asks, astounded.
“Where do they go?”
“Let me restate that. It’s not that they go away, but your consciousness. Upon taking this pill, your consciousness—your active awareness of this reality—will be transferred to an alternate reality where nothing exists. And as a result of this process, it will only seem as if the Suffering have gone.”
The Attendant sits forward and ponders the Advocate’s explanation as he sets the bottle back down on the desk. “May I?” He points to the pill.
“Of course.” The Advocate hands the pill to the Attendant.
The Attendant sniffs at the black capsule. “Oh, disgusting! It smells like black licorice.” He continues to examine it. “But you’re serious? This little thing can really do what you say?” he asks, motioning to the people beyond the window. “It can free me of the Suffering?”
“And there really are other realities? Not just this one?”
“Yes. Researchers call them parallel worlds or universes.”
“Oh, I think I’ve heard of that. It’s multiverse theory, right? The theory that suggests an infinite number of realities can exist simultaneously.”
“Yes, impressive, Attendant.”
“Well, maybe not too impressive,” the Attendant smiles. “My understanding of physics, or any kind of science, really, is pretty limited. But I thought multiverse theory was just pop science—fluff?”
“As it turns out, not entirely. It may have started out as the stuff of science fiction, but, over the past fifty or so years, technological advances have enabled researchers to test once untestable hypotheses, and, in this case, as well as in a handful of others, their validity has been successfully established. What you now hold in your hand is the result of human progress, at least in the realm of science.”
“Wow! I had no idea.” The Attendant rises and walks away from the desk. He continues to examine the pill, holding it up to the fluorescent ceiling lights.
“Yes, truly remarkable,” the Advocate says, rising from his chair. He moves to the front of his desk and leans there.
The Attendant glances back at the Advocate. “You’re saying all I have to do is swallow this thing and my consciousness will be transferred to a reality where the Suffering do not exist?”
The Advocate nods, offering, “Where no one exists.”
“Amazing! Sounds exactly like what I’ve been looking for. But what happens here in this reality once my consciousness has left for this alternate one? Does my body . . . disappear or something?”
“No. Your body will remain. Only your consciousness will have departed.”
The Attendant laughs then stops himself, interjecting, “Wait . . . doesn’t a body need a consciousness in order to function? Won’t I become a zombie, or some such thing?”
“Ah, no. You won’t become a zombie.” The Advocate laughs. “And truth be told, a body does not necessarily require a consciousness in order to function. I think perhaps you’re conflating consciousness with the mind. The mind resides over your ability to think, to solve problems, and, as you say, to function properly. And indeed, if your mind were to somehow leave your body as a result of this process,” he says, taking the bottle of pills from his desk, “you would become something akin to a zombie, much like a computer without an operating system. But this is not exactly the case regarding the context of what you wish to accomplish.”
“Okay,” the Attendant says, handing the pill back to the Advocate. “Sounds like nothing will really change as far as my life in this reality is concerned. I’ll continue to be who I am, right? I just won’t be aware of myself, more importantly, the reason I’m here: I won’t be aware of them, right?” he asks, pointing to the people milling around outside.
“Well, that’s not entirely correct.” The Advocate sets both the pill and bottle back onto his desk.
“Oh? What is correct then?”
The Advocate crosses his arms and rubs his chin. “Sir, as an Advocate, my function is to serve you to the best of my ability, which necessarily mandates that I perform my duties in accordance with the highest of ethical standards. As such, the moment an Attendant shows concern for the reality of departure—as you have this very moment—I must disclose all I know of this process. Hence, I must inform you that once your consciousness has departed, certain changes will take place that will noticeably affect your existence here in the reality of origin. Although, from your new vantage point, you won’t be aware of any of this.”
The Attendant considers the Advocate’s words. “Well, I appreciate your transparency, of course. I mean, it’s nice to know that I’m not dealing with some kind of car salesman.” The Attendant laughs, adding, “After all, this is my life we’re talking about.”
“So, what kind of changes are you suggesting?”
The Advocate walks over to the window. He then turns back to the Attendant. “Well, by way of explanation, let me first ask you what you already understand about consciousness—about being conscious.”
“Well, like you said, it’s my active awareness of my own existence, or my own experience of this particular reality.” Scanning the office, the Attendant continues. “Like, if right now I do actually exist in some other parallel reality—as well as in this one—maybe I’m not aware of it because maybe I can only be aware of one reality at a time.” He raises both hands, indicating the space around the room.
“Mhm. What else?”
“Well, for me at least, it means to live intentionally, with a sense of purpose. To not take things for granted.” The Attendant pauses, chuckling. “Honestly, I’m just rattling off all the cliché new-age drivel. But this is really kind of hard to put into words.”
“Well, if it were easy, I’d be concerned.” The Advocate smiles. “Let me ask you this: where do other people fit into your idea of consciousness?”
“Yes, the Suffering,” the Advocate says, again, indicating the people outside his office window.
“Not sure I get what you mean. What do other people have to do with my consciousness?” the Attendant asks.
“Well, you are an Attendant by nature, yes? You are driven to attend to those people with whom you currently find yourself at odds—the Suffering—not because you expect some future reward, but because it sustains your Being . . . it feeds your existence.”
“I suppose, yes,” the Attendant replies.
The Advocate walks over to a corner of the room where he has spotted a spider spinning a web on a fiery, reddish-orange thorn bush just outside the window. “Ah, how fortuitous. Come have a look.”
The Attendant joins the Advocate at the window and peers at the spider. “Have a thing for spiders?”
“Yes, especially when they appear in this particular context.” The Advocate breathes in deeply as he watches the spider working on its project. Pointing at the web, he then asks, “Why do you think it does this?”
“What? Why does it make a web?”
The Attendant laughs, replying, “Obviously, to catch prey, to eat.”
“Hmm. So, the spider thinks to itself, ‘I must spin a web, so that I can catch a fly . . . so that I can eat.’?”
“Well, I think everyone would agree that a bug doesn’t quite think or plan like that; I’m pretty sure only human beings think that way.” The Attendant takes a closer look. “I guess it makes webs because it’s compelled to do so by instinct.”
“Yes, by instinct.” The Advocate nods. “Just as you, Attendant, are compelled to attend to the needs of others. Attending is a behavior particular to your nature, which surfaces as a result of your instinct being triggered by a particular external stimulus—the suffering of others.”
The Attendant peers closer at the spider, as if through a keyhole, as it continues to construct its web. “Okay, I think all that makes sense, but what does my nature, or instinct, have to do with my consciousness?”
“Unlike the spider, which does not require the presence of any other being in order to express its nature—the activity of making webs—expressing your nature as an Attendant does.”
The Attendant turns to the Advocate. “Okay, that seems pretty self-evident: I need others in order to attend, to be an Attendant. I mean, I can’t exactly attend to no one,” the Attendant says, then asks, “How is this related to consciousness?”
“How you express your particular nature—attending to the needs of the Suffering—requires an authentic intensity of presence that can only be maintained, well, by love. And this love, it is consciousness. When you attend to the Suffering, you are, in effect, loving them. And this wholly selfless act triggers your experience of consciousness—the highest level of self-awareness.”
“Hmm.” The Attendant turns away from the Advocate and begins to pace around the room. He stops and looks at the Advocate. “I think you’re really saying my consciousness depends upon the Suffering.”
“And in the other alternate reality, I won’t experience them?”
“Which means I won’t be concerned with them after I take this pill?” The Attendant indicates the black capsule sitting on the desk.
“Yes, that’s correct. The Suffering will no longer be of any consequence to you.”
The Attendant looks down then back to the Advocate. “A lot of people have come to expect this empathetic, concerned version of me.” He gestures to his own body. “They’re sure to take notice once that empathy and concern have vanished.”
“Yes,” the Advocate replies as he returns to the front of his desk. “That is a certainty.”
The Attendant shrugs. “I won’t be conscious of this, right? I won’t feel as if I’ve abandoned them?”
“You will not feel a thing; you will not be conscious of any—”
“Then I think we have a deal!” The Attendant approaches the Advocate, extending his right hand. “If the consequence of taking this pill is that I will no longer experience the Suffering—the fact that I’m abandoning them—then . . . why should I continue to concern myself with their existence?”
The Advocate smirks at the Attendant’s outstretched hand. “Put that away.” He meets the Attendant’s eyes and asks, “Have you lost your gift?”
Withdrawing his hand, the Attendant replies, “What do you mean?”
“You won’t be conscious of anything. Do you not understand?”
The Attendant remains quiet.
“What is it you think you’ll be able to experience in this alternate reality, where, as I’ve already stated, no one and nothing exist?”
The Attendant puts his hands to his chest. “Myself? Or, maybe some solitude for a change?”
The Advocate approaches the Attendant. “Let me be absolutely clear: you will not experience anything: not yourself, not solitude—nothing.”
The Attendant glares at the Advocate. He backs away from the him and returns to pacing the room. Finally, he stops and asks, “How is that possible? What does it even mean? You said this—” he fumbles his words as he walks over to the desk and retrieves the pill. Holding it at eye level, he exclaims, “You said this thing sends my consciousness to another reality. So, why won’t I be able to experience myself there?”
“Really?” The Advocate shakes his head. “You tell me.”
“What?” the Attendant asks, lowering the pill.
“Who are you?”
“Please stop! Just tell me what you mean.”
“Who are you in regard to what we have been discussing?”
The Attendant sighs. “I’m an Attendant. You know this!”
“Yes.” The Advocate gestures to the Attendant’s hand, disregarding his apparent frustration. “And, once you have taken one of these things, once you have arrived in the alternate reality, who exactly do you think you will attend to? Were you not listening?”
The Attendant remains quiet.
“You yourself just conceded that attending requires the presence of another. In the alternate reality, where no one and nothing exist, there will be no other to attend to, no other to love. As a result, you will not experience consciousness, you will not experience yourself, you will not ex—”
“Alright!” The Attendant turns away, irritated. He raises the pill, staring at it intently. “But that means . . . taking this pill is really—”
“The annihilation of experience.” The Advocate sighs, keeping eye contact with the Attendant for a long moment. He then returns to his chair.
The Attendant looks around the room as if searching for something then, returning his attention to the Advocate, he whispers nearly inaudibly, “It’s suicide?”
The Advocate remains quiet, leans forward, and rests his arms on the desk.
“You’re selling me suicide?”
“What? Why all of a sudden speechless? It’s true!” The Attendant shoves the pill forward in the air. “This thing is suicide!” He drops it onto the desk. “When you said my body will remain, you meant my corpse! I never said I wanted to die! I just . . . I just want to be rid of the Suffering!” He points to the people beyond the window.
Unfazed, the Advocate immediately rises from his chair, places his hands on his desk, and leans towards the Attendant, glaring at him. “Attendant, you seek to exit this reality for one where nothing exists. In effect, you seek your own death, and now you’re angry with me for offering the very thing you cannot bring yourself to admit you want. If you want things to change, maybe first acknowledge this fact. Try being real with me now. More so, try being real with yourself. Why are you here?”
“What do you mean?
Bangs his fists on the desk. “Why have you really come here today?”
The Attendant flinches, shocked. He slowly takes his seat before Advocate. He looks out at the people beyond the window. Slowly shifting forward, he drops his face to his hands and begins to sob. The Advocate sits and settles back into his own chair. A calm comes over the room. Only the faint, muffled sound of the Attendant’s crying can be heard. A minute passes.
“I want to die,” the Attendant whispers, then cries aloud, “Oh no, I want to die! What am I doing?”
The Advocate watches the Attendant and smiles warmly. Then lowering and cocking his head to the side, he says, “Look at me, Attendant. What brings you here today is not so much a matter of wanting to die as much as it is that you would like to be free of pain.”
The Attendant lifts his head and meets the Advocate’s gaze, still crying, wiping several tears aside. “Yes, please! I can’t do this anymore. The Suffering won’t ever change! They won’t! They’ll continue to do violence to one another, to themselves, regardless of my presence!”
“Yes. Most will continue to do so regardless of your presence. But not all.” He pauses.
“But you don’t get it! Can you truly understand the futility, the Sisyphean effort I must continually exert to . . . well, to continue guiding them? My particular boulder doesn’t simply roll back down the mountain once I’ve guided it to the top: it drags me down with it, breaking me along the way. I’m broken, Advocate! What would you have me do?”
The Advocate turns his chair toward the window, and he looks out at the people. “I know what you do is no simple feat. You have an extraordinary gift, albeit a painful one. But Attendant, you must know the Suffering have been deeply affected by the conscious being you are, by your kindness and generosity—by your love. And they have persevered, if only momentarily, from a pain for which no reprieve had existed until you entered their lives.”
The Attendant looks away, shaking his head.
“Look at me,” the Advocate gently pleads.
The Attendant looks up to the Advocate.
“When the Suffering come into your presence, they experience the most profound, boundless, and timeless intensity of being, a sensation so contagious that it often infects every other person with whom they themselves come into contact—others you yourself may not have ever met, nor are ever likely to meet.”
The Attendant listens quietly.
“And I know you often wonder if your gift can sustain them, if that boulder can somehow remain a little longer at its summit before plunging back down the hill into certain chaos.” The Advocate glances back at the people. “At times it can, at others, no.” The Advocate places his hand lightly on the Attendant’s shoulder, adding, “But so much better is this world with you than without you, Attendant.”
The Attendant shrugs, running his hands through his hair. “But why me? Everyone I come into contact with . . . how is it they don’t ever feel how I feel? Why aren’t they as frustrated as I am with what seems to be a complete lack of concern for the well-being of one another? Why doesn’t it matter to them like it does to me?”
“Hmm. Be careful. That’s not completely accurate, if at all. It only seems that way to you because most do not experience the world as deeply and intensely as you. But the fact is, you all, Attendants and Suffering alike, feel the weight of the world upon your shoulders at some point in your lives; however, most choose to suppress that pain for fear that life might become unmanageable otherwise. And to an extent, this is true. Society is currently structured in such a way that the concealment of existential pain is advantageous, and in many cases, rewarded. To openly suggest that one is unhappy—a normal experience of human existence—often makes one a target of ridicule, implies that he or she is not one of the herd. So yes, it is hidden as a result. But, for whatever reason, your nature is not to run from the Suffering, but to reveal their pain so that it can be resolved, attended to.” The Advocate smiles, then says, “I liken your behavior to your soldiers who are trained to run toward the sound of battle, rather than away.”
“You flatter me, Advocate. But really, I’m no soldier. I can’t keep this up—it’s killing me. . . . I desperately need to know what to do,” the Attendant pleads.
“Well, you could start by letting others in from time to time—by doing exactly what you are doing here with me now: revealing your own pain.”
“How? I’ve never done that until this moment.”
“I know.” The Advocate smiles. “But you can learn, given time. Sharing in this manner is also a gift.”
“Yes, Attendant. Don’t forget that you yourself were born unto the Suffering—you are one of them. When you share your pain with others, you honor their existence by having allowed them some access to your own. Of all the gifts an Attendant can give, this is the most difficult, yet most profound—relation through reciprocity.”
“Attending to my pain will be hard for them. They aren’t Attendants.”
“Initially it may be difficult for them, but they too are human and hence at some level, they’ll be able to empathize. They may not be able to teach you as you teach them, but you don’t require such lessons—for now, you need only be heard. This they can do. And so you inform them that they don’t have to understand why you feel the way you feel. You merely want that they should listen to you, that they understand that this is what works to keep you here so that you can continue to be the effective Attendant you are. Once they are aware of these things, then it will be much easier for them to hear your pain, however intense that pain may be.”
The Attendant stands and approaches the window. He looks out across the Suffering. He turns to the Advocate, and asks, “Attendants need attending to, is that it?”
“Indeed.” The Advocate smiles.
“Yes. You should not refrain from doing the very thing you believe is the cause of your pain. Attending is not the problem, but the very basis for your existence—purpose.”
“But for such a long time it’s felt like a burden.”
“Yes, you have become entangled with that boulder of yours.” The Advocate smiles. “Hence, you must learn to distance yourself from it as it plunges back toward its depths . . . . You must learn to let the Suffering fail from time to time, Attendant. You allow them their suffering.”
“But, that’s not what an Attendant does. We are here to lessen their burden.”
“Hear your own wisdom: Attendants lessen the burden of the Suffering—they do not remove it. If you were to somehow magically eradicate their pain, they would not have learned how to endure on their own. Such dependence would only breed more helplessness—more suffering.”
“So I should let them struggle?”
“Yes. You will take them to the top of the mountain and then, as difficult as it may be, you will get out of their way so that they can attempt to live what you have taught. This will effectively create—at the same time—the distance and separation you need to attend to yourself, to be heard, whenever such a time should present itself.”
“So distance is the answer,” the Attendant says.
The Advocate nods. “In little amounts at first, then larger ones as they progress.”
“I understand, but how will I know when it’s time to close that distance? To step in?”
“You already know.” The Advocate smiles. “Your instincts remain intact, Attendant. You are not broken. Not suicidal.”
“But . . . I wanted to die. I can’t believe I didn’t see this before coming here.”
“You seek freedom. There is no shame in that. Hopefully now, however, you see that there is another way to experience such freedom. A way that ensures your continued existence, even the possibility of a contented one.”
The Attendant returns to his chair and sits, a peace coming over him.
“How do you feel now?” the Advocate asks.
“It’s odd. I feel relieved in a way, like I’ve finally shared some deep, dark secret, and it’s okay.” The Attendant’s gaze falls upon the bottle of pills. Then, looking at the Advocate, he asks, “Do you actually sell any of these things?”
The Advocate picks up the black pill and replies, “Actually, I’ve never sold a single one.” He pops the pill into his mouth and chews, scrunching his face.
The Attendant’s jaw drops.
“How fitting that a fake suicide pill should taste like black licorice.” The Advocate laughs. He reaches for the bottle of black pills and removes the cap. “Have one?”