“Even angels long to look into these things.” -1 Peter 1:12
I am a Transcendicant. There are many like me, and we all share a common nature. That is, except for Justus. He is peculiar among our kind, particularly regarding his devotion to a woman named Mercedes. But to understand how and why this peculiarity is significant, I must first explain what we are. Perhaps the easiest way to explain what we are is to explain what we used to be. We were all human at one time; living our lives on earth, mostly oblivious to the larger realities of creation. We came from every continent and every ethnic group. We may have been young or old, feeble or able-bodied, perhaps highly intelligent or even cognitively crippled. There are some among us who were extremely wealthy, as well as many who suffered abject poverty. What we have in common is that upon our deaths we transcended. This is why we call ourselves Transcendicants. A key characteristic of our existence now is that it is no longer what you might call “linear”, meaning we do not “look forward” to the future or “backward” to the past, nor do we exist in any single reality alone. We are what some quantum physicists call “non-local”. We can be anywhere at any time, and yet nowhere at all. We are “above” reality, in a way, looking down upon a multiplicity of realities. You might say we live in “the multiverse”. One philosopher has called it the “wood between the worlds”. We have come to call it Home.
Perhaps the most effective figure I can put into your head about where we live is this: Imagine we were all once characters from story books, who have left our pages and now live in the Library, where the books are kept. We can browse the shelves of countless tales, including yours, at our leisure. Once upon a time we each were bound like a book, embedded like ink on the pages which were glued fast to the spine, cemented in the narrative of our lives and inextricably woven into the larger narrative of our particular Volume (or series of parallel narratives). Our whole world was contained between those covers. Now the nature of a book is that it can be read over and over again, and the narrative never changes. And so it was with our lives before we leaped off our pages. In a way, we had all died many times before transcending because our stories had been read many times throughout eternity, by the Transcendicants who came before us. Some of our stories were read more than others. But the number of times our characters came to the end of their tale doesn’t matter so much as the fact that each of us finally, permanently transcended. That is, except for Justus.
As far as I know, Justus is the first of his kind. Or rather, the first of our kind to behave as he does, which makes one wonder whether he is of our kind at all. Here are a few pages from his story, which might help you understand:
Justus fell in love with his high school sweetheart. Her name was Mercedes. Their love was deep. All their friends could see it. And when they were married, the minister officiating the ceremony teasingly called it the wedding of the century. Now, although they loved each other deeply, in the larger narrative of their world, they were hardly specks. They held no public offices, had not completed any great studies of the world, had traveled little, and frankly, they were quite naïve about their own story. (I sometimes have wondered why the Author bothered to write this particular story in the first place. But that is beside the point.) They encountered similar joys and similar heartaches as most young couples from their time and place. Justus suffered from addiction. Mercedes held tightly to wounds from her childhood. However, both of them seemed to recover well and began learning to cope with these. They experienced the death of a close friend and the birth of a beautiful daughter. They made great memories and had grand plans for the future. But as often happens, their dreams did not match what was actually written on the coming pages. Theirs is one among an infinity of tragedies.
It was about two in the morning when the window in their bedroom shattered.
“Someone is breaking in!” Mercedes whispered. Justus roused himself and put on his pants. And here their story intersects with that of Robert Swindle, an angry drunk who was breaking and entering with a belligerent idea in his head to steal computers, TVs and other electronics which he could sell at a local pawn shop. His intention was that the back window breaking would be a distraction from his chosen entry point. Whatever his initial hair-brained idea, it quickly descended into mindless savagery. On her way to check on the baby, Mercedes impulsively took a large knife from the kitchen drawer. As Justus exited the back door to search the alley, Robert slid open the unlocked window in their front room and stumbled into their little home. He snatched a laptop from the coffee table and tottered into the kitchen, where he met Mercedes coming out of the baby’s room. Her whole body trembled as she feebly threatened him with the knife.
“Get, get out of my house,” she stuttered.
Her terror was evident, even to this inebriated man. He dropped the laptop and lunged at her. Her scream brought Justus bounding through the house. As he grappled with the intruder, Mercedes slipped out of harm’s way with only a gash on her palm. (In many versions of the story, it was far more than a gash.) Now Robert was in control of the knife. He weighed almost twice as much as Justus. That’s why it took all of the husband’s strength to tackle Robert to the ground in a clumsy flailing cascade, which simultaneously knocked the burglar unconscious and dragged the blade deeply across the left side of Justus’ neck. As he rolled off of the unconscious man’s chest, he began sputtering with blood on his lips, unable to gasp for breath with blood in his throat. Mercedes called the police and lay at his side. With too much adrenaline to weep, she tried to stop the bleeding using paper towels. Flashing red lights appeared only ten minutes later, but it was too late. Justus was already gone, Mercedes’ feet encircled in a widening pool of red. Somehow, their daughter slept soundly until morning.
Now here I pause to have you consider a question. The question may seem out of place, but soon you will understand. Have you ever experienced déjà vu? That feeling that you have seen something before, or been in this exact place and time before. Have you ever been overcome with a sense that you were living this moment for the second or third, or even twentieth time? Now what you interpret as a repetition of your own experience is actually an encounter with a parallel version of your experience. Let me explain. From our vantage point, we generally call this para-texting. Some of your less reputable scientists call it a dimensional rift. Some of us who were once scientists call it chrono-splicing. It’s when two parallel stories, realities, dimensions, timelines (or whatever you want to call them), brush up against each other. Picture two books being jostled together on the library shelf. For a moment, their pages become dovetailed and the character from each unknowingly reads the story of the other, thinking it is his own. Now I should tell you that every story has multiple versions. And all these versions are catalogued together, side-by-side on the shelf, so that this para-texting can happen quite often between several nearly identical narratives. When it does you, the character, become briefly aware that another version of you is (or has) experienced the same thing that you are experiencing now.
Now if you can accept this perspective, let’s stick to the Library scenario. I realize that now you will have to imagine our Library as a rather rough and tumble place, with books getting so jumbled up all the time. In fact none of us know how the books get jumbled like this. It’s quite a mystery. We are often going around reorganizing things and tidying up the shelves because of it. But it is this jumbling that sometimes produces beings like us. Many of us are those who experienced para-texting (déjà vu) at the moment of our death. We have long believed that it was this shaking of realities in our final moments that awakened many of us, freed us from our bindings, and made us into the Transcendicants we are. It was as if with our last breath, we realized we were free to leave behind dying all together. This para-texting can actually manifest as a variety of experiences in your world: visions, near-death experiences, spiritual conversion, but this is not the time to go into all that.
Interestingly enough, there is only one Transcendicant produced from each Volume. Out of all the countless parallel versions of a character’s story, only one will awaken to join us. The rest are eternally bound to their finite existence, never self-aware, never lifting their eyes above the rim of their microcosm. But those who experience transcendence, who glimpse the light of a larger world, theirs is a story that ceases to be bound by paper and ink. The point is that for Justus, as he lay there on his kitchen floor, he awoke. He saw the white light of the Library. He will tell you himself that, in dying, he felt like he was coming home for the first time. And in a way, he was. Perhaps you have had a similar experience, only to have it slip through your fingers. Don’t lose hope, you may well be one chosen to awaken yet. But this awakening which Justus experienced: that is as far as his similarity to the rest of us goes.
From the moment Justus arrived, he was, shall I say… discontent. Most of us feel we have finally been set free from the trivialities of our previous existence. We rarely, if ever, return to our own stories. In fact many of us never returned to browse the Volumes (or alternate versions) of our life on the pages. We often consider it insignificant at best or, at worst, regrettable. So we busy ourselves by entering the stories of others. For brief periods we enter the lives and assume the characters of previously unknown narratives, those that we find novel. In fact this practice is so common among us that it has begun to be noticed by the native characters themselves. Over the millennia we have come to be called a variety of things within the pages of your stories, from gods to angels to alternate personalities. Now I am aware of the mythical connotations of these things; most are negative or even horrific. But I assure you, having seen the tragedy of bounded-ness, we always endeavor to alleviate suffering whenever we enter a person’s story. There are imposters out there, other beings like us, but not from this Library. We are not sure where they come from but somehow they manage to infiltrate your worlds and wreak havoc. That is why sometimes we are met with gratitude, other times with suspicion, fear or even hatred. But we try not to become too concerned by this since our residence is in the Library, not in the books. After all, as many of our kind have said,
“Of what consequence are the fights and fates of finite creatures?”
At least that is how some of us used to think. But not Justus. His heart still burns for Mercedes. When you talk to him you will see the fire in his eyes. I’ve heard some say it is unbecoming of a Transcendicant to harbor such passion. Others say that his passion smacks of pitiable temporality. But I have chosen to tell his story because, to me, his demeanor is more mysterious than pitiful. I am intrigued by his tenacity, his devotion to the story of his book-bound love. It almost has a ring of (dare I say it) Authorship to it. Could such a love as his truly be bound by the pages of a finite life?
Only hours after his newly formed feet hit the Library floor, Justus was railing against the rest of the Transcendicants. How could we lounge around, he said, while our books are filled with sleeping sufferers? He called us betrayers of our beloved. He insisted that he must return to save Mercedes. We tried to assure him that indeed she was safe, and so was his daughter, if only he would read a little further. But he insisted,
“If she is safe, then where is she? I don’t see her here!” And with that fire in his eyes he descended on his book, plunging himself back into the midst of that fateful night! This had never been done before. Again he felt the terror of his wife’s scream. Again he wrestled against his own fear to wrestle Robert to the ground. And again he felt the adrenaline melt away beneath the hot sting of his mortal wound. His limbs felt like ice. His strength to cough was spent. Darkness enveloped him and again he caught the light of the Library. When he landed in our realm the second time, some of us tried to restrain him. Something was clearly wrong. We had intended to welcome him into freedom, but he was consumed with zeal for his ink-and-paper bride. In he dived again. A broken window, a scream, a fight and the searing pain of certain death. Why would a man subject himself to death like this, again and again and again?
I am at a loss for words to describe the effect this had on our community. For he did not relent with the third attempt, or the fourth… or the fortieth… or the four-hundredth. It was difficult to understand a single word he uttered regarding his apparently misguided efforts to save his bride. Was he mad? I pitied his attempts; that is, until I began to see that these were not really “attempts” at all. They were chippings away at the bounded-ness of her existence, and somehow, ours as well. I am not quite sure, but perhaps part of him knew what he was doing to the rest of us, though he rarely seemed to notice us at all. He was wrapped in zeal as in a cloak, and it shielded him from all our rebukes and rebuttals. As Transcendicants, we had come see ourselves as immortal, and don’t misunderstand me, we are. But we imagined ourselves to be unchangeable, perfect, unscathed by our life on the pages–Not to mention omniscient regarding human life, transcendence, and most everything else. He challenged all that. By the very act of becoming one of us, and yet forsaking that impermeability for the frailty of paper and ink, he challenged us. And, oh, how we longed to look into these things.
It was after we gave up counting Justus’s descents into the book that some of us began to notice a change in his appearance. It started with his hair. It began to look unkempt, as if he had just got out of bed. This may seem superfluous, but this imperfection was previously thought impossible for a Transcendicant. Later his eyes began to look tired. Though their fire blazed ever-stronger, there were now bags beneath his eyes. And finally the mark. I was the first to see it. Across the left side of his neck, a thin white line began to form. Over the years, as he perpetually plunged into that lower reality, the white line grew into a prominent scar, raised and ragged. Everyone believed they could see what was happening. Some claimed he was polluting our realm with the frailties of temporal life. His indignity would contaminate us all, they claimed. Others dismissed him and his dislocated obsession as an inevitable anomaly of the multiverse. But everything changed when his wound began to bleed. That is, everything changed for me. I was irresistibly drawn to him, more than to any character I could have dug up from the annals of all eternity. All the heroes of every universe were at my disposal, but this man Justus and his infatuation with Mercedes caused me to feel as if my supposed freedom were as flat as the pages I was born from. Where does it come from, this unbound love which binds itself to death? I couldn’t see it in his character on the pages. I couldn’t find anything like it in any short human story. If not from the books like the rest of us, then where did it come from? Where did he come from? That is the question someone asked him the day he began coughing up crimson blood onto the glassy white floors of our Library.
“Justus, before you go down again, I have to know. Who are you? Where does this love of yours come from?”
“Who am I? I am love! It is the only love. What other love is there?” His eyes seemed to burn right through his questioner, “I will die for her every day for the rest of eternity, if that is what it takes to be with her.” And he turned again to the book.
When I heard those words, I felt as if he had written something on my very heart. Suddenly, I saw the face of the Author himself. Eerily, it seemed as if he were referring to me, as if I were the one he were dying for! His blood was now on my floor! His death now drew my tears. I felt the unexpected relief of one who had been rescued from certain death. Swelling in my bosom was a bizarre sensation that, by simply knowing him, I had somehow been claimed by him. I’m not sure how else to describe it. By his wounds and now by his words, I was being liberated, awakened somehow–from something, I knew not what! Was this the effect he was having on others? Was he changing all of us?
That was the moment I myself awoke. And suddenly I realized: I am Mercedes.
It was through his incessant pursuit of insignificant me that he brought his own wounds into eternity. I looked at my palm and my own scar was nowhere to be found. Let all other wounds be left behind, but his remain forever. And along with them, came me, my soul, my life, ransomed from the bounded-ness of temporality.
When this happened, it altered our entire paradigm of how the Transcendicants came to be. It is still true that we all come from the books. But it is not by mistake, or by the chance timing of deja vu that we are awakened. Though we still see the stirrings of transcendence manifest in various ways, the final leap from the pages is not an accident. The Author has intervened in all our stories, in disguise. For Mercedes, he came as Justus. For others he came as a child named Manuel, or a brother named Joshua, or even a mother named Sophia. You can ask anyone in our community, because we can all recognize it now. We can all point to a time in our life on Earth where he first appeared, and our journey to transcendence began. The Author chooses us and descends to be with us. And by his relentless affection, we are inevitably torn from the pages and brought into the light of the Library. In one sense, we are all under attack from a belligerent thief , our own Robert Swindle, and the Author, whether he appears as Justus or someone else, is our Rescuer.
When I realized I was living in the Library which Justus himself had built, I began to see that even being with us was a descent for him. We may be immortal characters, but we are characters nonetheless. He is the Author. We thought we were welcoming him from below, but really, he was visiting us from above. Even the transcendent realm where we dwell is within the Author’s book. And it is a novel tale, larger than even a Transcendicant can imagine. If and when you arrive, you too will see his wounds, hear his words, and experience for yourself what I mean when I talk about the fire in his eyes.