Standing on the Edge
by Robert Alan Silverstein
What a day! All three cashiers call in sick four days before Christmas. And of course, no one could come in to cover for them until at least one o'clock. So, I, the lowly assistant manager, had to run register all by myself. I'd already been ringing for three hours and my head was spinning, when I saw something that made me drop the two bottles of mouthwash I was bagging.
Over in aisle three a woman just stepped off the Cosmetic shelf. I mean, she just walked off the shelf. I blinked, and only the impatient faces of the dozen people waiting in line stared back at me. "I must be losing it!" I thought.
The line of customers going by seemed to never end. I didn't even see them anymore. I just mechanically smiled, "Will there be anything else? That will be three dollars and thirty eight cents, please...Have a nice day..." My body was on automatic pilot, and I was drifting off to...I have no idea where, but it wasn't there.
Every now and then I'd unpleasantly find myself back in reality. Then surprisingly I heard my voice, "That will be two thousand three hundred forty nine dollars and sixty two..."
What! Had I really gone mad?
The customer was giggling. I looked up. It was the woman on the cosmetic shelf! Her crystal blue eyes drew mine like magnets. I thought my heart had stopped. I could not look away. All I saw was that wonderful blue.
The world seemed to fade, and I was standing on the edge of a blue void. It was the most beautiful sight. A vast nothingness. Or everythingness. Eternity seemed to flow around me like rushing water. I was lost in an endless moment of utter peace.
"Humpf! Excuse me, sir. Are you going to give me my change or not!"
I blinked. A middle-aged woman was peering out from behind an armful of packages she was struggling to balance. "I..." The girl was gone. "Yes, I'm sorry," I stammered, trying to regain my sanity.
The day finally ended. I lay in bed half awake, flipping the remote, trying to find something on TV to help me unwind. "I can't take too many more days like this," I sighed, trying to calm myself down. News, some horror movie. Talk shows. Nothing good on. I flicked through the stations impatiently, and then I saw her face. I had already passed it, by the time it registered. I tried to find the right channel again, but of course, she wasn't to be found. I shook my head. "25 years old, and I'm going crazy!" I turned the television off and fell asleep laughing.
When I awoke, light was streaming through the tear in the window shade. I groggily rolled my eyes around the room and yawned, saw the clock and jumped up. 9:15! Late for work! I had slept through my alarm, again. "Great, this is going to be another great day." I threw my clothes on and flew out the door.
As soon as I hit the highway I was stuck in traffic. Of course. I inched along for a few minutes, then came to a complete halt. I really felt like crying as I looked out through the windshield and saw cars stretching out forever up ahead. And of course, the radio was acting up again. Completely dead. Figures! I threw the car in park and groaned.
"Hi," a voice said. I froze. Not in fear, but in awe, for it was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw her sitting in the back seat. "Hello, Bob," she said smiling.
"Hi..." I gasped.
She giggled. "Sorry. Hope I didn't scare you."
"Good." And then quite suddenly she began to tell me who she was and why she had appeared in my life. "I'm a Bodhisattva," she declared, as if I was supposed to know what that was. "We are all spirits," she continued, oblivious to my questioning look. "Spirits on our way to perfection. To the spirit, life is an endless cycle of being born into life after life, with the goal of becoming One with the Ultimate."
Part of me wanted to groan. Reincarnation and all that crap. But somehow hearing about it under these circumstances seemed to make the concept a little more believable. She said so much more and I was intrigued, but I really had no idea what she was talking about. "You can go now," she giggled, pointing ahead. I stared blankly at her in the mirror.
Finally, I tore my gaze away and peered in front of us. There were no cars. There was no road. There wasn't anything but that deep blue, blue void. "The Ocean of Eternity," she said matter-of-factly. "Here there is every story imaginable. Every reality conceivable. All that has been or ever will be. This is the Ultimate."
I stared out at that wondrous blueness, and slowly I saw that it wasn't a void at all. Scenes were floating by like threads of dreams. And in each instant I could see a whole story that somehow I knew was a person's life, or a whole age of time. I saw people living in the farthest reaches of the past, and in the most distant future. People from my world and people from galaxies far away and unimaginable. I stood silently in awe.
She was smiling. "See how similar it all is. They're all born. They all laugh and they all cry. They all struggle and fail and succeed, and they all die. Just stories in a Great Play."
"But inside," she continued, "inside they are all part of this Ultimate."
I almost understood. She smiled again and pointed out ahead. A city street lined with cars met my gaze. Reality. I felt let down.
We got out of the car. "We're going to the library?" I asked, recognizing the street. I didn't know what to expect anymore. She nodded and we walked towards the building.
"A Bodhisattva," she explained as we walked down the aisles of books, "is a spirit which has reached that level of perfection that all spirits struggle through life after life to attain. Rather than become One with that Ultimate you have seen, we choose to return to help others to find perfection." Smiling, she handed me a book. "This is the Upanishads. And this is the Bhagavad Gita." She pulled book after book from the shelves and piled them into my arms. "...the Bible...the Koran...Agni Yoga... " Then others like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and Lost Horizon.
"We are each alone as we travel through our lives," she continued as she walked towards a table. (I stumbled behind beneath the stack of books.) "Alone and searching for a place where we know we belong. And yet we walk with so many others, and it is only when we help others in their search for happiness that we ourselves are happy."
It sounded interesting, but what did it have to do with all these heavy books?
"The world is changed with each and every act we make. When we help someone to smile, the world is a little brighter. We Bodhisattvas have come to believe that in that endless reservoir of stories that make up mankind's history and his imagination, there is a perfect one, a story of Peacetopia -- a time when peace is the goal and the reason for living. A world where everyone treats each other and the planet they share with respect, bringing joy and a true contentment and passion for living. That vision of peace on earth is so clear and so real in that story that if only it could be found, it would permeate into every story, transforming every reality, so that none would ever suffer alone again." She paused. Then she pointed at the stack of books as I placed them down. "These are some of the many conscious and unconscious attempts at telling that Perfect Story of Peacetopia."
We sat down. "Every writer delves into that Ultimate everythingness, tasting it as you have today. The stories they bring back are enlightening glimpses of the human experience. But only a handful help nourish the human spirit to grow in a positive way. In these works the more enlightened writer, often unknowingly, has brought back a tiny piece of that perfect story. Each writer's vision is colored with the insights of those who came before. Each leaves something for those who follow to ponder over. Somewhere, lies that Story of Peacetopia, waiting to be discovered and pieced together." She stopped, and with that beautifully serene smile, seemed to be waiting for me to say something.
"Um...How do I fit into this?" I finally asked.
"You always wanted to be a writer, right? Well, I came to tell you that that's what you should be doing." She smiled one last time, whispered, "May Peace Prevail On Earth," and then she was gone.
And so I live on the Edge of Reality. I am a writer now. And I read everything I can get my hands on. I guess I live just like everyone else in most respects. I pay my bills, often on time. I go out with friends. Perhaps I'll even get married someday. But all of that is like a different part of me. It's like a role I put on and wear. It's only when I am alone delving into the Ultimate, as my Bodhisattva told me I do when I write, that I'm really me.
I've never seen her again, and sometimes I'm sure I imagined the whole thing all those years ago. But whether I did or not, this is really the life I was meant to live. And so I write stories like this to get the money to allow me to live another day, so that I can continue to search for that Story of Peacetopia. And in everything I write, I try to leave a little of what I've found to help other searchers, so that someday one of us will find that Perfect Story and a new peacetopian age will be born.
© 1986, 1994 Robert Alan Silverstein