I had a purpose in life. A purpose to serve my fellow human being. To be to them what they could not be to themselves. I wanted happiness all around me. I wanted to see the joy of living on every face I passed. But, that is a selfish want. A needless desire. To strive so hard to make others happy is to neglect the soul that matters most.
I walked the path and ignored the faces. The downtrodden. The lonely ones, sniffling back the tears that wanted to fall. That begged to fall. I no longer tried to make them happy. I no longer reached out to them to brush back the strands of hair from their faces. I did not look into their eyes. I did not reach out at all.
I simply walked by.
During my journey on this beaten path, I searched for my own happiness. I sought out my own joy. I was amazed to discover that I could not find it. The brightness that could be my smile was hidden deep in the crevices of a hell that I had fought to climb out of for years. Hell held my wishes....my desires. I would have to climb into the lake of fire and death.....fight the eternal damned just to regain the little of bit of delight I once possessed. I would have to fight Satan himself in order to capture what I once rightfully held in my youth.
And I had no weapons.
How do you fight the Devil when the Devil is stronger than you are? What do you arm yourself with? How does one punch through the gates of hell and storm pass fiery pits of sulfur and brimstone?
How do you go to hell without dying?
I almost died twice. I did not wish to attempt this feat a third time. I was not sure I would make it back. I doubted my own strength. My ability to heal my wounds and make life bare-able once again. But, I had to try. I had to make the journey and face the demons that had plagued me for so long. Otherwise, there was no point in continuing on.
I wasn't living. I was merely breathing. And I no longer wanted to just breathe. I wanted to inhale life. I wanted to drink from its fountain and bathe in the splendor of waking every day. I wanted my smile to infect others. I wanted to laugh and make others do the same. I wanted to live.
It seemed that in order to live fully I would have to die briefly.
The day I decided to return to hell, I knelt beside my bed and began to pray. I prayed for strength and only strength. I required the armor of God to protect me throughout my journey. I asked Him to protect me and instill in me the same will to survive that He had given me years before. I prayed all this with a fever unlike any I have ever experienced.
"What are you trying to do?" A voice asked.
I looked up from my kneeling position. On my bed sat a thin man. Standing he was about 5'6". His skin was dark brown with he had short black hair. Wrinkles covered his face, arms, and hands. He donned faded blue jeans and an old flannel shirt. He had the look of a man that had lived hard and fast. His voice was low, but soft.
"I'm praying," I responded.
"You don't normally pray that way. What's got you on your knees like that?"
Feeling foolish, I stood up and walked to the side of the bed that held the old man. He was wearing a faded ball cap. It was dirty from years of wear and I could not make out the team name on the front. Up close, I could smell him. He smelled of peppermint and menthol cigarettes.
He padded the bed beside him, indicating for me to sit. Bewildered, I obliged.
"I was praying for strength," I told the familiar face. It was hard for me to find my voice. Even harder, still, was the realization of who I was talking to. I couldn't help but stare.
He chuckled at my astonished look. "I've taken many forms during our talks. Why are you so surprised to see me like this?"
"I know who I look like. But, I am not him. You wanted me to look like him because he represents so much to you."
"That's because I miss him," I said. "I was always happy when he was near."
"You're happy now," God said in Junebug's voice. "You've always been happy. But, you question so much. You wonder about everything. Wonderment is good. But, when it is abused, it can steal your happiness."
"There are shadows everywhere. And I can't sleep. I'm scared whenever I am alone. It takes so much energy out of me. I was praying for strength because I need it to venture back into hell. I need you to go with me." I explained.
"And what do you hope to find there?"
"Me," I said. "Just me. I feel like I got lost there. I remember standing over me, watching me almost die so long ago. Whoever I was....she was....took me away. I want me back. That innocent part of me. I want her back."
God put his arm around my shoulders. It felt like Junebug's arm. Skinny, but strong. Cool to the touch. I was amazed to discover that it still held the same reassuring properties that it did all those years ago.
"You will never be innocent again. There is no way for you to be. Nor is there a reason why you should be. Do not go to hell searching for yourself. You are not there. You do not belong there. All that you have been through in this world will carry you into the next. Only through pain and suffering can you find me. I built you for a specific purpose. I put you on that road for a reason that you are now discovering. Do not go looking for the devil. He will find you."
I sat for a moment taking His words in. Over the years, during my conversations with God, I have always felt a sense of relief and warmth. This moment was no different.
"You want to make others happy," He continued. "And that is a noble gesture. Continue to do so. Tell your stories as I give them to you. Your stories make you stronger. And they heal others also."
"Why will the devil look for me?" I asked.
"Because you are my child," God replied. "When you get frustrated, lonely, sad, or any other emotions that cause you to pause, that is him trying to thwart you from completing the tasks I have given you. Don't give up. I have given you what you can do. What you were created to do. I have also given you the tools to do them. Do not shy away. Talk to me when you are overwhelmed. I'm always here."
"What about my shadows? Why did you create me to have such dark thoughts dance in my brain? Why does my imagination lead me to places that make others so uncomfortable?" The questions began to pour out of me like a waterfall.
When Junebug was alive, he had a soft chuckle. I can not remember ever having heard him laugh out loud. He always chuckled softly, bowing his head when doing so. It was so sweet to see God doing the same thing.
"I've told you this before. You are a balance. You think dark thought because you've experienced dark events. You understand darkness in others. These are not bad things. They do not go against me or my principals. I created mankind in my image. Do you not think that I do not possess the very traits you possess? It is only on a larger scale that you can not understand while here on earth. You all have lightness and darkness inside of you. It is a balance that I created within you. A perfect balance means being able to walk in both darkness and in the light. There is no sin in the emotions you feel. In the stories you write. How can there be? I am the one giving them to you."
God dropped His arm from my shoulders and stood up to walk to the front of my bedroom. On my wall, facing the bed, I have two pictures of Snoopy hanging up. I've had them since I was eight years old. They are velvet and very tacky. I refuse to get rid of them.
"Why do you still own these?" He asked me.
"They remind my of childhood, I suppose. I remember Momma giving them to me. Those were happy times. I don't seem to have that many happy memories." I said.
He nodded. God knew my answer before I even said it. He knows everything about me. Every fear, interest, hope, every seed of anger, every chuckle....He knows it all.
"Why do you ask?"
He turned and looked at me. Standing in front of me, I saw Junebug just as he was before the brain cancer invaded all of our lives. Before radiation burned the top of his head. Before the light faded in his eyes. Junebug, vibrant and sweet, smiled at me. I smiled back.
"You're a big kid. You always will be. That's a part of your balance. You have love in you. A lot of love. Almost too much for other people. And that's ok. Those dark thoughts of yours, well, don't shy from them. You understand them. I know you do. Use them to complete the work I've given you."
I nodded. Sensing our time was almost up, I stood and reached for Him. For God. For Junebug.
"Do not go looking for the devil. He is here all around. Do not go into the pits of hell," He told me as He folded His arms around my waist. "Hell can be seen everywhere. You have lost nothing. You have everything you need. Continue on your journey. Be patient. Be kind. You are not being selfish in your quest to make others happy. You are happy when you make others smile. Do not pause. It all comes together in the time it is supposed to."
I agreed. He kissed me on my cheek.
As God vanished from sight, I walked back towards my beaten path. I saw the others all around. I wiped the tears from others cheeks. I brushed back their hair when needed. I smiled and they smiled back. I helped pick up the downtrodden. I did it all, selfish in my purpose.
For making others happy, makes me happy. And that is all I want to be. Is happy.