Through the Tunnel
By: Laurie Walls
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
Clunk, clunk…clunk, clunk…clunk, clunk. One, two…one, two…one, two. The consistent noise evolved into counting numbers. Not more than one, two, but the counting continued for an undetermined amount of time. A woman lay slumped over on a table which sat in front of her. The woman, Katherine, Kate to her friends, was in her mid-40’s. She was dressed in grey dress pants, a white buttoned-down blouse, grey suit jacket, and black boots with a mid-heel. Kate sat up, bleary eyed and confused. Where am I? She sat in silence, her stupor profoundly impacting her ability to understand the surrounding. Moments later, she became aware that she was sitting on a train. The clunk, clunk, blending into background noise. The counting one, two, stopped. Kate glanced around the car and realized, to her surprise, she was alone. The car was empty – no people, backpacks, briefcases, cups of travel size coffee, headsets, phones. The car was clean, no trash, unread newspapers, or discarded magazines. It appeared like any other train car – gray interior, black floor, white tables situated between the rows. Kate rubbed her head – it was throbbing. She blinked repeatedly to clear her vision. Why am I on a train? How the hell did I get to a train station? She placed her head in her hands and rubbed her temples. The headache was almost unbearable. Standing up, she began to move about the car, looking for something, anything, to clue her in to her current situation. Was this a dream? Am I asleep? She pinched her arm. Ouch! Nope, definitely not sleeping. Ok, ok, think about this logically, Kate. What is the last thing I remember? She sat back down and closed her eyes and an image began to form.
Kate woke with a start. What was that? Did I fall back to sleep? She wiped the trail of saliva from the side of her mouth. It was then that the tiny hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. Kate realized she was not alone. There was a man sitting across the aisle. He was an older looking man, in a cream linen suit and white shirt. She also noticed he was barefoot. Kate edged back to the side of the car and croaked “Who are you? How did you get here? Were you just watching me sleep, creeper?” The man smiled and chuckled, “relax child, I mean you no harm.” “You did not answer my questions! Who are you?” Kate’s voice raising more than she intended. “You may call me Joe.” The man responded. “Joe? What is your last name?” Kate inquired. “No last name. Just Joe.” “Ok, well, just Joe, I have no idea how I got here, or when I got here or where I am now. I woke up with a massive headache and cannot think straight. I am on the edge of a massive freak out so unless you want to be on the receiving end of the freak out, you need to start explaining.” Joe sighed and said, “I am sorry about that, I forget sometimes that humans have such a fragile physical form.” He looked at her and a moment later her headache was gone. “How – did you? Did you do that? Did you make my headache disappear?” Joe smiled. “Yes, child, I did. Headaches are an unfortunate side effect of traveling to this…place.” He responded. “Place? Seriously, what the hell is going on?” Kate started to breathe faster and faster, and she began to feel light-headed. Joe leaned forward and said, “I will explain everything, child. Try to relax.” Kate looked at this stranger and felt an odd familiarity. “Do I know you? Have we met before?” “No, we have not.” Joe answered. She felt comforted by his presence which was odd. Usually Kate was highly suspicious of strangers but for some reason she did calm and her breathing slowed to normal. She looked at the man – he had kind eyes, and laugh lines, and something about him radiated calm. Kate took a deep breath. “Ok, ok, I’m calm. Can you please tell me where I am?”
“When I mentioned place before, I meant another reality, or plane. We are no longer on earth or even near earth. We are in the in-between.” Joe began. “In-between what?” Kate asked. “Life and death. Purgatory if you will”. “Purgatory?” Kate asked. “Yes, but not in the way you think. Purgatory is a holding area. A place to receive information and guidance.” Why am I waiting?” Kate asked. Joe sat forward again and asked, “how about no questions? Let me speak and when I am through, I will answer any questions you have. Deal?” Kate nodded. “Right, so, Purgatory is a waiting area. The train we are on is symbolic. Trains can go forward and backward and in that sense, so can you.” Kate looked like she would speak, but Joe raised his hand and she sat back. “Yes, you can go forward or backward. Back to your life, the way it was, uninterrupted. If you chose that option, you will have no memory of this interaction. You will go back to the exact time and place you were and resume your life. If you choose forward, you will travel to the After.” Kate blurted – “Are you God?” Joe smiled, “I am extremely honored you would assume so, but no, I am not. I am a member of their council, the highest rank of angels; a Seraphim. My role is to escort people to the After. I help them come to terms with their human mortality and speak to them about the next step. To use a term you are familiar with, the division of angels who are charged with this role are considered Human Resources. We are, in fact, the only resources a human being has leading up to the After.” Kate nodded slowly. “As we speak, there are thousands of other Seraphim on different trains with different people.” Kate closed her eyes. She was reeling with all of this new and unfathomable information. Kate had no idea what was happening and was struggling to process all of it. “Am I dead? How did I die? Is this real?” “Yes, this is real, Kate. It is happening right now. Your reality is now.” Joe responded. Kate didn’t know what to think. Kate had not been exposed to organized religion and had no real understanding of religion. She believed there was a higher being somewhere responsible for everything, but did not spend much time thinking about the after-life or even if there was a heaven or hell. Joe continued, “Many humans struggle with the idea of God and the Holy Trinity, angels, demons, Satan. Truthfully, I understand why some humans struggle with their faith. If you think about it, there is not much if any tangible evidence to say, yes or no there is a God. Blind faith is a jump for some people. However, most religions get some aspects right, but there is no one religion which is correct about everything. For starters, God is often referred to as He. God is not a He, nor a She. God is in fact non-binary. To state that God is a man, would denote all weaknesses man possess. Likewise, if God were a woman. God does not reproduce in a traditional way. It is Their Will which creates or destroys.” Joe paused, sensing another question. Kate could not help herself and blurted “Is the same true of angels? You look like a man. Are you?” “No child, I am not a man. I am an angel. I do not reproduce so I have no need for sexual genitalia. I appear before you as a man because that is who you are most comfortable around. It is your mind which determined my appearance.” Kate looked at him, really looked at Joe and smiled. “You remind me of my grandfather, my paw paw.” At this Joe smiled, “Yes. I chose this form because the memory of your grandfather is a positive one. I have also appeared as a woman on other trips with other people. My job is to make you comfortable and relaxed so that you can understand what is happening. Since the dawn of man, I have met all manner of humans. Good people, bad people, old people, young people, babies. Millions of people have come through my train. Each time, I learn more about humanity and the fragility of it all – your limited life-time, always takes me by surprise. The Seraphim were created right after God created the universe – in it’s entirety. Then, other angels were created. At some point in all of this, They created the Earth. From there, life continued to evolve.” Joe closed his eyes and said, “Recently, there was a mother and baby on the train. He smiled weakly and added “It happens sometimes when complications arise during childbirth. I appeared as the woman’s uncle who she was close with and once she recovered from the shock, we had a conversation very similar to this one. In the end she decided to let the baby return to its father and she moved on to the After.” “What?” Kate exclaimed. “She abandoned the baby?” “No, no, it is as I told you before, the baby goes right back to the exact moment it left.” Puzzled, Kate added, “Then why did the mother not go with it? Didn’t she want to be a mother and return to her husband?” Joe sighed, “Well that is quite the over-simplification of facts but no, she did not wish to return. You see, the mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She denied treatment while pregnant but knew that the cancer would eventually kill her and I did confirm that. She did not want to suffer nor make her husband and family suffer. Ultimately it was her decision and she decided to proceed to the After.” “That is so sad.” Kate said as a tear trickled down her cheek. “For you, yes, I imagine it is. Humans are fragile, emotional beings. Since the beginning of time and I have seen all manner of beauty and horror, miracle and tragedy. This life, your life, is but a miniscule part of your existence.” Kate shook her head, “There is so much I don’t understand.” “I know, child. You are not meant to understand everything. Even we angels do not know all of God’s plans or reasons behind them. We are speaking openly because, as I said, you will not remember this if you choose to return.” “But if I go forward, I will remember?” Kate inquired. “Yes. It is essential that you know certain things. Each stage of existence, God reveals pieces of the truth to you – to humans. For that to happen, you need a baseline of understanding.” “But why would anyone choose to move forward? It is unknown – at least moving backward you know what to expect.” “You are right, Kate. However, life can be unusually cruel for some people. As such, a person may want to avoid returning to the life he or she had. For example, you had a nice childhood. Aside from losing your parents at a young age, you were raised by your aunt and grandfather. They loved you, and spoiled you, and treated you as a child should be treated. You were not abused by definition and you received a good education. Now, you are a thriving investment agent and lead a comfortable life.” Kate wrinkled her forehead and said “You make it sound like I have this perfect life or something. I don’t.” “Of course you don’t. No one on earth has attained perfection, in the sense that one has no problems, no negativity. I merely point out that your childhood was a nice one. By comparison, take a young lady who was born in a drug den. Placed into foster care. Lived with several families and had been physically, mentally, and sexually abused. Dropped out of school because she perceived that no one cared. Began using drugs and died of a heroin overdose at the age of 20.” “Right, so if this young lady were to find herself on the train, which path do you think she would take?” Kate acquiesced, “I get it. I guess I didn’t really process what you were saying but I do understand.” Joe smiled. “I am not trying to make you feel bad. You have the life you were given. That part, at least, was out of your control. It’s what you do with your life which is important”.
“How does God determine who goes to the After? Isn’t there some sort of system?” “This is where traditional religion gets it wrong. There is a balancing scale but remember God knows all. They know the secrets of your soul. They see your entire life. They see your actions, your regrets, your motives, your triumphs and failures. By human standards there are individuals who seem truly evil. And they are – the acts which they perpetrate are unimaginable. However, when one of those individuals finds him or herself on the train, the secrets of their life become clearer and known. Often those secrets include abuse, absence of love, mental illness left untreated. When God creates a soul it is perfection. When the soul is placed inside of a human vessel, it becomes subject to all manner of things.” “Like what?” “Like genetics. A soul enters a human, and is in the mother’s womb. The human form is vulnerable and fragile and if exposed to genetic deficiencies…” Joe trailed off. “If a human is born without such genetic corruption, then it becomes vulnerable to outside variables.” “Why doesn’t God remove those negative aspects?” Kate asked. “Because then it would not be life as you know it. God gave humans free will. And when they did, God removed themselves to a certain degree. Yes, God could manipulate your existence whenever they saw fit, but that was not part of the plan. God wanted to see what humans would do, if left alone from Their influence. And humans have created amazing things and have evolved in ways which continue to amaze me. And yet, some humans, have become cruel, solely selfish individuals who are greedy and hungry for power. These humans do not care to what expense they achieve as the end result. Kate, free will can be a wonderful thing, but it can come at a price.” Joe finished.
Kate stood up and began to pace. “Ok, ok, so do all humans have a choice to return? What about older people, people who die of natural causes? Do they have the choice to return?” Joe smiled, “No, they do not. When a human is born, he or she has a natural cause expiration date. So a person in an advanced age, who dies of natural causes, finds himself on the train, the only option is to move forward.” “So, I am here and have the option of going backward because it is before my true time?” “Yes. That is correct.” Joe answered. “Will you tell me how I ended up here? What happened?” “Yes, I can tell you.” Joe responded. “Kate, you were on your way to meet a few of your friends for dinner. As you exited your office, you were walking the six blocks to meet up with them. A young man ran passed you and grabbed your bag. You continued to hold on to it. The young man proceeded to jerk and pull your bag. At some point in the scuffle, you lost your footing and fell down the stairs to the subway. Your body lay at the foot of the stairs, motionless. People on the platform began yelling for authorities and someone called 9-1-1. That is the point your soul traveled to the train. Your body is in the Emergency Room at St. Vincent Hospital and you are in critical care.” A long silence lapsed between the two of them. “I see” Kate responded. “Is there anything else I need to know?” “Yes, child. I have to give you all of the information so that you can make an informed choice. If you choose to go back, you will have brain damage. You will have to learn to walk and talk again. You will spend months in a rehab facility and the life you knew before will be a memory. It will be difficult and there will be times you wish you had died. However, I can say that you will, at some point, be able to function independently and live on your own. It will be a daunting task, but you will persevere.” “And if I choose to move forward, will I see my mother and father and paw paw again?” Joe smiled brightly, “Yes, they are waiting for you.”
“How long do I have to make this decision?” Kate asked. “The train will move as long as you need it to. Once you have arrived at your decision, the train will stop at the station and you will choose.” Joe answered. “It sounds like my life will be awful if I return. On the other hand, if I move forward, I get to see those who love me.” “Yes, I suppose that is one way to look at it. But, you are also missing the point.” Joe asserted. “The point? What is the point?” Kate queried. Joe grinned so wide his eyes almost disappeared. “Life.” Kate looked startled but looked up into Joe’s bright eyes. After a moment, she heard the brakes screeching as the train slowed down. Joe stood and said “You’ve made a decision.” Kate nodded and stood. “To the right is the After and to the left is the before.” Kate took one last look at Joe and said, “Thank you” as she stepped into the light.