Empty Vessel

     What was the proper technique of respectfully glancing upon a dead cadaver?  If the body was someone unfamiliar, I might have scrutinized it in a quest to seek out the identity of it. Something like eye color, clothing choice, hair, and other unmistakable differences between different humans might have helped me with the task.

                Except, doing that felt too operational for a body that had memories involved. It felt disrespectful to study the body with intent besides trying to just shrug myself out of this panic. I already knew who this person was. Why would I have to study their corpse for identity? I only wished that it was unidentifiable only to dull the pain.
                Maybe, the surge of grief has already entrapped me into this inescapable prison of numbness. Every possibility besides that one which said, “he was dead,” were the only ones which were lucid. All the others were suspended, distant. I couldn’t grab hold of them with a firm grasp. I could only keep believing in the lie that life still persisted somewhere within that empty shell before me.
                Staring down into my comrade’s brown eyes, I detected no movement. No ounce of life floated in that prism that was an eyeball. I wanted to will the eyeball to begin moving about and seeking a recognizable person. For my own personal sanity, I wanted to see that eye to recognize me.
                Was it self-seeking to want him to live if only to destroy the truth of mortality? Selfishly, Did I want him to survive beyond his endpoint only to make the illusion of immortality remain?  I never was fond of this whole cruel notion of death. It seemed crude. Why should we die only to be left forgotten to the world?
                I temporarily averted my gaze from the corpse in order to stall my selfish ruminations. My comrade died heroically in battle; he took the bullet that would have surely taken my life instead. He selflessly sacrificed himself in the place of me. In my place, he took the dive into the unmentioned black abyss that wiped out existence. Yet, I still held memories of this nonentity if that is what you would call someone who dies an atheist death.
                My colleagues back at the university I attended for four years applauded me for my firmness in defending countless atheistic arguments. I’ve always proclaimed that the acceptance of a meaningless, nihilistic existence was not just simple; it was reality.
                When I was left staring at the brutal reality of death, I wanted to tackle that younger self into oblivion. I craved that moment of recompense for all those wasted efforts to please my more intellectual peers. In those moments, I wasn’t embracing some grain of truth. Wasn’t I only diverting myself from the impossibility of fully believing in a God? Or, was I avoiding the crest of pain associated with the possibility that a life of religion may be even more worthless than the atheistic beliefs?
                How many hells or heavens could my comrade, Nick, passed through? That was his name, Nick. See, I’m still remembering the existence he had on this Earth before fading away.
                A part of my mind wandered from this heated debate in my head as I marveled the manner his sandy locks blended with the desert’s sand. Where the hell did this thought appear out of?  Who knows? But, I could not help but note the strange manner that his hair color blended it in with the sand.
                This was not some thought sourced from sexual desire. It was just a thought that delayed me from furthering the painful thought process that surrounded his death.  I just couldn’t help but notice the sameness of his hair and the sand in color. His uniform was also the same coloring since it was one of the lighter, camouflage uniforms used for military missions within the desert.  The only thing that meshed with the perfection of this blending was the onyx color of the large gun that was fixed to the holster on his belt.
                The contraption was obtuse and looked out of place with the peacefulness of his dead body. Strangely, the gun was parallel to his left hip.  For now, it remained in non-use. Before dying, he was probably shooting liberally with the gun in an attempt to defend both himself and others.
                During those moments of intense action, the thing was a feral beast. When it saw a predator, it was aimed at that person who then was quickly shot into oblivion.
                It worked a lot like those video games. You had to adapt yourself to a mind frame of willful ignorance on either side of the playing field; all soldiers had to universally be prepared to dehumanize their opponent. Then, they had to reign in the wild beast which was a gun and be prepared to shoot these animal-like humans.
                You could never once think about any sort of ethical structure. I know many religions will assert that you can properly kill someone by believing fully that your enemy was an evil incarnate. Except, these people were much like you. They were enslaved by a higher authority that did not want to sully their consciences. So, they had to lawfully arranged cronies do their bidding instead.
                How could I think in these terms? If this was an earlier part of history, I could have been killed by the guillotine. Now, that was if I voiced these innumerable thoughts. I swear if every human arrayed their thoughts out into the public sphere; we would all be realized as criminals. Did every solider or person r think this way? I honestly don’t know.
                Again, I was only being evasive of the inevitable. I had to deal with my fallen comrade before me. Who would understand my feelings of apathy? I’m supposed to be tearful right now. When I walked back to my army’s campsite, I had to feebly walk because I had to look like I was encumbered by noticeable despair.
                Once home, I would have to walk home victoriously. If I served my nation right, I would have to recount these false feelings of victory and triumph. Everyone had to believe in this wonderful image of war being the best exercise of patriotism.
This was the apex of manliness. By dodging the bullets and getting out physically unscathed, men around me might finally notice me. If I still had attended my church, I would have developed fallacious sermons about feeling thankful that God helped me to survive.
None of the parishioners wanted to hear about the moral ambiguity. Even people outside my church wanted to hear me describe battles with false bravado. Surely, my dad and all those sanctimonious men wanted to pat me appreciatively on the back and say, “God and all of us are proud of your selfless service to our country and the righteous cause of wiping out the abominations of our world.”
Once my sorrowful speech was over, wouldn’t the church use my tragedy as an example? Would they not use my moral sacrifice as proof that we should rid the world of their proposed evil? I was a spectacle, a sensation to these people. They loved that artificial form of me that did not speak the truth that I felt empty and disillusioned with life.
I’m sure that after that speech, the pastor would step up to the podium that I recently vacated. He would wipe off the imaginary dust or grime that accumulated on his black or white robes. Then, he would create a wobbly transition from my heartfelt speech.
Everyone listened with rapt attention to the pastor’s words and thought of them as God’s own words or commandments. Certainly, he would tread lightly over the piece about hell though he would make certain to emphasize the fact that homosexual individuals more so than the liars, slanderers, and the thieves were the most abominable.
Wasn’t Nick bisexual? I never really paid any particular attention to his sexual orientation until the imagined pastor mentioned “those abominable homosexuals.” If I was a good, penitent Christian then I would sit undisturbed at the mention of my fallen comrade going to hell. At that mention, I had to say my thankful prayers that the comrade whom I revered for many more important reasons was to be unseen in heaven. That is, if there is a heaven.
Part of me would want to run up the podium and scream plaintively that the pastor had no true consideration of the value for life. How many aunts, uncles, sisters, and an immeasurable amount of humans were being dumped into hell?
The whole notion of hell is a distant nightmare. It is cartoonish and unreal enough for our moral selves to consider it or even treat it lightly. Yet, if the hell was immediate and occurring within our own reality; wouldn’t we protest incessantly about the inhumanity and the unfairness of it?
In church, I could not speak the truth of my thoughts. Therefore, I banished myself from the church with no word to my relatives. Behind their back, I delved into atheistic creed only to find my worst nightmares becoming manifest. I was only becoming a believer into another nightmare that was equally as terrible as the possibility of hell.
I believed in neither hell nor some meaningless universe that continuously defied cause and effect. The only thing that I held belief in was the allure and promising elements of love and empathy. With love, I could fully stare down into the eyes of my comrade. I was permitted to glance at him with the vast numbers of good thoughts about him.
He was benevolent in the way he always stretched himself out to include the known and unknown people around him. Or, he always remained uplifting and humorous during our campsite gatherings. At those gatherings, every one of the soldiers could have fallen deeply into a crippling, brood session
Nick used to maintain a convivial spirit among the soldiers. He handpicked the situations in life that he could leech humor out of. Every one of us in response laughed through the burden of our pain. As our sadness welled up, we laughed riotously at Nick’s jokes to triumph over that darkness.
As I reminisced about these moments, I could partially accept the fact he was dead. Some part of me could laugh lightly and even create some tears by the end. Was my former numbness then only part of my resolve to not think about death? Or, was it to neglect the truth of love and human goodness in exchange for the valueless societal beliefs of manly valor, legalistic beliefs about God, the celebratory statements about warfare?
From experience, I knew that these beliefs were erroneous and unimportant. Actually, any partial hold I had upon those beliefs was destroyed when the first mine impacted with one of my comrades. From there on, I only strove to believe that in the bedlam of war, there had to some small indication that there was human goodness. Beyond that, I had to believe that there was worth to our lives.
I couldn’t believe that we were reduced to living brainlessly in sync with rigid, religious beliefs. Neither, could I accept the awful reality that everything about this life is temporal. Beyond this lies a terrain of nothingness where our lives become forgotten. All that science that scientists strive to create vanishes with the supposed deletion of human life. How can anyone accept that nothingness when it even makes scientific discoveries become a non-essential?  
Who knows how much time had passed with all these thoughts? My brain was overpowering my ability to maintain my sense of the mission. I didn’t know where I was supposed to be currently.  Without forewarning, I erupted into tears and gasps.
I don’t know how this came about. Before, I had been very stolid as many thoughts percolated in my mind. Now, I was crying even more intensely as I kept staring down at Nick’s inanimate corpse. The lifelessness of it made me extremely sad.
More and more tears coalesced down my paled face. There was no way I could think about that theoretical nothingness or religious hell without my cries becoming even more intense.
None of the more joyful moments with him could make me laugh. I just continued crying as the blackness enveloped my thoughts which made all my previous thoughts become indistinct.
It worked like a sudden rainstorm. As more rain pelted the earth, the darkness around it grew in severity. Soon enough, no sheen of light leaked through this wide pocket of darkness. Only more rain fell till the hope of any sun was forgotten.
I trembled with the bizarre feeling of coldness permeating my body. Though, before I felt overwhelmingly hot due to the blistering sunlight that still shone. But, only the coldness of my body seemed real.
Soon enough, I fell upon the sand and began to convulse uncontrollably. Every nerve of my muscle rang and coiled around my muscles. My muscles trembled more and tried to determinately shake off the panicked nerves’ grasp.
The tears slowed down and even the trembling sensation that my nerves created wore off. Left behind was the same state of numbness. Now, my whole body felt like it was being refrigerated or embalmed from any more series of thoughts about the implications of his death. Speaking the word “death,” felt like the utterance of a forbidden curse that could spell the destruction of everything I held dear.
Don’t some bereaved people commit suicide? I could kill myself yet I did not have it in me to do that. I was too cowardly to do that. Plus it felt like a disrespectful thing to do after someone died in your place.
So, instead I continued to sit restively on the sands of this balmy desert. I waited for a moment of restoration that may never happen. With the reality of death laid before me, I sat with my back to it and thought about all those things which might have made me blasphemous.
In just thirty seconds, I could recant my belief in God. Then, I could believe in it once again by quickly offering a prayer of forgiveness. Or, I could plunge myself into the miasma of atheistic nothingness. Above both those things, I could wander through the ideal of a loving, ethical society that Aristotle and Plato would have approved of.
Who knows what sort of beliefs or realities I could trigger with my brain? All I know is that I couldn’t look at the empty husk that lay behind me. No, I refused to glance back at death.
Instead, I chose to live my life by perusing the philosophies of humanity that offered reasons for our existence. Externally, I could be an authentic believer of these things for a time. Internally, I would just be using them as a mental distraction from that acknowledgment of death. In death, would any of these things matter?
I cradled my own gun within my lap and stared down at it. Looking at it, I heard the pained screams of its murdered victims. Also, I heard its derisive laugh over the fact that life was easily destroyed.
Disgusted, I stared away from it and thought of love in its entire false splendor. I thought of the equality that all humans share in terms of not truly understanding the purpose of this life. Then, I saw the towers of our metropolises and thought of the desperation we have in reaching that purpose. After that, I thought of the censorship or destruction of the artfulness of those towers. By the end, we only destroyed our attempts at creating meaning because we were too afraid of that possibility that it might not hold meaning.
Perhaps, we kill because we want to protect ourselves from that reality that we’re not immortal. Maybe, we sometimes are merciless in our pursuit to kill because we only want to extend our own lives. Potentially, we arrogantly make our faulty human philosophies become infallible only to make ourselves become indestructible.
Every other person can be decimated. But our own selves must stay protected from that journey into a place beyond death or the total loss of our conscience. We want to stay in this protective bubble that is live. We’ll even destroy other people’s lives in order to distance ourselves from reaching that death.
What was truth and what things are falsehoods? In the end, what is the purpose behind this masquerade of life where some people exit by the interference of selfish actors? Where was I within this confusing set that someone had to design for it to be rooted in reality? Did someone even design it? The fool on stage left seems to confidently believe that the stage has always been there. On stage right, the other foolhardy actor feels superior to the other actors. He thinks that the creator of this stage will judge us on our indestructible faults.
A dizzying sensation overtook me in the present. I was confused by the disarray of my thoughts. Suddenly, some desperate part of me even tries to conjure lustful thoughts to distract me from this storm.
“Stop,” I command my thoughts to completely stall even though some filter in through this. After that, I forcibly rested myself upon the grainy sand. I neither looked at my comrade nor thought about the morass of my thoughts.
Instead, I thought about the most loving images possible: a sweet kiss from some imagined lover; fond moments of comfortable family chaos; the examples of humble religious people who loved above all other things; the beauty of the human desire for the transcendent within a bible without dogma; the ineffable sensation of feeling edified by great music, art, or literature; and that wonderful   voice in our minds that felt that loving others was a necessity.
Enfolded in these images, I felt peace finally as I fell into sleep and waited for one of my comrades to find me and Nick. As I fell into this dark oblivion of sleep where consciousness still nestled, I held steadfast to the hope that I would wake up to the reality of my dreams.  
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