“It’s getting closer,” she said, her eyes on the smoke rising from the ground after the latest air strike. “I could feel the ground shake last night.”
She didn’t know him well. They were casual acquaintances who found themselves volunteering at the same refugee shelter in a corner of the city, far enough from the ground troops and very far from the comfortable lives they had been living.
“Goes with the territory. One of the perks of living in a war zone.”
He smiled his lopsided smile and tried to defuse the anxiety that the recent bombings had awakened in even the most hardened volunteers. They were taking a late afternoon coffee break, sitting at an outdoor cafe, near the church that was doubling as a hospital. It was the closet thing to a date either of them had had in the last three months of long hours and little sleep.
“Are you ever afraid? Of dying, I mean? That some night one of those bombs might hit us?”
“Afraid? No. Concerned? Sometimes. But I knew the job came with risks when I volunteered. So did you…and here we are. Let’s enjoy the time we have. This beautiful sky. The cool breeze. This wonderful coffee and each other.”
She smiled at that but her smile was fleeting. “I think about dying some nights.”
“All the more reason to enjoy the moment. That’s all there is and I don’t want to waste it.”
She frowned. “You don’t believe there’s anything after this?”
“I don’t. When we go, we’re gone. Just over and out.”
“I don’t believe that,” she said quietly. “I believe there’s something more. I studied the Transcendental poets in college. Emerson, mostly, and his theory about the Over Soul.”
“The Over Soul. It’s kind of a consciousness that makes up the universe. When we’re born, a little piece of it inhabits our bodies and when we die, that piece returns to the universal consciousness that is the Over Soul.”
“Sounds straight out of Star Wars. ‘May the Force be with you’.” He said it shaking his head. “Next, you’ll be making a case for reincarnation and I don’t believe in that, either. It’s just wishful thinking. A cosmic do over for those who can’t accept the mistakes they made in their lives.”
She wondered if he had made such mistakes, but she detected no bitterness in his tone, just stating life’s facts, as he saw them
“Well,” she said, gathering her own “facts,” as she countered with logic. “Looking at it scientifically, it seems possible. Matter can neither be created nor destroyed, only changed. So, if that’s true, and we follow the paradigm of the Over Soul, the energy of us isn’t destroyed when we die. It just returns to the original source. All that energy mixes around, incarnating in every new life which suggests the possibility for remnants of a previous life experience to remain, as a memory. Theoretically, at least.”
“And you buy into that? You believe in what? Multiple existences?”
The church bell tolled the hour and she gazed at the outline of the steeple against the darkening skies. She looked at him to see if he was mocking her. He wasn’t.
“I suppose I do. I’d like to, anyway. I can’t prove it, but I can’t disprove it, either.”
“Sorry to have to disagree. I’ve never experienced anything to convince me that there’s anything beyond the here and now. When it’s over, it’s over.”
“You may be right,” she said gently, “but we won’t know–we can’t know–until it happens. If you’re right and there isn’t anything more, I won’t be disappointed because I won’t have any consciousness to say, ‘he was right.’ I’ll just cease to be. And if I’m right, and there is another plane of existence, you’ll be pleasantly surprised and I promise not to say ‘I told you so.’ The way I see it, we both win, no matter what the end is like.”
“Maybe. It depends,” he said before finishing his coffee.
“On how you choose to live your life. Whether you ‘seize the day’ or put things off until tomorrow. Whether you take those leaps of faith or tell yourself it can wait until tomorrow when tomorrow may not come.”
“I try to find the joy in every day. I don’t want to leave my life with a series of regrets.”
He reached over and squeezed her hand. “We’d better get back to work. Here’s to many joyful days before we face the last one.”
If it were a film and not real life, the camera would have frozen them there, his hand on hers, smiling. The screen would have changed to black and white, with the sounds of the plane’s engines and the screeching of the bomb before its impact became the final soundtrack of their lives. Instead, the bomb caught them as they ran for cover, leaving a deep scar in the earth where their table had been under a spreading, fine pink mist.