By Alexis, In Her Own Words 

In my ongoing adventure as a newly minted human being, there was a new twist a couple of weeks ago. 

My parents tried to drown me. 

Okay, not really. But for a moment there, I was pretty sure I was about to punch my return ticket on the Grand Funk Celestial Railroad—all aboard! Next stop, reception desk at the Pearly Gates. 

To say that the whole incident came as a surprise to me is somewhat of an understatement. I had thought everything down here was going nicely. Sure, I still wasn’t the easiest New Addition to the roll call of newborns —feeding time was still a bit of an adventure, I hadn’t yet completely bought into that “sleep all night” -stuff, and the business with the diapers… well, suffice it to say that nobody was cheering when the need came to deal with that. 

But by and large, I was making a sincere effort to learn the ropes —and brother, do humans have a lot of ropes— and to fit in as a productive member of the species. And frankly, I was fairly certain that all of us in my little family —Mom, Daddy and me— were finding a nice balance in our still-new living arrangements.  

But the other morning, after being strapped in for a ride in the car (always a pleasure, in that I enjoy my own private backward-facing chair) we arrived at a building that smelled vaguely of Clorox. There were a number of other New Arrivals there too, some testing the volume control on their still-a-novelty vocal cords and the rest of us roundly appreciating their efforts.  

We all headed through a pair of glass doors. The temperature jumped and the bleach smell was even stronger here. I did a quick check of the Big People around me, but nobody looked as if they were about to sprint in mad panic toward the nearest exit. So far, so good. 

And suddenly, right before my eyes, was the Biggest Bathtub in Creation. I’m not exaggerating; this thing could have held, like, a million rubber duckies! 

Cool, I told myself, this isn’t bad at all… 

And then Mom, with me in her arms, waded into this vast oceanic realm. Yeah, that’s what I said: INTO it, both of us. In fact, all of us, since around us other moms and babes were thronging in like lemmings sprinting toward a handy cliff. 

The water here needed attention: unlike my tub at home, this stuff apparently was manufactured from freshly melted icebergs. I wanted to blurt something unseemly, but I still don’t know those words.  

Next came the bouncing and ballet-spins, with Mom —oblivious to the obvious perils of our situation— towing me in a circle around her. And just when I was becoming accustomed to all that… 

…Mom dunked me.  

Yeah, that’s what I said. She dunked me under the surface of this Splashy Circle of Hades! 

They say your life flashes in front of you at times like this; they are right.  

Fortunately —mainly because my life has been, to date, pretty short— the life-flashing didn’t take more than a second or so. So that left me with a lot of time to ponder my imminent demise. To wonder what I had done to deserve this cruel fate. To cry out in the name of Fairness —nay, even Justice! — for an appeal of whatever verdict had led to this moment of… 

Which is when I realized that the sub-surface sensation was oddly familiar. Kind of comfortable, even. Peaceful, you know? 

And then it hit me: I had lived like this for nine whole months, bobbing around in Mom’s stomach as I waited out my ETA into the world. 

Nevertheless, I had become pretty accustomed to breathing air over the recent past. So, it was with no small sense of relief when two loving arms returned me to the welcome bosom of my mother. 

Still, one can’t let this sort of outrage happen without protest; I did, with an appropriate volume that was partly sincere. 

And then, plop! She did it again. 

Truth be told, it wasn’t as bad this time. And the next dunk, and the next, and— you get the idea.  

As did I. We were… playing? Practicing? And —certainly— learning. I was learning that Mom wasn’t doing some demented science experiment titled “How Long Can Alexis Hold Her Breath.” 

And with each submergence, I found myself enjoying the experience. It might have been that I was a natural, a future Olympic champ or a Navy SEAL; but I think a big part of it was enjoying the sense of trust that Mom was unswervingly on my side. I might not know what she was doing, but I know it was all out of love. By the end of the session, I was having a great time playing fish. 

•.  •.  • 

Aside from the news value of my near-miss watery demise —again, I jest— the reason I brought up the story is a memory that floated up to the surface of my mind at yesterday’s naptime. These mental glimpses of my time in the Waiting Room are becoming less frequent these days, what with my own humanity encroaching on them with each new experience Down Here, so when one emerges clear and distinct, I take notice. 

I was watching Aurelian, one of the more patient among the Heavenly Host, as he wrestled a shipment of raindrops into the delivery chute. It was, he said, the latest of more than a dozen such deliveries to a place he called “California.”  

“There was a big backlog of prayers for rain there,” he said, as he pulled a lever marked DELIVERY. “Somebody in Fulfillment finally got the paperwork done, and now we’re sending it all at once. Not sure that’s the best idea, but it sure clears up the prayer logjam, you know?” He winked. “Least, ‘til the Help, we’re flooding!’ petitions start to arrive. So, what’s on your mind, kid?” 

I told him that I had been approved for installation of something called “free will,” in preparation for my upcoming human birth— standard equipment for my particular model, all OEM parts, lifetime guarantee. It had sounded good, but… 

“No instruction manual, am I right?” Aurelian grinned. “Hate to be the one to tell you, but nobody gets one for that. We all have to figure it out as we go along.” 

“All? Angels have free will too?” I asked. I had assumed it was strictly a human thing, like opposable thumbs and appendixes. And belly buttons; I was scheduled for installation of mine next week. 

“Sure: angels were the first entities to be granted free will.” I could hear a note of pride in his words. “It was a great honor bestowed on us, to be gifted with the choice to serve willingly and completely. Humans got the gift later. Seems to me all of you are mostly still trying to figure out how to use it, but who am I to say?” 

I put a pleading tone in my voice and asked how free will worked. 

“There are a lot of ways it can work,” Aurelian said. “That’s the thing about free will— it’s the greatest blessing ever granted —to angels as well as humans— but it can also be the most dire curse. It’s a matter of choice, you see. You’re free to choose, blessing or curse, even if you choose wrong.” 

“Choose what, Aurelian?” 

“Anything. Everything. Vanilla or chocolate; Coke or Pepsi. Eternal bliss or eternal damnation. As they say on Earth, ‘You pays your money and you takes your chance.’ 

I frowned. I thought it seemed pretty perilous, like handing a loaded machine gun to a chimpanzee. It might work out okay, but the odds seemed definitely stacked in the other direction. I felt a stirring of panic. I don’t know what to choose. What if I choose wrong?!? Why me? Why any person, especially human persons? 

“You want to know ‘why,’ don’t you?” Aurelian said, and sighed. “Get in line; there were a lot of folks up here who wondered the same thing, back when He first invented humans.” 

He lowered his voice. “That’s what triggered Morningstar’s Rebellion, don’t you know?  ‘He gives them an immortal soul and free will? Wrapped in a messy, smelly blob of meat? How unspeakably absurd!’ That’s what Morningstar— oops, we’re supposed to call him ‘Lucifer’ now— that’s what he was so outraged about, or so he said. Me, I think he just wanted to sit on the Big Throne himself, but that’s another story. Anyway, he used his own free will to rebel. And look what that got him: fired.”  

He shrugged.  “In a matter of speaking, I mean. But literally, too.” 

I realized that Aurelian was talking about the Other Place. I had heard a bit about the Other Place; rumors, mostly, muttered in hushed tones by the angels when they thought the human souls weren’t listening. Unquenchable fire, the stink of Sulphur everywhere, lots of screaming. It didn’t sound like a place any sane soul, let alone an angelic spirit, would freely choose to be. In fact, even as a general concept, it sounded like this free will business was completely bonkers, at a celestial level. 

Which led me back to my original question. If this free will business was so dangerous, seemingly unpredictable, and able to corrupt even the near-perfect among angels… then why decide to stuff it into madly flawed and imperfect human beings in the first place?  

That’s what I thought, and that’s what I said. Might have been that ‘free will’ thing stirring. 

Aurelian nodded, almost grimly. 

“Well, the first thing is you don’t question the Boss about things you’re too dim to comprehend,” Aurelian said. “And compared to Him, we all are. About most things.” 

“But if I had to guess… God didn’t want to create a species of blindly obedient robots. What would be the point of that? It would be like sharing Awareness with a bunch of… oh, I don’t know. Potatoes, maybe.” 

“A potato isn’t going to do much wrong, for sure. But where’s the glorious individuality, the improbable soaring heights of human achievement, the ability to startle even a Deity with leaps of wild creativity, or profound insight, or even unbridled whimsy? Free will would be as wasted on a potato as it is essential to being a human.” 

My panic had been replaced now… with the overwhelming weight of what suddenly seemed like an impossible assignment; I preferred the panic if I could make that choice. 

Aurelian looked at me with something akin to pity, though I’d swear there was no small measure of amusement in there too. 

“Kid, lighten up,” he said. “Look, you’ve seen your delivery invoice, right? Got a Mom, a father, some grandparents listed in the ‘Factory Installed Accessories,’ right?” He spread his hands and smiled. “That’s your instruction manual, those guys. Trust ‘em. Let ‘em teach you. Listen, watch… and again, trust— even when you don’t understand why they’re doing whatever they’re doing.” 

“See, kid,” Aurelian said, “whatever they do, they’re doing it out of love. That’s not a bad basis for any decision that your free will leads you to make. In the end, it may be the only sure way to choose the right road.” 

•.  •.  • 

You know, I’m going to miss all these memories when they finally fade altogether… 


— end — 

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Alexis and her musings will return to these pages in future editions.  

But not right now: she’s sleeping.)