Saturday, July 22, 2006

Enter the Angel

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The evening breeze held a hint of autumn although it was mid-July and the afternoon thunderstorms that growled through central Florida had already drenched us as we ran across the parking lot to the Nike Factory Store.

“This is why you can’t run outside here,” he said. “You’ll get struck by lightning.”

The sky was impossibly dark and yet the curls that framed his head glimmered as though illuminated by a ray of pure sunlight. The coppery shine made him seem cherubic in the way of Botticelli or early Caravaggio.

Then, as suddenly as it had burst onto the scene, the storm was over. By that time, we were in the car and were slowly approaching Eula Park. Young couples happily paddled across the lake in shiny white boats the shape of swans.

We did not tarry in the more commercialized side of the lake. I needed to show him something before I had to return to the location in the desert ten time zones away.

“Do you detect anything unusual about these swans?” I asked him. We stood on a small bridge that crossed to a shady memorial to freedom fighters and philosophers of the 19th and 20th centuries. Mohatmas Gandhi, Jose Marti, Simon Bolivar – all were represented by a bust mounted on a pedestal and bronzed descriptions.

“These guys make me sick,” I commented. “I realize the world recognizes them as liberators who threw off the tyranny of a colonial oppressor. To me, they simply introduced a new kind of tyranny – the need to sacrifice the young for the aspirations of the old and the rich.”

He was not listening. He was gazing upon the black swans that were paddling upon the surface of the water, their orange-red beaks exactly the same shade as a south Florida sunset.

Or, alternatively, their beaks reflected the blood-red moon of impending apocalypse.

But, it was not worth thinking along those lines.

I looked at him – his gray-green eyes were filled with tears.

“They are not alive. There are no brain waves coming from the swans.” He looked at me. He was absolutely cherubic, although his face exhibited the hewn planes of a Lincoln (albeit beardless and wartless) or a Mother Theresa (albeit a different gender).

“Yes. I wanted to know if you could tell.” I looked at the black swan couple, rapt in each other’s presence. This was utter devotion. Of course they were dead. It was what I had suspected. It was the Medic's work. He had rotated here between desert deployments. He had been thinking and experimenting. Now I knew. I knew it all too well.

Could living, sentient beings with the power of choice, of unrestrained volition, be capable of such steadfast devotion?

Of course not.

When synapses fire correctly, there is as much negative energy as positive. Eventually, the charges balance each other. But, the balance is achieved over time, and is detectable only when the measurements are arithmetically smoothed.

Neural networks could create models of balance and they could begin to depict in graphical form what it means. But, without almost infinite iterations, it was hard to imagine what else could with quite the same elegance.

But, I digress.

The Angel’s eyes were filled to an impossible depth with tears.

“You understand, then, why I need your help,” I said to him.

A couple clearly in love, holding hands, smiling serenely churned by us in their large swan-shaped paddleboat.

The black swans disappeared under the bridge.

At that instant, the sun reappeared and illuminated the Angel’s curls, resulting in a soft halo. I felt uncomfortable, unclean, unforgiven.

“I don’t know if I can,” he said slowly, softly, as he took my hand.

And then I was the one with an infinitely deep lake of tears in her eyes.