A Parable

Many complain that the words of the wise are always merely parables and of no use in daily life, which is the only life we have. When the sage says: “Go over,” he does not mean that we should cross over to some actual place, which we could do anyhow if the labor were worth it; he means some fabulous yonder, something… that he cannot designate more precisely, and therefore cannot help us here in the very least.
…Concerning this a man once said: Why such reluctance? If you only followed the parables you yourselves would become parables and with that rid yourself of all your daily cares.
Another said: I bet that is also a parable.
The first said: You have won.
The second said: But unfortunately only in parable.
The first said: No, in reality: in parable you have lost.
–Franz Kafka, “On Parables”

I am thirty-five years old now, and I have grown weary. I have grown weary and bored with my life, old and weary as this world is. I need to change something? My bookshelves? Is it my bookshelves that I need to change? I went with white for my bookshelves. But they’re sort of an Arctic White, as it turned out when they arrived. Which is really a searing white. They looked so much softer and much more, well, muted and inviting online. Sort of like a soft buttery white in the photos online. Plus my walls are also basically a shade of Arctic White, so if I squint, it looks like my books are floating in midair; disturbing. But no, changing my bookshelves will accomplish nothing. So instead, I’m changing my name. Which only requires a trip to the courthouse and $75 to $500, depending on what state you live in. People should do it more often.

I am changing my name to O£iver, because I thought of that while driving the other day, and that seems funny. Like a joke about how stupid rappers are, but not in a racist way. Like how Ke$ha’s name is Ke$ha, or 50 Cent’s name is 50 Cent, but you can also call him “Fiddy,” which is dumb. So that’s funny. That’s a funny joke for me to be making.

_____

So now I’m changing my name to O£iver. This is actually happening right now. And now the amazing thing is that it’s actually working; as soon as I try it, I instantly feel better. I pretend that it’s a joke for a little longer, but soon, I stop doing even that. I feel much better now. Nominal determinism. You are who you signify that you are. A rose by any other name really wouldn’t smell as sweet.

Now I’m instantly becoming cooler and more confident. Now reflexively sarcastic people are meeting me and making the same joke about my name: “O£iver? You know, that shouldn’t be pronounced ‘Oliver’ the way that you say it. It really should be Opoundsigniver… ha ha ha ha ha. Ha ha ha.” They all always make the same joke. They remind me of fibers in an industrial carpet, these people — bland, beige; all pointing, always, in the same direction. I have always hated people like this, but now, luckily, I instantly know how to identify them all.

Once and only once, however, a guy comes up to me and says: “That really should be Opoundsterlingiver.” This only happens once, very late at night, in a bar, while I’m sitting by myself and silently nursing a beer, while I’m thinking about my new life. I instantly make this guy my new best friend, because he’s the only one to ever say that.

_____

Now every annoying person ever is gone from my life, because I can always smoke them out within 60 seconds, thanks to my new name. Now cooler and more confident people are flocking to me, attracted by my glow. Now I’m only dressing in certain colors. I’m wearing only Turquoise Blue one week, from my shoes to my suit to the handkerchief in the jacket pocket of my suit to my hat. Then I’m wearing only Deep Scarlet Red the next week. People love this, because it’s interesting.

Now I’m starting rapping. Now I’m starting a promising rap career. Now I’m dropping my first single:

And you rap till you rap and you rappity rap

You rap till you rap and you

Blappity blap.

Rap rap rap–

Blappity blap.

Holy f-ck O£iver Miller is the best f-cking rapper who has ever existed!” everyone screams. This is so great. And money. So, so much  money. What do I do with it all? Do I give some of it to the poor? Hells naw. No, but I do; of course I do. I do give some of it to the poor. A reasonable amount, 10 percent our so, distributed through various charities that I have investigated for their trustworthiness.

People are starting to get too close to me. Fame is getting to my head. I am sick of possessions. I withdraw from the world, a little. I start meditating. I start doing yoga. I start surrounding myself with different advisers. I meet with gurus. I experience a sudden and shocking religious realization, or revelation. Suddenly it comes to me: Jesus Christ is my savior. Now I’m releasing a new album about becoming a born-again Christian, which bombs:

And you rap till you rap and you rappity rap

You rap till you rap and you

Blappity blap.

Rap rap rap–

Blappity blap.

CHRIST IS LORD!!!! [x10]

Now I’m ditching the whole Christianity angle. I still feel like doing good works, though. So I start travelling around the country on bus. Planes scare me now. Just to take off in one makes me think of Death. To be adrift like that. To be nowhere, a huddle between the earth and the upper reaches of the sky. I have long ago abjured from any plane travel. I hear the very winding noise of the engines at takeoff and I start thinking of Death, and I start having a panic attack. So instead, bus travel. I start travelling from city to city, doing minor good works in each town, getting to know the real America.

My bus goes off the road outside of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, flying through a metal guardrail and going off a cliff. It explodes in a fireball. There are no survivors.

Now I’m dying and going to heaven. I arrive in heaven. It looks very much like a storybook idea of heaven. Cotton-ball clouds, people with wings, pearly gates, Saint Peter, etc.

I speak to Saint Peter, who is standing by his little desky-thingy, looking like a host in a restaurant, except for the outfit part.

“Saint Peter,” I say to Saint Peter. I speak carefully. “I’m not sure that it is my time yet.”

“Hmm,” Saint Peter says. “Hold on a mo’. I’m going to call God out here. …God?!”

God saunters out. Again, he looks like a very storybook idea of God. The beard, all of it.

“Hello, God,” I say.

“Hello, Oliver,” he says.

“That’s O£iver,” I say.

“We only have our true names in heaven,” he says, very wisely.

“I see,” I say. “God, here’s the thing. I feel like I was taken before my time. I mean, Tennessee? As you know, I was accomplishing good works on earth–”

“I know everything,” he says.

“–So if you could just send me back.”

“Hmm,” God says. “Well, I can’t send you back to continue your life from the exact moment that you were living it. Too much paperwork; too complicated. But I can send you back to be born again, even though I really shouldn’t–”

“Thank y–”

“Okay, in this case I’ll allow it, even though we almost never do. Poof! You are born again.”

I travel back down from heaven. I gestate for nine months in the womb. I am born again. I reach the age of 35. I dislike my bookshelves. I decide to change my name to O£iver. It’s weird. I have been born to different parents who for some reason named me “Oliver” again. And though I have the consciousness that I am living a double life, and though I am trying to make different decisions, sort of in the spirit of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, to see how things will turn out differently — even though I try that, I end up rationalizing and making the same decisions, or somehow things just end up turning out the same. I get famous. I die in a bus crash.

I go back up to heaven.

“Hi!” I say.

“Hello,” Saint Peter says a little warily, checking his watch. (They have those here.) “Back again, I see.”

“Yes, and the thing is–”

“God?!” he yells.

God saunters out again.

“So,” he says.

“So,” I say.

“So,” says Saint Peter, just to keep his hand in the game.

“So,” I say in a rush, “I know thatthingskindofworkedoutthesame. But the thing is, I still feel like I was taken before my time…”

“Ho no,” God says. “I’m not falling for all this again. I mean, I’m God, not Santa Claus.”

“Look…”

“No, you look,” he says, and I grow afraid. But then he half-smiles, half-frowns. “It is time for you to enter heaven,” he says. “But–” he does a jabbing finger-point with the but “–I will give you another option.”

“I just don’t feel like I’m a heaven sort of guy,” I say. “I mean, look at this place. It looks so boring and cliché. I mean, harps and wings?”

“Ah,” he says. “But you haven’t fully entered heaven,” he says. “This might all be an illusion, since your eyes might not be able to handle the full concept of heaven yet. So it might be drawing from your own life-concept of what heaven is.”

“Sort of like in Contact, starring Jody Foster, when the alien ends up looking like her dad?”

“Sort of like that,” he agrees. “So, heaven may be nothing like this at all. It might be more like Dante describes, as though you are having the feeling that all the pages of the universe are being bound together by Love. So, an eternity, spent the contemplation of that thought, that feeling, which you would feel as you have felt nothing before. …Which would be very nice.”

“That would be very nice,” I agree.

“However, it might be exactly like what you see now. And so, if you feel that heaven is really ‘not for you,’ as you say…”

“Well,” I say.

“Then, in that case, I will offer you a special, one-time only offer, which I have never offered to anyone before. Instead of heaven, you can go to Some Other Place.”

“…Hell,” I say flatly, instantly suspicious. “You’ll send me to Hell.”

“No-oooo,” says God. “I promise you that will not be Hell. No Hell; nothing evil like that. It will also not be Earth, though. That is what you may know. …And I am not lying to you about any of this, because I never lie.”

I pause to consider this. “So, this Other Place; it could be like the Hundred-Acre Wood in Winnie the Pooh. Or it could be like living inside of Super Mario Bros. Or living on Pluto. It could literally be anything.”

“Right,” God says. “And you go and live out your multiple lives there. So, think it over. And by the way, you have five minutes to decide. I’ll be right back.”

And he turns on his heel and walks away.

I think furiously. I’m having trouble thinking straight. How can I make such a decision in under five minutes? How could anyone?

What do I do?

What do I do?

What do I do?

What would you do? TC mark

More From Thought Catalog

  • http://www.itmakesmestronger.com/2012/07/a-parable/ Only L<3Ve @ ItMakesMeStronger.com

    […] Thought Catalog » Life Add a comment […]

  • John

    You’d go into the TV show, Chuck.

    • John

      Note: my answer is correct because I’ll take you mentioning the name Chuck as your hint, and “Chuck” is awesome.

  • Leah

    I would choose heaven.

  • Nick

    “What’s the damn question?”

    Note: it’s correct because it just is and it’s a one size-fit-all non-answer

  • http://www.facebook.com/oliveramiller Oliver Miller

    I TOTALLY APOLOGIZE FOR THIS ARTICLE — O.M.

    • Caitlin

      PLEASE don’t apologise for this article it is the best thing I have read in ages! I really like the random, weirdness of your whole changed life – it is hilarious! Pretty much nailing on the head in your own strange wonderful words that we are always wanting more, or better. It’s so hard for today’s society to reach full happiness and contentment with our current lives, nothing seems completely good enough or fulfilled.
      I took your article as a big lesson learnt to appreciate today, goals and ambition is great as long as we still love our life in this moment now.
      Again – LOVED IT!

  • cait

    You choose Some Other Place because you didn’t learn your lesson when you got the second chance at life, and the finality of heaven is more terrifying then the unknown and limitless Other Place.

  • AH

    I (or you) could choose either choice and end up with the same outcome. God explained to you quite clearly that heaven isn’t any idea of what you think it is and this other choice is a mystery choice. You will probably end up in the same place no matter what you choose. This can be backed up with the earlier part of the parable (you chose to live another life and ended up at the gates of heaven yet again). It may be small, but I’d also like to note that god promises you won’t end up in “heaven” though both Hell and Earth are capitalized, which may show what a sneaky little parable character god is. Certainly heaven is different from Heaven since Oliver is different from O£iver…or is it? You, Oliver Miller, can answer that, if you’d like.

    Or perhaps, you should note the irony and not complain and just go to heaven already. You don’t make the fucking rules. Thought, in this parable, you sure are trying.

    • AH

      And I hope you remember Klosterman well enough for this to be a near perfect answer.

    • https://thoughtcatalog.com/ Oliver Miller

      Hmm. Not bad.

      • AH

        I’d also participate in the what-do-you-think-heaven-is-like conversation, but as a kid, I was an incredibly self-hating Catholic and am now a pretty solidly unfun atheist. But that’s why I’m spending all my money and time on reading and writing–because who cares about god when you’ve got David Foster Wallace? I guess I don’t have David Foster Wallace, though. Maybe god does. Maybe that’s heaven. And here I am, participating.

  • http://www.facebook.com/oliveramiller Oliver Miller

    …Or maybe just try saying something funny in the comments instead for the prize. Make a good joke about me or this article or anything else, really. I don’t know; I’m sorr-rrryy. Just consider this article to be an “open thread,” of sorts. Tell me about your life, whatever! I’m listening.

  • Dianaaaah

    When I was a child I thought people who passed away went some place in the meadows and listened to The Beatles all day. Also, they drank coffee from cups with Paul’s face on it because there’s nothing better than The Beatles and coffee. Duh. 
    Is that an inappropriate answer to the question? Should I wait for my prize? 

    • https://thoughtcatalog.com/ Oliver Miller

      You’re definitely a front-runner. Maybe we should just all discuss what we think the afterlife will be like/should be like. Just ignore the parable question; I refuse to apologize again though. I have to admit that as a kid, I was a pretty solidly unfun atheist and so I don’t remember ever thinking that the afterlife would be like anything. That’s a bad answer that would not win me a prize, though. Sometimes I have a recurring dream where I’m standing in the middle of a wheat field with a beautiful Asian girl — maybe that’s what heaven is like.

      • SJ

        I always assumed there would be lots of dogs there. That’s what I was told by movie titles, I guess. But I just pictured all the good people in wispy-looking houses, the kind with wall-sized windows all over and bridges to each other, and fields of happy playing dogs. I don’t know what I thought you’d actually DO there, ever. Presumably fetch.

      • Dianaaaah

        I’m a solidly unfun atheist now, but my mom always told me heaven would be the greatest place on Earth (I denied this, nothing could beat Disneyland). So up until my denial of the existence God I believed The Beatles would be there. I pictured it as something straight out of The Sound of Music. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the “afterlife” may have a beautiful Asian girl or dogs. Though I secretly hope it has cheese-fries because I f-cking love cheese-fries.

  • Savannah

    I was reading it “Oquidiver”. Where does that place me on the annoying to new best friend scale?

    • Maddy

      Oquidiver is his supervillain alter ego name. It involves tentacles. Probably. By correctly guessing it, it puts you on the “arch nemesis” part of the scale.

      • Savannah

        I’m on board with that, other than the probably-tentacles.

        I KNOW YOUR SECRET, OQUIDIVER. AND YOUR GMAIL. I AM VENGEANCE. WITH INTERNET ACCESS.

  • SALINA

    Well, on the topic of the actual question: I would pick the living out multiple lives, mostly because I’m so afraid of the finality of death. Which, I think, based on the article, you would pick, too. Even though you made the same choices that you made in your second life, you told yourself that you wouldn’t – and I think you would make the same choice to try again, only then you would be forced to live the same life over and over again. Because, even though you wanted something different, you became comfortable in the decisions that you made, because you know where you’re going to end up.

    I’m sorry if that didn’t make any sense… It makes a lot of sense in my head, but I can’t seem to articulate it.

    As for what the afterlife is to me: I grew up as someone who didn’t care about religion, developed into a very devout Christian, and now I’m a laid-back Atheist. Through it all, however, I’ve seen the afterlife as a place where you go and all of your family, friends, and loved ones are there – everyone you would want to be with for the rest of your life. I imagine it as sort of a neighborhood with lots of houses and flower gardens and everyone is happy and basically, it’s like life again, only with none of the assholes that you had to deal with while you’re alive.

  • SALINA

    And Savannah, I should have added this to my last comment but I was also pronouncing it like that! Weird!

    • Savannah

      Win!

  • Nica

    The kingdoms of experience
    In the precious winds they rot
    While paupers trade possessions
    Each one wishing for what the other has got
    And the princess and the prince discuss
    What’s real and what is not
    It doesn’t matter inside the gates of Eden

    A foriegn sun it squints upon
    A bed that is never mine
    As friends and other strangers
    from their fates try to resign
    Leaving men wholly totally free
    To do anything they wish to do, but die
    And there are no trials inside the gates of eden

    At dawn my lover comes to me
    And tells me of her dreams
    With no attempt to shovel a glimpse
    Into the ditch of what each one means
    Sometimes I think there are no words
    But these to tell what’s true
    And there are no truths outside the gates of eden

  • MaggieC

    Regardless of whether you end up on Pluto or in Super Mario Bros., your life in UnspecifiedDomainX will be exactly the same as your two previous lives. You will have unsatisfactory bookshelves, parents who name you Oliver, a rap career, a religious conversion, and a bus with faulty brake linings (or whatever). This seems crazy, but your previous experience clearly proves that some kind of weird determinism exists: you could have been born in any place, culture, time, etc. yet the same exact life unfolded (despite your knowledge of your first life). The probability of that happening on Earth is just as staggering as it happening anywhere else; you are fated to be O£ iver Miller forever. (Therefore, you should enter heaven, whatever that may be, because the devil (erm… angel) you know is better than the devil (again, angel) you don’t.

    • https://thoughtcatalog.com/ Oliver Miller

      My answer is heaven, though not exactly for that reason, but sort of for that reason.

  • Shea Diaz

    Please fix Gatlinsburg to Gatlinburg…

    • https://thoughtcatalog.com/ Oliver Miller

      Done. So-ooorry, Tennessee!

  • http://mangopeels.wordpress.com mathewpaulk

    I would go somewhere there and end up in Super Mario bros and end up playing out my multiple lives like God said…

  • meow

    Choose heaven because it’s heaven! If God lives there, it has to be pretty high-end (I’m thinkin plaza hotel/rooftop pool/glamorous cocktail parties every night) (and donuts!!). Who knows where the Hell you would end up taking the other option! I know it wouldn’t be on Earth, but imagine if you end up in some parallel universe as one of Octomom’s children or Bruce Jenner (Seriously, I don’t know how he puts up with Kris); the unknown scares me, so I would go with the safe bet. Plus in Heaven you’re supposed to be able to meet cool dead people, right? James Dean xoxoxoxxoxoxo

    • LP

      good thing I read all the comments before posting my answer to the question/idea of heaven because this is exactly it. This choice might also be driven by the fact that my favorite moements are the ones where I am sitting around and doing nothing else but talking to people. These sort of opportunities make it so that you get to learn something new or experience something you had found mundane from someone else’s perspective thus giving it new meaning to your life. These conversations, which will probably happen in heaven according to this view of what heaven is, will perhaps make you realize that your white shelves against the white walls are actually pretty cool. You were temporarily blinded of this fact because boredom made you lose sight of the what an interesting person with interesting and unique ideas you are. You needed those other people to remind you of that and only in this heaven would you be granted to freedom to lounge around and just talk to people.

  • Steve

    I hope you die in Tennessee for real. you douche

    • https://thoughtcatalog.com/ Oliver Miller

      I don’t believe that you truly want that, Steve.

  • Meg

    Heaven. Because the prospect of heaven, while equally mysterious as Some Other Place, promises to at least be something more than the prospect of say, floating around in a jar of pickle juice for all eternity.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/ahudson/ Not Andrew Hussie, Not At All

    There are no guarantees about either; you have no reason to think you’re being offered a valid dichotomy. This setup is simply a ruse to satisfy your human need to have free will, and your ego-driven-blogger-need to exercise that free will. Either way you choose, you’re going to the same place: really the choice you’re being given is how you’ll interpret the setting.

    It doesn’t matter what the original intent of this parable is, because the answer given here is universal to all parables: everything in life (and post-life) is what you make of it. Including weird hipster parable-riddles with vague meanings and a mythological prize. And besides, this answer is better than the more likely truth that the author is simply an inexperienced writer, and began this story before he’d figured out a good way to finish it.

  • Ves

    I make no choice. I realize that destiny ruled over me, and I tried to fight it thus far. I was bored when I was 35, and I tried to make a change. I became again unsatisfied, and died unfulfilled. I was allowed to change my life and this time I could reach for what I truly wanted. I didn’t. Was I to reach a goal, was something supposed to happen? I don’t know. What I do know is that I do not control my life. I make the choices, I experience it. I have my own thoughts. However, the fact remains that I will never be able to change it. So here, now, I will let destiny rule, and I will not interfere in what is inevitable. God will ask me what I have decided and I will say that I haven’t. I have no idea what will happen, but whatever it is, I know with certainty that it will be better than continuing the cycle of making my own decisions.

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