The Top Ten Metal Albums of All Time (Thus Far…)

Anyone who knows me well knows that when it comes to music, I LOVE the ‘hard stuff’! The louder the better. I tend to think of music as a cathartic thing, a medium through which to purge one’s pain and angst.

An Australian study showed that people who listen to Heavy Metal suffer from fewer neuroses and enjoy better mental health than those who do not. Life… is not always pretty! Sometimes ya just gotta get that nasty stuff out of your head, you know?

So here – in no particular order – are my top ten metal albums of all time…

Ozzy Osbourne – Ozzmosis:If you don’t like this album, you’re on crack. It came out in my late teens, and it was a bolt of lightning out of a clear blue sky. It’s darker than most of Ozzy’s work, and more heartfelt. It’s also (arguably) guitarist Zakk Wylde’s finest piece of work, at least with the Oz-man.

Stryper – To Hell with the Devil:The title track never fails to give me the chills; Michael’s Sweet’s vocals are second to none! Robert Sweet’s drumming is right up there with Mike Portnoy’s, in my book, and no two guitarists ever played in sync like Michael and Oz Fox. It’s a testament to this album’s quality that it was the first Christian metal album to ever achieve ‘mainstream’ success.

Megadeth – Cryptic Writings: ‘She-Wolf’. Need I say more? This is also the first album in which I began to admire Dave Mustaine for his vocals as well as his guitar playing. The way he sang ‘Use the Man’ just blew me away.

Nevermore – Dead Heart in a Dead World: ‘The Heart Collector’ is an underrated classic. Nevermore is second to none when it comes to vocals, lyrics, composition, and guitar work. (Honestly, I had a hard time choosing between this one and ‘Dreaming Neon Black’.)

My Dying Bride – The Angel and the Dark River: My Dying Bride has never released a bad album… but this is unarguably their opus. Not only is it heavy and angst-ridden, the piano and violin tracks truly make it stand out as a metal masterwork.

Metallica – St. Anger: This controversial record is Metallica’s only ‘flop’, since it only went triple platinum. Awww!!! The fans just didn’t get it. James Hetfield had just come out of rehab, and the band was going through some major therapy in the slim hope that they might stay together. Most fans didn’t get it, but I did; this record comes from a place of raw pain and desperate self-exploration. The song ‘The Unnamed Feeling’ is well worth the selling price, and ‘Some Kind of Monster’ is pure-dee Metallica.

Pantera – Cowboys From Hell: The metal album that truly defined the nineties. Singer Phil Anselmo bridged the gap between the high-pitched vocals of the eighties and the darker style that would come to define the nineties. ‘Cemetery Gates’ is truly Dimebag Darrell’s finest piece of guitar work. (May you rest in peace, Dime. We miss you!)

Black Sabbath – Cross Purposes: Black Sabbath’s forgotten gem. Tony Martin’s vocals were off the charts, and this is some of Tony Iommi’s finest guitar work. Sadly, the same lineup would go on to record ‘Forbidden’, which was a total dud… which is probably why ‘Cross Purposes’ tends to get overlooked.

Iron Maiden – Brave New World: Every song is based on a classic book. This album was inspired songwriting on a level that even Maiden had never before achieved. Much like Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’, albums are best when their writers actually have something to say!

Black Sabbath – Sabbath Bloody Sabbath: The demi-gods of metal’s finest release, a unique blend of blues, classical, and good ol’ hard rock. Recorded in an abandoned castle in England, this record is one part Creepy and three parts Beautiful. Sadly, it was Sabbath’s last good album before Ozzy’s departure… but it left a lasting legacy.

So there you have it! That’s some of the music that has shaped me as a person, and defined who and what I became. Every person has a unique soundtrack to his or her own life… so go find yours!

Be well!

The Masque of the Red Death

In the wake of American journalism’s latest crisis ‘du jour’ – the Coronavirus outbreak – I felt the need to post a similarly-themed tale. It was written by a far better writer than I’ll EVER be! So, my dear readers: I give you the immortal Mr. Poe…

THE “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avator and its seal — the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.

   But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince’s own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. They resolved to leave means neither of ingress or egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the “Red Death.”

 It was toward the close of the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion, and while the pestilence raged most furiously abroad, that the Prince Prospero entertained his thousand friends at a masked ball of the most unusual magnificence.

It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade. But first let me tell of the rooms in which it was held. There were seven — an imperial suite. In many palaces, however, such suites form a long and straight vista, while the folding doors slide back nearly to the walls on either hand, so that the view of the whole extent is scarcely impeded. Here the case was very different; as might have been expected from the duke’s love of the bizarre. The apartments were so irregularly disposed that the vision embraced but little more than one at a time. There was a sharp turn at every twenty or thirty yards, and at each turn a novel effect. To the right and left, in the middle of each wall, a tall and narrow Gothic window looked out upon a closed corridor which pursued the windings of the suite. These windows were of stained glass whose color varied in accordance with the prevailing hue of the decorations of the chamber into which it opened. That at the eastern extremity was hung, for example, in blue — and vividly blue were its windows. The second chamber was purple in its ornaments and tapestries, and here the panes were purple. The third was green throughout, and so were the casements. The fourth was furnished and lighted with orange — the fifth with white — the sixth with violet. The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue. But in this chamber only, the color of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes here were scarlet — a deep blood color. Now in no one of the seven apartments was there any lamp or candelabrum, amid the profusion of golden ornaments that lay scattered to and fro or depended from the roof. There was no light of any kind emanating from lamp or candle within the suite of chambers. But in the corridors that followed the suite, there stood, opposite to each window, a heavy tripod, bearing a brazier of fire, that projected its rays through the tinted glass and so glaringly illumined the room. And thus were produced a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances. But in the western or black chamber the effect of the fire-light that streamed upon the dark hangings through the blood-tinted panes, was ghastly in the extreme, and produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered, that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all.

It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against the western wall, a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute-hand made the circuit of the face, and the hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to harken to the sound; and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and, while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused revery or meditation. But when the echoes had fully ceased, a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly; the musicians looked at each other and smiled as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of the clock should produce in them no similar emotion; and then, after the lapse of sixty minutes, (which embrace three thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies,) there came yet another chiming of the clock, and then were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before.

But, in spite of these things, it was a gay and magnificent revel. The tastes of the duke were peculiar. He had a fine eye for colors and effects. He disregarded the decora of mere fashion. His plans were bold and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barbaric lustre. There are some who would have thought him mad. His followers felt that he was not. It was necessary to hear and see and touch him to be sure that he was not.

 He had directed, in great part, the moveable embellishments of the seven chambers, upon occasion of this great fête; and it was his own guiding taste which had given character to the masqueraders. Be sure they were grotesque. There were much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm — much of what has been since seen in “Hernani.” There were arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments. There were delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There were much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust. To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked, in fact, a multitude of dreams. And these — the dreams — writhed in and about, taking hue from the rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as the echo of their steps. And, anon, there strikes the ebony clock which stands in the hall of the velvet. And then, for a moment, all is still, and all is silent save the voice of the clock. The dreams are stiff-frozen as they stand. But the echoes of the chime die away — they have endured but an instant — and a light, half-subdued laughter floats after them as they depart. And now again the music swells, and the dreams live, and writhe to and fro more merrily than ever, taking hue from the many tinted windows through which stream the rays from the tripods. But to the chamber which lies most westwardly of the seven, there are now none of the maskers who venture; for the night is waning away; and there flows a ruddier light through the blood-colored panes; and the blackness of the sable drapery appals; and to him whose foot falls upon the sable carpet, there comes from the near clock of ebony a muffled peal more solemnly emphatic than any which reaches their ears who indulge in the more remote gaieties of the other apartments.

But these other apartments were densely crowded, and in them beat feverishly the heart of life. And the revel went whirlingly on, until at length there commenced the sounding of midnight upon the clock. And then the music ceased, as I have told; and the evolutions of the waltzers were quieted; and there was an uneasy cessation of all things as before. But now there were twelve strokes to be sounded by the bell of the clock; and thus it happened, perhaps that more of thought crept, with more of time, into the meditations of the thoughtful among those who revelled. And thus too, it happened, perhaps, that before the last echoes of the last chime had utterly sunk into silence, there were many individuals in the crowd who had found leisure to become aware of the presence of a masked figure which had arrested the attention of no single individual before. And the rumor of this new presence having spread itself whisperingly around, there arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of disapprobation and surprise — then, finally, of terror, of horror, and of disgust.

In an assembly of phantasms such as I have painted, it may well be supposed that no ordinary appearance could have excited such sensation. In truth the masquerade license of the night was nearly unlimited; but the figure in question had out-Heroded Herod, and gone beyond the bounds of even the prince’s indefinite decorum. There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion. Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests, there are matters of which no jest can be made. The whole company, indeed, seemed now deeply to feel that in the costume and bearing of the stranger neither wit nor propriety existed. The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat. And yet all this might have been endured, if not approved, by the mad revellers around. But the mummer had gone so far as to assume the type of the Red Death. His vesture was dabbled in blood — and his broad brow, with all the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror.

When the eyes of Prince Prospero fell upon this spectral image (which with a slow and solemn movement, as if more fully to sustain its role, stalked to and fro among the waltzers) he was seen to be convulsed, in the first moment with a strong shudder either of terror or distaste; but, in the next, his brow reddened with rage.

“Who dares?” he demanded hoarsely of the courtiers who stood near him — “who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery? Seize him and unmask him — that we may know whom we have to hang at sunrise, from the battlements!”

It was in the eastern or blue chamber in which stood the Prince Prospero as he uttered these words. They rang throughout the seven rooms loudly and clearly — for the prince was a bold and robust man, and the music had become hushed at the waving of his hand.

It was in the blue room where stood the prince, with a group of pale courtiers by his side. At first, as he spoke, there was a slight rushing movement of this group in the direction of the intruder, who, at the moment was also near at hand, and now, with deliberate and stately step, made closer approach to the speaker. But from a certain nameless awe with which the mad assumptions of the mummer had inspired the whole party, there were found none who put forth hand to seize him; so that, unimpeded, he passed within a yard of the prince’s person; and, while the vast assembly, as if with one impulse, shrank from the centres of the rooms to the walls, he made his way uninterruptedly, but with the same solemn and measured step which had distinguished him from the first, through the blue chamber to the purple — through the purple to the green — through the green to the orange — through this again to the white — and even thence to the violet, ere a decided movement had been made to arrest him. It was then, however, that the Prince Prospero, maddening with rage and the shame of his own momentary cowardice, rushed hurriedly through the six chambers, while none followed him on account of a deadly terror that had seized upon all. He bore aloft a drawn dagger, and had approached, in rapid impetuosity, to within three or four feet of the retreating figure, when the latter, having attained the extremity of the velvet apartment, turned suddenly and confronted his pursuer. There was a sharp cry — and the dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet, upon which, instantly afterwards, fell prostrate in death the Prince Prospero. Then, summoning the wild courage of despair, a throng of the revellers at once threw themselves into the black apartment, and, seizing the mummer, whose tall figure stood erect and motionless within the shadow of the ebony clock, gasped in unutterable horror at finding the grave cerements and corpse-like mask which they handled with so violent a rudeness, untenanted by any tangible form.

 And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

Another Gem from the Poet King…

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Fire and Blood: A Fable in Seven Parts

Author’s note: Fables are not my strong suit. Nor is writing in the present tense. But sometimes breaking one’s mold is satisfying, and more than a little cathartic…

Part I

In all the world, there is none so graceful, so beautiful, or so powerful as the Phoenix.

The awe-inspiring bird of ancient myth soars high above his world, transcending even Time itself. He soars in, out, and through all the ages of men, carried aloft by wings be-feathered with incandescent flame. He turns his piercing eye toward the doings of mankind with open scorn, his plumed head un-bowed. Un-bowed… before man, beast, and even the Almighty Himself.

For who is greater than the Phoenix? He is the dragon-bird of the Heavens, the Watchman of the Ages.

Perhaps he had a beginning, or perhaps he never did. Perhaps someone plucked him from the pyre of his birth. Or perhaps he is simply timeless, without beginning and certainly incapable of ever coming to an end.

In his travels the Phoenix gazes often upon the mountain of the Almighty. He finds it in odd places sometimes, the mountain, and always unexpectedly. Sometimes it rises from the desert, overlooking the heathen hordes of the Middle East. Sometimes it appears on lush isles, surrounded by the resort cities of America, the modern Roman Empire. But always it seems to follow the glorious Phoenix, the mountain, and always the great dragon-bird turns and sails disdainfully away from it, flicking his crimson tail feathers in irritation.

For the Almighty is really just a crutch for the weak, is He not? His worshippers grovel at the feet of their deity, their praise mixed always with barely concealed terror. They are addicts to religion, those weak-minded mortals who must need cling to the idea of a Greater Being. But not so the Phoenix… The Phoenix has sailed through all the ages alone, dependant on none, and will continue to do so.

The immortal Phoenix has no need of either the Almighty or His mortal servants. Do they love their master, really… or do they simply desire release from the fear of death?

Either way, the Phoenix is his own being, an entity apart.

As the sun rises over Eden, hits its zenith over the half-built Sphinx, and sets behind the crumbling Mount Rushmore, the Phoenix flies effortlessly across the fluid eonic winds – ageless, changeless, and proud beyond all measure.

For who, in the end, can be greater than the Phoenix?

Part II

The mammoth trumpets loudly, calling out in anguish as golden claws tear into its hide.

Crimson wings beat about its head, forcing it to the earth in unwilling surrender. It thrashes like a fish, a massive hulk of struggling sinew, fur and tusk. Its piteous cries tear into the frigid Siberian air, mingling with the vicious snarling of the hungry Phoenix.

At last the great mammoth dies, as everything must in the end. It settles into the snow, spreading a scarlet stain upon the pristine white blanket.

The Phoenix throws his head up in triumph, his chilling victory scream piercing the still, frozen night as blood drips from his razor-sharp beak.

While the Phoenix hunts here often, he disdains to actually eat here… For what union can a creature of fire and flame have with the never-ending ice? Grasping his kill in his curved talons, the Phoenix takes wing toward another age, another place.

The Phoenix drops his prey atop a high, lonely mountain, one whose peak pierces the cloud barrier. Here mankind will hinder him not; here, he may continue to remain the stuff of mystery, of myth.

Of course, every boon has it price…

For where mankind is not, the celestial becomes more tangible. Here there be the guardians and warriors, the protectors and killers of mankind; they flock about the Phoenix curiously, cherubim, seraphim, and nephilim all. The winged, ethereal creatures – male and female both – flit about the Phoenix as he feeds, the ghost-like tendrils of their clothing just brushing the great dragon-bird, their touch as light as a whisper.  

It is not long before their presence becomes odious; the Phoenix rises from his gorging, his tearing of flesh and cracking of bones, and snaps angrily at the celestial minions who come too close. This is his prey, his kill, and he is determined that they should hinder him not.

They eye him but coolly, completely unbothered by the rage of the mythical Phoenix. He is merely legend, their indifference seems to say… But they are the sort that pre-dates even legend. As such, they are beyond even the Phoenix’s reproach and retribution. They are as numb to his attempts at rebuttal as Death was to the mammoth’s frantic trumpeting.

The Phoenix will later tell himself that he’d eaten enough, that he was about to leave anyway. He takes wing furiously, leaving his gory, dismembered meal to sully the mountain’s craggy peak, and leaves this hell of angelic torment.

He’d eaten enough… really, and truly, and the celestials mattered no. They had nothing whatsoever to do with his leaving.

Really.

Part III

The Almighty is an elusive thing, easy to see, easy to identify but hard to follow, and impossible to pin down.

The Phoenix resents Him mightily for this.

Sometimes the Almighty is obvious but distant, a shining form that tops of the mountains from which he views the entirety of His creation. It is then that the Phoenix resents Him the most, for He is untouchable then, unfathomable and omnipotent; His very presence seems to scorn the mighty Phoenix.

The Almighty, in His untouchable, all-powerful form. How the Phoenix hates Him!

Often the Almighty becomes Spirit, the sentient, changeless phantom. This form, also, the Phoenix dislikes. But he is not so afraid of Him then; he cannot see the Spirit of the Almighty, after all. But he can sense Him, and he finds him frightening nonetheless. The Spirit is separate from the God upon the mountains – but yet He is the same singular, sovereign entity that is the Almighty.

Some days, though, for brief, passing moments, the Almighty becomes simply… mortal. A perishable vessel of flesh. A man, much like any other.

The Phoenix cannot say why he even recognizes this incarnation of the Almighty, this Son of Man. Perhaps he can sense the Spirit within Him, or perhaps the tangible Almighty simply shines even more brightly upon Him.

The Son of Man, too – like the mountaintop Almighty, or the Spirit – is also the Almighty Himself, yet the Phoenix grasps this not. One thing, however, is certain; the Phoenix does not fear the Son of Man. He follows Him daily, floating effortlessly on astral winds, watching as the human Almighty does very human things with His time.

Some days the Son of Man works at mundane tasks, wielding hammer and saw as lustily as any carpenter. He sweats, bleeds, laughs and grunts like any other man intent on building the buildings that house his world.

Yet sometimes the Son of Man pulls away, to pray, to connect with the Almighty upon His mountaintop – this Almighty who is also the Son of Man. Sometimes He wanders the known world with those He has chosen, His select followers. The Phoenix, if he would follow, is forced to fly far and wide, watching from a distance as the Son of Man spreads whatever news He carries to the far corners of His humble nation.

Sometimes the Phoenix lingers within the age of the Son of Man for a time, and sometimes he travels to another, leaving the Almighty-made-flesh to His own devices.

Today, however, the Phoenix is earthbound, watching lazily, preening his crimson feathers disdainfully as the Son of Man stands at the foot of a tall mountain, speaking quietly to his closest friends. The Phoenix cannot hear His words, nor does he care to. He is simply here to observe, to find some new reason to cast scorn upon God and Man both.

The Phoenix raises his plumed head, suddenly intrigued.

The Son of Man has risen above his followers, hands outspread, moving aloft as though pulled by unseen strings.

Now, thinks the Phoenix with macabre humor, Man has learned to fly?! Smiling with his hooked, cruel beak, the Phoenix lunges from beneath his shade tree.

Far, far above the awestruck assemblage, the Almighty shines from His mountain. The Son of Man sails toward Him, as though somehow drawn by the majesty of the Frightfully Eternal.

Determined suddenly not to be denied a privilege handed to a mortal – even a wholly Divine, Immortal Mortal – the Phoenix flies upward, determined to follow the Son of Man into whatever heaven might await Him atop the mountain.

And who truly knows what really waits at the top of the mountain of the Almighty? Only the Almighty Himself, and His Spirit… and the Son of Man.

But soon, the Phoenix vows silently to himself, he too will know.

Part IV

Straining more with each flap of his thunderous wings, the Phoenix rises higher and higher, following the Son of Man as He ascends toward the mountaintop.

Flames lick at the tips of his wings the beat at the chilly air, but the Phoenix worries not. These are not the flames that consume, but the flames that illuminate, that the world may see the Phoenix and stand in awe.

The Phoenix breaks through the clouds and then through the atmosphere, breaking into the Eternal Night as he struggles to overtake the Son of Man. The Son looks serenely down at the Phoenix, shaking his head a little. Silly bird, He seems to be saying. You cannot seize my world for yourself, any more than you can seize the wind

The Phoenix pays Him little heed. He merely redoubles his efforts, determined not to be outdone by anyone, divine or otherwise.

Still the Son of Man rises, moving past star and planet, through the Endless Nothing toward the mountaintop heaven.

The Phoenix begins to tremble more and more with each passing stroke of his wings. Tarnished feathers fall from his aching wings every now and again, drifting slowly toward the atmosphere, where they disappear in flashes of flame and puffs of smoke.

The Phoenix is slowly overtaken by a dawning realization, the sinking feeling that he might actually be able to die.

Still the Son of Man rises serenely, paying the Phoenix little mind.

The ageless beast continues his ascent, but with increasing sluggishness. He hangs his head low, his plume all but gone now, diminished feather by missing feather until it is no more.

One… last… flap, one last desperate plunge toward the Son of Man – who is all but out of sight.

The bedraggled tail feathers that once pointed toward the earth point suddenly skyward, and the Phoenix begins to fall.

He resists, of course, managing a feeble movement of his twitching wings every now and then. But to no avail; he has reached the end of his strength, and he is utterly spent. There is no help for him now… For who would bother to aid him who has scorned all?

The Phoenix hits the atmosphere with a rush of searing pain, and a sudden stab of fear. Like the returning space capsules of the modern age, the force of re-entering the firmament causes massive heat.

As his body begins to simmer and scorch, the Phoenix realizes that this is not the sort of flame that illuminates…

This is the sort of flame that consumes.

The Phoenix stares downward with bulging eyes. Gone is the stunned crowd who watched the Son of Man ascend into heaven; gone is the lush valley of earlier, the tree beneath which the Phoenix preened his once-lovely feathers.

The earth opens up slowly, a hungry maw of flaming fissures, cracks that scar the face of the earth like veins on a dying man.

The Phoenix plunges down, down, exhausted beyond recovery. He looks upward painfully; the Son of Man is far beyond his gaze.

Gone is the crowd, the followers of the Son.

There is no one to listen, no one to hear as the Phoenix crashes into a fissure and begins to burn.

Part V

The Phoenix lifts his head wearily; exhausted, he lets it fall. The flames in which it lands are unbearably painful, yet he lacks the strength to fly away.

His wings crack ominously as he rolls over; his crimson feathers burn one by one, curling away from his blistering flesh in withering clumps of smoldering ash.

So this, then, is Death. To burn yet not be consumed, to suffer and yet not die.

Squawking weakly, the Phoenix struggles to his knees. His golden claws melt and drip away, and his toes dig into the softened earth. Looking skyward with smoke-blurred eyes, the Phoenix looks skyward at the stars, toward the sky that was once his playground.

The Son of Man is up there somewhere, while he – the great Phoenix, the timeless demon-bird – wallows here, in the flames of his own making. All that he ever knew, all that he ever wanted although he’d taken it for granted, is up there… nearly within the grasp of his twisted talons.

So close… and so far that it may as well be on another planet. Life, liberty and all that is good are just out reach but within easy eyeshot, tormenting, mocking.

The Phoenix flops painfully toward a shadow at the edge of the fissure, dragging his broken wings painfully behind them. Maybe it is cooler here; maybe, he thinks, the fire is not quite so hot.

He curls up in the crack, covering his de-plumed head with his spindly, tattered wings. Gone is the glorious creature of ages both past and future; gone is the Watchman of the Ages. Only this tormented beast remains, worse off than any creature who ever perished beneath his grasp.

The Phoenix lays his head down. Groaning, his breath coming in short, ragged gasps.

He feels something beneath his head, something that shouldn’t be here, something that should not have survived the flames.

Ever curious even in his agony, the Phoenix blinks the smoke from his eyes and peers through the darkness.

A scroll. He’d lain his head upon a scroll, something perishable, a creation forged of parchment and ink. Something easily destroyed by flame and heat… yet here it is.

Bits of his burnt and melted feathers cling to the scroll as he unfurls it, his need for distraction overcoming even his pain.

He reads the first few words aloud, mouthing the words with a smoke-blackened beak. In the beginning

‘In the beginning’, here at the end of all that is worthwhile, the end of all joy…

But he can sit out there, wallowing in the flames… or he can hide here in this crack that barely hides him, where even the flames lick inward every once in a moment, and read.

In the beginning…

Part VI

The Son of Man stands at the edge of the fissure, looking down upon the Phoenix.

The Phoenix looks up, knowing what he must do. He knows why the Son is here, and what he came to do. He knows for what purpose he has been given the scroll…

But such a loss of pride! Such a humiliation, to do what the Son expects of him!

The Phoenix groans as he looks around. He had once lived for his pride, valued it above all else. But now he knew better.

For as long as he clings to his pride… he will burn. It was not the Son of Man who threw him into this furnace, but he himself, and by virtue of his own pride, his own sin. And there was no help for him, by his own effort; he could only, by his own effort, do nothing but sit here and burn.

Giving in at last, the Phoenix raises his voice and cries out to the Son of Man, begging for mercy, for redemption. Screeching, he recants his pride and his rebellion; he wails out a raucous song of repentance and supplication.

As though He had been waiting for just such a cry, the Son of Man readily raises His arm.

His sleeve falls down His arm, revealing a gaping hole in his wrist. Blood pours from the wound, as though the wound is yet fresh, and deliberately un-bandaged. The Phoenix stares in disbelief, wondering what on earth this has to do with his cries for mercy.  

The blood gushes into the fissure like a flood, slowly beginning to fill it. The Phoenix thrashes about in alarm, frightened. He is burnt nearly beyond recognition, still in terrible agony… but what good is this blood going to do him?!

The blood pours in, filling the fissure, rising like a flood…

The Phoenix raises his beak above the rising tide, squawking in terror… But his cries are cut short by an abrupt gurgle. The blood covers even his head now, and there is utter silence.

There is only the Son of Man…

And the fissure full of blood, the sanguine pit that once held an eternally dying Phoenix.

Part VII

The Phoenix stands up, flexing his golden claws… claws that, moments ago, had been melted beyond recognition.

He raises his head slowly, the head once crushed in defeat, the head whose plume had been burned to ash. He clicks his once-scorched beak and surveys the dusky-gray sky above with piercing eyes, eyes undimmed by neither smoke nor tears.

He looks to his left, to his right as he spreads his wings. His crimson feathers gleam wonderfully even beneath the slate-colored dawn, and his shoulders and breath ripple with fluid strength and renewed resilience.

The Phoenix looks over his shoulders and eyes his tail, a glorious thing meant to flow behind him like a trail from a comet.

Awed by his new being, the Phoenix looks around. The blood soaks the fissure yet, the Pit that had once been his Hell. The Pit in which he burned and died a death of sorts, the Pit in which he lay feeble and wounded and tormented by Death that refused to become something final, and clean.

The blood boils yet, but only a little as the heat dies; already it is cooler here. The Phoenix cocks his head, listening to the dead leaves scattering in the breeze above. They make a rasping sound, pleasantly reminiscent of trees limbs, scratching gently on a windowpane on a cold, windy night.

Smiling, the Phoenix crouches a little, holding his wings behind him…

Shrieking like a resurrected banshee, the triumphant Watchman of the Ages lunges from the Pit, soaring toward the clouds in a geyser of color and flame… The sort of flame that glorifies, that illuminates; the flame that consumes is dead now, extinguished once and for all by the outpouring of blood.

Ah, the Blood…

Confused – suddenly unsure of himself – the Phoenix looks downward, gliding for a moment upon a convenient breeze.

The Son of Man stands by the edge of the fissure yet, watching the Phoenix circle the sky, His wrists bleeding yet. Yet the Son of Man seems unconcerned about this, as though He doesn’t mind bleeding. As though He was so eager to watch the flames die that the blood bothers Him not; He seems in no rush to seek a bandage, or healing.

The Phoenix looks up, peering beyond the veil of time…

He looks out across the courtyard, toward the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The great works of man, from Colossus to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon…

He stares across the golden bridge into the New Sodom, imagining it falling into the bay when the Father’s vengeance comes to the city at last…

He watches with growing hunger the migrating mammoth herds of Siberia, and the hustle and bustle of the glory that was once Rome…

And he suddenly realizes that none of it matters. Vanity, meaningless…

Empty.  

The Phoenix circles a little, and looks down upon the one thing in his life of arrogance, death, and re-birth that ever did matter.

Making his decision, the great dragon-bird abandons the skies that he once so loved, and plunges toward the earth.

The Son of Man raises his arms, smiling His gentle smile, as though He’d been waiting. His wrists bleed yet, but perhaps they must; perhaps there are other flames that need snuffed, other victims that need re-birth.

The Phoenix skids to the earth at the feet of the Son, bowing his head in a gesture never before known to him… And there he remains. He spreads his wings, lowering them humbly to the ground, waiting.

Come with me, the Phoenix seems to stay. Let me be your beast of burden; let me be that which bears through all time, to do the work which you came to do. Let me be that which carries you across the sky, in all your glory.

The Son of Man lays a gentle hand on the feathered head before Him, spilling a few more drops of blood as He does.

Let me do this for you, the Phoenix seems to say. Please, not because you need my help…

But because it would be my honor, for I love you.

FINIS

Don’t Call ME a ‘Human’!

I have a writer’s block.

Really, I do.

It’s this shoe-box that sits next to my writing desk. Normally I stack CD’s on it, so I can listen to music while I write. But if I wanted to, I could pick up that shoe-box and set it on the desk where my laptop normally sits. And then I couldn’t write there anymore, see? That shoe-box would totally block my ability to type.

Other’n that, I have NO idea what it means to have ‘writer’s block’.

To me, writing is like throwing up. Or sneezing, or maybe having sex. In all those situations, a physical urge has built up that requires release… and finding release is extremely satisfying. It’s not that I’m pursuing an obsession by writing for hours on end; rather, I’m purging an unknown ‘something’ that has been causing pressure to build up in my fragile little head.

Writing is not a job. It is not a pursuit. Nor is it a hobby, or even a neurosis…

It’s a mental purge. Some people can contain their thoughts, neatly filing them away as they go about their daily lives…

And others cannot. There’s got to be a ‘data dump’, or our mental health begins to suffer. Some of us must eject our excess thoughts, foisting them desperately upon others.

Those who can contain their own thoughts are simply called ‘people’. Those who cannot are a different specie altogether…

They’re called ‘writers’.

If you’re a ‘person’, count yourself lucky; seriously, there is some stuff that you just don’t wanna understand! If you’re a writer, be well my friend…

Or at least, as well as someone like you – or I – can be!

Regarding Psychos and Profilers…

Look down at me and you see a fool. Look up at me and you see a god. Look straight at me and you see yourself… – Charles Manson

Serial killers are absolutely fascinating to your average person…

Which, of course, I find rather fascinating.

Think about it for a minute. Most people aren’t enthralled by spiders and snakes, and the only people I know who keep them as pets are incorrigible weirdoes. Spiders and snakes are grotesque, sure, but they are so dissimilar to humans (and mammals in general) that most of us are simply repulsed by them. There’s no ‘fascination’ there whatsoever; we just don’t even wanna think about spiders and snakes!

Serial killers, on the other hand, may repulse us but they nevertheless tend to linger indefinitely in our collective imagination. We make movies, sing songs, and write books about them. We watch their interviews on TV and digital media, and most of us can list at least a few by name… which is ironic, since being killed is at the top of almost everyone’s list of fears. (The more popular phobia, however, is public speaking. So if you happen to croak, don’t sweat it because the guy giving your eulogy will be feeling more anxiety than you are. Plus he doesn’t get to enjoy a long, relaxing ‘dirt nap’ afterwards, the poor fellow…)

But I digress.

I think serial killers fascinate humanity because they’re the predators who come from our own ranks; they often hold jobs, get married, and even raise families. Many of them are very charismatic. But despite the fact that they may appear harmless, they’re MONSTERS, plain and simple!  If their outsides matched their insides, they’d all look like characters from a Wes Craven film… but they don’t, and that’s what makes them so unnerving and thus perversely riveting.

At any given time, it is estimated that there are at least a hundred active ‘recreational killers’ in the United States alone. Now let’s be clear here: You are exponentially more likely to be murdered by someone you know than by some random serial killer, but a hundred of those guys? Statistics aside, it’s insane that there are that many crazies out there stalking people like deer!

I have identified two key principles that I think make serial killers such eerily mesmerizing entities, and the first is this: They are just like us.

The second is this: We have no idea what causes their existence.

I’ll address the second principle first.

First of all, let me be blunt here. I hold a very, very dim view of ‘forensic psychology’. I have read all of the famed FBI ‘profiler’ John Douglas’ published writings, and as far as I’m concerned he’s trying to make a ‘science’ out of what most people would rightly label ‘guesswork’. He’s wrong as often as he is right. He reminds me of the detective from Mark Twain’s iconic story ‘The Stolen White Elephant’, forever searching for a ‘clew’ while his long-sought elephant rampages gleefully through his ‘clew-ridden’ town.  (And yes, I am TOTALLY in the camp that says the FBI’s ‘Behavioral Science’ division was created for no other reason than to pad their bloated budget. I’ve done my research, and it seems that the FBI was an un-salvageable clown show way before James Comey.)

So that being said…

John Douglas thinks that the mind of a violent psychopath can be figured out, that his motives can be understood and his actions anticipated. I call ‘hogwash’ on Douglas! I think violent psychopaths are God’s way of reminding us that the human mind is His creation, not ours. For all we think we ‘know’ about predatory psychopaths, there’s always at least one who blows our theory du jour out of the water. For instance, they’re often reclusive, and isolated… but Charlie Manson wasn’t, and neither was Ted Bundy; both were outgoing and charming. Serial killers are almost always white males… but Wayne Williams wasn’t, and neither was Aileen Wuornos. Serial killers usually love to taunt the police, even seeking public notoriety for their crimes… but Jeffrey Dahmer didn’t. Serial killers often torture their victims, and usually prefer ‘contact’ methods of killing, such as knives or ligatures… but the Son of Sam didn’t; he used a gun.

See my point? John Douglas has spent decades trying to get this ‘serial killer thing’ licked. And yet any one of us can point towards Stage Left saying, ‘yeah, but what about that guy over there? He doesn’t fit your ‘profile’!’

It’s been said that serial killers are the product of abuse. And that’s often true, as in the case of Charlie Manson, whose mother sold him to a sexual predator for a pitcher of beer. It’s also true in the case of Ed Gein, whose mother was completely insane.

But Jeffrey Dahmer had a fairly normal childhood, as did Richard Ramirez. Richard Ramirez’s parents were so appalled by his childhood anti-social tendencies that they sent him to Catholic School, where he promptly became fascinated with Devil worship. I can also think of a handful of people I’ve known over the years whose respective childhoods were the stuff that serial killers are made of, and yet none of them would hurt a fly. Some of ‘em even went to Catholic schools.

You can look at the brutal childhood of Charlie Manson and say, ‘man, how could that guy ever not have ended up as a nut case?’ Yeah, Charlie was a nut but there are millions of functioning people with childhoods similar to Manson’s. Why aren’t they running around waving a meat cleaver? Ted Bundy blamed childhood exposure to pornography for his rapacious nature, but millions of people struggle daily with pornography, even Christians. Why aren’t they snatching up every pretty college girl that walks by?

What MAKES the serial killer? Is it nature? We can, after all, quantify psychopathy. You can wire a serial killer’s brain, and then spend hours showing him pictures of mutilated kittens and tortured puppies; the ‘empathy’ section of his brain will register no response whatsoever! It’s kind of like cutting the wires to your car’s air conditioner. The A/C is still a part of your car, but it doesn’t work because it’s disconnected from the vehicle’s power supply. (Side note: Autopsies have also shown that serial killers are more likely to have brain lesions than a ‘normal’ person, but the causes/effects of this phenomenon are inconclusive. Forget about the shrinks; it doesn’t even look like the doctors can figure this mess out!)

Serial killers just happen, and no one knows why! (Having said that, may I please have some of the ‘Behavioral Science’ division’s payroll money now? I mean, my theory makes more sense than most of John Douglas’ ideas…)

So yeah, we have no idea what causes serial killers. Now on to my second assertion…

They are just like us, and I think this is what fascinates us most of all.

Wait, you say! I ain’t Jeffrey Dahmer! He ATE people!!!

Okay, hopefully most of us wouldn’t stoop to cannibalism. (Would elderly people be like stew beef? Would kids become the new veal? Would people with a healthy diet be more prized for their meat than say, some overweight guy who lived on junk food? Inquiring minds wanna know…)

But yes, Jeffrey Dahmer did eat people. But it’s not what he did, so much as why he did it that’s interesting: He had MAJOR ‘abandonment issues’. Granted, most of us wouldn’t chop people up and store them in the freezer to keep them from leaving us… but how many people suffer from ‘abandonment issues’?

Ted Kaczynski (the ‘Unabomber’) was characterized by his deep distrust of academia and government, as well as his mad lust for power. Now granted, I’d like to think that I’d never mail bombs to people, ‘cuz that just seems kinda mean. But I do have low opinions of both academia AND the ‘gub’ment’, and I’d sure love to be the dictator for a day! Am I a different animal altogether from ol’ Ted, or is it simply a matter of degree?Am I a better person than he is, or was he just pushed a little harder by society than I was?

Charlie Manson – the son of a prostitute, ‘raised’ by the penal system – was characterized by a burning desire for a family of his own, despite the fact that he hadn’t a clue how to fit into a real family. Is anyone out there feeling short-changed by your own childhood? Are you still looking for a replacement family?

Yeah, that’s a lot of us!

Ted Bundy was jilted by his pretty girlfriend, and a disturbing number of his rape/murder victims bore at least a passing resemblance to his ‘ex’…

Is anyone out there still feeling bitter over being dumped?

I’m not saying that murder is an acceptable response to a terrible childhood, fear of government, or romantic rejection. I’m just saying that those are a few of the stimuli that motivate everyone, not just serial killers. As Winona Ryder’s character said in the film Girl: Interrupted, ‘crazy’ people are just you and me amplified. They have the same motivators that everyone else does; it’s just that their lack of empathy prompts them to take their fear and rage way too far. But the extreme nature of their actions doesn’t nullify the fact that they are driven by the same basic needs as every else walking down the street.

And perhaps that’s the most terrifying reality of all…

That’s why we stay up at night watching movies about serial killers, because we instinctively understand that we will NEVER know who the true lunatics are until it’s too late; turning psychos into entertainment somehow makes them seem less real.  John Douglas can blow all the hot air he wants, but that won’t change reality; he’s just as clueless as everyone else when it comes to his area of ‘expertise’, and I’m sure he stays up late watching twisted movies just like the rest of us.  It’s a sick pursuit, for sure, turning remorseless murderers into the evening movie…

But it’s a heluva lot less scary than lying awake worrying about them! Watching a harmless movie is, perhaps, just enough stimulation to distract us from the truth so prophetically spoken by Richard Ramirez: ‘We’ve all got the power in our hands to kill, but most people are afraid to use it. The ones who aren’t afraid, control life itself.’

I can’t wrap my head around that statement, despite the fact that I know it to be the brutal, devastating, traumatic truth… So rather than thinking about that, I’ma go watch me a movie.

Popcorn?

Anyone…?

Midnight and Autumn

This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

                                                                                                       Ecclesiastes 2:26

It’s midnight.

It’s Thanksgiving, technically at least. Which concerns me not a whole lot, really. I try to give thanks as often as I can, and it seems a bit superfluous to me to set aside a day to do that which we ought to do every day. Much like imposing the idea of ‘Jesus’ birthday’ upon Christmas… We the believers are meant to celebrate Christ all day, every day. I say, let Christmas be what it has come to be – a day set aside for love and family, for presents and candy for the kids, for we all too often miss those things during the year. Let Christ have all the days, not counting it at all disrespectful that Santa Claus shares December 25th.

But I digress…

It’s Autumn. Normally this sort of season falls in mid-to-late October, but it came late this year. Only now are the trees in the full bloom of their imminent, seasonal death. Only now is the sun weakening in its ability to warm the earth. Only now is it chilly, cold even.

Where I once lived, in upstate New York, the world is already stone dead. The trees have shed their burden of leaves so quickly that they almost seemed to vomit them; there is little to no pomposity in the verdant life there, and no lingering, proud display of colors as there is here in Southern Virginia.

But Fall is not really a season, any more than midnight is really an hour; they are both born of the tangible ‘in-between’, the absence of season between true seasons, and a passing moment between one day and another.

Both of them, however, are mine, times and seasons during which I am fully alive, rare and fleeting moments and hours during which my soul awakens from its usual torpor. A time of quickening, and a season of renewal.

My life is a twilight existence, ever lingering between joy and permanent despair.

Permanent joy requires a bit of naiveté, I think. It requires not knowing enough to be occasionally sad, and lacking enough knowledge to understand the darkness surrounding oneself. There is a reason that the happiest among us are small children, babies, or those ‘handicapped’ with Down syndrome or the like.

But permanent despair requires selfishness most damnable. It requires being just stupid enough to believe that one is alone in his/her struggles, that one is unique in one’s misery. Which is ridiculous, as the Ecclesiast pointed out thousands of years ago: ‘What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.’1

Meaningless, a chasing after the wind

Some believe that the biblical ‘Ecclesiast’ was King Solomon the Wise. Maybe that’s true and maybe it isn’t, but I like to think that it is. When Solomon (maybe) penned those words, I picture him sitting on the roof of his glorious palace, watching the dead leaves blow by in the wind. I bet he was tempted to rise from his seat, too, to chase the leaves. For there is some sense of satisfaction in that; one might actually catch a leaf. But the wind that blows it, well…

I suspect that King Solomon loved autumn and midnight as much as I do. He just seemed the type.

For despite all the dreariness of a world dying, of a day passed that has yet to dawn, there is hope. Hope – and even the certainty thereof – that spring will come anew. Hope that the sun will rise again. Hope that life will blossom and bloom, and continue its cycle of death and rebirth.

In that hope, I can simply relax. I can, with deliberate perversity, enjoy the process of constructively dying.

Some days I wonder about my eternal salvation. Did I not hope enough, or repent enough to be saved? Did I do or say or believe something wrong before – or during – baptism? Was – or am I – simply evil, and ultimately unredeemable?

When I ask myself those questions, I open my curtains and peer out at the beautiful, breathtaking autumn world, a world dying by degrees before my very eyes.

Just as surely as those dead trees will live again, so also will I… and not because I deserve it or could ever have done anything right, but because God loves me. Even if I fumbled and misunderstood as I accepted His redemption, He is perfect and His promises are unbreakable; He is as perfect as I am flawed, as strong as I am weak. 

The trees are dying. The day that was yesterday has evaporated altogether, nothing more now than a memory. But despite their apparent doom, the trees are as imperishable as the elliptical wanderings of the shining sun. They may once die a very real death, but they will live again, more gloriously than before.

And so will I.  

Meaningless…

Flames to dust, lovers to friends… Why do all good things come to an end?

                                                                                                                  Nelly Furtado

            I used to think that I could somehow earn immortality.

            That idea, of course, was simply my self-focused version of a more generic idea: To wit, I thought that some things were immortal.

            Art, I believe, is the closest entity on earth to being ageless, the one thing in this life that is a reflection of Eternity. But is Art really immortal; is it able to survive through the millennia, undying?

            At a glance, it would seem so. We have some truly ancient gems, such as Beowulf or The Odyssey. But did they truly survive Time and Decay?

            Perhaps. But they didn’t survive the inexorable tide of cultural change and empirical decay. We may possess the manuscript for Beowulf, but the need to translate it has robbed its words of whatever beauteous nuance they must once have possessed. The story as we know it must surely be but a tarnished façade, a haphazard reflection of the original epic.

            How much more so the Odyssey must suffer, being even older. Michelangelo’s David? Still exists, right? Sure. But it less a piece of great art than a quaint, antiquated curiosity, a museum attraction for school-children and ‘artsy-fartsy’ snobs, long bereft of the awe that it once inspired. Dated and finished, but denied the finality of destruction – perhaps an even greater insult than being altogether lost.

            Where is all the inspiring music of ages past? The works of Wagner, Prokofiev and Beethoven? Do we not have their writings still, their transcriptions of their great symphonies?

            Yeah.

             But who listens to ’em? Soon enough, we will still possess those sheaves of music, yet no one will record them. Soon they will not even be the two-dollar CD’s in the ‘bargain’ section of the record store, but museum pieces… Right next to the original manuscript of Beowulf, and Michelangelo’s David.

            This too, wrote the Ecclesiast, is meaningless, a chasing after the wind

            Ben-Hur was once the greatest film of all time, or so we thought. Has anyone seen it lately? Can most of us even find a copy? Does anyone care? All the once-great actors and actresses are dead, from Erol Flynn to Laurence Olivier to Judy Garland. Bette Davis wound up being relegated to comedic bit parts in Tim Burton’s films. Tim Burton may be in his heyday now, but soon he’ll be dated, too, and his darling Johnny Depp will be dead of lung cancer. That’s if he doesn’t quit smoking, and if he does he’ll die of something else and be replaced by the next Hollywood icon. Sooner or later, an earthquake is going to take Hollywood out and we’ll have to make movies somewhere else. 

            Meaningless. A chasing after the wind.

            I once wrote an epic, and published it. Built a fan base for it, too, and was right proud of myself. Now I find it revolting, steamy, profane and dark for the simple shock value of being profane and dark. I’m working on other books, but doubtless I will find those passé just as quickly.

             Not only is every possible manifestation of it thus, but Art itself is essentially perishable. Perhaps on a slightly longer scale than anything else, but in the eternal sense just as pointless.

            What of everything else that is not Art? People, places, things, experience, emotion… even that great Juggernaut, History itself?

            Death. Disaster. Rust and decay, forgetfulness, apathy… There are more forces in this world that end than there could ever be that begin. And those forces that destroy are far more effective and persistent than the feeble forces that create. Life must always succumb to death, just as romantic love must always succumb to disinterest and disillusion. We’d like to think that marriage is forever, but if it doesn’t die in two years from divorce, it dies in thirty or forty from death… In the meantime, we forget just why we wanted to be ‘forever’ bound to begin with.

            Meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Nothing could be truer, or more applicable to anything and everything.

            The Ecclesiast finished that poem, though, carrying the introductory idea forth to its inevitable conclusion. Someday his words will be gone too, but not until their intention reaches fulfillment. We may have lost the poetic nuance of his thoughts due to translation, but their point remains clear nonetheless…

            Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

            Everything – be it material, flesh, thought or spirit – is destined for the endless grave.

            There’s no avoiding it.