With the burden of this knowledge -- that throughout the cosmos there is no place entirely free of war, injustice, disease, and betrayal -- I returned to Mervin and reported that I had completed my journey.
"Your journey is finished," said Mervin, "but is your quest complete? What of the bits and pieces of truth you were to look for?"
"They were there," I answered. "Within the heart of each one I found them."
"And was there any place in the cosmos where a part of truth was absent?"
"There was none," I said. "The whole is contained within the part, and even where the glimmerings of truth are very slight, Light itself resides in each one."
"Your journey is finished, your quest is complete, your answer is at hand. And yet you are not laughing! Is it, my beloved one, because you found no planet where bodies age until they reach the blossom of youth and then stay frozen in time? is it because you found no planet where, although everyone is different, they assign no value to their differences? Is it because you found no planet where there were degrees of openness, yet no degrees of deceit; where there were degrees of health, yet no degrees of illness; where there were degrees of wealth, yet no degrees of poverty; and where there were degrees of intimacy, yet no degrees of hate?"
"I found that everywhere there is a terrible struggle, and nowhere a complete rest."
"And do you know why this is?"
"I know that it need not be, for whether circumstances were favorable or unfavorable, I found those few who had relinquished struggle and knew a lasting peace."
"And for the many who know not peace, what do they struggle against?"
"They struggle against time; they battle it continually."
"Indeed that is the great and useless struggle. And the reason you do not laugh is that you are afraid they will not see through to its uselessness. But the other name for time is fear, and so that you will understand why, I will tell you the story of how time came to be.
"The first planet within the first universe was the planet of Sei. It was illuminated by twenty distant suns and twenty distant moons. The clouds of its sky danced with the colors of these heavenly bodies reflected off a million lakes and seas. Its softly shifting breezes carried the perfumes of forest flowers as tall as mountains, and carried too the life forms of Sei, for all of them had wings. This was the time of no time, the time before Time itself was conceded its present position of authority in the cosmos. And it was also the time when the people of Sei were very happy.
"Looked at from today, Sei would be thought of as a backward planet. But the reason for its slow outward progress was that throughout the population there was a great love and respect for children. industrializing the planet and building individual fortunes were low priorities for the simple reason that children did not think they were much fun. Wars were undreamed of. Hunger was never ignored. Parents flew carefully and kept their wings strong and safely trimmed. And, naturally, there was no crime or mind-altering indulgences because their effects on children are so obvious. Happiness was assured because there was a single guiding purpose, and just as any purpose based on love will do, it extended to all lesser priorities.
"From a distance, the planet looked somewhat like an apple because of the large indentation at its top. A comet had once collided with the polar sand cap and its heat had created a glass lake so large that the entire population of Sei could easily play on its surface. This expanse of glass was in fact the only mirror on the planet, and Mirror Lake's smooth warm surface lent itself to hundreds of amusements, like gliding across the turbulence that rose from it in undulating waves, skating over its shining flats, and sliding down its gently sloping sides.
"Unknown to the people of Sei, every ten million years the moons and suns came into alignment, causing a complete solar eclipse. The night this occurred, the planet cooled so quickly that Mirror Lake cracked into a million pieces, and when the people came to play the next morning, there was much confusion about how to react. The children thought the change was wonderful and immediately began running around looking for the funniest reflections, or spinning the shining pieces like tops, or building forts out of the mirrored blocks.
"But many of the adults began wondering if the cracks were a warning from some higher authority. Then suddenly one of them looked up and gasped, for there, projected onto the single cloud that had always seemed to hover above the polar region, was an unusual pattern of I light and shadow, a shifting reflection from a million mirrors. 'There it is!' he shouted. 'That Face is what caused it.'
"As the others stared they began to see the same image. 'What does It want from us?' they asked. 'If It broke Mirror Lake, could It not break the entire planet?'
"It seemed obvious to most that if the face had transformed Mirror Lake into pieces, it must have a purpose for those pieces. The adults began taking them from the children and examining them very carefully, because, obviously, the children did not realize what they were for.
"Before, the adults had been aware of themselves as individuals, but because they had always seen their reflections in the company of everyone else, they had placed no more importance in this evidence of their separateness than the evidence of separate waves formed out of the single body of an ocean. But now, because of the smallness of the pieces of glass, they could see only themselves alone, each an isolated person in a broken mirror.
"As they stared at these images, even though they did so side by side, each began to think how different he was, how special, how set apart from the others, and the desire started to grow within them to increase these differences.
"To change themselves would require time, for the fruits of change are always in the future. Therefore, the adults assigned one of their number to watch the great face of time that hung over them and to report back any fluctuations in its mood. Meanwhile they went their separate ways in pursuit of the changes that they now knew time demanded and only time could fulfill. Some embellished their intellects, others added to their homes, and still others ennobled their wings with ornaments. Periodically the watcher would run among them crying out: 'Time is short!' or, 'Time is flying!' or, 'Time is running out!' depending on what was happening to the cloud on which the face of time appeared. As each new portent was heralded, the adults became more serious and more deliberate, because it was now clear that the time they had left was not to be taken lightly.
"The children returned to their separate homes and became adjuncts to their parents' lives instead of their reason for living. Desperately needing time to fulfill themselves, adults no longer had time for pursuits that did not lead to future gain. Naturally, with as many goals as there were people, conflicts grew and betrayals became necessary, anger was at last seen as the shortcut to success, and aggression became more useful than love. Now the people of Sei knew to judge one another according to their past accomplishments or future prospects, and it was not long before its progress was so great that Sei was indistinguishable from any modern planet.
"And this, my beloved one, is how time became important, because time is nothing more than the promise or threat of change. And just as perfect love can only be found in the present, perfect change can only be sought in the future, where it is destined to remain.
"Although each planet has its own peculiar set of dynamics, the attitude that touches all planets and plays itself out again and again is the unshakable conviction that time is the ground of all being, that it is not only real but flows in the single direction of new to old, birth to death, and that it does so in an orderly fashion.
"The happy fact is that time is not absolute, it is not sequential, it is not even very important. Life on the planets is like a movie being run the wrong way. This is not to say that it would be better if people were born old and grew progressively younger. That would be equally distressing. It is the mind that instructs itseff to run backward, and it does so because of its unwavering faith in time.
"Time is merely a picture of the children of God running away from home, of creation being undone, of happiness turning to fear, of simplicity turning to confusion, of laughter turning to grief, of oneness turning to separation. Although this picture plays itself out everywhere, it can be watched in complete innocence. It does not have to be taken to heart. Yet, taking time to-heart is the great pastime of the planets."
"And why will the planets not continue in this pastime forever?" I asked.
"If a bucket is lowered into a well and is brought up empty, how many times must this process be repeated before it is seen that the well is dry?"
"Although the number of times would vary from individual to individual," I answered, "surely none could fail to recognize such an obvious fact eventually."
"Yes, my beloved one," said Mervin. "And you yourself have already found a few who no longer attempt to drink from the well of time. Like a cup being filled drop by drop, like an ocean being filled by a thousand rivers, like a heart being filled with the memory of God, to their numbers will be added every last one."