“What can you do right this moment?”
I looked up at Gabriel; he was looking at me with that intense look he seemed to always have. His question was honest and poignant. He knew the answer, and he knew that I knew the answer, but he wanted me to verbalize it.
He wrinkled his face in a sign of annoyance.
“We have people for that Steven; you know that is not the answer.”
I leaned back on my barstool. Delaney, the blonde Asian barmaid, was flirting with other customers hunting for tips, and a sordid affair was playing out between two conspirators in a booth off to the side of the bar. A few other bewildered souls sat alone at various places and scrolled through their phones trying to look occupied so others would not see their loneliness.
“What do you want me to say, Gabriel?”
“I want you to give me an answer to a simple question, Steven.”
“I can order an empanada from Delaney.”
Gabriel’s eyes flashed. The emerald color of his eyes matched exactly with his pocket square and created both an inviting, as well as intimidating, sight.
“You are such a Philistine,” he said with a chuckle.
“And you’re love for humanity has had dubious results. At least my empanadas are pure.”
Gabriel tilted his head and looked at me for a few moments before he spoke.
“Do you think we’ve mucked it up?”
This stopped me in my tracks. I looked at him and studied him seriously. He had instantly gone from imposing to exceedingly vulnerable. This did not appear to be a question to continue on a Socratic dialogue. He was serious.
I paused and took a deep breath and studied my old fashioned sitting on the bar. I couldn’t be flippant with my response. Gabriel has some pretty high-placed friends.
“Gabriel, your lot and us have so much in common, maybe too much in common. We have anthropomorphized you as well as our common Creator. I don’t know if that was a meager attempt to explain you in our own minds, or a seed you all planted when you first visited us. What I think is the most consistent trait between Him, you, and us is the capacity to love. Some of us are blessed with a deeper capacity than others, but you guys exist in a place that puts you in His orbit and probably creates a greater capacity for love. At least I think that is the case. A few of you have obviously lost that purity and embraced a love of hate?…”
Gabriel put his hand up. “I want you to continue, but I do want to clarify something. They, too, have the capacity for love on a tremendous scale; they have simply turned that love inward rather that outward and, thus, are constantly seeing their love diminish. It drains from them, and they know it. Their actions are not born out of hate as you perceive it. We simply don’t have that capacity. Their actions are born out of what could best be described as narcissism and insecurity.”
“Fair, but the point I was leading to was not based around your cosmological capacities. Rather, it was the net effect of being involved in the first place. We love others, it’s a natural condition of our species. But that love exists on a spectrum. Some people we love in an academic sense, others we love in a utilitarian sense, and others we love with such a deep level commitment their pain and their joys transfer to us. I suspect that you guys have it much the same way, just on a far more dramatic level.”
Gabriel thought about it and nodded.
“When we love we naturally want to get involved. When we are afflicted by pain we individually move away from that which causes us pain. When the object of our love feels pain, then, by extension, we feel pain, but we have lost our capacity to move away from that stimulus. Worse, what they claim to be pain, that we ourselves embrace as pain, might in reality be a form of pleasure for them. They may feel a sense of security in the pain, as misguided as that might sound.”
“No, it is not misguided. What motivates people is so fundamentally internal to each individual that rational postulation rarely sheds light on their actions.”
“Yeah, I might be a jerk because I was spanked as a child, but that really doesn’t explain all of it, does it?”
“No. It doesn’t explain any of it really, but connecting the dots makes people feel like they are in control.”
“Bing, Gabriel… and that is the answer to your question.”
Gabriel looked at me quizzically. “I don’t follow you.”
“Control. Love makes us seek to move those we love away from pain and towards pleasure. But it is what we consider to be pleasure, and pain for that matter, that controls our own thoughts. Their resistance creates friction between us, and ultimately resentment.”
Gabriel nodded slowly.
“What your lot has done throughout history is out of love, there is no doubt about that. But the control, and the resistance to that control becomes the defining factor, and the actions to carry out that love can have consequences that are entirely unpredictable.”
Gabriel turned and glanced around the bar and all of the people who were conspicuously ignoring us.
“Yes, unpredictable, even Biblical I would say.”
I put my hand on Gabriel’s shoulder and his head snapped in my direction. It was clear he was not used to being physically touched.
“Gabriel… I do enjoy these little talks.”
I saw his emerald eyes flash again.
“So do I, Steven.”