A crowd of just under thirty individuals looks around at the crowded Bus Station, faintly hearing “Now arriving…” over the public address system. What follows on the announcement not one of them can make out.
It is mostly children in that small crowd, though a few adults are there as well. Some of them recognize each other–their classmates–while others are more concerned or confused. How did they get there? Where did they just come from? What just happened? A painful moment of sheer terror seems to stick in their minds, but only for a moment, as suddenly terror gives way to confusion and bewilderment.
There are thousands of others in the Bus Station, moving through at varying paces, a grey pallor on some of their faces that seems to have spilled over to their clothes and belongings. Somehow, all those other people seem out of synch with the crowd that has just arrived, the bright colors of the newly-arrived people’s jackets and sneakers and shirts vivid against a background of these grey shapes, moving about in a beige-tiled, beige-walled place familiar to anyone who has ever traveled by bus or train, and yet not a station anyone among them could recognize immediately. Some of the adults think: typical Grand Central–can’t understand a damn word the announcer is saying.
They move forward as a group, even as they look around at their strangely familiar yet alien surroundings; at least having some direction seems to be a virtue in the situation, and the adults certainly don’t want the children to get uneasy.
Up ahead, five figures seem to be waiting, looking directly at them: three mid-teenagers (one of them black), and two older teenagers. The colors of their trousers and hoodies seems especially vibrant amongst the moving sea of grey figures. One of them, a curly-haired mid-teen, seems more eager than the others to rush ahead and meet the oncoming group, but a curly-haired older teen holds him back. The adults in the crowd see his lips move in the familiar words: “Not yet.”
“Where’s my backpack?” one of the children whines.
“Did you forget it?” says one of the adults.
“I…think so…” the child stammers, confused at the question.
“Well, you won’t need it anyway” one of the other adults says.
“Why not?” the child asks indignantly.
“Whatever we need for this field trip is waiting ahead of us, silly” one of the older girls says to the child.
“Yes, you’re right” says says the straight-haired mid-teen waiting for them.
“Are you the tour group leader?” the first adult asks, despite the illogical inherency of the question in her mind.
“No,” the straight-haired teenager says, pointing a thumb over his shoulder to the taller, curly-haired older teen behind him, “but I’m here to help.”
“So, what is this field trip exactly?” the first adult asks, trying to feign assurance for the sake of the children.
“It’s not a field trip, I’m afraid,” the curly-haired older teen says. “It isn’t easy to inform you of this, but you’re not in school anymore, this isn’t a field trip, and none of you will ever have to go to work or school again.”
The majority of the children (and two of the adults) shout for joy at this announcement, while a few of them are puzzled.
“I still don’t understand” the first adult presses on.
“Stop for a moment” the curly-haired older teen continues. “Think to yourself: what is your name? Hold that thought in your mind, and feel your face, feel your body, wiggle your toes, feel the ground beneath your feet.” All of the children follow along as instructed, but the adults are apprehensive.
“We’re not playing Simon Says here! Just what’s going on?” one of the adults demands.
“Do not ask questions until you’ve done as I’ve suggested–trust me, you’ll thank me if you do.”
“NO!” She rushes up to the curly-haired teen, grabs him by the collar and shakes him. “Tell us what’s going on NOW!”
“Have the children done it?” the teen asks, calmly.
“Yes,” the teenaged black boy says.
“Very well, then,” the elder curly-haired teen says, looking directly at the woman’s eyes. “You’re all dead.”
The children, many of whom had closed their eyes, open them, slightly confused. The adults who followed along look worried.
The belligerent woman crumbles to her knees in tears, releasing the curly-haired elder teen. The black teenager and the curly-haired mid-teen rush to her side and embrace her.
“I’m sorry to have to tell all of you that this is the case; but, you remember your names, you feel your bodies about you, and knowing that this is your condition yet you are dead, you have remained calm. Your teacher will regain his composure in time, but for now, he may not be as at ease as all of you.”
“Are we really…dead?” one of the boys says with a gulp.
“Yes–but you see, it’s not that bad.”
“How did we die?” one of the teachers asks.
“You may recall that in time; it is not our place to tell you of that. But, it is our place to help you along to your next destination.”
“Do we get to be with Jesus now?” one of the young boys asks.
“If you want to, you will” the straight-haired mid-teen says with a smile.
“Whoever your gods are,” the other elder teenager begins, “you will get to see them, but it is not required. Most of you will go to your ancestors.”
“What’s an ‘am-sest-ur’?” one of the youngest boys asks.
“The grandmothers and grandfathers of your parents” the curly-haired mid-teen explains.
“Oh. I saw pictures of them once” the boy continues, “but I never got to meet them.”
“You’ll meet them soon, then,” the curly-haired elder teen resumes. “Come this way, we’ll show you to your trains and buses.”
“I’ve never been on a train!” one of the girls exclaims.
“You’ll like it,” the curly-haired mid-teen replies.
The group moves onwards, the three mid-teens escorting them, answering their questions. The two elder teens follow behind them at a short distance.
“That went better than I expected, Antinous” the other elder teen says.
“Yes, Vitalis,” the curly-haired elder teen responds, “but, I do not envy Hermes’ task, speaking to the mother and the near-child that brought this about…”
“No, not at all. This is the part of our job I like the least.”
“True, Vitalis; but, it is the least we can do.”
I’ve said on many occasions that myths of the afterlife probably are near-100% incorrect in their actualities, and tell us much more about what people think of this life than they accurately describe what comes after it. Nonetheless, in times of difficulty, sometimes a story that comforts and consoles is better than bare and bleak uncertainties. Antinous, Lucius Marius Vitalis, Polydeukion, Achilles, and Memnon–the Treískouroi and the Trophimoi–however, seem to specialize in exactly what we’ve got here, and have done so (at least in Antinous’ case) since ancient times in Mantineia, especially for children. Let us hope that their efforts on behalf of all those who have died, and their blessings upon the many families and friends who are now grieving, help to bring peace and strength to all involved.