“A CONVERSION” by CHRISTOPHER CLIFTON

He had made the same mistake, although the way that it had come about was different than before, for he had thought that he had learnt, and would be able to avoid it. Now the lesson he had taken from this ultimate surprise was that the same would always happen in a way that he could never have foreseen, and that the only way to cope was to accept it in advance. At the base of this acceptance was a difficult acceptance of himself, which came about by the rejection of those fanciful ideas of who he was, and of the kind of recognition he believed that he deserved and would have coming. In a strange way this acceptance of himself as he had shamefully perceived himself had brought him great relief, as if a weight that he had carried for as long as he remembered had been lifted from his back; and he felt that having seen him face to face, the man he was was now no longer, and the future had been opened in a way that he had never sensed before. He was the same man after all; but the fact that he accepted who he was had made him someone else entirely. He embraced his shame, and thought of it as that which would reveal another nature, and as that which would direct him to make better kinds of choices. Therefore, having been requested to withdraw from his most recent situation, when his friend had had enough of his self-serving speculations, his continuous complaints, and his avoidance of concerns, he took his shame with open eyes and made a promise to himself that he would turn it into good. And with nowhere to return to, and no friend that he could call, he left the world that he had known and turned to wander. His anxiety increased as a result of the uncertainties around him, and from time to time he found himself tormented by a need to get away from where he was, but was unable to escape it, for the fear he felt was fear that had no object. But he found that by allowing what was present to his senses to be present to his senses, he was able to go on. In this way it was the present that directed his adventures, from one present to the next, and not his need to get away from what would never go away. And it was following its lead that he had found himself arrested at the door of a cathedral, on a rainy afternoon some months thereafter, and allowed himself the liberty to enter. He made his way around the nave, and took some time to see the paintings, of the stages of a life, until he reached a tiny door, through which he saw a set of stairs that he descended. At the bottom of these stairs he found a crypt, and saw a group of burning candles, on the far side of the darkness, which were placed around what seemed to be a rock. There was no other source of light, and so he made his way towards them. At the bottom of the rock he saw a sign that gave to know that he was standing in the presence of the tomb of one who walked in imitation, and had died a painful death. He took a seat, and closed his eyes, and felt the presence of the room, and of the fallen. And through that form of imitation he was taken to the figure of the figures it adhered to, and this figure opened up into an infinite abyss, which he fell into. And everything was washed at once away. The image of his pain, and the images of pain that he had brought about in others were dissolved, and he was nothing. There was nothing but this void and an uncanny sense of joy. He knelt and cried; but asked no question. Then the presence went away. He stood, and looked around, then lit a candle. Then he made his way outside. The feeling of relief remained for several days thereafter, during which he had the sense that he was floating in the air around the city; but a minor disagreement in relation to the bill at his hotel destroyed this feeling, and he never got it back. But the memory of the presence of that absence was to guide him on his way towards the future. He decided to commit himself to following in quest of an unthinkable reunion, and proceeded to attend to his perceptions of the world as just so many mortal signs of that strange absence, which he cared for when they came, and then let go of. And these many obligations, which were often in the form of human suffering, but also seen in laughter, seemed to turn into so many new reflections of himself, and the process of allowing them to be became the dying of a death that he would never get to see, but had to follow. He was living for that death, and died to live it.