Recently, I had the opportunity to impart some wisdom to a friend of mine who had just started using a smartphone. I’m certainly no expert, but while I tried to explain the dynamics of and the nuances inherent in Wi-fi, Bluetooth, hotspots, data connections, signal strength and app usage, I had to laugh at some of the analogies I came up with. The one I settled on is that of the internet being God.
I do believe the whole concept of having a smartphone is that you don’t need wi-fi to get to the internet at all; you’re just always able to connect, sort of like you don’t need to go to a church to “get” God. Wi-fi is like a church, a brick and mortar, fixed structure where the God Connection is fast, strong and personal; Bluetooth is like a priest or someone who could help you with the wi-fi Connection but isn’t the actual wi-fi itself; a hotspot is like a bible where you could “take the church” with you on-the-go, and so on. I pondered this concept all afternoon.
And then I thought of cats, which prompted this silly narrative that’s been addling in my brain.
We were all gathered in the stadium of the PreLife, a crowd of thousands eager to receive our assignments of how much Earth we were to experience, to Connect to. These PreLifers were here because they chose this particular planet; I specifically chose Earth, because it was only place you had any shot of being assigned as a Human. Otherwise, you might end up an inert gas that merely circles a planet, or an orbiting rock sphere belonging to one of those planets, or part of a craggy formation on some uninhabitable landscape in any of the 674,877 solar systems that comprised our sector. This room was for Earth-bound souls only, and we felt like the Chosen Ones. Emmett, my Soul Mate, and I sat, hand in hand, eager to hear our fate.
Among us Chosen Ones were those who had Lived before. They were the Old Hats, those who had ridden the planet so many times they were almost bored but yet felt obligated to serve one more round. The Frequent Fliers, who had, at least a few times, visited and experienced the planet’s Connectivity, wished to return to gain new perspective. The Newbies made up the rest. Emmett and I were two of them. We had not been to Earth even once. However, we were all looking forward to sharpening our skills at being Alive. Emmett was especially enthusiastic as we all huddled around Nestor, the sage who was handing out the Connectivity devices.
Nestor, clad in a long, flowing robe and emitting a soft white glow, looked out over us after affixing the Chart of Connectivity to the easel next to him. There was a palpable buzz of energy among the recruits, our eyes darting quickly between our closest friends and family to the organizational chart in front of us. It shifted, a digital cacophony of numbers, letters and symbols, none of which were readable as the assignments were still stabilizing. Silence descended upon us as we noticed Nestor raising his wand, and our ears instantly tuned in to the wisdom he would impart upon us. Emmett and I held hands.
“Alright everyone, listen up! You have all expressed a specific interest in going to the planet Earth, but in doing so, you have elected to have your mission chosen for you. I regret to inform you that some of you will be disappointed you have signed up for this mission, because, as you may or may not know, there are varying levels of Connectivity. And, frankly, they’re a crap shoot. We Elders threw Finity Darts to decide who gets what, and then made modifications accordingly. Now, for those of you who have ridden this planet before, I caution you to keep a tight lip on the subjective Connectivity of those who will receive ‘lesser’ assignments today.” Nestor used his fingers to air quote the ‘lesser’ distinction.
He continued. “We must give everyone an opportunity to experience Connectivity on their own terms, and divulging supposed ‘tricks and tips’ will only hinder a Soul’s progress, as what worked for you on previous visits might not work for them the same way.”
The silence we had fallen into deepened when he said this, a few of the Old Hats murmuring as though they had heard it all before. Other Souls, in particular the Newbies, turned their heads to gaze at their neighbors, suddenly worried that all prior communication here in PreLife had been rendered null and void. Emmett flattened his palm against the heel of my hand, ran his fingers slowly over the top of mine, and graced me with a comforting smile.
Nestor calmed our fears by smoothing his own hands over one another, blinking slowly, and nodding his head.
“Now, now, I see the angst in your eyes. You will still have pathways to communicate to each other. I simply caution you on dispensing advice without regard for each Soul’s individual journey.”
With that he bowed his head and raised his wand. He pointed to Emmett. My heart leapt.
“Dear Emmett,” Nestor began, “you have expressed an interest in the highest Connectivity, and so it has been granted. Your assignment includes a modest upbringing and a call to serve as a religious conduit. This means, you may choose between early education to become a monk, a rabbi, a priest, or a minister. Don’t get caught up on definitions. It all means the same thing to us. You will then embrace Connectivity on a 24/7 basis.”
Emmett’s eyes went wide as he gasped, his glee barely containable. “Yes, sir. I would cherish the opportunity to be Connected 24/7, Sir.” I wondered what his admission would mean for us. I was both excited and nervous.
Nestor wagged his finger, his head tilting in warning. “As you wish, however, this means, other Souls will be able to summon you at will, day or night, sunshine or blizzard, and you will have to respond. Are you quite sure up for this?”
“I would love it, Sir. I don’t need any respite. I can handle it!” Nestor handed him a large black transponder, which Emmett looked over curiously. “Sir, there is no power switch. And no charge port. How will I reload?” As he looked at me, I flinched. His 24/7 Connectivity was great but how were we to keep in touch with each other if his unit wouldn’t even charge?
Nestor patted his head. “You don’t have that luxury, Son. You will need to harness power from the Earth itself, on a continual basis, for your mission. And it must be both replenishable and unending. Sometimes you will feel very important and needed. But this job will also, at times, be unrewarding and thankless. Now, off you go.”
With a wave of Nestor’s wand, Emmett vanished. The rest of us stood in awe, the realization that there really was no going back. Once we received our assigned transponder, our fate was sealed. I missed my Soul Mate already.
Nervous glances flew from Soul to Soul as Nestor raised his wand to summon the next recruit.
“Mayla, you’re next.”
A shy female soul emerged from the crowd and stood before our leader. She looked both eager and terrified, her angelic halo of golden hair brushing her face and imbuing her with a soft, cherubic demeanor. In a barely audible voice, she answered, “Yes, sir. I’m ready for my assignment.”
Nestor smiled at her and took her hand, caressing it as he slipped her a pink transponder.
“You, dear, have also elected to shoulder a high Connectivity, and so it has been determined that you will be a Mother. This assignment will also require unending Connectivity, but only for a specific time period. From the moment your true calling kicks in, you will be needed on a 24/7 basis, but only for several years. As these years pass, you’re Connectivity will diminish, and you can rest. That is,” he chuckled, “until you become a GrandMother. Then, perhaps, you will feel the need for constant Connectivity once again. But this too shall diminish. So you see, you really have a neat little arrangement. Best of both worlds.” And as he waved his wand above her head, she too vanished.
Next, Nestor called recruit after recruit, handing out transponders and assignments of various degrees of Connectivity. Policefolk, doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, government officials of varying importance, and several entrepreneurs came forward, one of whom actually whoop-whooped as he learned he would be the next CEO of SpaceX and launch a cruise ship into orbit. One by one, they learned their level of Connection. Most were happy.
Others, like me, wondered how much actual Connectivity we would receive, and as we feared the worst, became a tad despondent. Exchanging worried glances, we sat patiently and watched as our friends and family dispersed and then disappeared in front of our eyes. I grappled with missing Emmett after only a short time. Would I even be able to connect with him on Earth at all?
A seeming eternity later, Nestor bowed his head and sighed. “Okay, to everyone that is left, don’t be dismayed. You too will have the ability to Connect, albeit on a lesser scale. These assignments have been tailored to fit what we thought each of you could handle. Although you feel, now, that you could manage near-constant or high-volume network activity, we need to see some growth before upgrading your tasks. Therefore, some of you will become professional students. Some will be working-class, with or without families, or choose to remain single entities. This does not mean your jobs will be easier, less intense or less important. Simply put, you will have the opportunity to decide, on the fly, your Connectivity rate, and you will be able to selectively choose when and where to upgrade yourselves.”
As he called each Soul up to him, handed them a transponder and wished them well, they, one by one, disappeared. Soon, only a fraction of the original crowd remained.
“Now, most of the rest of you are assigned an easier set of tasks, for you will be inert objects. For these jobs, you shall experience random Connection but will not have very much say in when and where this occurs. However, in being such objects, you will enjoy an infinite opportunity to observe and learn from other around you. Among these objects, I am assigning you to become vehicles, houses and other buildings, furniture, tools, musical instruments…” he waved his hand noncommittally, to and fro, as if to indicate these were, in fact, lesser assignments. My stomach clenched as his gaze stopped on the Soul to the left to me. That Soul was weeping without shame.
“Dear lad,” Nestor consoled, “do not weep, for although these seem like lesser assignments, they are in fact pathways to learn and become more prepared for your next journey. In these roles, you will have to heed others, but it is not without reward. You will get the chance to use what you’ve learned at a future date.” When Nestor winked, the Soul to my left understood. And so did I. This was merely our first round, and after this task, we would be given another opportunity to ride Earth. Inwardly, I cheered.
As Nestor handed out more transponders, each and every time a new Soul was called, my heart sank. When was I going to be called? Would I be rejected and sent back to Nebulus, where I would again count the days until I was called?
Finally, only 24 of us remained. Our hands clasped before us, wringing with worry, we sat without a sound. Perhaps we weren’t going to be overlooked after all.
With a large sigh and a toss of his shoulder-length white hair, Nestor regarded us with pity. “Now it is time to reveal to those left, those who will have the least Connectivity, the solemnity of the task before you. You, the Few, the Chosen, and the Seemingly-forgotten. You, my dears, have the most misunderstood of tasks bestowed upon you. It is the most solemn, beyond reprieve, the most arduous task we have for our recruits, and there will be no modifications.”
A chill descended. We were mortified. We were going to become…
“Cats.” Nestor said, without apology. “You are to become Cats. You will have zero connectivity, you will sleep for most of your Earthly journey, you will heed no one and you will care not a stitch that this is the case. You will constantly feel maligned, ungrateful, unrecognized and underfed, although you will have the chance to multiply at an alarming rate.” As his robe fluttered in the breeze, Nestor pulled his sash tighter.
“Simply put, you will not heed anyone but yourselves, and because you will not have Connectivity, you will appear completely and utterly self-sufficient. Because of this lack of Connectivity, you will be given the privilege to be able to lick yourselves. Anywhere. You will be able to make your home inside or out, in the company of humans or alone. Unlike dogs, you will have the ability to potty indoor without consequence, should humans desire to provide you housing. But there is one thing, and one thing only, that you will torment you throughout your journey.”
We all stood, flabbergasted, unsure if this was a punishment or indeed a privilege. Nestor’s face stilled, the wrinkles appearing endless. His countenance grave, he inhaled with great effort. Each of the remaining Newbies grew severely intent on his every word. What would torment us? What would cause us such great agony?
“On Earth, there is a device capable of producing a small, intense red dot…”