“The Long Road” by Eddie Vedder
And I wished for so long. Cannot stay.
All the precious moments. Cannot stay.
It’s not like wings have fallen. Cannot stay.
Without you something’s missing. I cannot say.
I have wished for so long. How I wish for you today.
Sam saw the lighthouse in front of her.
She looked down at her feet, and saw the foamy bubbles of crashing waves kissing her toes.
And then she saw someone walking toward her.
Sam felt the butterflies dancing madly in her stomach. Could it be? Could it really be?
The image on the beach was blurry in the light of the glowing fireball butterflies, yet it was definitely a person walking toward her. Sam wanted to run, but she was so weak, every part of her body was fighting sleep. Her face was stinging again. But she wasn’t thinking about that now. She was thinking about the man now standing in front of her.
Sam trembled, and found herself without words.
“It’s you,” Sam whispered.
“It’s me,” he said.
“I didn’t know if I would ever see you again,” Sam said.
“I told you that we’d meet again. And we have. It’s been seven hours and fifteen days. I’m glad you kept the raspberry beret I gave you,” he said.
He stroked Sam’s cheek with his hand. The stinging stopped. “Oh Sam. Sam, Sam, Sam. How I wish for you today.”
Sam smiled nervously. “So I guess Bob Marley was right. I really am dead? If this is heaven, it’s not so bad.”
“Oh Sam, my beautiful Sam. No, it’s not so bad. It’s a world of never-ending happiness, you can always see the sun, day or night. Look, Sam, look my beautiful girl,” he pointed out to the ocean. The sun was just cresting over the furthest waves. It glowed purple and shot violet and crimson jewels across the water’s surface. The world seemed a lovely fire. “It’s a huge…”
“…Ass fireball in the sky,” he and Sam said together at the same time.
Sam laughed and pushed a stray strand of hair behind her ear. She was feeling more and more at ease.
He took her hand and held it in his, studying Sam’s long fingers and then her palm. He ran his fingertips along her lifeline. “You have your mother’s hands.”
“You said that to me last time, too.”
“It’s true, look.”
Sam held her hands out in front of her, as he held his hands out beside hers. They glowed indigo, as jeweled light from the sun reflected on their nails and skin. And then his hands changed. His fingers elongated, his nails grew, his skin softened. Sam watched, bewildered. He held her hands and squeezed tightly three times, exactly the way her mother used to. Sam felt tears on her cheeks. That was one of the ways her mother said, “I. Love. You.”
Sam lifted her eyes, already knowing what she would see.
Her mother, Carol.
“Mom.” Sam said quietly. Not quite a question, not quite a statement. Just a word, a simple word that meant more to Sam than a thousand words could ever hope.
“Mom,” she said again. “Is it you? Is it really you?”
“It’s really me, Sam. My beautiful, beautiful Sam. Could U be the most beautiful girl in the world?” Carol said, smiling.
“How I’ve wished for so long,” Sam said.
“How I wish for you today,” her mom said.
“I have so many questions, how… Why Prince? Was that you in the hotel room, it was you wasn’t it? I knew it was, I felt so much love, so much. How…”
“Shhhhhh, Sam. The questions aren’t important.”
“But… is any of this real? Was Bob Marley real? Jimi? Prince? Tupac?” Sam asked.
“Oh yes, Sam, we’re all real, it’s all been real. As real as we could make it for you. We’re all your guardian spirits, and we came to you in ways we knew you would hear us, through music. We are all made of music, just like you Sam.”
“What about Bob Marley? He seemed different, special somehow, like the others revered him, is he one of my guardian spirits too?”
Sam’s mom smiled. “You could say that. Bob is many things to many people. He was drawn to you, or maybe you were drawn to him. It gets confusing. See, before you were born, you were here. We were born before the wind and we’re so much younger than the sun. You’ve been here many times. You have shared many lifetimes with the same guardian spirits. I have loved you for so many lifetimes. And so has Bob Marley. And Jimi. Especially Jimi.
“It makes us all terribly sad to see what is happening in the world today. You have come so far, and yet perhaps you’ve gone too far with all of your advances. Is the world fundamentally a better place because of science and technology? You shop at home, you surf the Web, at the same time, you feel emptier, lonelier and more cut off from each other than at any other time in human history. You spend so much time hiding in smart phone screens, and that changes you at a cellular level, Sam. It turns you into spiritual zombies. And Bob, well Bob has seen it happen in his lifetimes too,” Carol said.
“He does seem to know what’s going on,” Sam said, “but he speaks in so many riddles, half of what he said made no sense.”
“Oh yes, that’s Bob. Bob likes his riddles. The answer inside you already, he says … but he’s right. You spend enough lifetimes with him, eventually you understand.”
Carol continued, “See Bob, had this idea. It was kind of a virologist idea. He believed that you could cure racism and hate, literally cure it, by injecting music and love into people’s lives. … He said, “The people, who are trying to make this world worse are not taking a day off. How can I? Light up the darkness.” That’s why he helps you, and others like you, Sam. You are made of music and love, you are each special, you are each the cure.”
“But Mom, I’m dead. How can I help anyone if I’m dead?” Sam said.
“Oh Sam honey. Some of the dead are less dead than others. You my sweet girl are less dead. But you were bitten, you know this right?” Carol asked.
“I didn’t know at first, I didn’t understand. But Bob Marley showed me. I saw everything… the infected girl who bit me while I slept in that old car… that’s why none of the zombies bothered me, why humans couldn’t hear or see me, why I never ate anything, why my face has been stinging. But I don’t understand why I haven’t changed or turned into one of the infected.”
“It’s complicated, Sam. But you’ve been walking in both worlds. You are here, not here.”
“You with the riddles too, Mom?” Sam said, only half-jokingly.
“I know, sorry,” Carol said. “See, the music and love in your heart have bought you time, they’ve kept you from turning into one of the full-blown infected. There are different levels of infection. We’ve been helping you stay healthy too. The dog you call Marley? He has special antibodies in his saliva, that’s why he’s been licking your face so much, to keep the infection away.”
“Marley?” Sam asked excitedly. “You know Marley? Have you seen him? Please tell me he’s real. Is he a spirit too?”
“Marley, oh Marley is exceptionally real. He’s special; Marley walks in both worlds too. But all dogs are special. They are born with a special music inside. They hear sound and emotion and color and feeling about a zillion times more than any human can. And dogs are messengers, guides. Your sweet Chocolate Lab, Bob? He chose his fate so that he could return to you later as Marley when you would most need him. You’ve been together for a very long time, Sam,” Carol explained.
“What do you mean, Mom? Is this like reincarnation? Is that why I felt so drawn to Buddhism?”
“It’s hard to say, Sam, there aren’t any words for what it is. Bob Marley was close when he said, many rooms, one house. It is like Buddhism, but Buddhism is just one room. And under the roof of the house is just one big room with many temporary walls. Now think bigger. Think of the universe. Think of an infinity of universes. Think until you can’t even fathom. It’s all one house, Sam. We’re in one room right now. But this room is in constant flux, we’re here, not here, you know? It’s a guest house, like Rumi said. And the house itself is love. Love is our religion, but we don’t condemn, we don’t convert, because it’s all one house, one love, one heart.
“Okay, Bob Marley,” Sam laughed.
“I know, I know. Bob Marley, Rumi . . . They’re one and the same, believe it or not. Just look at it this way. No good thing ever dies. And of all the good things, love is the goodest. And yes, I know that’s not a word, I made it up.”
“It’s okay, I do that all the time too.”
“I know,” Carol said with kind eyes.
“So where are we now, Mom? Is this really a beach? Mine and Dave’s beach at Borneo Runnings? Our lighthouse? The ones in my locket photo?” Sam asked.
“It’s just another room, Sam. … You still have the locket? It was my mother’s, your grandmother’s. And her mother’s before that. May I see it?”
“Of course,” Sam said, taking off her necklace and handing it to her mother. Her mom grasped it in both hands and then held it up to her head, and asked, “May I?”
“You don’t even have to ask, Mom, of course you can,” Sam said, as Carol placed the locket over her head. She smiled and held it next to her heart.
“So…am I alive or am I dead? I understand you and the others and Marley the Dog have been keeping me alive, but why can’t the others see me? Am I dead to humans? To Dave?”
“No Sam, no. Nothing ever dies, Sam. We just choose a different form. We enter another room. In Buddhism, this would be similar to the Bardos, the waiting area after your body expires, where your spirit waits for your next body or shell or form. In the Bardos, you must choose within 49 days or else your soul wanders lost. But obviously we’re not lost, Sam. We’re here, not here, but we’re never lost. Some others call this purgatory, where we wait for judgment of the lives we lived. Some think we just die and–poof!–we’re gone for good. That’s the oddest of all. Energy cannot be created or destroyed; it transfers, it changes, it’s a fire that never goes out. We are born knowing this, but most of us forget.
“But Sam, you do have to choose. And no one can choose for you. You are on Day 49. This isn’t the Bardos, not exactly, so you don’t have to choose within 49 days, but it will get harder and harder each day forward to continue in your current form.”
“Well, what are my choices, Mom? I want to stay with you, how can I do that?”
“Oh honey, you are always with me, and I am always with you. But this is not your path, this is not your fate. You could choose to stay in spirit form to guide and help others, but you must return. You have promises to keep.”
“Dave,” Sam said quietly.
“Yes, Dave. He needs you, honey. You keep his fire burning. He would carry on without you, I can see that future, but he would be an empty shell, one of the walking dead. And you need him too. He moors you, tethers you, yet never confines you…do you know how rare that is, Sam? You are like yin and yang, different, yet perfectly balancing the other. You need each other. Together, you and he, with the help of others, can save the world. Or at least your little tree house corner of it. It will be challenging, but Sam, you have never been happy without some sort of challenge, some sort of puzzle to solve, and Dave knows this about you better than anyone.
“Just remember the music, Sam, the music is life. It’s all music, and if you have the music in you, then you are music too. It’s all connected. One big symphony in the sky. You saw it–the music–when you sang…the sparks, the fireball butterflies…they’ve always been there, you just could never see them until now. Each time you listen to a song or feel the percussion of a snare drum or sing, you keep that music alive and absorb its energy, and in turn, it keeps you alive. And music never dies. We never die, not the parts that matter.
“Remember even on the darkest days, you carry the fire within. The lovely fire. Use it to light up the darkness, Sam. It will always protect you. But guard it wisely, for there are those that would seek to exploit it. We will help you as we can, but the lines get very blurry sometimes between worlds. You can usually hear us in your head … those voices you hear? Listen to them. Listen with your heart. One love, one heart.
“Sam, the door is closing. You need to choose. I will always be with you. Shine, Sam, shine, my crazy diamond,” Carol said. “Oh! Tell Rosa that her sun shines eternally on the Arch waiting for its moon. That it shines on Diego too. Tell her to be troubled no more.”
Sam wiped the tears away from her cheeks. “I will, mom. Oh mom. How I’ve wished for so long. Come with me, please.”
“We all walk the long road, Sam, I cannot stay. There’s no need to say goodbye. We’ll meet again, baby girl. I. Love. You. So much,” Carol said while squeezing Sam’s hands three times.
“I love you Mom, so much, thank you for everything. If I have to choose, I choose Dave,” Sam whispered between tears.
“Good girl,” Carol said. “We are all so very proud of you. When you feel alone, look at the stars, that’s us with you. And don’t forget to sing. Music is life, Sam, music is life.”
And then Carol was gone. In her place was a door, and it was open, but the door was slowly closing.
Sam took one long look around her, at the purple sun and the jeweled beach, at the stars in the sky, at each floating fireball butterfly that still lingered, in this one room of many rooms.
It occurred to Sam that everything we love, everything that matters, is a world unto itself. It’s like an infinite string of pearls that wears us, so that when the darkness comes calling, we got the music to see us through. She smiled with the rising sun and knew every little thing was gonna be alright.
As Sam reached to step through the door, she couldn’t help but sing.
Don’t you ever feel sad
Lean on me when times are bad
When the day comes and you’re down
In a river of trouble and about to drown
Just hold on, I’m coming
Hold on, I’m coming
Hold on, Dave, I’m coming
“Hold on Dave, I’m coming.”
And then Sam, having made her choice, stepped through the door.
And then she was gone.
“Hold On, I’m Comin'” by Sam & Dave
Music from and inspired by “We All Walk the Long Road”