Contrary to popular belief, the afterlife does not just run itself. Souls are not content to just rest in a glowing garden on the clouds. In fact, they are rarely content at all. They want food--and not only the high-quality meals I organize--but stale chips and cheesy puffs. They want the new TV shows and magazines, and don’t even get me started on the demands for their homes. And who has to coordinate all of this? Me… and before you ask, I am not God.
I keep track of all the souls and make sure they get a rest in the afterlife before they have to return back to Earth. I arrange which human they will inhabit once they are ready to return. I organize the gardens and community events, make sure the kitchen knows the newest food combinations, and confirm that the waterfront has the perfect-sized waves. I am the one who stocks the library for the ones who still want to read. Anything and everything that happens in the afterlife goes through my desk.
For all the work I do to keep this place running, you would expect that I would be loved by many and praised by all. But instead, all I hear are complaints. I mean, I understand it. I would hate to be trapped in a human body, too, but in order to keep the afterlife running smoothly, some souls need to be down on the Earth. Who knows what would happen if I didn’t take the time to direct them each into their human vessels? You see the afterlife can only carry so many souls before it loses its perfection. Not to mention the fact that humans would be totally lost without their souls. It is only through the guidance of their souls that they have been able to form communities, societies, and full countries. Yet, despite all that the souls have done, humans have continued to grow more and more antagonistic towards them.
Speaking of humans, they are by far the worst part of this job. I don’t know why it was decided that humans somehow deserve souls. By the way they abuse and manipulate them, you would think they don’t even want the souls. Despite souls attempting to share a moral compass with their human container, humans have grown impressively good at ignoring what they have to say. They manage to convince themselves that some imaginary economic gain or security is worth whatever atrocity they are preparing to commit.
Most recently they’ve taken to destroying the planet one factory at a time. They pour oil and waste into the water then write breaking news articles about people dying from thirst. They tear down trees and set fire to rainforests, only to complain that the air quality seems to be diminishing. They collapse the atmosphere and wonder why the elements are striking back. Hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and more stand between them and the choices they make. Yet, despite all of this chaos, they push forward. They throw their trash to the side and turn down the news channels--out of sight, out of mind.
I have watched them nearly destroy themselves many times. Watched as they charged millions of soldiers into battle, more careless with their lives than the pieces of a chess game. I have seen them deny the humanity of their own and go to war over imaginary borders. I have been a witness as they ignorantly arm themselves with the weapons their children will use to shoot one another. Humanity has always been foolish, but never like this. Never have so many signed a suicide pledge for the sake of an economy. Never have so many turned their backs on reality in favor of reality TV. Never has there been a threat as big as the climate crisis they have created, and never has there been a reaction so small.
Worst of all, they expect me to fix it. Well really, they expect God to fix it. They brush past the solutions their wise ones have offered, refusing to change the way they choose to live. They remain blind to the damage they cause and oblivious to the good they can create. Instead of changing, they repeat to themselves, and others, senseless phrases of faith: “God always has a plan,” or “Everything will work out in the end,” or, my personal favorite, “Sending thoughts and prayers.” They toss all these out into the abyss and expect change, but none will come. God is gone; God left a long time ago.
Well, you know what? I don’t deserve to put up with this, souls and humans alike. Maybe God had the right idea to leave. The gift has been given; I am not responsible for how it is used. I can’t clean up the human’s mess, and even if I could, I wouldn’t want to. They did this to themselves. And the souls? They can do as they please without me. Maybe they will continue the cycle as usual--continuing to rest inside of humans, constantly shoved down for the next shiny object. Or maybe, they will grow sick and tired of human ignorance and simply move to animals. If I were them, that is what I would do. I would join the birds who fly as one, oblivious to the lines of countries drawn. I would join the tigers, strong and prideful, yet taking only what they need. I don’t know what the other souls will choose. I don’t know, and I don’t care. All I know is that I quit.
Hannah Sussman wrote to the editors: "I was intrigued by the bright light that seemed to be exiting the man standing in the image. As I looked at it, I couldn't shake the question of what exactly was leaving him. Later, I began to consider whether or not our 'souls' could ever choose to leave, just as that light had. With that question in mind I began to write."