by Charlotte Dovey
Cary came from a middle-class background. He was an only child and his parents gave him every advantage in life, including making sacrifices to send him to college. He was now eighteen years old and still in his Freshman year. His parents had hoped that he would go to school at a nearby community college (Cary was not academically inclined, nor did he work hard at school, and could not have been accepted to a prestigious school) but he preferred to leave the state to go to one of the northeastern cities. It was not that he found the prospect particularly interesting, but rather he was inclined to want what other people seemed to prefer. His tastes were always defined by those of others, the average. Since other people aspired to go to college in the northeast, so indeed was he. He was in his second semester, not doing particularly well, as he spent his time smoking pot and skateboarding or watching television and eating junk food. Like others his age, at least those with no real interests or direction of his own, he was bored and found little genuine joy in anything, but he seemed to find camaraderie in spending time with other unmotivated nihilists of average intelligence.
He was required to take an English class. The teacher assigned that they read a Greek myth about Sisyphus and write an essay, to be followed by other readings and responding essays, including a translation of Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus. The short critical essay about the Greek myth was due the following day and as usual, Cary had not even read the myth yet much less put any thought into the response. He had already decided not to bother reading Camus since there was no writing assignment attached to it.
He read the myth that night. As he read it, a thought came to him, like a sudden spark. He realized that this figure of Sisyphus summed up what he had always thought life was. Every day is the same for people – they wake up, shower, and dress, they eat, and trudge off to school or to work to spend their days doing things that they loath and find uninteresting. They also have to endure sickness and all sorts of pain until they finally die. And they always die in the end, usually struggling against suffering before doing so. In other words, he thought, life is pointless.
Cary typically stayed up late, and slept late when he could. But tonight, it was not the usual evening of watching inane television programs that kept him up. He thought. Then he constructed a way to hang himself. He stared at his noose for some time, then around 3:00am he climbed up onto a chair, stuck his head in the noose and jumped.
Cary was only vaguely aware of his death. He was far more aware of where he next showed up. The afterlife. He had not quite considered this possibility. He had assumed that death was simply oblivion.
There was not much to do in the afterlife. It was full of spirits, like him, who contemplate life and death and other spirits. They all seemed to be waiting for something, but it was unclear what that was exactly, and in the meantime, they were incapable of doing anything. He quickly realized that he had made a mistake – death is exactly like life in that it is essentially pointless.
Not long after Cary realized this, an unfamiliar spirit came to him. This spirit, who Cary understood to be a spirit of some standing and authority, offered him a deal.
He told Cary, “Either you can stay here in the netherworld or you can reincarnate.” Cary perked up at this notion. The spirit continued, “If you do choose to reincarnate, you must understand that you would go back as a crow, not a human.” Cary was immediately despondent at the choice. The spirit sensed this and was quick to point out, “Crows are very similar to humans: they have a clear social structure and a private life, they are intelligent creatures, and like stable homes. It is not a very long way down from being a human, unlike other creatures, like worms. Going back as a crow means that you can continue to reincarnate until you can find something to appreciate in being human.”
Cary figured that at least there is variation in working his way up the spiritual chain, so to speak, so he accepted the offer. He spent his days as a crow sleeping, waking, looking for food, looking for a mate, then after procuring one, living with his mate and trying, often without success, to raise their offspring to full-grown. Mostly, he tried to avoid death for as long as possible.