Sydney and the girl sat quietly for many minutes, watching the sky change shape as the Earth, animals, and air shifted through time.
“I still don’t know,” the girl said. Her fingers picked at the edge of the bench.
“Whether or not you fear death?” Sydney asked.
She looked at her mentor. “What if life here, now, is not very good? What would keep unhappy people from just sort of … skipping ahead?”
Sydney reached over and held her hand, stilling it. “Do you think that fear is the thing keeping most people here?”
She shrugged deeply, her eyes shifting away. “If death might be so great, maybe people would think it’s worth the chance.”
“I don’t think most people are ready to make that decision. Not on purpose. There is so much here to learn – not just about happiness, but about discomfort. There are things to learn about humans; things to learn about our own priorities, too.”
Sydney bowed her head as she considered the question. “Most people, I believe, have hope that, even in the most dire circumstances, they might soon experience something wonderful. Perhaps hope about this life is more substantial than their hope about that next step.”
“Do you disagree? Why do you think people who are unhappy in this life decide to stay?”
“You’re asking me?”
Sydney said, “Of course. You have a mind just as I do. You have ideas and opinions. I have spent much time considering many things, but my thoughts are no more worthy than yours. Especially when considering the human condition. You are human, yes?”
She smiled, “Yes.”
“Well, then. Tell me what you think an unhappy human might feel. Let’s continue the cobblestone theory. If a person were standing on a cobblestone, what reasons might they have to remain on it? If it is a nice cobblestone, then the answer is probably easy. But what if it were not a nice cobblestone?”
“OK. Well, if it’s not nice … like maybe it’s slippery or wobbly?”
“What else might make it not very nice?” Sydney asked.
She scrunched her nose and scratched her head.
Sydney tried again. “What would make someone unhappy in general?”
“Um… maybe they’re hungry? Or cold?”
“Correct. Things like that. If the cobblestone was in a such a position that the person on it could not reach food, or it was very sharp, or it was under a storm cloud. What would keep a person on it, do you think?”
“What would keep someone on it?” she repeated as she thought. “Maybe it’s someplace pretty?”
“Maybe.” Sydney acquiesced. “Why else?”
The sky began to dim and brighten in a kaleidoscope of interesting shades and shapes. They watched a tree bend with the breeze, straighten, and bend again. After a while, the girl gasped and straightened, looking at Sydney.
“I know what would keep me someplace like that.”
“Oh, yes.” She nodded. “My sister, Penelope.”
Sydney smiled. “Ah – yes. The people we love. Especially if they depends on us.”
The girl said, “So even if your life is, like, awful. Or the cobblestone, I guess, is miserable. You would stay for the people you love that are there too.”
Sydney prompted, “And if the people you love aren’t there anymore?”
“Then, then you still, maybe, don’t want to give up. Maybe somebody else will come along and you wouldn’t ever know it if you left. Or maybe the weather will change. Or maybe someone will lend you their coat or share their food. And then, maybe that awful cobblestone won’t be so awful.”
Sydney nodded. “I think you’re on to something. After all, if the person left that stone, they might never learn how much kindness, friendship, and love is still there for them.”
“That’s what you mean by hope, isn’t it?”
“That is a big part of hope,” Sydney agreed.
They sat once more in silence, watching the sky finish it’s transition into its evening garb. With a slight shoulder bump and a pat on the knee, the two stood and finished their walk, ending where they’d begun hours before.
Sydney asked, “Did we answer your question?”
“About fear and death? I think so.”
“So, are you still apprehensive?”
“No.” She smiled. “But I’m in no hurry either.”