Clarion’s Walk (a short story)

The letter finally came.
I opened the envelope, unfolding the creases of the thick parchment paper.

I scanned with bated breath.

‘2020 Sapien Collective…..Congratulations, Clarion Greene….’

Seventy-two brilliant minds from around the world brought together on an eight- year collaboration to project where human evolution was headed within the next millennia.
The trajectory of our species would be mapped out with calculated precision and meticulous forecast.

All would live together in a state of the art compound. An enclosed city within a city in Amsterdam.

Paleoanthropologist,
Micro Biologist,
Cognitive Scientist,
Geologist,
Geneticists,
Climatologist,
Theoretical, and Quantum Physicists,and the lot where I came in: ArtificiaI Intelligence Specialist.

A bit of nervousness sent a fleeting sharp pain into my chest.
I thought about how Khalil would take the news. We’d been married for five years and had prepared for this moment of rather or not I’d be accepted into the Sapien Collective for three.
Khalil and I met outside of the monastery of Irache near Estella on the 500 mile El Camino hiking trail in Spain.
We continued to date back in New York. The more he got to know me the more he loved me and treated me like a normal person.
Most people were hailing me as an erudite young prodigy pioneering AI development.
Khalil knew me simply as the quiet boy from Connecticut who obsessed over hiking photography and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.

He saw me for me.
All of me.
The parts of me that weren’t praised by the press.

Khalil has this ceaseless joy and love of life. He cares for other people and always wants to help others. He constantly talks about the myriad of ways his life and by extension ours could be spilled out to make the world a better place. He is working on his residency and his dream is to work with Doctors Without Borders.

I was nervous because Khalil and I decided to begin the adoption process.
I had not yet applied for the Sapien Collective when we initially agreed to adopt. When I did finally apply, we were prepared to cross the adoption bridge when the and if the time came.

Also, the distance was an issue.
This would be a significant amount of time away from one another. Khalil in New York and I in the Netherlands.
He would be with me at the compound often, but not nearly as often as we’d like. My research and his residency would not allow for it.

When we dated we spoke about how grateful we were that we both lived in New York. Shortly before our marriage we moved in together. We jumped at the opportunity to marry sixteen days after the U.S. Supreme Court Ruling that legalized same-sex marriage unilaterally across the United States. It was a way of celebrating not only our union but a victory for the many kindred spirits that shared the reality of what it was like to live in this skin.

Khalil had insisted that we marry inside of a church. His Christian faith was important to him, passed down from his grandmother who was Palestinian Maronite Christian. Khalil would take me to liturgical services at a Maronite Parish in Brooklyn. It was a way of connecting with not only his faith but his family heritage. We would listen to the Aramaic and Arabic liturgy and take in the smells of cedar and sandalwood incense. I was never a person of faith, but I loved Khalil. In my mind humanity was the closest thing to a God, and no actual God existed.

Khalil eventually became invested in an Episcopal church as it was affirming of his personhood as a gay man and gave approval of our marriage. We were married by his priest in one of the oldest Gothic Cathedrals in New York City at its very heart between 10th and 11th Street.

That day our life changed for the better, forever.
I placed the letter down and took a deep breath. My heart danced between elation and apprehension. I knew Khalil would be happy but all of the changes that were ahead felt as though they all landed on me in that moment.

I started to think of something I heard Oprah say once.
In times of uncertainty instead of thinking about the mass of things ahead focus solely on the next, clearest step; then walk in pace and grace.

Relax.
Next best move?

Have dinner ready for Khalil when he got home. Get out the wine.
Draw a bath.

I’d bring this weighty news to the love of my life in comfort.

***

Three months passed since I received my acceptance letter from the Sapien Collective.
My move to Amsterdam was a month away.
Khalil had a year before receiving his white coat.

We decided to go ahead with seeking adoption. It too would be a lengthy process and we decided to not prolong it any longer.

Khalil and I walked across the Highline in Brooklyn quietly taking in the warmth of the Spring, day.

Our chatting slowed and there came that lull of quietness that only we could appreciate.

A girl on a longboard whizzed by only to abruptly stop.

We watched yards ahead as she bent over. When we got close she held her hand out in front of her holding something as she walked off to the side.

She spoke, “It’s a caterpillar, it would have been crushed and wouldn’t have become a butterfly”.

Khalil beamed, “You have such a beautiful Spirit” We continued walking.

“What do you think about visiting me at the compound once finals are over?” I squeezed Khalil’s hand as I spoke.

“I’d love that, it’d be a perfect get away and I could help you decorate your loft,” Khalil responded, smiling.

Khalil had become comfortable with the prospect of my leaving. He was even more thrilled at continuing the adoption process. We’d completed two interviews so far. Both had gone well.

Our sights were set on a baby boy. Meeting a potential mother would follow if we were approved.

“It looks like it’s about to rain” Khalil pointed to the sky.

Dark clouds gathered above us sending a slight breeze cutting against the heat of the sunlight.
The smell of rain was apparent as well.
Within a few moments, a light drizzle began to pepper us. We began to pick up pace knowing this pathway well enough to expect a parapet up ahead.

We reached the outdoor covering. The drizzle became a light rain. Peals of thunder rumbled above.

We sat down, legs crossed on bamboo mats spread on the ground of a covered area not much bigger than a walk-in closet. We shared the space with another couple who laughed and chatted.

We were cozy, cramped, exposed to the elements.

In a few hours, I’d be speaking at a press conference about my latest book,current personal research, development in AI, and my expectations for the Sapien Collective.

There would be a barrage of questions after my keynote.
I stared off into the distance as the rain fell. I breathed deep in a sort of mental preparation and release for the night ahead.
Khalil rested his head on my shoulder and I was immediately brought back to the present.
I placed my head against him as it rested on my shoulder. Grateful for this small moment in time.

***

Caleb was nearing his third birthday.
He was the joy of Khalil and I’s world. I remember about four weeks after his birth, I would hold him close to my chest and smell the top of his head; it held this sweet indescribable aroma.
He had grown up so fast. A mass of sandy brown curly hair lay wildly on his head. His eyes were emerald green, his giggle infectious.

He was playful. He also displayed thoughtful and considerate character traits. Always eager to share a food item or one of his toys.
Always appearing to wonder how others around him were doing.

Caleb stayed in New York with Khalil. Whenever Khalil was working at an urgent care clinic a few blocks away from our home, Caleb would stay with my mother. She spoiled Caleb and her eagerness to look after him was always welcome.

I would video message them every other day. Sometimes live, sometimes prerecorded. There were videos of Khalil feeding and bathing Caleb.
His first steps, rummaging through plush toys and making a mess with finger paints.

My favorite video was of Caleb and Khalil dancing to a house funk track that was a classic of one of Khalil and I’s favorite bands.

As much as I cherished these interactions, each time I viewed them all of me desired to be near. Being away for so long and with so much longer to go weighed on my heart often.

I loved my work.
I loved Amsterdam and the amazing people and mission that I was part of. I also missed home.
I missed the family that my husband and I were building.

I’d completed two visits back to New York since my move to Amsterdam and each time I tried to make the most of my two week long stay.
At the end of each visit, I’d make my flight across seas deeply saddened about the nine-month interval before my next return to New York.

Testing, documentation, and forecast for the small team of AI Specialist that I oversaw in Sapien Collective were going very well.
There were four of us. We had grown very close over the past three years. We were this dysfunctional family that learned very quickly each other’s quirks and buttons. There was a lot of work, sometimes fourteen hours days. There was also a decent amount of play as well. We were intentional about making sure one another had a proper work-life balance so as to optimize our efforts.

My team was responsible for the development of AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) into ASI (Artificial Super Intelligence). This development was a preliminary to a later forecast that Sapien Collective would use in its map of future human evolution.

My previous work before joining the Sapien Collective was lauded because I had accelerated the stages between ANI (Artificial Narrow Intelligence) to base operative manifestations of AGI- which took AI functions like smart home operation and GPS mapping to a cognitive process equal to that of a fully engaged healthy adult. The ultimate goal was not to just advance AI’s evolution but to see if it’s evolution could be integrated into our own. Artificial Intelligence marriage with our own intelligence would be an unprecedented evolutionary breakthrough.

The developments of my teams work for the Sapien Collective were promising and exhilarating. Not only our team but other teams as well.
Anayelsi, one of the six microbiologists had successfully created a number of treatments that showed exponential probability of increasing the human life span by double normal life expectancy. She stated confidently that by the time trials were complete future generations would be able to live as long as 216 years.

We were part of something grand.
Something bigger than ourselves.
Ardent strides were being made for the betterment of humanity.
We were also prophets. Foretelling where humanity was headed, casting a vision of sustainability that would continue to propel our species.
What would the next millennia contain for the transformation of humanity?
There were already talks of ocean colonies and space mining and habitation within the next hundred years as earth’s population cusp eleven billion.
The stuff of our greatest Sci-Fi narratives was becoming a reality.
There was something special about the unique gift entrusted to our collective of seventy-two souls. We were given an immutable responsibility that would cement a road map of tested and verifiable enlightenment for several hundred generations to come.
Sapien Collective teams would celebrate milestones, like Anayelsi’s break through doubling the human life span. Or Kenji’s multivariate climate emergence map based on the earth’s reactions to global population activity in one hundred year increments.
We’d celebrate these exceptional milestones by having a huge party once a month or whenever a milestone was reached. Our disparate colony of nerds would erupt into this drunken, musically blissful, culinary gluttonous ruckus that celebrated life.
Heaven on earth now.
The epitome of meliorism.
The autonomy of our making the world a better place.

Who would have thought that sentient stardust could be so fucking awesome? ***

Waves of heat washed over my head.
Bewilderment and terror gripped my core.
Nausea crept in after the initial adrenaline rush from my mother’s video call.

Khalil had been in a car accident and it didn’t look like he was going to make it. I was 3,652 miles away from the love of my life.

Time seemed to stop.
I couldn’t focus.
Everything in my room went white.

I must have passed out because I woke up to the sound of Scoot, my Geneticist loft mate shaking me.Calling my name. When I woke, Scoot helped me to an upright position as I sat on the floor. I explained to him what happened and asked if he could drive me to the airport.

***

Khalil died the very next day, I was still mid-flight when I received the news from my mother on an in-flight video call. Ceaseless sobbing endured that entire eternal flight back to New York.

***

I sat in my mother’s living room dazed. Caleb was asleep on my chest. He was a heavy, healthy, five-year-old.

He was in school when Khalil had his accident. Caleb asked a ton of questions between the time my mom frantically picked him up to the time they both arrived at the hospital.

We were honest with him.
Things would be different now.
He cried.
Caleb kept crying and had been awake refusing to sleep but had finally tuckered out when I arrived.

For hours on end I held him tight, assuring him that I was right there. That I wasn’t going anywhere.

My mother helped me make arrangements for Khalil’s memorial.

It took every fiber in me to be present and help her as much as possible. The floor of my being ached.
I could barely concentrate.
It all felt so surreal.

My mother needed me, though. She had been worn out between taking care of Caleb, and funeral arrangement preps.
She didn’t let me know, though. That was her way. She possessed a quiet strength and unwavering resilience at all times.

I made the decision right then to bring Caleb back to the Netherlands with me. He would stay at our compounds primary school care while I worked in the lab.

This would give my mom a break and keep me close to my son.

***

The memorial came and went like a blur. The entire time I was occupied helping my mother with Caleb and memorial arrangements. Greeting and hosting family and friends.
Properly grieving, even though I had no idea what properly grieving looked like. Trying to gain and appease a semblance of an appetite, although the desire to eat didn’t exist.

I was losing weight and it was visible in the gaunt of my face when I looked in the mirror.

My trip to Palestinia was also on my heart.

The State of Palestine had been in existence for seven years and it operated autonomously alongside the State of Israel.
I knew Khalil would want his cremated remains to be in Palestine.
Khalil’s family had plots of land in Hebron only a few kilometers from the Cave of Machpelah where the patriarch Abraham and his family are buried.

Two days after the memorial ,Caleb and I made our journey to Palestinia.
We stayed with Khalil’s cousins. Sunday morning ,before scattering Khalil’s remains Caleb and I attended Mass at a Maronite parish.
Memories of my time with Khalil at the Maronite parish back in Brooklyn came flooding in as the Aramaic and Arabic chants filled my ears and swaths of incense surrounded Caleb and I.

Summer heat enveloped over my son and I later that afternoon as we made our way through an olive grove that had been in Khalil’s family for generations. There

was no breeze, only merciless sun. I held Caleb’s hand gently and trekked along wondering what he was thinking. Caleb had his head held high looking straight ahead.

“Would you like to pick a spot?” I asked.

“Ok,” Caleb said.

He released my hand and picked up pace ahead of me. Looking around him as the groves seemed to stretch endlessly before him. A tangled mass of brownish green and dirt.

“Here,” Caleb said looking back at me.

He had found a clearing almost meadow-like in the middle of a cluster of shrubs. There were several rocks in the area as well.
Open and wide, it was the perfect place.

“Good choice” I said, squeezing Caleb’s shoulder in affirmation. I bent down facing him with the vase of ashes in my hand.
The ceramic was painted a mauve color with hints of blue fractured throughout in a pattern similar to that of stained glass.

I closed my eyes and thought of Khalil.
His dark brown eyes,
soft smile,
his freckles and swarthy colored thick curls. His gentle caring spirit.

I opened my eyes looking at my son who was now looking down at the vase in my hands. He didn’t cry, he just stood silently, in the solemnity of the moment.

I grabbed Caleb’s hand, stood and opened the top of the vase. I slowly began to walk and pour.
Handing the vase to Caleb I let him do the same.
He did so gracefully and he began to cry.

I grabbed the vase from him, set it down, bending down to his level and held him tight.
Tears streamed down both our faces and the sunlight beamed on us from the cloudless sky above.

A mix of sweat and tears mixed as we sat there in silence and grief.

***

Two years had passed since the completion of my time at the Sapien Collective. After the first year, there were a lot of press conferences and journal releases of the findings of our teams. A combined transcript was also set to be released. There were a total of sixteen milestones met within the eight-year period and it had also been determined that there would be future Sapien Collectives to continue the ground work that we made.

A Sapien Initiative would be created.
An International Body of Scientist dedicated solely to the task of researching and shaping the future of humanity’s evolution.

I wrote a book about my time in Amsterdam.
I wrote of doing work that I was passionate about.
I wrote about starting a family and losing the love of my life.
I did a mini book tour and brought Caleb along with me.
At the end of the tour, my sights were set on Spain; to the El Camino walking trail where Khalil and I had first met.
There was an inescapable pull inside of me to go to that trail.
Something there was meant for me.
Did I still need closure? Would there ever be closure?
Perhaps I’d feel a sense of Khalil there on the trail as I walked.

After my book tour I stopped in New York to leave Caleb with my mother. I caught a flight to Barcelona.

It was good to be back in Spain.
As I began again those first steps on the El Camino trail I sensed a sort of inner thankfulness to this 500-mile path that had caused me to meet the man who would forever change my world.

***

Fourteen days into my walk, I came upon an elderly woman resting in the shade of a tree. I stopped to catch my own breath and sat beside her.
She greeted me warmly.
Her hair was bright white and her skin was dark-hued mahogany with a rosy tint.

“Do you know what’s special about this part of the trail?” the elderly woman asked.

“I don’t,” I said.

“It’s blessed. Up ahead there is an area that opens up the divine to passersby. Many centuries ago a mystic walked this path and encountered an angel. After that encounter the monk prayed that any who would pass this way would receive the same mercy, many have crossed this path since and said that the monks’ request was granted”

“I don’t believe in any of that, it’s a nice story though” I responded. I reached for my water and offered it to the elderly woman. She gratefully took a few swallows.

“What do you believe?” the elderly woman asked handing the water back to me.

“I don’t believe in God that’s for sure. I believe in humanity. I believe we live in an ineffably wondrous cosmos that is as grand, mysterious, and beautiful all it’s own. There is no God needed to be in awe of or to appreciate those things. There is too much around us to take hold of and be aware of for us to waste energy chasing something that almost certainly doesn’t exist.”

“Let us take a walk, would you help me up?” the elderly woman stated. I grabbed her hand and helped her to her feet.
We began to move on in silence.

At one point she stopped and took a deep breath. A look of contentment and joy etched her countenance.

I can’t quite put it into words but there came a distinct moment where it felt as though I had stepped into a pool of clear clean water.
This was absurd of course, given the fact that I was clearly standing on a well- worn dirt path.

“We are here, this is the area” the elderly woman stated earnestly.
“So how does the angel thing work? Does one just appear?” I mocked. “You never know” the elderly woman smiled and we continued to walk on. “What do you believe?” I asked.

“I believe in a First Cause, I believe in the connectedness of all things” “First Cause?”

“Yes, some would say, God, others Divine, and many other names. First Cause is One. First Cause is also Communal.
Beyond our Universe and all we know, there is an endless ocean of light.That unending ocean of light proceeds farther still from an unending presence and in the midst of the emanating presence is First Cause.

The Eternal.
The Eternal First Cause contracted to make room for what we know as the beginning -to make room for all that ever was and will be.
From that beginning came everything that we know: energy, time, space, matter, all preceding from that first moment of contraction, expansion, and fracture “

“The big bang?” I interrupted.

“Yes, everything and everyone is headed towards full and complete union with First Cause: particles made atoms, atoms made sentient beings and sentient beings made families, cities, and a global community. We are all emerging in a directed path. The brokenness and healing, the joy and the pain, the dark as well as the light, all have its purpose. Hindus call it Moksha, Jews call it Olam Haba, Jesus called it the Kingdom of God, Mohammed’s scribes wrote of Jannah, I call it love’s beckoning: a clarion call, always loud, calling us home”

“Interesting,” I said. Contemplating the weight her words.
We continued on in silence and after a while, we parted ways.
I realized the reason I had come. It was so that I’d meet this woman.

No closure.
No clarity from Khalil’s death.
Just a conversation that challenged my worldview.
A walk that very well may have contained the answer to what my colleagues at the Sapien Collective were searching for.

It was time to go home.
I missed Caleb.
I yearned to be near my son again.

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