We come into the world as heroes, believing that we are at the center of the universe.
It is only a natural inclination, and for a while, the world revolves around us. But one day we learn of other creatures in our world. And they tell stories that resonate a different harmony from our own. Our world soon grows complex with harmonies of objects, language, mathematics, community, and instruments. The world grows so complex that we must learn to tune things out. And it is at this point that we become The Arbiter.
The first thing The Arbiter learns is that the world is not always in our control. You see that young child throwing a tantrum out on the street because their guardians won't buy that colorful toy? That was once you.
I am almost certain that it was a bright, sunny day with lazy clouds drifting past that cotton candy stand when I learned that lesson. The seagulls trumpeted their strange call across a lonely boardwalk filled with the flow of people. The strangers gave praise to the ocean by mimicking its motions; and the ocean waved back over and over again in return.
That day I did not receive the large, colorful, shiny plush-toy in the shop window. It was the shop that reflected back the waves, the seagulls, and the ocean perfectly so that the plush sat comfortably on grains of sands. It was home there, and the only thing that separated that humble, magnificent creature from home was a thin sheet of transparent material. That day, I received a fluffy, pink cloud jammed in a cone from the cotton candy stand instead. And I was appeased enough that I didn't care about leaving that creature entrapped in its glass cage.
We are not always appeased. I remember when my guardians drove out early one night to pick up dinner. I was old enough to tell time now, and they promised one hour. Three hours passed, and my guardians had not yet returned. At this point, I was cold, hungry, and very much alone in a room with a large window. I watched as the sun set and the sky darken. And I am fairly certain that I cursed life at that moment. I demanded that whatever forces there were out in the world to deliver my guardians to me.
The world must have laughed at the tiny voice that no one could hear. I was now that colorful plush, stuck behind a glass cage waiting. I had banged against the glass with my tiny fists and my tiny head. The cage laughed at my efforts and my roars of anguish were consumed by the darkness. I then lost all hope, having used up my seemingly boundless energy. It was another two hours or an entire eternity before my guardians returned. They found me curled up into a small ball of snot and tears next to the window.
I learned the word traffic and semi-truck that night, and I cursed both with all my might. I also learned that it doesn't matter if food is cold when you are spent. And a simple touch of reassurance and a night of sleep is all that is required to face a cold and mocking universe again in the morning.
At a later point in life, I learned about the concept of money. Money, in essence, is just some fancy paper. We, as arbiters, decide that this paper is worth something. We then provide goods or services to obtain this paper; and then exchange it for desires. At some point we discover that there is no reward without sacrifice, and so we work on stacks of paper for stacks of fancier paper. In a sense, it is circuitous and logical that it should be so.
And what do we purchase, what do we desire with our new found power? The things that relinquish our fear of what we cannot control. We buy cars with navigation systems to avoid the fear getting lost and the dreaded traffic; houses with lights to keep away the fear of darkness; cell phones to stem the fear of loneliness. And when the cell phone isn't enough to settle our fear of being lonely, we search for a life-partner; a creature like ourselves to share this fear.
I remember that it was raining down sheets of water when I first discovered power. The rain was roaring like a waterfall instead if singing its usual tap dance when I made my first purchase. An umbrella is such a simple object; and yet I loved it like no other. The money I used had come from my sweat and tears. And the umbrella I purchased was a beautiful, elegant thing. It was ebony black with a sleek silver skeleton. The handle curved graciously into a hook. And in those first few moments, I felt transported twenty-or-so years back, and became a true gentleman.
I then bowed graciously to the creature with long eyelashes and lush red lips stained with lipstick standing next to me. She was suddenly donning a black, ostentatious, feathered hat with a veil. She giggled and raised a black laced glove to cover her smile. She leaned away shyly and seductively. And I leaned close, wrapped her up in a one arm embrace, a hint of apricot tracing lines through her hair. I opened up my new purchase, and we waltzed calmly into the storm.
And then we embark on a new journey, rarely looking back. In truth, The Arbiter is flawed because he or she is Judgment, and Judgment is blind. The Arbiter is the hero with a thousand faces, and master of their own personal journey. But I am told that it is rare thing when an Arbiter questions their faith. Although we may stand at the apex of our lives, we are not infallible. We were designed to be imperfect, and carry out this design quite well.
We question our beliefs, our decisions, our stories, and even our basic senses. And we do this, knowing that the true answers lie within ourselves. We end our heroic journey where we began, at the center of the universe. And at the end we count the number of creatures we have met, the number of stories we have told, the number of stories we have listened to, and the places we have been. We weigh these on a scale along with a large sack of memories and photos. And the scale groans with the sound of a thousand gears spinning painfully in reply.
The scale does not always tip in our favor. And when we leave this world, we hope that we live to say: That, my friend, was one hell of a journey. Take me somewhere new. Take me to a place where I am no longer The Arbiter, but a storyteller of my own tales.