The rising began gradually, without anyone knowing what to call it at first, because nothing like it had ever occurred before, not in our collective memory, not in history either, which provided no easy precedent or story to explain what was happening to us. It was only ten years after I had ascended myself that I thought to call it “The Rapture”—or more precisely, to observe after a few beers with friends, that “it was like we were all Raptured up to heaven”—knowing full well that this religious metaphor misses the mark but reaching for it anyway. After all, the Rapture is supposed to be a sudden, one-time event—dramatic and final. This was something else.
No, we (the ascended) were taken one at a time, but there were moments when I imagined I could see others rising with me, souls rather than bodies, each one of us pulled from our parochial lives, where we had lived cut off from one another in hamlets of snail-like existence, crawling slowly across the ground—the actual ground—like the twentieth-century creatures we were, believing with all sincerity in a past that was separate from the present, and in the intrinsic value of the hamlet itself.
"Freed from the hamlet, we were also free to make new communities, and we did just that—so many new communities."
This new existence was truly magnificent. Each of us could now see further than ever before, certainly further than we had been able to in our hamlets, and deeper, into the lives of the others who had ascended. It was as if we had been suddenly endowed with an extra sense, a kind far-sight that enhanced our ability to know things. The hamlet, for all of its pastoral communalisms, was stuffy and cramped by comparison, but we could only see this clearly after we had ascended. Here, in this new paradise, we could keep hundreds, even thousands, of other souls in view. They were floating around us, each a singular beam of colored light, as if we had suddenly jumped up off the dance floor and were now inside the disco ball, which had magically become a space of planetary scope and size. And streaming through each of these individual beams pulsed what appeared to be an entire life, moving rapidly across the spectrum of light in quick flashes—words and images and bodies in motion, memories, reflections, and performances of every imaginable kind.
Freed from the hamlet, we were also free to make new communities, and we did just that—so many new communities. Sometimes, the newly ascendant would try to reconstruct their former hamlets in this new paradise, but despite their best efforts, all they could manage was a new kind of nostalgia fashioned from old memories. One thing became clear to all of us over time. This new world was truly new. Once you crossed the threshold, many things had to be left behind.
We were free to discard our hamlet families for new ones, and some of us did this, though others reconnected with theirs. The old grudges and jealousies and hatreds sometimes followed people with their ascent, but there were so many new relationships to be had, we hardly noticed.
Initially, it appeared to many of us as if this sphere was a timeless space, a vast plain of unbroken present. Time, especially as it related to relationships inside the sphere, appeared to have been erased. When you ascended, you discovered that many of the people you had once relegated to the past—moved beyond or left behind—had also ascended. They too were in your line of sight, if you wanted them to be, and at first, everyone wanted to be seen by everyone else. The feeling of people and events being in the past appeared to dissolve. Sometimes even the dead ascended, memories of them at least. And when the bodies of the ascended actually died back in the hamlets, their spirits appeared to live on, shades of their former selves certainly, but viewed from a distance, these facsimiles often appeared to be as real as when they were alive.
It is not easy to explain what it felt like inside the sphere. Sometimes, I felt the sensation of soaring at night, looking down across an entire continent, with thousands of lights twinkling beneath me. I could feel wings behind me, the muscular wings of a raptor. The sensation of movement was so palpable in these moments. At the same time, I felt connected to every other thing—every person too—as if the delicate metallic edge of each feather radiated out into the darkness to connect up with every other thing around me.
In retrospect, it was naive to believe in the novelty of the sphere. I was, like so many others, blinded by the promise of its novelty. Back in the hamlets, we were taught to worship the new, and I suppose many of us approached the ascent as a kind of numinous religious experience. I certainly did. But what so many of us forgot, as we played in the sphere, was that our bodies were back in the hamlets, which were still enmeshed in the dirty political realities and savageries of hamlet life. Little had changed back there; in fact, little had changed about our bodies in hundreds of thousands of years. We were still the same creatures, driven by the old desires and compulsions.
We didn’t anticipate either that the dirty politics and savagries and desires would follow some of us on the ascent and then proliferate wildly like invasive species let loose in a new ecosystem. Soon, enough, the old politics were as commonplace in the sphere as they had been back in the hamlets, but they existed in grotesque, out-of-control forms. Back in the hamlet, we had cultivated the art of politics—everything from the simple handshake to the complex dance of international diplomacy existed to mitigate our worst behaviors. In the sphere, however, there were no rules for human behavior or decency. Some tried to create new codes of etiquette, but each was an experiment, localized to small groups of true believers.
After the ascent, it was easy for many of us to believe that we were riding a great wave of progress, as if we all had achieved enlightenment by virtue of our simply rising from the hamlet to this new place, but sadly, it was not necessary for a person to change or improve in order to enter the sphere. Almost anyone could go there. There was no judge or arbiter, no review of character or past deeds. The rising was not about moral perfection or salvation. The gates were open wide, and soon enough, humankind itself was flooding through them, carrying with them every form of violence and perversion, every species of mental illness, every terrifying blood-soaked vision of apocalypse, every flavor of conspiracy theory and disinformation—all of it mixed together in a stream with a great many good, wonderful, life-affirming things, which would then flow out into an ocean of ephemera and mundanity that stretched as far as the horizon.
We learned over time, though we shouldn’t have been surprised, that some of those brilliantly colored beams bounding around in the sphere carried secret messages back to unsavory people back in the hamlets. It was possible to peer into some of these streams and see horrors—decapitations, and rapes, and dismemberment, and every other form of human cruelty.
But it was the everyday cruelties that stung the most.
We learned also (and again, this should have been obvious from the start) that the State was hiding in the shadows of this place, now armed with newly enhanced powers of surveillance, watching and learning, capturing beams of light, storing them, and monetizing them. At first, when the rising began, many of the first to rise were enemies of the State or fleeing from its restrictions or wounded by it, but gradually, the State began to take control of areas within the sphere. And while the beautiful light show still appeared to be magical, unscripted, and unmappable to many of us, this great behemoth was learning how to master it.
And the loneliness. How is it possible that a space filled with so many souls could also be such a lonely place. The chattering and whispering were a constant presence in the sphere. You were never alone, and yet, somehow, you could never fully connect with another human being—not like you could if they were in the room with you back in the hamlet, or sitting next to you in a bar, or lying next to you in a bed.
The rising fooled all of us into believing that it was transcendence we were experiencing, but we know better now, back in the hamlets and here in the sphere. We are wiser than we first were, less starry-eyed over its possibilities. The hamlet still matters and our bodies still matter. In fact, they are what matter most. And the sphere, we’ve learned, isn’t a boundless space in which we can reinvent ourselves. It is another noisy, dirty, lonely city built by humans, endowed with wondrous sights and sensations and equally seething with squalor and hideousness. We will have to learn to live in it, like any other city.