It took me an obnoxious amount of time to figure out how to use a microwave. Like most things on earth, nothing made sense. Like why people purchase mini, metal portals to hell, put pizza bagels in them, and call it dinner. Or why they walk around all day staring at screens, too scared to talk to each other.
I only had two more weeks on earth, which was a blessing and a curse depending on how I looked at it. On the bright side, I got to leave this planet and all its paradoxes behind. But on the other hand, I only had two more weeks to finish my research assignment, and I was not even close to figuring out how humanity went so horribly wrong.
At twenty-five, I had already dedicated seven years to this research assignment. I watched humans from afar, gathered all the data I could from books, and spoke to the top researchers who had been analyzing earth for hundreds of years; yet despite all the knowledge I had gained, I was missing one key element: personal experience. I had to expose myself to what it was like to be a human, living on earth, to truly wrap my mind around how and why disaster struck the way it did.
So that was how I ended up crying on the floor of a 300 square foot Manhattan studio apartment after burning the roof of my mouth on pizza bagels. With only two weeks left before my deadline, I was desperate. I thought if I went through the normal, daily actions of a human it would all spontaneously click. I would finally figure out why the planet wasn’t evolving like all the others. Nope. The only thing I accomplished was becoming even more confused.
I tossed the burnt cardboard of a meal in the bin, and threw myself on the bed, grateful that humans were at least able to figure out how to make a comfortable mattress. Despite the solace of the lush, white comforter that promised the sweet escape of sleep, my mind continued to run ramped. The one memory that stood out among all the others was from the day before.
I was on the subway. The train had at least a hundred people cramped inside, but I made eye contact with not even one. Considering I had only been on earth for a few days, I was eager to spark up a casual conversation with someone to gain more insight for my research. But almost every single soul was glued to their devices. Talking on the phone, listening to whatever was streaming on their headphones, mindlessly scrolling, and all without a smile. You would think that humans would at least find enjoyment out of distraction devices they carried around with them wherever they went, but on that subway ride that was not what I had gathered.
The invention of technology was a tremendous advancement. We all thought that with it humans would have evolved as well. But technology in and of itself is neutral. Its effects depend on the intention of the user. Technology could have saved humanity, if used correctly. Instead, technology ended up using them way more than they used it.
It seemed to be their preferred form of distraction. Not just from life, but from themselves. They no longer had to face the world, which was actually a mirror reflecting everything they were inside, and everything they had to learn in order to evolve. These humans no longer had to feel their emotions in the moment. They could just power on their phone and turn off their humanity.
The growling of my stomach interrupted my thoughts and were loud enough to cause concern, so I rolled out of bed in search of something to sustain me until the morning.
I hopped in the elevator, praying I would find a restaurant with a table available, and it was in that elevator where I made my first friend. She looked a lot like I did, same build, only a few inches taller, but her eyes were dull, and she dressed a lot differently than I did. Her skirt looked extremely uncomfortable, and her top was way too small. She was beautiful, but I had the feeling she didn’t think so.
It was because her sullen eyes lacked joy, and she had crossed her arms over her bare midriff as if she would have rather been more covered up, that I gained the courage to say, “Hello. My name is Elentiya.”
The girl looked startled when I spoke to her. She must have been lost in her head. Humans did that a lot.
“Hi… I’m Gloria.” The girl mumbled back, barely making eye contact.
“I’m new to the city. Do you happen to know any good restaurants around here?” I hoped my soft voice and easy smile would be enough to open her up some more. Luckily, I was correct.
“Oh really? You should try Pasta Pasta! just down the street. It's my go to Italian place.” Gloria shared with ease.
Huh. There was something special about food; it always seemed to bring people together. Right as Gloria was about to say something else, another girl waltzed into the elevator. This human was taller, fuller, and had a palpable air of assertiveness. Or was it confidence? I couldn’t tell.
Our conversation ended there. The dynamic seemed to change as a trio. Gloria’s eyes casted to the blond girl then down to her feet, and the blond girl’s eyes remained glued to her phone as she tap - tap - tapped away.
It was hard to watch to be honest. All the studying of humanity in the world could not have prepared me for watching it all unfold before my eyes.
For one, people spent way too much of their time comparing themselves to others and not enough time standing in their authentic power. They manipulated their being to fit in with the crowd, looking to external figures for inner validation. These humans had no idea that when they compared themselves to others, they handed them the key to their potential. No two humans were meant to be the same, yet they spent all their time trying to be like each other, so much so that everyone had become a watered-down version of themselves.
When we hit the ground floor, the three of us scattered in separate directions without a word, as if we hadn’t been sharing the same space for the last few moments. As if connecting with fellow souls was a chore rather than a gift.
Walking down East 23rd Street in search of a meal was like entering into a movie screen. Earth had become somewhat of a reality TV show for the other planets. We all watched, eager to see what would happen next, entertained by the drama, and hopeful that the humans would finally heal so the rest of us could evolve as well.
You see, it was more than just genuine interest. Earth was vibrating at a frequency that was way too low, causing hardships, polarization, natural disasters, and mental health issues to skyrocket. And since all planets are part of one universe, when one falls, we all feel it.
We had to elevate as a whole, and earth was holding us back. That was why my research was so vital. I had to figure out how it all went wrong, so we could better understand how to help humanity evolve.
As I walked down the street, observing my surroundings with as much scrutiny as a mad scientist, I was startled out of my skin when a weak hand grabbed my ankle. When I looked down, it was into the eyes of a feeble man, worn down from years of homelessness. His sign contained two simple words, yet they were powerful enough to spark a heavy pain in my chest: “Help. Hungry.”
I knelt beside him and gave him some cash from my wallet with a mental promise to get him a nice dish from Pasta Pasta!, if I ever found it. Unfortunately, that was the best I could offer him at that moment. However, his suffering strengthened my resolve, and I was more determined than ever to finish my research assignment.
But before I could take even one step forward, I met the resistance of a strong shoulder and the overpowering scent of spice and wood. It was a tall man, with a large build, dressed in the most pristine suit I have ever seen. His phone was to his ear and his briefcase was tucked close to his side. He kept walking as if he hadn’t just rammed into me, speaking sternly into his phone with the kind of authority that screamed wealth.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with money. Just like how there was no shortage of flowers, or sunsets, or waves in the ocean, human potential was unlimited as well. They were quite literally designed for abundance. No, money was not the root of all evil, but greed was.
These humans were trying to fill the void in their chest made from the absence of connection, love, and purpose with money, material fluff, and imaginary success. They seemed to only care about income, not impact. They didn’t realize that the greater impact they had on their neighbors, on the collective, the greater the internal and external reward. For true success came from service, not stuff.
The disparity I had just witnessed put a bitter taste in my mouth, or maybe it was just the effects of breathing in that man’s cologne. Either way, I continued my walk with unease. Despite the current circumstances, I hadn't yet given up hope. There were many humans who understood the meaning of life, even if they didn’t realize they held the answer. Take journalist Norman Cousins for example. He said, “The tragedy of life is not death but what we let die inside us while we live.” He got it.
It was with that lingering thought when I finally stumbled upon Pasta Pasta!. The rich smell of garlic, bread, and herbs flooded my senses, and before I knew it, my mouth was literally watering. Who knew that was a real thing?
The restaurant was bustling with people, conversation, and to my admiration, smiling faces. It was a pleasant contrast to the zoo I left behind outside. I was greeted by the bright face of an Italian woman and was led to a table in the corner of the main floor. I had the perfect vantage point to see all the guests’ clinking glasses and twirling spaghetti in the warm lighting. So, while I waited for my penne alla vodka, I observed my company with an analytical lens.
A few tables to my left, I noticed a couple arguing - huffing about something most likely insignificant. The woman was using her hands passionately to communicate her point, almost on the verge of tears. The man was moving the rigatoni on his plate with his fork, shoulders tense. Whatever the man said in response made the women's frustration palpable. I knew immediately what happened: the man was listening to respond, to defend, not to understand. Something humans did far too often.
It was truly a mystery to me still, why so many fought over meaningless things. Sports games, money, possessions, even political debates were all trivial matters perpetuating disconnect. Love, for the self and others, was the one thing that would save them. Yet they continued to hide behind false convictions for fear of looking too closely in the mirror, because that was what they were really afraid of after all - their reflections.
“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” Author, Robin Sharma, said that. He too knew the secret.
My food arrived with a glorious, “Buon appetito,” and when I took the first bite, a delighted smile met my lips. If there was one thing humans were experts at, it was thoroughly enjoying the sense of taste.
I devoured my food, despite trying to savor every bite, as I continued to silently observe the people around me. The couple luckily stopped arguing, instead laughing over a shared desert. A group of girls gossiped with anticipation over glasses of wine. And two elderly men sipped bourbon at the bar.
At that moment, human life felt somewhat magical. The community, the connection, the joy of sharing conversation over a meal, it left my full belly feeling all warm.
Eager to type up some more notes and crash on my fluffy mattress, I dropped a box of spaghetti and meatballs off to the homeless man like I promised and continued my walk home feeling much lighter than I had before.
That lasted all of 3 seconds.
When I reached the floor of my building, I was halted by the sound of sniffling and soft whimpers. I followed the sounds of despair, and it led me to find Gloria sitting on the floor with her back to Room 111. Her raw emotion struck me like a punch to the gut, and I silently sat down beside her.
“Are you okay?” I asked softly, although hesitant to pry. Her eyes were red and puffy, her cheeks streaked with black, her lips bruised and bloody, and her already minimal clothing was torn. Who did that to her? What the hell could have possibly happened?
The silence that commenced was tense, but when she looked into my eyes, she let out her story with a sigh, almost as if she was relieved to share this burden with someone, even a stranger.
Gloria had gone out to see her boyfriend that night. She didn’t want to go but was too scared to cancel. When she arrived, she decided she was finally going to break up with him. She was worth more than what he gave her. Things got ugly, her boyfriend did not respond well to a potential breakup, and she ran home as soon as she broke free. Except she lost her keys in the commotion, locking herself out of her apartment.
I had no idea it was possible to feel this much pain for another.
“Come on, let's get you cleaned up. You are safe with me,” I promised, as I gently hugged her to my frame, led her around the bend to my apartment, and showed her where everything was to wash up.
When I heard the water turn on, it sparked the onset of my own tears, and I collapsed on the sofa with a heavy heart. How was I ever going to finish my research? There was too much suffering. Too many factors at play. Gandhi said, “The only devils in the world are those running in our own hearts. That is where the battle should be fought.” But how did the humans let so much darkness in? How was there not enough light to drive it out?
“I am so sorry to impose,” Gloria said softly, as she exited the bathroom, looking even more broken with wet hair dripping onto pink slippers.
I motioned for her to sit down on the couch beside me, “Please, don’t worry one bit. Whatever you need.”
I anticipated having to put on a movie to drown out the inevitable silence that would ensue, so I was not at all prepared for what happened next.
“Is it bad that I forgive him? Despite everything he had done?” Gloria confessed more to herself than to me. “I realized on the walk home that… I have attracted all that has happened to me into my life, from the very start. First it was never sticking up to a bully in middle school. Then it was sleeping with my high school boyfriend simply because I feared losing him if I didn’t. Now this, disaster of a relationship.” She paused, eyebrows furrowed, lost in thought. “You know, like that quote from Perks of Being a Wallflower: ‘You accept the love you think you deserve.’ I am not excusing his behavior. He must own up to his own shortcomings. But I can’t play victim any longer.” She wiped a tear, took a deep breath, and what she said next gave me actual chills.
“All of these obstacles I have faced, they were opportunities. I see that now. They were opportunities to learn, to grow, to change the course of my life. But I didn’t listen. So, the obstacles kept coming back and back. But now I get it. All the suffering serves a purpose. It's how we evolve.” Gloria proclaimed, back straightening with resolve.
She had no idea what she just confessed would give me the insight I needed to finally crack the code and finish my research.
Humans truly believed that the only way they could learn was through suffering. That darkness was what birthed light. No wonder why so many were avoiding evolutions, distracting themselves, refusing to heal their triggers, and projecting instead of reflecting. Who would intentionally put themselves through turmoil? And it was because of their conviction that growing always came with pain that caused them to inevitably attract that phenomenon into their reality, confirming their misconception.
They had absolutely no idea that the deepest evolvement, and the most profound growth, could also come from love. That darkness wasn’t the catalyst for light, but the absence of it.
I let Gloria sleep on my cloud of a mattress that night, too eager to write down what I had just uncovered, too ecstatic to start putting the pieces of my research puzzle together to fall asleep. These people were misguided, confused, and lost, yes, but they were open. And that was all we could really ask for: an open mind, an open heart, and the willingness to expand.
So right up until the morning rays started to peek through the billowing curtains, I continued typing.