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Living the Right Life?

February 12, 2015

By Mark McClure

Let’s see now. I’ve lived a good life. Done what was expected, and then some. Never knowingly harmed a soul. Yet here I am in Hell.

So begins Steven L. Peck’s chilling but eternally hopeful novella, ‘A Short Stay in Hell’, inspired by the Jorge Borges short story, ‘The Library of Babel.’

How Peck’s initially devout protagonist set about exploring his unexpected afterlife transition led me to think again about the value of transitions down here on terra firma. Few books have that kind of effect on me anymore.  If nothing else, my ruminations help pass the time on Tokyo’s crowded trains – where observing other passengers reminds me in a myriad mundane ways how we are wired to seek the best in each other.

The net result?

Give and take, compassion and good manners help lubricate social interactions that might otherwise lead to friction, angst and even conflict. Perhaps we humans, with our ego-awareness of self and separateness, just can’t resist making life more complicated than required?

I like to imagine that ‘living the right life’ reflects change already underway within the psyche. A change that has emerged naturally from perennial wisdom best known as the ‘golden rule’ i.e. treat others as you would want to be treated.

How many troubles would dissolve if this rule became humanity’s collective mission statement, and especially that of its leaders?

Alas, history records that unshakeable beliefs in what is assumed to be the greater good can be taken to (unintended) extremes whenever their adherents become convinced that the ends justify the means. Idealism then warps into fanaticism and, left unchallenged, results in enormous carnage and suffering.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way because transitions are not limited only to individual ones such as those Jacinta supports through this site. They could also show up in a big way when enough people conclude that worldviews based on failed ideologies have passed their sell-by dates.

Although it probably sounds like pie-in-the-sky nonsense in a dog-eat-dog world, I think that reading fiction like Mr Peck’s helps to plant and till these ideas in my mind. For example, it occurred to me that regardless of whether the book’s protagonist, Soren Johansson, was cast as a believer (he was a Mormon), an agnostic, an atheist or any other -ist the author could imagine, he had no alternative but to eventually conclude that his long-cherished beliefs about how things should be were incorrect. (A big hello to idealogues and demagogues the world over…)

I was particularly captivated by how Soren’s endless and timeless searching in the library led him to realize that what unites people is simpler and more powerful than what divides them. The irony buried deep inside dogmatic belief systems is that one fine day those characters will rediscover the eternal essence of their innocence and humanity. And all of their transitions will be complete. The tragedy is that Soren will do this alone and unknown.

Of course, ‘A Short Stay in Hell’ was just a work of fiction conjured up in 29,000 words of magic. Wasn’t it?

I highly recommend this book to open-minded people in transition, and doubly so if you enjoyed classic TV shows like ‘The Twilight Zone.’


About the author: Mark McClure is still writing a book on the self-coached career change. The process sometimes feels like a short stay in hell. Visit for more info.
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