Zeno’s Basement

How did I get here?  I can’t stop asking, that’s how.  It seems as though there should be a point when one is done asking, but I haven’t found it.

I’m in the elevator again, staring at the panel of buttons.  The button for floor 2, the one I just left, is lit.  The elevator waits patiently for me to press another button.

I found only a few things on the second floor, which makes sense given how difficult it seems to be for me to commit to a belief, to take something as true with no further questions.

But here is the disturbing thing:  Floor two is where I found the fundamental gestures of my Christianity.  The “sinner’s prayer” in high school.  The several crisis points in life where I said “yes” again, when it came down to what seemed the bottom.  It isn’t supposed to be that way.  It’s supposed to be on floor one, isn’t it?

But I haven’t been to floor one yet.  Taking a deep breath, I press the button.

The elevator descends, quietly and obediently.  The doors open on floor one.

A paneled foyer.  A terrazzo floor.  A counter, only about four feet from the elevator.  I step out.  The counter is occupied by a single person, young and androgynous.  I’ll go with ‘she.’  She looks up at me and smiles warmly.  “May I help you?”

“I want to know what’s on this floor.”

Her smile fades only slightly, as befits a serious answer.  “Sir, you should know that I can provide what will be answers of a sort, but you are at a level where language almost always fails.”

I’d heard something similar before, but I ask anyway: “Fails?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Fails how?”

“It misses.  It fails to track whatever it is that language tracks, even more than at the levels above this one.  And I think you are aware that it fails to some extent even above this.  And this failure applies to the answer I am currently providing as well.”  Her face becomes fully serious.  “I’m very sorry for any inconvenience, sir.”

I pause to digest this a moment.  She appears to be as patient as the elevator.  I turn to glance back at the elevator, which remains open.  There are both up and down arrows above it, and the down arrow is lit.

I turn back to the receptionist.  “This is the bottom floor, isn’t it?”

“No sir, it is not.  That answer actually does not fail too grievously.”

I’m now in one of those states where several tracks of questioning present themselves with equal urgency.  I choose one.  “What is on this level?”

“What is on this level cannot be counted or inventoried in any stable way.  But I think there is an answer that would be most helpful to you right now, if you are willing to trust my admittedly fallible judgment.”

I nod.

“What you usually call ‘belief in God.’  Insofar as that is something that can be somewhere, it is on this level.”

The pit of my stomach begins to complain.  “Is it also found below this level?”

“The least misleading answer to that question would be ‘no.’”  She looks slightly sad.

So many more questions, but my stomach takes over.  I turn abruptly and go back into the elevator.  As soon as I enter, the doors slide shut.

I look at the button panel.  When last I was here, the button for floor one was the bottom numbered button, just above the buttons for opening and closing the doors.  Now, underneath it, there is a button labeled “0.5”  I am not surprised by this.  I press it, and the elevator descends again.

When the doors open, I am surprised.  I seem to be on floor one again.  The receptionist looks up at me and smiles.  I find that I am afraid to leave the elevator, so I speak to her from where I stand. “You again.”

A puzzled look.  “Again, sir?  I have not seen you here before.”

Of course.

I swallow and moisten my lips with my tongue.  “What is on this floor?”

She brightens a bit at being able to provide something akin to help.  “I’m sure you’ve already been provided with the disclaimer about language on the floors above.  On this level, it is best to say that it is not a matter of ‘what.’  It is only a matter of it still, in some sense, being ‘you.’”

I stare for several seconds into her patient eyes.

I’m eventually able to choose another question.  “Is this the lowest level at which it is, in some sense, me?”

Though her expression does not change discernably, her face seems to darken.  “Yes and no.”

“That doesn’t seem very helpful.”

“I know, sir.  But it is as true as I can manage.”

Still standing in the elevator, I look over at the button panel.  With dread but little surprise, I see that the bottom button is now labeled “0.25”.

I look at the receptionist again.  “There is no limit on the decimal places, right?

She looks down at her hands, as if answering is painful for her.  “That is correct, sir.”

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