Once upon a time in a very vast land, the king was unsatisfied. For the ruler of such extensive domains, an insufficient number of subjects showed their love for him. Even worse, the courtiers sneered about it behind his back, taking their good life in this castle on the green hill for granted. One day he ordered the building of a monument, where it was decreed that all subjects, not least the courtiers, were to pay homage to him.
When the first of them arrived to fulfil the new decree, they could barely believe their eyes. In the middle of the courtyard was a small column of carved marble - not a head higher than a child in its playful years - that pointed like a spear towards the sky. Engraved in Roman letters in gold was the word "GREATNESS." The trumpets sounded and the herald announced that henceforth all subjects were to bow at least once a year before the greatest monument ever built. The king stood with his arms crossed over his considerable midriff, pretending to look askance as each subject bowed before the small block of marble. As the days passed, the subjects flowed in, and each one strove to outdo the last in fervor. "Hail to the greatest of great monuments ever built!" they cried out.
As the pilgrimages to GREATNESS overtook the attention of the land, the enemies of the kingdom grinned smugly. What better moment to achieve their goals than when so many in that seemingly unconquerable land appeared to be obsessed by a tiny, inconsequential slab of marble?
Suddenly it was dawn on the first day after the enemy had looted and pillaged. A few orphaned children dared to creep out of the ruins. Their clothes were in rags, and their hair and faces covered in a thin film of dust. Above all, they were hungry, and looked about to see what they might find to eat. There was nothing, and so to distract themselves from their hunger they wandered to the pile of broken marble, and began to play make-believe games with the pretty stone. These games sustained their spirits until one of them found some succulent roots in a vegetable patch. The children survived to become parents, and with their caring for one another, created a community on the ruins of the green hill. The monument remained a pile of stone with the gold-engraved letters split up on different pieces. Future generations made new words with them. Yet, no one ever mentioned that word again, and in that there was greatness.
Written in memory of the millions that perished in the Holocaust.
The nature of progress
The winter sun shines with the determination of spring. A seed begins to fatten and swell deep underground. Its husk softens in the moistening soil and a shoot breaks through. It is delicate and frail, still yellow-white rather than the robust green of a strong, young plant. Yet it is undeniably there, and begins to wind its way through the soil - sometimes sideways, but overall upwards in the inherent knowledge that this must be its way.
Many who walk above ground deny the presence of spring and long for yesterday. "When will the chill end? When will the good old times return? No summer could ever be as good as the last." And all of the time, the yellow shoot deep under the soil below their feet grows more robust, and ever more able to navigate its way around the obstacles. While people above the surface speak of "blocking, freezing and pulling out," the reverse is happening below them, as the shoot breaks through into warming soil and engages ever more fully with life.
Those above believe they are lords of the earth. Their oafish footsteps, like the pompous beat of a marching drum, sound the words "me, me, me." Yet, underneath those self-obsessed feet are not one, but a thousand green shoots, wound into different shapes by their journeys and infused with the knowledge of "we, we, we."
Now the grass brushes at the ankles, a cocky reminder of delusion.
The nature of a lie
A lie is cold and slippery as ice. It peers through glassy eyes at the warm world and tracks its victims like an experienced predator: the land, the sea, the air and the trees; and the people who laugh and cry and shout for joy. A lie bulldozes these things, and mashes them into the ground so that they look all the same, helplessly pressed into the road upon which a new army of lies goosesteps.
A lie is mundane as an expressionless face, emanating from lips that move but say nothing. Its deathly smooth skin looks like a heavily made-up face in an open casket, sucking all that is real and uneven into an unnatural, rotting perfection. A lie is bleached blond with dark eyebrows, the roots meticulously covered in the very second that uncertainty threatens to expose itself. A lie is a full-time job requiring minute-by-minute attention to the color that might make its way out, the life that might begin to twitch in the flattened road, and the eye that might blink.
A lie is a lie, because it thwarts its own existence. The body ejects it in a fever, like an infection that must be expelled. The water seeps through its membranes to equalize the salt of life all around it, and eventually dries it out, causing it to collapse from the impossibility of supporting itself. A lie retreats like a guilty thing to pursed lips that no longer know what to do with it, except to lick it with one sweep of the tongue and swallow.
Between hope and emptiness
Early this morning the sky was a turquoise ocean with waves of gold rimmed clouds made clearer by the cold. The dogs had noticed the turning of nature's gaze toward spring, and sniffed eagerly at the air, as though one could smell the turning of the light. "That's what hope looks like," I said to my walking partner. She pointed to the smokey sky further away, where it seemed to me that hope was blurred by colors as yet uncertain. It wasn't all as I had thought.
Each byte of morning news reminded me of that blurred sky. Was I simply naive to believe that public service could be a noble thing? To watch actors on the stage of today's political reality is to feel morally empty. Was the system really so rife with people of such extraordinary callousness toward their fellow human beings? Was trust gone, and, worst of all, was the theater taking place before us a manifestation of ourselves?
I sipped my coffee, begging for a caffeine kick out of emptiness. Familiar voices played in my head. Father's first: "Wake up, girl, nothing's changed - take care of your own." On the other end of the spectrum were the many other voices who insisted that I should not waste time deluding myself: "Stop believing in something that doesn't work, girl - the whole system needs to be razed to the ground so that we can start anew." All voices left me feeling empty. The consequences of either argument seemed to run contrary to that turquoise sky of hope, with its clouds of painstaking incremental never-ending change. One step after the next, and the next.
As the snow fell against a grey sky outside the long windows, I floated inside on the surface of a warm pool, and stared at the patterned ceiling wondering what insights a half a century of life had brought me. Perhaps there weren't any, and simply being able to float here without care as others swam around me was enough.
As the warm water caressed my skin, the snow continued to fall like a silent messenger. Each flake was another year, passing so quickly I could barely keep count. I stopped at eighteen and began to wonder whether life had become what I had envisioned it to be back then. The answer eluded me like the water and the snow flakes. All I could remember about that time was struggling with how to hold onto the pattern I had been raised with: the constant moving from one place to the next surrounded by the smell of suitcases and aircraft. This was no vision at all, rather it was a desperate desire to hold onto something, anything, that could offer a sense of belonging. How lucky I was to be a cosmopolitan, and how unlucky.
As each snow flake fell and the years passed by I made decisions that no one else could understand. Not even me. I broke with the promise of a secure corporate life and moved to a small isolated island in the cold, dark North with my new, young family. There were so many uncertainties, and yet it felt so right. The smell of the musty forest replaced the smell of suitcases. I resisted leaving the ground with all of my might, as though it was a life and death decision, and perhaps it was. For leaving the ground would have been to drag out those delicate roots that had begun to grow in the soil of that place, away from the growth-hampering effects of critical gazes.
During a decade the roots grew strong in the peace of this unusual place, so far from the elusive world I had once known. Slowly, a vision arose, of a life lived close to the earth and to loved ones, with time for reflection, the courage to put thought and feeling to the page, and respect for the work of the hand. This emergence was nothing I could have formulated quickly. It took the passing of years and perseverance. The search for roots sometimes took me to painful discoveries in later years, but pain can strengthen resolve and vision, if one can stand venturing deeper into it.
At 50 I see a world weary of the very thing I was raised with: a global outlook. I sympathize deeply with the desire to flee that alienating idea to a safe place of one's own, where things are familiar and roots are strong. Yet, today the vision of a life must be big enough to accommodate both. We will need to learn to feel comfortable with floating at the same time as with knowing where the snow lands.