Tuesday, April 24, 2007


We, disciples of a strange oracle, have noticed our narrowing orbit around a dark and wavering star. We have found ourselves watching from a height over a limitless waste, where countless small dramas are reenacted endlessly but with constant variations. This is the desert on which the sullen emanations of that grim sun shine.

What should we expect from the desert dwellers we watch from our remoteness, but the hording of water and a grudging, if any, hospitality for the alien pilgrims who pass through? The denizens do not profit from the passage, and we, from our great distance, must seem like gods, with our judgments and our amusement.

But we are votaries ourselves, and our judgments, if we pronounce them, carry no weight. They flow from our convictions, learned from infancy and largely unquestioned. The objects of our observations have nothing to fear from us. Even our wisdom is suspect, and if not that, ineffectual.

The spectacle is often unsettling. We have seen, as through crystal, the flowing of tears -- which are gathered and stored in cisterns, where the salt will leach out and the water will be reclaimed. We have heard the sounds of anguish common to every man but expressed here with an infrequency, given the degree of pain, that suggests a dear cost. We have seen the spastic movements of these players, marionette in their awkwardness, as beings ill suited to the bodies in which they find themselves. But for all our discomfort in witnessing these things, there is a comic element, and we cannot help sometimes but laugh. They are foolish, if not fools.

For this there will be no apology -- not for their plight, and not for our attitudes. We understand that admittance to the view is free and voluntary. We have found the way here and we know the way out. And perhaps after all we find some interest in the spectacle of our characters' mad antics. They are the same as our own, reflected as images in rising desert heat, distorted as distant things passing through vapor must be.

What if we should descend from the heights and join them? We have seen their hostility to wayfarers. Should we risk it? What benefit to us in that? Our own wisdom is suspect, and to participate even in some small way in their foolishness can only be folly. What have we to offer? But if we should come down? Go into the heat and darkness that smothers their land from the troubled skies beneath their insane sun? To what end? Have we gained insight from our attentions? Might we show them some better way? -- lead them to some cooler place? Is there any land for them that is not baking under the only sun they have ever known?

They are mad, we know, each of them, weeping or crying out or rocking as if at prayer. Like spirits cursed forever to endure the great traumas of their lives, they react always to themselves and to the strangers who pass by in the same way -- fear or anger or clinging need. A world of beaten dogs. What balm have we for such wounds? What healing might we bring, what sermon could we preach, that their flesh and their souls should be soothed? Only gods can work miracles, and our oracle has always been odd, and unreliable.

It shouldn't be surprising, but it is. The difference between us and them is only one of distance. If we turn our thoughts upon ourselves, we find ourselves weeping, and crying out, and muttering. We are sane only because we watch outwardly, and do not confront the darkness that waits when we close our eyes. No wonder the world is so dark.

If we should go down among them, we would become them. Perhaps we already are. Perhaps the appearance of a soul is that of a dark and scorching sun, and the players upon the plain are memories and thoughts and wishes, and we company gathered at this far off vantage are a single person, too removed even from himself to recognize his many faces.

If that were so, then our will is indeed free, and we have only to approach the raving and ruined creatures under our purview, and endure their great passions until they are spent. Wild dogs can be tamed. And even if it were not so, that we are all one, it still may be true that to suffer along with them might do them some good. If we have the strength for it.


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