Sunday, 4 January 2015

Where people sit like mountains, smiling with indescribable smiles

"Sometimes, we lose our concept of freedom so completely that even though the door to our prison is wide open, we don't go outside." - Unknown

There’s an old story of a young man, who, as he grew, started to cause a great deal of disquiet in his village. He spoke of strange, far off worlds, worlds very different to anything anyone had ever heard of. 

He spoke of worlds where the sun, trying to savour every moment, grazed the horizon all night long, casting shadows over people that never slept. He spoke of great oceans surrounded by hills of sand, of salty spray carried on the wind beneath skies of sparkling jewels. He spoke of ancient people of orange and red who sat like mountains and smiled with indescribable smiles.

All this talk started to cause a lot of disruption. Some thought he just had an over-active imagination, some thought he was trying to trick them, and for a few, his words seemed to awaken something within them, although they weren't sure what it was, and so they became afraid.

There was even talk of trying to find the magical worlds that the man spoke of and this caused a great deal of fear amongst the village elders. Everyone in the village had a job, some collected water, others built homes, some made clothes or grew vegetables. If people started leaving in search of these strange worlds, the comfortable life they’d all grown accustomed to would quickly become impossible. 

Eventually, it was decided that this man and his strange talk threatened their whole way of life and so he was imprisoned in a cave at the edge of the village. A large stone wall was erected at the entrance and two guards were tasked with guarding the cave day and night. The man was given regular food and water and various tools and materials to keep him occupied during the day.

At first, the man fell into a great depression. He had glimpsed worlds of beauty and mystery almost beyond comprehension. It made his present condition feel even more desperate and he started to wish he had never glimpsed anything beyond the village. 

It would have been better for him to have lived the life of an ordinary villager, building houses or growing vegetables, each day like the previous. As time went by, however, since he had nothing else to do, he started to busy himself with improving his cave.

The village elders, who bore him no real malice, had ensured he was well provided with tools and materials to keep him occupied. With so much time, he soon became a competent carpenter. First he constructed a bed to sleep in and a table and chair where he could eat his meals. He still thought of those other worlds he’d glimpsed but everyday they seemed more distant. 

As he improved his skills he fashioned a more luxurious bed with carved legs and cushioned with hay so he could enjoy more comfortable nights. He made a larger table and many chairs so he could eat from a different chair each day. With yet more time he started to make all kinds of intricate wood workings. He held long conversations with his guards and people from the village bought gifts to barter with him in exchange for the exquisite pieces he would create. 

Many of the villagers commented that he now lived a life more luxurious than them, and it was true, his life had become very comfortable. Thoughts of far off magical worlds had all but gone now, although sometimes, when he dreamt very deeply, he was back there, feeling the salty spray, looking up at the bejewelled sky.

As time went by, the village forgot that the cave was a prison; to them it was just where the Carpenter lived. The guards grew old and retired and no one was sent to replace them. The stone wall crumbled and fell down and sunlight streamed through the opening, although somehow it never seemed to reach the Carpenter’s eyes. In fact, the man never stepped outside at all. It always seemed to cold or too hot or too dangerous. What if the guards came back or what if someone stole his ornaments that he'd worked so hard over? Inside the cave, everything was comfortable and predictable.

The villagers still brought him food and materials in exchange for his creations, in fact, he found himself busy with his work almost every waking moment. This continued for a very long time. Summer’s longed-for-warmth came and went, leaves fell and carpeted the ground, and grew again and fell again, winters brought their darkness, froze their frost and emptied their snow and snow turned to rivers in spring sunshine.

Years passed, until one day, a curious visitor came to see the Carpenter. It was a young man from the village and he had a very strange request. He asked the Carpenter if he could make a canoe strong enough to travel the wild river that snaked in the valley beneath the village. “What possible need could you have for such a thing?” the Carpenter asked. The visitor leaned in close and whispered, “I've heard about places beyond the village, magical places, where people sit like mountains, smiling with indescribable smiles”.

Image by Ferran Jorda


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