But, despite the tensions we were soldiers first and Kreet was the land that bound us, both the unwilling and the blind. The hour before sunrise is the coldest. The wind picks up and the chill settles on the bones. You can run for the whole hour and not feel warmed up inside. But any time away from the camp is a relief. Especially now with the prisoners there. The enemy prisoners. We prefer the 1am duty. The guardhouse is noisy until 11pm anyway and the chance of being hauled away for some dirty job is high. At one in the morning the world feels like a peaceful place. The lights in town shimmer, the lights of the main road hang beneath the horizon like pots of fire. Once a barn owl swooped over our heads as we sat in the grass smoking a cigarette, cupping our hands over it carefully to avoid detection and putting our heads between our knees to suck in the smoke and hide the soft glow. We felt it before we heard it. It sounded like something big breathing out over us. We felt a quick rush of cool air on our necks and then heard a swoosh. Between feeling the owl and hearing it we had rolled away and were aiming at the blackness behind us. After a kilometre we started laughing uncontrollably and sat down again and smoked a cigarette but coughed a lot through laughter. That was one of the happiest moments from that time. It bound us and allowed us to remain friends after the difficulties later. That we could laugh together gave each of us permission to forgive one another later.
There was this evening in the beer garden. Blokes getting drunk and forgetting stuff they had seen or done and finding absolution in the wordless confessional of alcohol.
We have to fight to hold onto our land, Kreet is ours someone said. Maybe the beer had given me courage? Maybe the guilt of silent collusion got the better of me?
Is it really our land? I said. The Company officer, the one who had forced us to leopard crawl over slate and laughed as we had bled, was there. Like dogs we were eager for his approval. We imagined he had become a friend.
You’re crossing a line he said.
A veil of distrust descended over us. Things continued as normal after that but dialogue strained as if emerging every time tired from a long journey through an internal labyrinth where pre verbalised thoughts were considered according to possible interpretations and consequences. Everyone became cautious, having to hold the thread of the original thought while surveying the various landscapes that began to form and take shape as a result of the words spoken. Conversation collapsed under the pressure and became chatter skimming along the surface of things: the weather, physical ailments, safe complaints about people mutually agreed upon to be fools and the camp dog, Asterion. It was always safe and comforting to share stories about Asterion’s antics as if talking about him bridged the abyss deepening beteeen us.
That was all a long time ago and Kreet is reclaimed now. Those who were once prisoners now lead and those who used to lead have been imprisoned. I wonder now if we were soldiers protecting the land or minotaurs prowling the imagined idea of a country in the subterranean labyrinth of some nameless terrain in wait for a name change? The friend with the owl now farms the land and I exiled myself from it.
The new country has a name but I have become weary of names for land. There are leaders here also, I’m not sure yet whether they lead soldiers or minotaurs. I was a minotaur once. Now I look for Asterion instead. There is always an Asterion. I only saw an owl once. There are prisoners here, they are everywhere.
Aging is like entering a Hall of Mirrors. The body undergoes rapid distortion. The present melts into comic and hellish reflections. You laugh, but you want to cry. Reality is stripped of its rigid adherence to a single form. You emerge as a multitudinous distortion. There is a reluctant acknowledgement of the fragmented nature of all things. Maybe this is some kind of enlightenment? A surrendering of sorts? A release of the need for a fixed position in the experience of existence.
Holding onto anything is exhausting and sooner or later one finds that holding on has become a habit. Sometimes we refer to this as endurance.
Youth is the vigour of life in full bloom. A sweet and beautiful reminder of all that is good. A boundless time in which eternity feels real because the body moves with such ease through the world that anything is possible. We are, then, an expression of the elegant logic of being. So we move on, around the sun, again and again … and find ourselves one afternoon, suddenly tired. The shadow we cast does not stretch as far as it used to. Gravity feels stronger than eternity.
Life is a mighty force contained in our physical form. Briefly, force and form find equilibrium. We run, we are limitless, we fly. Gradually, the fragility of our form begins to show. Life, once all-giving, seems to slowly recede, taking parts of us with it: teeth, joints, people, places, dreams. One atom at a time, over time and bit by bit we experience subtraction. We are compelled to minimalism and to accomodate this shift we slowly retreat from the world until we are away from the noise and the bustle, in the high tower of Self. We gather memories like feathers hoping to feel again the delight of flight.
We gather them up and stitch them together to make wings we hope will allow us fly. Like Daedalus and Icarus we survey the vast landscape upon which past dramas were played out.
And of course we never fly. But, it is essential that we never lose hope of taking flight. Hope is the air that fills the sky, but also permeates the earth. Air.
Way back, beyond the reach of living memory, things were different in this world. It’s hard to believe or even imagine how they could be, but they were. The present, after all, is not a solid thing. It is like an invisible curtain we are constantly walking through. We seem to be always peering through it, into a room we never quite enter. So we grasp onto the notion of permanence despite a deep knowingness that nothing endures. This is why we love stories. Stories soften the blows of uncertainty and remind us that we will be alright in the end. Stories cut through the illusions that might otherwise bind us. Take for instance the story of The Raven.
Those noisy black birds that seem to taunt you and strut around like they’re untouchable, they have their story. Legend has it that ravens were once tasked to protect the wisdom of the world. For centuries they fulfilled their duty as the gatekeepers of this wisdom with courage and great nobility of spirit.
Then, one day a dispute emerged between the ravens and the humans. Humans, like ravens, were quick learners, equally intelligent but more arrogant than their counterparts. They challenged the ravens to step down from their assigned role, believing that they were better suited to protect the wisdom of the world. Rivalry between humans and ravens escalated quickly. There had been harsh words before, and words are only words, but they soon have way to violence. The first act of cruelty was quickly avenged and there’s no stopping anyone who feels justified for their brutality. The kingdom came to the brink of civil war. Faced with the potential destruction of the kingdom, the emperor summoned the humans and the ravens to attend an important meeting. Each side arrived convinced that they were right and that the emperor would rule in their favour. The emperor passed a decree which is still in force today. He proclaimed that henceforth all humans would lose their memory of the wisdom of the world or that it even existed, and that the ravens would forget their language except for the vowel sounds: a, e, i, o and u. The key to lifting the curse for both the ravens and humans lay in the form of a specific arrangement of vowel sounds. This curse would be lifted on the day that the humans heard and understood the coded message uttered by the ravens. Since then, sadly, humans have forgotten to listen while many ravens have given up trying to be heard. However, some days, if you are attentive, you will hear through the raven’s caws those letters: a, e, i, o and u. Sometimes you will notice how the ravens appear to be trying to get our attention.