“Education is the movement from darkness to light” –Allan Bloom
The city was empty, cold, and dark, yet at one point I sensed it was beautiful. It rose in the distance like a mighty mountain. Its presence was cold. I do not mean cold. I mean cold. Every building in the city was a faded white. All the windows were dark. There was no light, or no fire burning. The city stood there, ominous yet powerful, but a shell of its former self. A city on a hill that the world seemed to have left behind.
I was on a boat approaching a dock. The boat was moving slow. The water was still. There were no waves lapping against the dock. There was no sound of the oars hitting the water. The boat was guiding itself, approaching something it had no choice but to approach. The dock was small and made for only one boat. The sky was black. There was no wind. There was no sound of what lives at night. There were no stars. There were no celebrations, no entertainment, nothing. I cannot remember where I was coming from or why I came to this city; all I knew was the city was not supposed to look or feel this way. It did not feel as if the city was in pain. All I felt in the air was despair. It was as if time had stopped and the world was ending. Everything was silent.
The boat stopped, and the handler began to secure the boat to the dock. The handler was not himself. I stood in front of him as he worked. He spoke not as if you could hear him. Softly, maybe, and talked in circles. He spoke in metaphors, almost like he was losing his mind. His eyes never met mine. It was almost as if he refused to see me. How? I was right there in front of him. He looked behind me as he mumbled. As he tied the boat to the dock he moved slowly, one movement at a time. His face appeared to be young but almost lifeless. His cheeks were sunken, and his eyes stayed open wide. He held a faint smile on his lips. He showed no teeth. He was stuck in a void; except he could not tell.
Behind him I watched the city’s population pass us. They walked along a cobblestone road toward a place I could not see. I lost sight of them after they passed me. It appeared they were going to defend their city against a foreign foe. Each held a spear made of wood. All wore pale blue robes and sandals not made for long travel. They walked silently toward the coming force. I heard nothing but the soft scuffle of their feet. They all looked the same. I saw men and I saw women, and they were different from one another, but their faces were all that made them different. Their bodies were frail, malnourished, and weak. There was no spirit in them. They carried no purpose or the faintest hint of curiosity with them. Whatever they walked toward they were not prepared to stand against, yet forward they walked.
The city’s entire population walked together three abreast. They walked as if they knew they were going to die. They knew whatever was coming for their city would be the end of them. It was as if they were defending themselves against a coming darkness, yet they knew they could not beat it. Did they want to beat it? They were emotionless, yet forward they walked.
The city eerily loomed in the background as if it were already dead. A boy walked with the population. He alone looked at me. His eyes met mine. He was a small, bald boy. He was simply a child. There was only one child, and he looked at me. He did not smile. He did not show fear. But his face asked, “Are you my friend?” A man gently turned him back around and they kept walking forward. Once the boy looked away from me, he never looked back. He walked forward.
I shuddered as I watched the population walk forward. I feared what they were going to meet. My stomach felt like a pit.
Two passageways loomed behind the throng, one on the left and one on the right. They resembled triumphal arches like those in Rome. A glowing orb shone on the one to the left. Its light was fading. It gave off a soft, orange glow. The orb was a relic of the city’s past. The population walked away from the only source of light. It was right above them. They all passed it. They all walked away from it. The population walked under this passageway, passed me and the handler on the dock, and then continued under the passageway on the right. It led out of and away from the city. The population was leaving the city. There was nothing beyond the passageway on the right. There was only the fateful foe the population walked to greet. As I spent more time watching them walk toward their foe, I realized they were facing it with submission. They were not really going to fight. They only appeared as if they were going to. They were past the point of overcoming adversity. They did not want to. They did not have the strength to beat it. Their city and their spirits appeared lost. Their weapons resembled those of savages. Now, three by three, forward they walked.
I did nothing as I watched them walk. I did not shout, attempt to break them up, or ask why they walked forward. I just watched them walk. Their footsteps were silent. I wondered if I was even capable of saving them at this point. I was a stranger in their city, and they did not even bother to welcome me. They did not care if I had anything to bring to them. They ignored the orb’s value, and I realized what it used to mean to them. The orb’s light needed to be restored. It was the weapon to beat the darkness. The choice to restore the light, however, was not what the population decided. They chose submission over defiance. Their city would remain cold, and empty, as it was their choice. They all walked past me. They did not look back as they left the city. The orb’s light continued to fade, and forward they walked.
Republished with gracious permission from The New Lyceum (February 2018).
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