Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Far Side of the Hill

Sometimes just to see that light, that slow light of afternoon washing over sidewalks and the faces of buildings, sometimes just to see it is to betray myself, to go back to being a boy.

I will never be at the mercy of others again, I say fiercely, which is nonsense: we are at the mercy of others every day of our lives. But at huge cost we build up the illusion that we are not, that we are adults, and masters of our destinies. Across a wide array of cultures, those most committed to independence and individual freedom have been the most stubborn slaveholders. The Golden Polish aristocracy, who hired and fired their kings; the American Southerners, who were willing to fight to the death for the principle of radical independence, the free Athenians who acknowledged no lord -- the more famous they are for their unwillingness to be ruled, the more likely they are to have held others in subjection. Only the poverty of our education leads us to find this strange. It makes all the sense in the world. We fling the toga or the cape over our shoulders. I am free because I am a master, we say.

But it is a fantasy that sickens and turns, because we are never masters enough. The slave on his heap of rags, dreaming in his filthy corner: is he flinging a cape over his shoulder? Not wasting his glance on the canaille as he strides down the street? Likely enough, and kicking him awake won't change it.

But again. How I am to avoid that poisonous afternoon light? I am not a boy any more. I am as free as I am going to get, in the dappled interlude between the prison of boyhood and the prison of old age. The air is pure and cold. There is time yet, there is time: but that doesn't mean there's time to waste.

The high call of the osprey. I own no one, least of all myself. I pray that the poison of the afternoon light may pass and leave no stain. You do turn and look back, you must, as you reach the ridge: you turn and look back on the land of humiliation. But then you walk on over the ridge, and the stiff pine needles break and release their sweetness under your feet. Even if it's only a day, or an hour, you have been on the far side of the hill. No master and no slave.

Breathe again, that resinous air, so you will remember it the next time that memory rises to choke you. There is freedom: there is a far side of the hill.


Shells said...

Obviously I live this. - Michelle

rbarenblat said...

Love to you, dear dale.

Lucy said...

'that oppresses like the heft of cathedral tunes...'

and I like

'There is time yet, there is time: but that doesn't mean there's time to waste.'

As someone who often feels enslaved and oppressed by the past, my own and the collective, this is good to read.

Kristen Burkholder said...

"I own no one, least of all myself." about to go walk in the woods, see if I can find some mushrooms, and breathe some resinous air, and be terribly vulnerable I hope. thank you for giving me good words with which to enter the world.