Photo by Suliman Sallehi
When I was a young man, I began searching for the meaning of life. Along the way, I wrote a travel journal, a mix of prose and poetry, and labelled it Fool’s Odyssey.
I knew the idealism of my Spanish Marxist friends was a false construct. But why? And why had each of my imaginary lives failed?
I wanted to be by myself. What a strange expression, “by myself.” How do you do that exactly, be by yourself? Anyway, I don’t know if I was trying to be by myself or just nearer, but I grabbed my journal and went for a walk in the hills. I eventually came upon a ruin that had once been a cathedral, and wrote:
Castles and cathedrals
Sacred and profane
Dust to dust and ashes to ashes
Life is just a bowl of remains
“God, or whoever you are, I whispered, “I don’t want to be by myself anymore. I think I want to be by you.”
But something was in the way.
Almost immediately, I pictured the man who might have built the cathedral. He looked a lot like me, only older, and Spanish, and different, and nothing like me at all, really, except that he was empty inside. Like me.
He pointed to the ruins, and said, “They were built in your lifetime.”
“What?” I said. “What happened?”
“I was an architect, a bold and progressive young thinker who laughed at all of the crumbling edifices hereabouts because I knew what was wrong with them. I had found the flaws in their design and their construction. I would make a new work after a new plan, a perfect structure, one that would never fall! And I built it. I built it! And it was perfect.
“But then it fell! Madre de Dia, it fell just like every other cursed thing, and within a few short years began to crumble and crawl back to the earth. Why? I went over my plans a thousand times, and after the crumbling began, a thousand times more.
“Finally, I ran to this place with my hammer and began smashing it against a wall. And then I saw… But I couldn’t believe what I saw, so I smashed open brick after brick after brick, until I finally had to believe. The cursed bricks were hollow! Eaten away from the inside out by some unseen thing. They were useless, dead, could barely shoulder the slightest weight before they began to crumble and fall in upon themselves.
“No, my plan was good,” he concluded, “maybe even perfect. But what can you build with hollow bricks?”
I left Spain that day. I couldn’t go back to Gabriella and her friends, back to rebuilding society with condiments on tabletops. Because I finally saw that all of us—all of us—are hollow bricks. And it isn’t the plans that need to change…
But the bricks.
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