Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Story Corner -American Apostasy



All come to the crossroads at some point, the place between where we have come from and where we will go. In many ways, life is series of never-ending patchwork junctures and interconnected highways. We turn down many roads and neglect others. Yet at other times, we inadvertently rediscover another path we failed take before. The place I am referring to though is the fork that decides which network we take, where we decided whether to take the road our ancestors have taken or go in on the path they did not travel. 


When I reached this point, I took the latter and this choice also manifested itself in my nighttime journey. I dreamt I was walking along the bank of a gentle river. The trees were green and the grass was shiny with morning dew. Nothing compared though to the glimmering light I soon spotted a few meters down the shoreline. Perched atop a large mound, sat the temple of my forebears. Made entirely out of white stones, the temple’s facade was dominated by two tall square towers that narrowed at their peaks into slender, golden coated spires. Between them was a grand archway, nestled in the wings of two silver eagles. From the face of the building a long hall stretched back towards another pair of towers. Identical in shape to those at the front, these towers flanked a colossal golden angel. She stood atop a circular platform, her right arm clutching a torch as she pressed our sacred book to her breast. I had not seen her face in some time. Her outstretched wings seemed inviting. Yet the sight that received me at the entrance was anything but. 


The door was almost shut, leaving only a small gap through which to pass. Two boys, who had not reached puberty, guarded them with rifles. Their barrels were pointed downwards passively sweeping across the feet and knees of the mobs of ragged people who seemed to want to get in. I made my way to the front past screaming children and moaning mothers and showed the boys the star pendent I kept around neck on a silver chain. They allowed me in and I passed under the eyes of bearded ancient saints that covered the door. Inside, in the foyer I was greeted by yet another group of images the figures of other saints. Long haired and clean shaven, they were the venerated ones who had built the very temple I was raised in.


I walked down the wide foyer and reminisced, admiring the elegant statues and gardens that I had admired as a young one. The storerooms were there as well. Filled with every treasure or necessity imaginable their doors were totally empty. A few presumably still full were shut now and guarded by gun cradling toddlers. To avoid their inquisitive gazes I turned to the ceiling and it was there when I saw something new I had never seen before. Cracks had appeared in the ceiling, splitting the gorgeous murals that had once illuminated this paradise on earth. 


I was disappointed by this neglect, but not as disappointed as I would be when I entered the chapel hall for the first time in many years. I push open a pair of golden doors and entered a storm of raucous argument. The chapel, unlike many other temples, had several rows of stone benches at equal levels lining each edge of the hallway while at the far end stood a grand pulpit plastered with gold and jewels. An elder in a fine suit stood before it observing the chaos below. Two parties of elders sat across from each on the opposing rows, their members screaming across the aisle at the opposing side without any respite. 


Obscenities, lies and defamation swirled about the room. All were caught up in the maelstrom of distortion, so much so that all their voices blurred to the point of being unrecognizable. In appearance, both parties were very much the same as well. Covered in gold and silver chains and bracelets, their skin color seemed a smooth cinnamon color, a cocktail of all pigments. Baby faced and adolescent their bodies were utterly famished, their skins seemingly upholstered over their bones. 


They seemed barely human, and yet in an utter affront to their emaciated forms, each person in the hall had at least five bottles of various brews and several plates of food by their side. Some were even vigorously consuming their meals as they spoke. 


I watched the scene for some time in silence, trying to remember if I had ever beheld such a display in the temple before. Finally, after a few moments of deliberation, I walked into the middle of the fray. The arguments stopped at once as I reached the bottom of the pulpit.


The Elder at the front, garbed in a crimson cloak and hood gazed down at me. I could feel the same perplexed look in his stare from both sides of the aisle. 


“Sir,” I said. “I’ve come from the outside.”


“I see that,” He said, his eyes analyzing the foreign robes that covered my body. “Yet you are one of us correct?” 


“I am,” I replied. “And with your permission I would like to address the elders. I have important news I wish to share with them.” 


He nodded.


“All are equal here; we are glad you’ve returned home to us and are eager to hear what you have to say. Please realize that we have urgent matters to attend to and won’t be able to give you much time.”

“I realize that,” I answered. “I won’t be long.” 


I took a deep breath and turned to the parties. 


“First, I wish to say how grateful I am for this temple and all the wisdom it has provided me. Second, I would like to tell you that after spending much time in the world, visiting other villages, towns, temples and churches I will be spending my life outside of your reach. I no longer wish to live among you or live with you.” 


I had no idea what kind of reaction to expect from the chamber. Some were quiet, some silently nodded. Yet others were concerned. 


“Son, why would wish such a thing?” An elder asked, after taking a swig from his bottle. “Do you wish to evangelize other outsiders and bring them to our fold?” 


“No,” I answered. “I have no wish to work or serve on your behalf. I merely…I simply, cannot live among you anymore. Your way or life, your beliefs, your practices are simply not in line with the life I wish to lead. I simply wish to leave the temple and spend the rest of my life settled in another community.” 


This caused confusion to set in amongst the audience in the chamber. 


“Son,” The Elder at the front said. “How can you wish for such a thing? You have had everything you’ve ever wanted and yet now you abandon us without remorse? Need I remind you none have achieved more than we have. We are the greatest who have ever lived and none doubt it. Look at our temple, our golden angel, our wealth and excess. We are the blessed we are the elect; all peoples would love to have the prosperity that we have. We are the greatest, the exceptional. We can provide anything, do anything.” 


“That may be true, I have never seen a place with more wealth and prosperity but I still don’t find myself satisfied.” 


“That is impossible!” He shouted slamming his palm against the pulpit.


As the clap reverberated across the hall, another elder with a scar across his cheek stood and stepped out into the aisle.


“You merely don’t understand all that we are! You are young and naïve about the world, impressionable after being exposed to so much. I killed many and saw many sacrificed to protect this temple. I’ve seen the evil that lurks out there in its purest form. How dare you spit on my sacrifice on the sacrifice of all your ancestors! We died and were maimed for your sake! You cannot abandon the home we created for you.”


He returned to his seat in disgust as I answered.


“I have yet to experience life in its fullest or discover the darkest aspects of our existence, this is true. I have also never killed any man woman or child on behalf of our people. But I have been too many other places besides this, so you cannot say I am naïve about the world, not entirely. Many of you have not even left the temple since it was founded, some of you have walked your whole lives behind stone walls or sat in golden benches, only hearing about what others have seen and experienced. Those of you who have left either witness only the worst of world or never bother to humble yourselves enough to learn the ways of others; more than happy to teach the outsider but always reluctant to learn from the foreigner.


I’ve met other preachers and herd other choirs, studied other books, worshipped in other temples. Some were quite beautiful possessing treasures that have never gone past our gates, some were run down and destitute but were full of life and true energy, and yes elder, there were some where great, great evil dwelled. Yet all offered a small part of a world that I think we are oblivious too, a world that gives ways to approach questions that might teach us something.” 


“We don’t need to see what the rest of world is or understand it on its own terms. We take what’s best from it and make it the best it will ever be. No one’s story or triumphs are greater than our own.” 


Another Elder shouted from one of the back rows. 


I turned to face him. 


“Many who came before you boasted such things, The Caesars in their Praetorian guarded palaces, the Emperors of China with their hoards of eunuchs and concubines. The poetic Shahs of Persia and the mighty Caliphs of Baghdad, the elephant mounted kings of the Khmer and the steel garbed conquistadors of Spain. Rulers of the high seas, kings of the steam engine, masters of the Panzer, Bosses of the atom, all claimed their superiority and for a time it rang true. Each and every generation believes itself to be the greatest that has ever lived, that it has overcome the worst trials and tribulations humanity will ever face. Who is to say this grand temple will merely be another empty Coliseum for visitors to gawk at and graffiti.


It was then that the outrage grew to fury.


“Do not blaspheme what we are and what we have created!” The Elder at the front screamed. “Perhaps you would like to go live with the filthy squalid shitholes you love so much. You are like everyone else; you hate everything we are, jealous of everything we have. You want to destroy us, even though we try our hardest to make the world better and bless it.” 


“Those squalid shit holes you condemn and claim to want to bless have lights as well. Also, I don’t hate you. I simply wanted to remind you about the one belief upon which this temples stands; the fact that all humans are merely human and nothing more or less. My very eyes tell me that you are destroying your own temple yourselves from within. You’re bodies are emaciated because you spent so much of your energies on building these gilded walls and lifeless treasures for your own pride and amusement. You cannot continue to live like this, in hollow chambers with hollow bodies, consuming all that you can and all that you cannot. Bickering will not solve your problems, blaming one side so emphatically for the sins you all commit.”


“Our ancestors created the perfect temple that would bless the world. Their vision cannot fail.” An elder proclaimed.


“Besides,” Said another. “How can our temple bless others if it is not the best and brightest? If we don’t take all that we can and make something extraordinary.”


“How can you bless a people, when they have nothing to eat and you give them a trifle of what you own?” 


“We give more than anyone.”


“Yes, but you won’t give up your golden angels or your silver mirrors, nor the ivory encrusted books you claim are meant for their benefit.” 


The elder had the front pointed his finger at me.


“You speak of things you don’t understand you rebellious, worthless ignoramus. Recant and embrace this temple in its fullest. It’s the best thing you or anyone else will ever know on this earth.” 


“I’m afraid I cannot do this.” I answered. 


“Then you will get your wish and be cast out like the half-person you are, never to be full again until you recant your heresy and accept us in all our righteous glory.” 


“I do not want to forsake my ancestry. This is the place I came from. It has shaped me just as deeply as the other places I have lived. I simply want to be free to be someone other than you, to be fulfilled and happy in a place I love.” 


“It’s impossible to have true happiness and value outside these walls. It’s not worth it to love the rest of the world as it is, not when it is completely wretched and evil.” 


“It is not what you think it is!” 


“Out!” The caped elder cried. “Out! Out! Until you recant.” 


And with that I turned my back on the temple and walked out the door, hounded by the elders from their seats with please to recant. I stormed past the empty storerooms and the armed children. I burst out and passed the many dirty, down trodden and oppressed who still lingered outside the doors hoping to enter what they thought was paradise on earth. I reached the river and dived in without hesitation, not once did I look back at the temple of adolescents and I did not stop until I reached a small circle of grass huts in a forest. 


I was invited into a home and in time I settled there among a strange but simple people. It was not paradise; no, it was nowhere near to the best of all possible worlds. Yet nevertheless, heaven seemed far closer than it ever was inside the temple of my ancestors. 


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