It was easier when the heroes were prophets. They stood just far enough forward that we had to keep moving to keep up. We had to lean in to hear. That was when tyrants wore names like uniforms. Good and evil faced off across chasms and we knew better than to tumble between. We stood firm on our side. Myth grew us a chorus of muses. They sang in every shade of green.
Over across the way, it was hard to make out anything but ruin. Rumor had it someone had salted the earth. The restoration was a long way off. We knew we could only build a bridge after the villains had been vanquished. Even if we could arrive sooner to begin the purge and planting, would our comrades welcome us? Would they even recognize us?
Instead, we wrote our letters to kings and their ministers. We marched in a small but mighty throng to the houses of power. Memorizing the choreography of revolution in playback, we rehearsed scenes for battle. It was easy to believe we mixed with warriors when really we danced our masquerade on daylit streets, aping others in costumes crafted as artfully as our own. We called our theater change.
When we braided dense strands of “oppression” and “hegemony” and “injustice” into our script, we heard only echoes of assent. It was many years before anyone would subject our terms to scrutiny. Anyone we respected, anyway.
We had no idea what was coming.
Inside a TGV we didn’t remember boarding, we sliced through one decade. Then another. We barely registered the motion. Through the dark glass, who can see the land screaming past?
We crossed bridges someone else laid. They were there all along, we come to find. But only later. Only after disembarking where some natives had stars on their bellies and some had none. Allies were naked and bundled in robes. Strangers smiled with knives in their teeth. The rich were kind and the givers were tired and the children still hadn’t learned the folly of human taxonomy.
We expected the destination to be promise made flesh. In our imagining, lush jade pushed up through the cracks. Our steady and earnest struggle would spill open the soil from below. Redemption was to grow from the efforts we seeded; whole forests slaking their thirst on the faith we poured into everything.
We find our way more tangled in steel cable now, more carved into concrete, than it ever was. Or maybe just as much as it has always been but far more than we let ourselves believe.
Trade offs are trickier. It is no longer clear how to weigh need. Pushing or pausing? Security or truth? The children of our tongues or the children of the world?
The work we do to shelter what we planted draws our hands ever farther from the fertile soil tucked deep beneath the bed. Love is a 20-sided die. We cast it every morning and it may come up indictment or diversion, servitude or freedom. It may douse a flame. It may call us to action. The day saturates us with its hope. The clock burns us with its light.
We do small things now, hoping that the net around our meager garden hangs together with some kind of coherence. The strands sag away, break, twist into the seedlings. We take them up and bind them to any loose corner. For now, the best we can do is collect stems and bits of string to sustain the perimeter around what we are called to cultivate.
Meanwhile, our tired hands crave surrender. Sometimes we succumb to the indifferent churn of earnings and health and construction and obligation and a thousand small exchanges between a thousand anonymous neighbors. It is too easy to point to the absence of a point, especially when the heroes have vanished from the line of sight. Very few of our people now hear the pulse of our quiet rebellion. We let so very few of our people lean in to listen.
We are reluctant to to reveal to anyone the cacophony of whispers. A way exists. It is possible to stride to the front and lead. Sing your way home. We know but pretend otherwise. We’d rather conceive of heroes as other than us.
Yet the beat hungers to twine like fingers of ivy around limb, stalk, flower. Around anything that will expand its reach and accompany it on its journey. It aspires to become rhythm rising to a hum, to gather into a resonant, endless, breathing chord.
It is for that fecund but silent pocket of promise that we must till and sow the small things. We must keep joining edges and feeling for the tiny vibrations. We must fill chasms with life. We must turn a larger plot of earth and harvest a bounty that can feed tomorrow’s ragged, bellowing mouth.
Image credit: Umbrella House is a co-op in the East Village of New York City run by former squatters. Photos and full story in The New York Times.