Tuesday, January 7, 2014
The Cave: An Obvious Allegory
One day an old man happened upon the cave. She heard him stumbling around in the dark and pressed herself into the cold stone, praying that he wouldn't notice her, but of course he did. Campfires don't start themselves. "Is someone there?" he asked quietly in the dark. "Please, don't be afraid. I'm only seeking shelter from the cold wind that's blowing." She said nothing in return, hoping that he would leave. But he persisted, "Please. I'm sorry to disturb you. All I ask is a warm spot to rest. I am getting along in years and the chill outside is so painful to these old bones." Finally she replied in a voice so soft that it was nearly a whisper, "You may stay and rest; come get warm by the fire. Only please don't look at me." "You've no fear of that. I am nearly blind. I can only see lights and large images with these ancient eyes." The woman relaxed at that confession, "Please. Come sit by the fire. We can share a cup of tea."
For a long while they said nothing to each other but for a few pleasantries. They sat on opposite sides of the fire, both sipping tea and listening to the song of the wind as it whistled across the mouth of the cave. Finally the old man broke the silence, "May I ask your name?" "Of course," she replied, "It's Anika." "Hmmm. Anika, what an unusual name." He said. "Ann was my grandmother's name," Anika explained. "When I was named after her, everyone wanted to differentiate between the two of us in some way, so I was called Anika - meaning Little Ann. And now I ask for your name." The old man smiled, "You may call me Tucson. Not my real name o'course, but it's been so long since anyone called me Jeremiah that I'm not sure I'd answer to it if you did." "Tucson it is then," Anika said.
Anika took a good long look at Tucson. He was very old indeed, his face so furrowed with lines and wrinkles that his features had all but disappeared into them. If she had to guess, she would put him at close to 100 years old. Surely he wasn't that old though. Nobody that old would be hiking around in this weather, she thought, in any weather, really. She was lost in thought when again Tucson broke the silence. "May I ask another question?" Then he continued before she could answer one way or another. "What are you doing way out here, hiding in a cave?" "It's kind of a long story," Anika replied. Tucson grinned widely and spread his hands in an all-encompassing gesture, "It appears we have some spare time here. Tell on!"
Anika was surprised at her lack of reserve. Perhaps it was because Tucson couldn't see her. Perhaps it was because he was a stranger, or that he seemed so kind. She began, "I... I ran away from home when I was a girl. My parents couldn't bear to look at me. You see, I have scars, deep, ugly scars. My mother always told me that my scars were horrible and she couldn't stand to see something so unpleasant. My father said that my scars made him sad and he didn't want a daughter who could never experience life - who could never be of use to anyone, that's what he said. So, not wanting to cause them any pain or concern, I ran. For a long time I wandered the woods, but every now and then someone would come along and see me. I didn't want anyone to have to look at me, so after some searching I found this cave. This is where I've lived ever since."
Tucson didn't say anything for a time, although he nodded a few times as if he was having a discussion inside his head. He took a big swallow of his tea and rubbed at the rough, gray stubble on his cheek. "These scars," he began. "The scars. Uh. Are they your own doing?" "No! Of course not!" replied Anika, feeling a bit put out that he would ask such a thing. "These scars were the doing of... others. O-o-others who claimed they loved me and said they needed to prepare me for the cruelty of the real world. Others who said I was weak and didn't know what was good for me, and that it was their mission to show me." At this last part, Anika's voice broke and she wiped a tear from her cheek. Tucson looked as if the tea he had swallowed must have been terribly bitter. "So," he said, "You are not responsible for your scars. They are the fault of these... others. If that's so, why are you the one hiding? It is they who should be ashamed and hiding! Those others, along with your oblivious parents, not you." "Even so," Anika said. "I must shield everyone from having to look at me. I don't want to make people feel uncomfortable or frightened." Tucson said nothing to this. Setting his cup aside, he only said, "Well, it has been a long day and I am weary. If you don't mind, I'd like to rest now." Anika agreed and, on opposite sides of the fire, they both fell into sleep.
The next morning Anika woke to find that the old man was gone. Then she heard his voice coming from outside the cave. He was singing a song, his voice gentle and low and sweet. She crept toward the entrance to the cave to listen better. She saw that his arms were outstretched as if he was gathering the whole world into an embrace. When his song ended, he turned toward her, "Anika, Good Morning to you. You should come out here! The cold wind has left us and this blessedly warm sunshine has taken its place." "I can't," she told him. "I never go out in daylight." "Never? Ah, but to feel this light on your skin! Like being brushed by all the feathers of all the angels that ever flew. You must try it!" "I... I can't." "You can! Who's to see? Please, come out of hiding, even if but for a moment of this bliss."
Anika took a step and then hesitated. I can't, she thought. This is wrong. This is against everything I've been told. She looked at Tucson, standing in the sun, embracing the wind, seemingly oblivious of his age and the aches and pains that must come with having lived so long. Anika took another step. Tucson heard her moving, but stood with is back to her and said nothing. He knew that all the cajoling in the world would be for naught if she didn't decide to take the steps on her own, and if his years had taught him nothing else, they had taught him patience. It wasn't long before Anika was standing beside him. He could tell that she was trembling. "What is it?" he asked. Her voice choked with tears she replied, "It's just. I didn't know that... I... I've never seen anything so beautiful as this day! I should have snuck out here years ago." Tucson only nodded. He put a hand on her shoulder, making it seem as though he was simply and old man in need of a little support. She allowed it and they stood that way in the sun for some time, neither one making a sound.
Tucson knew it was a make or break question, but it needed to be asked. "Anika... may I touch your face? Please, let an old man share your pain and sorrow." Anika was startled, but surprised herself by saying, "Yes. Yes, you may." She turned toward him and he raised a big, gnarled, weathered hand toward her cheek. With more gentleness than she thought possible, he touched her jaw. As he worked his way up her face toward her brow, she was certain that any second he would draw back, repulsed. He didn't. Instead he leaned forward and planted a soft kiss on her forehead. "Child. You've been lied to. I feel no scars. Your face is as smooth as a June rose petal." "That can't be!" Anika exclaimed. "I was always told that my scars were ugly and that I should keep them hidden from people!" "Anika, if you are scarred, it is on the inside only. It is the wounds inflicted upon your spirit that have made you feel ugly and unlovable. But I assure you, neither of those is true. You are beautiful, you are lovable. You deserve to be seen. What's more, you're depriving other people of the great pleasure of knowing you, of seeing the light in you, and hearing the sweet clear voice of you."
Anika was floored. The sky spun overhead as she tried to soak up Tucson's words. It couldn't be true, but the old man had no reason to lie to her. It could be a trick, but what would he gain with such cruel trickery. No, it was no trick. She saw the sincerity in his clouded eyes, heard the truth in his rumbling voice. Still, she said, "It just can't be. I belong in the cave." Tucson's only response was, "I'd like to show you something. May I?" He held out his hand. Although afraid to leave the security of the cave that was just a few steps behind them, Anika put her shaking hand in his. They began to walk.
The further they were from the cave, the less insecure Anika felt. Finally they came to a small pond in the woods. Tucson said, "I need to rest a bit. This seems like a pleasant spot." Anika agreed that it was very pretty. She knelt by the pond and doing so, caught her own reflection. She saw a woman with long dark hair, green eyes, flushed cheeks, and rose-colored lips. The image blurred as her tears fell and hit the water. She turned to Tucson, "You were right. I didn't belong in that cave. I never did. How can I ever thank you for making me leave?" Tucson smiled, "You don't need to thank me. I didn't make you leave, Anika. You left on your own accord. No, you didn't belong there, but you had to want something more than that cave. You had to know that there was something greater for you to be a part of. Only you could hear the call of the Universe and respond to it. Only you could step away from your hiding place. You have so much to share with the world."
Anika looked at her reflection in the water again. She reached to touch the face looking back at her and felt the cool, velvety water on her fingers. "But what of the scars? What of the horrible things that happened to me? What of all the pain I've felt over the years?" she asked. Tucson took a moment before answering. "Let me ask you this," he said. "Do you consider me ugly? With all my wrinkles and my gray hair and my milky, nearly blind eyes?" "No!" Anika exclaimed. "You're... you're lovely. Handsome even. You have such gentleness and kindness and love... that's all I see when I look at you." "Ahhhh..." Tucson smiled. "But I gained those qualities from my own scars, from my own pain, from my own horrible experiences, just as much as I did from the beauty I've seen and the love I've felt. Your scars... all of your experiences... everything in your life, even that cave. All of that makes you beautiful. All of it. So, walk in light with your head held high. No more cave."
Anika smiled again. "No more cave," she murmured. "No more hiding." This time it was she who held out her hand. Tucson took it and stood. "Where are we going?" he asked. Anika lifted her face to the shaft of light coming through the leaves. "My friend," she said. "We are going as far from that cave as we can. I intend to show the world who I am."