Everything became still. And changed. As if someone suddenly painted the world in other colors. The colors were as beautiful as they were wrong. I felt such fear that it made sick and cold. Very cold.
I knew he had done it. To scare me. I saw him, in the distance. Walking towards me, a tall silhouette. I noticed the hat. I also knew he was handsome.
He took his time, lingering on every step. So elegant. His clothes were impeccable.
Finally, he stood before me and lifted his face. Yes, he was very handsome.
And calm. Not arrogant, not menacing. He was simply and fully there. And that spoke of his power more than anything.
A question surfaced in his eyes.
“I know who you are” I answered him. He paused, as if to evaluate my sincerity, then gave me a slight nod.
“I know what you can do. And that I can’t stop you….” He nodded again.
“And”, I swallowed hard, “and I’m not scared.”
He must have been amused at my trembling voice and my defiance, the way I struggled to summon courage. And my arrogance…to claim knowing what he could do! And surely, he must have also been greatly amused by how despite myself, I found him so handsome and couldn’t help admiring his clothes.
And then he smiled. A bright smile.
“You are right of course” he said without the slightest hint of irony or condescension. “Now you must figure out why”.
And with that, he turned and walked away. Everything changed back to dull but accurate winter colors. And I was left to figure out something very important.
~ 20 years later~
So many answers later, all wrong of course.
I thought I wanted to know the answer, but it was he who wanted to know.
I imagined that if I could figure out the riddle, I would never again experience fear. And because fear means loss and pain too, I would never experience those either. I wanted that more than anything.
So, on a fool’s errand, I tried to find the answer.
Until the day I understood what he wanted to know. Which was how to live with fear and somehow not be afraid of standing up or taking another step. No matter how much it hurts. No matter how great the actual fear.
He wanted to know how it’s possible to feel pain and anger and still choose to love, even a little. Imperfectly, stumbling, with hesitation and every imaginable doubt.
He wanted to know why someone would choose not to strike back even when all they want to do is smash everything and everyone around them in a fit of righteous anger. Justified anger.
He wanted to know grace.
When we met again, he was not handsome or calm or elegant. His eyes were filled with pain and rage. I felt sorry for him.
Despite his unfathomable powers, he did not have the privilege of choice. He could imitate love, giving, patience and kindness, but never actually experience or choose them. He could mimic joy, amusement, elegance and everything else imaginable that is bright and beautiful. But he could never be or have the real things.
When I apologized for having what he wanted, he lashed out. I tried to explain, even though he already knew, that it’s so difficult sometimes to have choice. It makes us struggle and it makes us little, vulnerable and awkward. That we suffer greatly even when we choose against circumstances and despite injustice. That our privilege often comes at a very high price that nearly kills us.
He lashed out even more.
“You did not answer the question” he roared. “You will never know the why you fool!”
I gave him as gentle a smile as my sadness allowed.
“If you’re ever willing to give up some of your power….” I offered.
“Up to you” I continued. “But if YOU ever want to know, you’ll have to make it so that you can’t always win. You’ll have to be small and weak and without hope, and very angry, and in a lot of pain…without pity, without strength. Be in a place where there’s nothing left to lose, with nobody to feel sorry for you and no grand prize waiting for you at the door. That is when you’ll see it.”
“See what?” he roared again.
“That you can choose something else than what shackles you. And it makes all the difference.”
He stared at me with his big dark eyes. Lost. Invincible yet powerless. And then he vanished.
I hope even he finds the answer beyond himself one day…that path to life and choice and grace. His smile will be real then.