Let me tell you about an exquisite land. It rests above the ninth parallel and west of somewhere. I've never been to the little town located somewhere within lush valleys, rolling hills and grassy knolls, but have bared witness to many tales from a former inhabitant in a little joint on the west side.
One in particular I would like to tell you.
The flowers seemed constantly in bloom and birds of all kinds made a pilgrimage stop there on their way out and home. Honey smelled sweet in the lower valleys where millions of docile bees sucked greedily at each budding flower. The vast beauty of this land was to never be found in poetry, paintings or any other text or artistic vehicle until now and this storyteller had never seen it personally. Neither had the former inhabitant. He was, and probably still is, blind. His mother was blind as was his father and sisters and brothers. All his schoolmates were blind as were their parents and their grandparents. There were no books to speak of, as there had been little assembly to the outside world. In the history and parables passed down throughout the generations it had been lost as to how every inhabitant had evolved this way. Some said it was punishment from God for something an ancient had done to offend. Some say it was a curse from gypsies long ago while most chose to not really care to consider it. This was their life, their lot; they accepted it and sought no reprieve.
One would tend to wonder why as any of us would question or lament blindness but we never stop to question our lungs, our liver or fallopian tubes and vas deferens until we are brought to consider them and this is usually in a medical setting. They had vestigial eyes like most have tonsils, appendix and coccyx; useless and largely forgotten by all but those who have a need to know.
They knew little of the flowers and bees; they knew little of the land past the town. Some ventured out but fear of getting lost was large on the minds of everyone. The homes were built, stores erected, jobs performed and there were artists - sculpture and mostly anything tactile was in high regard. The poets told the histories, the musicians sang the songs, people fell in and out of love and life was largely unremarkable for most as it is everywhere.
Like most towns, there was a group of men, five, who held weekly meetings at the Waffle House. Seated in a corner they decided on everything that was going to happen or not going to happen. They would decide on new buildings, new businesses, approve the messages of the religious leader, create laws and give or revoke blessings. All of this was done without election or direct acknowledgment. The mayor was still elected, the police chief was appointed by him publicly but privately but the wisdom of the five. Nothing could happen without the unseen nod of these paternalistic five.
This is like many towns, many cities, and many countries. It isn't questioned by any other than youth and that is brought into line soon enough.
The man/the former inhabitant
I talked with this man (who we shall soon cease to call this man or former inhabitant as his name is his own, not to be shared lightly) many nights over many glasses of Merlot (when he bought) or Pinot (when I did). I never brought a recorder or took notes but often drank heavily as he spun tale after tale. He was this town’s poet/historian, whose eventual meeting of a stranger brought him to walk into the verdant green on the outskirts, walk through the bees, walk through the river and past the heavy forest. After he met the stranger (who we shall continue to call 'the stranger') his histories were redacted, censored and eventually outlawed, his journey out may not have been so much a choice as a followed mission to relate to men and women his poems, his mythos.
The Man may now be called - the Historian. This is not his name but his profession. This is how he shall be known, as his name is his own while his histories are for others.
On a day, any day that strikes as important be it a Monday or Thursday but not a Sunday, the stranger wandered into town seeking refreshment, food and maybe a place to sleep off the miles spent camping, foraging and wandering alone. Not that it was a notice but he probably walked sure, with an even gait and like all the residents he walked with a stick but not a similar stick, a walking stick carved from fallen spruce and adorned with trinkets and a leather band where the hand was to grip. His walking stick only stuck out as it made a thud with the flow of his feet against the earth instead of the smack from the impact against walls and doorways.
The stranger first encountered the historian in the Waffle House on the imparticular day, it was lunchtime or thereabouts.
Without needed a menu the Stranger failed to notice there wasn't one, without looking for any direction he failed to see the lack of them, he ordered what the former inhabitant was having.
Once presented with the fare, he remarked it looked good and deeply inhaled the perfume of coffee, waffles and maple syrup.
No one else had heard it, the unusual word spoken, no one other than the historian.
The stranger ate prodigiously, while the historian waited patiently, listening for more interesting words.
The stranger spoke first.
You have such beautiful gardens out beyond the town (thought the town had its own colors they were wholly unremarkable). When I saw the honeycombs I had to taste their sweetness and I can tell you I've never had honey as sweet, as delicious as that.
The Waffle House started to quiet.
What do you mean by these words - looked, saw?
The stranger noticed then that the Historians eyes had no color. He looked at the waitress and saw her eyes had no color. He replied
Common enough words, even blind men have heard them.
At this the historian realized that the stranger could see. The stranger didn't have to feel, the stranger knew a different world than the towns inhabitants.
We are all without sight.
The stranger notices now there were no signs. The Waffle House now stood silenced.
Everyone? Remarkable, how do you...
They exited and started down the street. Everyone else in stayed amazed and in disbelief, they moved not another inch, not to follow or to comment. This would have to be brought to the five who were to meet that next day.
Tell me everything, tell me about the sky, the flowers, the bees, the grass, the buildings. Tell me everything I cannot see.
As they walked the stranger explained everything he could but he was not a poet, he was in need of words for how can you describe blue? How would you describe black or stars to someone whose language does not possess even many of the words used to relate this story? But they walked on and the historian listened intent on experiencing the world as he never had.
That night the Stranger spent the night in the home of the historian who fed him dinner, provided him with his only bed and blanket. The world now opened to the historian like never before prevented any sleep, provided only new words and histories to tell and all night the historian thought on them. This was a happiness that he had never known.
Morning comes as it always does.
When morning came so did an end to this happiness as the five were now informed, as the five had now begun to campaign against the stranger, the heretic who had come to destroy the way of life of the towns inhabitants. God had not sent the stranger but an evil, for this man was full of lies and deceit, meant to capture the towns attention and steal the very food from off the table of everyone.
The stranger and historian ate a full breakfast and spoke of many things. As amazed as the stranger was to learn of the histories the historian was more enthralled with the many things that the stranger had seen along his journeys. He could not hear enough and longed now to tell of what he was learning, he also began to feel the deep loss of having never had sight to have seen clouds or rain, the shades of his own skin and whatever blue was. They left the house and started off for the fields surrounding the town, everything was described as best as the stranger could as the historian’s thirst was insatiable.
The five had done their meaning, they had spoken to or through all the inhabitants warning of the lies the stranger brought and a plot was had. All the town now waited to hear the thud of the strangers walking stick. They did not wait too long as lunch was approaching.
As the stranger and historian walked back into town with the historian holding onto the left arm of the stranger, the stranger began to describe the towns people all gathered by the Waffle House. The descriptions went from clothes to hair, to expressions of anger on the faces of everyone. The five old men parted through the crowd and spoke first.
Stranger, why have you come here?
A lie! he has rested and is still here, he has eaten and is still here, he has taken into the house of the historian and stolen the food from off his table! Historian, are you in danger?
I am not, I have learned much, let us eat now and I will relate.
The stranger poisons him, the stranger fills him with mendacities, do not listen! Pay no heed to his vile words! He will tell others of how easy it is to convince us, he will tell others to come! Take his eyes! Take his tongue; he has nothing but illness and pain to share!
Without another word the throng of blind men, women and children descended upon the stranger and tore at his clothes, tore at his eyes, ignored his screams and silenced the stranger.
Now he cannot leave, now he cannot spread his lies, let him die in the street, let him find his own way.
The Historian stood perplexed. Then wept. Then gathered the newly blinded and mute stranger who held onto the historians left arm as they walked slowly to the house where the stranger would surely die with none to tend his wounds or cease an assured infection.
The historian was isolated, quarantined. Once the kind, sighted stranger perished not only from loss of blood but a heart broken by his own kindness, the Historian quietly wandered out of town taking only a small bag of clothes, water and the stranger’s walking stick. He wandered a long time.
Moral: in the land of the blind the sighted man is a heretic.