Saturday, November 8, 2008

"Arson" by Gene Stewart

On the commute to his home stop -- he kept a sharp watch so the bus did not roll past it -- Esche thought about unseasonable darkness, the Enlightenment, and what little things he might be able to do to make things bright again. He was not sure if he could, or would, do any of them, but just thinking about them made him feel a little better about his day, and his weekend opened up for him. In his imagination, he had gone from huddling in his house reading thrillers and watching old movies to getting out a little, taking in a new movie maybe, perhaps strolling through a museum exhibit. Wasn’t there one on Impressionism downtown?

A couple times that weekend, then, and with complete strangers, he started short conversations about the Enlightenment, and how it had been snuffed out. Bold move for him, but a comfort, somehow.

He wondered afterward if that’s all the stranger had been doing. Just approaching people and planting ideas. He’d met the stranger at the bus stop a week ago, on a rainy evening dark as night. The man had spoken calmly but urgently, and his words stirred Esche. While not like a speech given from a bully pulpit, the man’s words carried a good deal of inspiration, somehow.

It would be a slow, inefficient way to spread a cultural revolution, Esche thought. The more he thought about it that way, though, the more he realized there was probably no better way. As in advertising, whisper campaigns ended up most effective.

And so Esche spoke to others of getting the cultural camp fire going again, to push back the darkness. Without a bubble of light and warmth, what were we but desperate animals doomed to be lost? Some dismissed him as a nut, of course; one older man called him a Hippie; but three or four people thought he had a point and said so, and a couple even contributed interesting angles of their own to the general thesis.

Esche wondered how many passersby had caught a few words to carry with them into their own thoughts. He hoped it was a good many.

Whether the stranger had been a modern-day Lucifer, an out-of-context God, or just a wandering weirdo, a kind of Johnny Appleseed of hope, did not matter any more than whether he’d vanished into shadow or had simply walked away, choosing to miss Esche’s bus home. What mattered to Esche was his idea of rekindling Enlightenment ideals. Esche found it increasingly interesting, layered, and useful as he lived with the notion over time.

Maybe it hadn’t been an overthrow or takeover so much as a failure in daily living that had allowed existence to become so dark, so grim, and so unremittingly crass again. The Enlightenment shined like a sunbeam through storm clouds. Were storm clouds our norm?

If so, it might be time to move on.

Esche went back to work Monday morning refreshed as rarely before. His coworkers noticed it, and he let them in on his secret.

“We can spread the light like fire,” he told them, “until it’s everywhere,” and some among them agreed, either outwardly or in the quiet parts of their lives where an impulse toward better things burned like an ember awaiting kindling.

A horizon aglow, Esche thought, smiling.


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1 comment:

ekathy said...

Oh my gosh - Gene - that is inspiring.