“Beautiful, isn’t he?”
“Who made it?”
“Can’t you see?”
I can’t remember when and how I met him. All I know is that I have known him for too many years to count. He has always been a faithful friend, companion, so why can’t I remember? Does it even matter?
One day he visited me in my country home. How he had known where to find me, I don’t know. But he came at the right time. I was experiencing early symptoms of depression. I could not sleep and spent hours looking at the stars, wishing to live amongst them in total bliss, unhindered by the strange goings-on of the world. Humanity has always looked skywards for its true path and so did I. Every night I stretched out my hands and placed the distant stars in their palms. I wished to catch a ride to some far off place where i could experience wonders never seen or heard of. All to escape my own misery. I remember sighing through the sleepless nights. Nothing brought me joy. Not even art which, until this point, had been the only thing of interest in my life. Until he came and rescued me from the dull existence of my self-chosen exile. He had some sort of unworldly sense, always showing up when I most needed him. And I loved him for it.
Words cannot express the delight I felt when I saw him awkwardly walking up that hill as if it were his first time on uneven, earthly ground. The moment his head looked up from the horizon, he waved at me with both hands and I joined his gesture albeit less enthusiastic. But my heart felt wide and light, as if a heavy weight had been lifted by that childish grin that slowly walked towards me.
I offered him something to drink which he hesitantly accepted. He drowned it in one gulp, seeming impatient. With a cartoonish sigh and a swift motion he removed the glass from his glistening lips. But his expression revealed that there was not much time. He set the glass down in the grass next to his right foot and told me to change into something more adventurous. We were going out. I glanced at him: he did not look the part so why should i? But as always I indulged him, picked up the glass and returned to the wooden cabin that I had called home for these past months. From an old box that I inherited from my grandfather, I took out a pair of sturdy shoes and changed from my summer linens into something, as my companion called it, more adventurous. I bound a scarf around my neck and put on an old hat that had gathered some dust in the time he had last been worn. In full gear I glanced in the mirror on my way outside and laughed an ironic laugh. I looked like an explorer: armed with a flashlight a walking cane, a heavy jacket and the deep desire to depart from my own life. I reminded myself of old copper engravings that adorned the first page of every exploratory book I had ever read. And in its fashion I did not look back at the mess I left behind.
My friend was lying in the grass, all sense of hurry gone from his now peaceful face. I playfully kicked his twitching leg, as if he were a dreaming dog, to wake him from his boredom. He got up, his movements drunken with sleep. I envied him for his freedom. My friend stretched his limbs as if he had just awaken from hours of deep slumber, when in reality it had been thirty minutes. He yawned into the wide open field that laid before my cabin and then turned to me with a smile.
“Let’s go” he exclaimed against the silence as if he wanted to challenge it.
I followed his back that cast a wide shadow in which I took refuge. I admired his towering physique and was again swept away by feelings of gratitude. Everything about him seemed to save me. His childish, adventures attitude, his broad shoulders on which the whole world found place and the fact that he always knew how to find me in my darkest moments.
We went around my cabin and into the woods. The tall trees blocked out the sun but he was a guiding light, easily navigating through the darkening forest. Over fallen tree trunks, thorny thickets and mossy rocks. With every step the forest seemed to close in on us. The tree tops exceeding heights that I deemed natural. I had not known how deep and dark the woods behind the cabin of my exile were. Before today I hadn’t left the vicinity of my small home and now became a stranger to the surroundings just outside my windows. What bothered me the most: the silence. For it was true and utter. The ever thickening wave of trees and darkness blocked out every sound, even that of nature itself. I clang to the reassuring physique of my dear friend and like a child I wanted to take his hand in mine. But I chose to invoke the adventurer that my clothing mimicked. I fastened my grip around the cane and took the flashlight from my belt. I didn’t want to be a burden and hide behind the confidence of others. I did however stay behind his back, for I did not know the way. All I could was help light the path we took. And the moment I shined my lamp on the dark forest, the towering trees seemed to flee. As if intimidated by my small beam.
We were walking for hours. Even though the sun did not reach through the tree tops I knew it was on its way west. I had to rely on my intuition, all other senses of time were lost within the silence of the forest. It was a maddening thing, this utter absence of sound. My mind was trying to compensate for it, my inner voice knocking against the temples of my head and echoing through my whole body. Not even our footsteps on dry leaves and twigs were heard. I could feel the breaking of the wood beneath my heavy boots but no sound reached my ears. I opened my mouth to speak, but closed it again, fearing the forest might steal even my voice. The light of my lamp and the back of my dear friend kept my insanity in check. An irrational rock, for all signs, within and without, screamed madness. And I began to falter: why would he, my companion, take me to such a place? A darkness devoid of reason. And why did he not speak? Was he as sure as I the woods would steal? If so, why did he bring me hear?
“Enough” my head screamed, drowning out the endless chatter.
“Do not doubt him.”
I fastened my grip again and raised my flashlight on the broad shoulders in front of me. He was walking with such confidence, ignoring both silence and darkness. So I chose to trust him, what other option was there? Doubt would lead me to utter despair and loss within the depths of this unfamiliar exile.
We continued through the forest, for hours, until we reached a clearing amidst the darkness of the never-ending trees. And with the open sky a sense of relief surged through my body. I killed the beam of my lamp and looked up towards a clouded sky. The last rays of the sun coloured the heavens in fiery orange. The ever morphing clouds dancing on the solar flames. The stark contrast to the dark forest had me in a state of awe. Appreciating the violent colours of the world. The soft brush strokes that adorned the sky with shifting clouds. I breathed in, long and heavy, filing my lungs with the visions of the west. I wanted to take it all in and so I did. Behind my sternum I felt the movements of the setting sun and it filled me with joy. My dear friend stood beside me, still silent. Atypical behaviour for a man as lively as him. Whereas my eyes were fixed on the heavens, his were set on something else. I followed the direction his grey-blue stare and saw it too: something was kneeling in the middle of the clearing. I took a step back and let out the west. The thing, I had no other words for it, irritated me. I squinted to get a better look but the form remained unclear – a grey blot in the middle of darkening green. We stayed still but only for a moment. My dear friend took a step forward and began to walk towards the form, slowly but determined. I contemplated if I should follow him, still irritated by the thing. I grasped the trust I had put in him, that rock amongst a stormy sea, and began to follow him, keeping a few steps distance. I was ready to turn back at a moments notice. But it did not come, instead we continued. Suddenly my friend crouched down and I imitated his action. He ushered me to come closer and I hesitantly shuffled beside him. He stretched out a finger to gesture me to have a better look. I turned my head towards the grey form and realized it had human features. I squinted again and saw it was a statue. The intricately crafted image of an ancient god. I wanted to draw closer but my friend put out his arm to stop me.
“Watch it from here” he whispered softly as if any loud noise could scare away the grey stone.
We observed as one would an elusive deer. Our breathing became flat and our movements reduced to stillness. I tried to get as close as my friend would allow me to. I took in every vein of the stone, every discolouration made by nature and time. And it was beautiful. I had always admired the work of trained hands. The vanishing light and our physical distance made it hard to appreciate the true beauty of the god, but I respected the wish of my dear friend. Because I too had gotten the feeling that my presence would spook the statue.
Contrary to my expectations and all reason, the setting of the sun lit up the statue. Were it the waking of the stars or just my imagination? I could suddenly see as if I stood right next to it. I laid flat on the ground and held my breath: it was magnificent. Suddenly the weathering of the stone was gone and it shone in new brilliance, mimicking the light of the stars. The stellar glance ran through its veins and I looked closer, still laying on the ever darkening grass. The statue seemed to suck in all light, just as the forest did and created a dark void. But in its centre the glory of the ancient god. And my mind fell silent. The chattering suddenly gone. It was the first time I noticed its absence, as if I had gotten addicted to the voices in my head. A clarity befell me and I let out the breath. And with everything else it became air. I now found myself in utter darkness, but I welcomed it. The statue shining like a lighthouse and guiding me to safety. I took in another breath, deep and heavy, and with it my lungs seemed to fill themselves for the first time. Joy surged through my body and left it tingling and vibrating. I hadn’t noticed that I closed my eyes and opened them. And saw. The stony veins, the deep grey body, moving, to the beating of my own heart. The god no more ancient, no more trapped deep within the woods. No more forgotten in its age-long exile.
My voice echoed through the darkness.
And the old god turned to face me. In a smooth motion, contrary to his ancient and weathered appearance. His eyes a sharp blue that pierced my own, shattering every sense of self I had. Staring through my entire being as if he wanted to look beyond the thing that I was wearing. I felt his gaze tearing through me. Almost disintegrating what I felt was I. Leaving me naked in the night but at the same time, the stony god acting like a beacon of hope. Challenging me to grasp what I had lost. The deity stretched out his arms as if in embrace and I took a step forward to meet the stone. And thought was enough to connect us. His touch burned away the last of my resistance. I could hear and see and feel the searing of the flesh but I did welcome it. And as the stone shaved away at me, I became as light. Weightless, formless and ever-changing. Torn asunder, put together; over and over again. Experiencing lifelong change in a single moment. And then it stopped.
I opened my eyes and found myself back in the clearing. And as if awakening from a dream, I touched myself. Made sure I still existed. Then joy came over me and I realised something very simple: that’s it. That is the thing. Not some skyward path amongst the stars. Here, now. And the strange goings-on of the world, that’s where I’m meant to be. And in my wondrous discovery I turned around, to tell my saviour who had guided me into the presence of the Pan.
My eyes met darkness and tall grass dancing in a breeze. He had vanished. And just as my heart had been filled with life, so had it been robbed. My joyful state of wonder was met with loss. I looked around, jumped up and down as if falling victim to a childish prank. But he was gone. And just as he had appeared on the horizon, had my friend now vanished in darkness. Without looking back I took the lantern from my belt and stepped back into the forest.
The tall, sky-darkening treetops were now alive with sound. Owls clawing old bark, mice running through dead leafs. The silence had miraculously turned into the voices of living things. And I was in awe. For the first time in what seemed an eternity. But all that wonder did not stop me. I accelerated my step until I was almost in full sprint. Maybe he had returned without me. Just in accordance with his childish nature. Playing tricks on silly old me. It did not take me long to leave the woods, on the fringes of my exile, behind me.
He was not outside the cabin, did not lay in wait in the grass to spook me. I stood still. Why would he? Why leave me just to torment me? It would be uncalled for, even for a childish prank. My friend would always disappear but never like this, never without a trace. I sat down on the wet grass. The moisture slowly seeping into my clothes. Why should my heart be met with loss? I knew it from the start; he was gone. And I sat there in the calming night. Remade in the wonder of the world and Pan. The silly role of poor old me, shed in one embrace. There was no more need for rescue. Even if it were as delightful as my dear friend.
No more laughter from behind that hill. For now I am that grassy side on which the sun forever shines. I am my own rescue. I had found back into the wonder of the night. And as a child I marvelled at its sight. Forever free, unbound by time. Had he been I? All this time? Had I not just invoked that gleeful smile? From deep within?
I got up from the wet ground and returned inside. The need for exile had suddenly disappeared. As did all thought about the stony god. Was he too but a fragment of myself? No! He was alive. Then why did I not feel the need to return to this most wholly site? Maybe he too now lives within. Or does he strode around? Awaken from an age old slumber. I looked around the dusty clouds that began to arise from old furniture and smiled. Today I found the wonders of the night. Tomorrow I shall return to light. That bustling city beyond the hill of my self-chosen exile.
And one last time I closed my eyes. And once again invoked that gleeful smile. All the times my dear friend had come to rescue me from the darkness of my own heart. I looked deep within where his towering physique lived on in memory. But then I saw it fading into me. And he became a part of me, as he had always been, a fragment of myself. That Will to feel the wonders of this life. Not gaze at it from a safe distance, but be a part of it. And when I opened my eyes I had already realised. Mine place under these skies.