To Derstand: A folk tailed fable about the limitations of peace, freedom, and happiness


"They ask Hoca, ‘Why do some people go in one direction and others in another?’

‘Because,’ Hoca responds, ‘if everyone went in the same direction, the world would lose its balance and topple.’"

A boy went for a walk (with no predetermined purpose or destination) through a ravine by his house when he noticed a hardly noteworthy fire burning a small section of brush and grass by his feet. Upon closer inspection the boy had to laugh because, as unbelievable as it seemed, the fire was burning like the burning bush of the bible; it was flaming but not devouring the grass and brush that ostensibly, to the boy, should’ve been functioning as the fire's fuel.

As the boy lost touch with the greater reality around him and focused his concentration on the only fire he'd ever seen which presumably could safely be entered into in all its intensity, he failed to notice that an old but seemingly, to the boy (specifically, to his future consciousness), harmless man had come to be standing behind him.

The man, who the boy recognized immediately as the prophet Eliyahoo, invited the boy to come along with him on a journey through the lands where society had achieved its directives; they would be visitors in the lands where men (including women) had gotten what they had always wanted. The boy, confused, asked what the prophet meant.

“We will visit lands where people agreed upon what was good and flew with it.”

After having answered the boy’s question though, the prophet stipulated that, if at any point along the way, the boy should come to desire that Eliyahoo answer any of the boy's questions, the journey would be abruptly ended. The boy, being smart, asked why the prophet answered his first question if that was the stipulation. In return, the prophet calmly warned the boy that if he were to answer this question, the boy would not be able to join him on the journey.

The boy, boy, the boy apologized and then agreed to come along, whatever the conditions, and stepped onto Eliyahoo's sturdy and wide flying carpet.

The first land they landed into was very quiet. The people moved along gray-green paths with blank looks on their faces. The odd individual seemed, to the boy, caught up with an idea and tormented by the prospect of it.

As we walked through the town, the first thing that seemed unusual was the lack of doors. Of course there were doorways but nothing stood within them to protect or give privacy to those existing inside.

I immediately assumed something that was later called into question by the abundance of sharply dressed police officers that I became aware of as we continued through the town. These officers carried nasty looking large shooters and in contrast, it seemed that none of the non-uniformed citizens carried any weapons, visibly or otherwise.

Similarly, people didn't seem bulkily tied down but instead tread impersonally along fragile and frozen pathways careful not to make eye contact with one another or with us.

Just as I was making this reflection I heard a loud commotion and some twelve police officers literally dragged a limp, but conscious and uninjured, tallish broad shouldered young man, about my age, into the street. Behind him came another ten or so gunmen with an impassioned young woman, tears falling down her angry face.

As I moved my eyes away from the conflict I noticed that, unbeknownst to my fascinated consciousness, the street in the area had cleared of everyone except for the two prisoners, the police, and us. Eliyahoo said we ought to be going and we stepped back onto the carpet and as we floated away, I diverted my eyes but couldn't avoid the ringing that the two shots left in my ears.

I asked the prophet how this could possibly be a land where good had prevailed! He asked if I wanted him to answer my question and end our time together. We continued in silence.

The next land became visible and audible to me well before we had landed. It also smelt like a public toilet. There were lots of people making loud noises, some of celebration or  drunken revelry and others of pain, bewailing injustices and physical oppression.

There were intense lights and a lot of movement.

I saw a sign advertising veal so we entered into what I had imagined would be a restaurant but ended up being a darkened corral in which people were rushing around with large skewers, cawing and yeehawing, while crowds of hardly mobile baby calves (tender I'm sure beyond belief) whinnied and whined and were stabbed and killed and cooked.

We left the corral and wandered on past flaming store fronts and fountains of garbage, past emptied cardboard box homes and mansions surrounded by barbed wires, past fields full of young bodies loving and alleys full of parasitic lovers having their way with their prey, and all the while we were confronted by the smells: sewage, bonfires, smog, spices, and the odd whiff that I recognized as drug related.

We walked all night and I grew increasingly exhausted. We never emerged from the dense mass of activity though and never found a quiet nook to sleep so I asked the prophet if I could nap on his carpet while he hovered somewhere. He told me not to ask, just to do it. So I did.

When I awoke, I opened my self, feeling refreshed. We were in a different land now, and it was evening again. Eliyahoo said that while I had slept through the day, we had made our way to the third land of effective ideals. I smirked at his description. (Probably because I felt confused and ungrounded.)

We landed and the streets were deserted. Everything was quiet except for that distinct sort of humming noise that you hear when you enter a room where a television is on, even if the volume is all the way down.

It was curious to hear such a noise in the street but as we walked past window after window, and only saw people alone or gathered together watching television, my curiosity was relieved. It took me a few windows though to notice another curiosity: every television watcher, children not excluded, seemed to be drinking a beer.

Every man, woman, and child has a smug look of feeble contentment on their heavy faces as they zoned out of their distinct identities and enjoyed being distracted by the tube and the brews.  I thought that it may just be a special occasion or a moment of television history but we stayed in the town for a few days and, though people did take breaks to work, go to classes, or use the bathroom, these people's entire unstructured existences seemed to be spent watching television and drinking beer.

Boy: Eilyahoo, I understand that I'll have to leave you and leave this bizarre tour but I gotta know: what's the deal? How are these lands the lands where people have gotten what they wanted?

Eilyahoo: You're sure you want your question answered? It's not necessarily my place-

Boy: Your place? What about- Never mind: yea, I'm sure. Please tell me.

Eilyahoo: Only because you’ve insisted... (He smiles.) The first land was the land of peace. People love to value peace. There was complete and utter peace because everyone felt the same way about everything...or at least they were forced to think very little about anything and in that way didn't have disagreements or enemies. And if an enemy did rise from the cogs and gears, they were immediately shot and dismantled. And there was everlasting peace.

The second land was the land of freedom. Even wise people will often make freedom out to be of the utmost importance. But in this land, with utter freedom, people didn't exist in any tensions with one another and felt disconnected and alone. Instead of communities and families, people did whatever, whenever, without regard for how it impacted others. Sometimes people found themselves on top; sometimes they found themselves worse off than dead.

The third land was the land of happiness, the golden emotion, or the brain’s chemical reaction which people often assume to be the most satisfying and important of chemical reactions. For what it’s worth, in the third land people were indeed happy.

Boy: (He pauses in thought.) Now that I've already ended our journey, can I ask you one more question?

Eilyahoo: Of course you can ask, but it's just that...well, young sir, there's hardly a chance- do you really expect that I would have an answer for your question?

And then the boy vowed (to himself) to be a derstander (an ununderstander, undoing understandings) and to never again undertake any idea or ideal generically or objectively. 

Edmonton, Summer 2010