The man faced the wall and grimaced. It loomed above him, and although he was sure he could see the top of it, his grappling hook never seemed to get any purchase. His hair and face were speckled with dust and debris from his attempts to climb the wall. His nails were broken, and he could barely get his breath back to a calm level where he could begin to think straight.
When the man stared at the wall head on, the rocks within it moved and shifted their shapes, colours changing, and he could see his past memories pulsating as mute pastel images ,which appeared and disappeared before he could quite place them in time or space. Some of the stones seemed to throb and shimmer with visions that were of his own creation – not actual memories of the past but fears of the future. They spat their dark threatening scenes into his face, so that he creased up his eyes and tears welled up. He could no longer tell whether the fear that surged through his body was made up of past events, or imagined future, as it all seemed locked together by the sticky mortar that held the rocks in place.
Sometimes the man cried out and slammed his fists at the wall, kicked it hard as if by the force of his will he could create a hole through which he would throw himself and then run, run into the future and never look back.
I had stood in front of that same wall. The images I saw locked within the stones were different to the man’s, but just as frightening now as when I had stood alongside him. I had looked up and seen how far there was to climb, and tested the thickness of the rocks with my bare hands, and submitted to the power and strength of my past, and of my unknown mysterious future.
I had breathed in the dust of my own history, and exhaled deeply with sighs and tears and waited till my hands ceased trembling and my heart beat at a more constant rate. Then, I had looked to the right, and to the left. “This wall” thought I, “Is not the Great Wall of China. Perhaps if I walk to the right, I will be able to go around it?”
So I walked, and walked, and kept looking, and the images in the stones laughed at me and spat mortar dust into my eyes but I kept my vision strong and my steps did not falter. And I walked around the wall to the other side.
Now I face forwards, and the wall stands behind me. It is still there, with all my lost dreams, dashed hopes and past pain embedded, engraved, never to be weathered away. But it is behind me, and I am walking forwards. At my own pace. Choosing my own direction.
Behind the wall, in the distance, I hear the man wailing and crashing against the rocks. I would like to help him, but he would not follow me when I walked away to find another route. He seemed strangely determined to continue his battering against his past pain, his future fears, and unwilling to try something new.
I am alone as I walk. There may be another wall up ahead. But there may also be another person who is looking for a way around that wall, and who will walk with me.
24 November 2010