Apr 18, 2012 - 3:38 pm
A friend of mine in the Head/Neck cancer forum asked me to repost this story in that forum which amazed me, since the story is as old as my time here and I was truly surprised he remembered it. Reading it, I thought this would be the best place for it, although I will probably also post it there.
They could see just the silhouette of the man against the fading orange sun and the coral sky, a shadow wending its way up the side of the hill on the island off of the shore.
And the children asked, "Who is that, mama, papa, and what is this that he does every evening as the sun goes down?"
And even as they spoke, they gazed across the water at the darkening shadows and saw the shadows become more detailed, as if the setting of the sun brought with it a sculptor whose knife was large and fine. The palm trees began to stand apart, it seemed, seemed to become sharper and clearer and more inidividual, across the water.
And the man, as he slowly made his way up the hill, was easier to see as a blackness, a man with a barrow, wearing a floppy hat, it seemed, and even boots that could be distinguished, and perhaps a pair of gloves. And in the barrow the children could see the ends of implements, handles and such, and the ends of shovels and rakes and hoes, the edges of bags, and the sharp corners of large rocks.
And they asked again, "Who is that, mama? Papa? What does he do, every evening as the sun goes down?"
And an elderly man of the village spoke and said, "Hush, children, and I will tell you, but I will tell you only once. And I do not pretend to understand, only to know."
And the children became quiet, and their parents too, and they huddled together and wrapped arms about one another even as they continued to watch the shadow of the man on the island continue the climb up the steeply inclining hill.
"He is going to the top of the hill to care for a grave," said the elder man. And this statement made the night go quiet, so that it seemed even the insects and the birds went still.
"He goes," said the elder man, "to care for a grave at the top of the hill. And he goes there daily in honor of the one who lies beneath the dirt and stones at the top of the hill."
All sat still, and all was quiet, and the orange sun began its slow plunge beyond the end of the earth, its bottom arc hiding behind the island now, where still the old man labored upward with barrow and implements in his floppy hat.
"He takes stones, both large and small, with which to consecrate the area. And soil from the lower lands to enrich the earth that flowers and other plants might grow. And he grows plants and flowers, and leaves something of provender for the birds and beasts as well," the elder man continued after a lull.
All the gathered held each other more closely, as if for warmth even in this summer clime, and yet gazed out across the water to the shadow that was the man and his hat and his barrow nearly atop the hill as the sun continued to lumber lower.
When the elder man did not speak, caught up as the others in watching the old man, a child spoke finally in hushed voice and asked, "And who is buried there, my father's father?"
And the father of the father of the child, the elder man, said "He consecrates a part of himself that is buried forever."
"A part of him was taken from him, and it is buried there and he honors that part of him and remembers it daily with new stones and new earth and gentle caring for the surrounding earth and elements."
"What part?" asked an awed child.
"It does not matter," said the elder man. "A part of him was taken, and with it, a part of his entire life, all that he has been, and a part of all that he might be from now until the day when the sun no longer rises for him."
"That part of him is not unlike your little toe, little one," the elder said. "It has lived with you for your entire life. It has memories of you, just as you have memories of it that you do not even know you have. If I should nibble off your little toe, my little one, " and with that he reached across playfully for the young one, who squealed and backed away, breaking the tension of the many, "if I should gobble it up, it would be gone and its memories of you would be gone. And soon, your memories of it, of life with it, would be gone as well."
"And so," the elder man went on, "he honors this part of him as if it were a part of his soul buried in the soil at the top of the hill, and perhaps it is."
They turned from the elder man and gazed across the water. The old man was not to be seen, somewhere on top of the hill, they imagined, and the sun was nearly below the water far away.
"Is he a sad man for his loss, father of my father?" asked the precocious child.
"He is a sad man as he gathers his tools and his seed and his soil and stones, and the other things he loads into his barrow. And he is sad as he makes that trek to the top of the hill where a part of him awaits him, a part of him he can no longer talk to or touch or feel. He is very sad."
"But working makes him busy and forgetful, and he loses his sadness, and when he finally comes down the hilll again, he is almost happy."
"Why is he almost happy, father of my father? And will he ever be happy?"
"That is not for me to say, daughter of my son. How long would you mourn for that little toe if I gobbled it up?"
At once they saw the old man, as he began his daily trip back down the hill. To some he seemed more stooped over, perhaps because they had heard this story. The sun was nearly gone, far beyond the edge of the far waters, and the old man was melting into newer, darker shadows.