Time Immemorial

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

A journey of self-discovery?

 

 

Time Immemorial

 

I'm lying in the darkness. She’s next to me. Her tiny body wiggles, as she tries with one last attempt to fight off the sleep. I’m humming quietly. It seems to be working; her breathing is deeper. Sleep overcomes her. She submits. I submit, too. But not to sleep. I drift away into nothingness. At the gates of the unconscious, pictures start to flash inside my mind. Memories flood me like a tidal wave. I’m drowning. I open my mind’s eye. I’m standing in a beautiful hall. The walls are decorated with dozens and dozens of paintings, which vary in size, some are as big as tapestries, and some are small as tablets. The wooden floor creaks beneath my feet as I try to navigate my way through the crowd. Despite all the people moving around, it’s very quiet. I lift my head and look through the massive window. I know where I am now. I’m in a museum, in Vienna. I remember. The patina of hundreds, even thousands of years of human attempt at understanding the meaning of existence is layered right here on those paintings and sculptures around me. My invisible feet carry me through the wormhole of my recollection. I fly through the rooms of the museum at the speed of light. The speed of my thoughts. I don’t know where I’m heading. Suddenly, I stop. There is an old painting in front of me. A half-built tower dominates the painting. I’m trying to get a closer look, and I see the tower is already collapsing as it is being built. The tower is gargantuan – it dwarfs the castle in the back, which is hidden in its shadow. Exposed red brick inside the tower reminds me of the coliseum I’ve seen in Rome. I remember now. It’s Brueghel’s – Tower of Babel. In the painting Nimrod walks among the workers as they hail their megalomaniacal king, kneeling in front of his noble feet. The king seems to be unaware of his futile attempt to reach the heavens. Perfection is unattainable. 

Ironically, the tower resembles Botticelli’s depiction of Dante’s Inferno, only upside down. Like a giant vortex, spiraling down to the ninth circle where the devil himself bathes in the frozen lake for the whole eternity. Could it be that this drawing influenced Brueghel? Has anyone else ever noticed the similarities, or are they just inside my mind? The tower to heaven is a gateway to hell?

It's in the art, where the secret of humanity lies.

 

I zoom in closer with my mind’s eye. I can see the cracks in the paint. Thousands of strokes the old master’s hand made in his own attempt to reach perfection. Unlike the king he painted, Brueghel came close to perfection, as humanly possible. I stare at the painting in awe. Did he paint the moment when we still understood each other or the moment after our languages became barriers? Is that the reason the tower is collapsing? Questions. So many. This is art - the theory of everything. The mathematics of incalculable. 

I look around myself; people of all races and colors are trying to push their way closer to the painting, their languages unintelligible. Some of them are pointing with their fingers toward a certain part of the painting, whispering as they try to decipher it. Dozens of languages intertwined into a cacophony of incomprehension. I laugh. It seems that no one but me notices the irony.

I drift further away through the corridors of the subconscious. The light appears from the darkness. I didn’t venture far. I’m in front of the museum, looking at the building. It’s beautiful. The building is a work of art in itself. The irony strikes me again. All those buildings and monuments were built by the megalomaniacs of their time; the coliseums’, the pantheons, the pyramids. Oh, the pyramids – an everlasting monument to the ego of man. Hundreds of thousands of people building one man’s tomb; the legacy of humankind. Where is the humble man in this tapestry of history? Do we owe it all to the narcissists? 

I turn around and there it is the monument to Empress Maria Theresa, in the middle of the square, in front of the museum. Enthroned, with the gesture of her hand, she is giving us – her beloved subjects - Mozart and Haydn, whose statues are right there beneath her royal feet. They are hers to give to the world. It’s not irony; it’s the reality. The Ramses’, the Caesars’, the Napoleons of this world, are the ones with the ability to change the course of the river of time. Not only to change the course but to steer it their way. The ability to dam the river of time. 

 

Could a person be remarkable and despicable at the same time? Caesar was a great man. Wasn’t he? A reformist, skilled politician, and writer whose memoirs became a vital source to understand an era in which humanity built monuments that will outlast civilizations, and an era in which men threw men to lions for the sake of entertainment.

The picture of a statue carved in marble appears in my mind. A wounded man lies on his fallen shield. He is bleeding from his chest where the sword has hit his tired body. The expression on his face is one of defeat and surrender. The Dying Gaul.

It must have been a sight Caesar saw countless times as his cohorts ravaged through Gaul in his quest for greatness. Caesar - the man who almost singlehandedly laid the foundations to the greatest empire the world had ever seen. The empire that will be mimicked by every other great power, which will emerge in the centuries to come - the Roman Empire. The name itself even now, two thousand years later evokes a sense of awe and dread at the same time. 

Caesar, a man whose familial name became an imperial title. A great man! A ruthless man who tried to outshine Alexander, a boy-king who conquered the known world. The pattern is undeniable, one after another trying to outdo the one that came before. A megalomaniacal desire serves as the greatest of all inspirations. There is not just one thing to subscribe to a man. An infinite number of layers of clay form this walking contradiction. Who are we? We are megalomaniacal and meek. We are brutal and gentle. We are human.

 

I can feel a whirlpool forming beneath my invisible feet, sucking me deeper into the past. I’m spinning and spinning. Then I stop. I feel dizzy as I look around myself.

I’m inside of a hall of mirrors, surrounded by endless reflections of myself stretching into infinity. Every mirror is a door to another point in time. I just need to step through it. Time travel is possible; my mind is a time machine.

As if an artist is painting a picture at the speed of light, mountains, deserts, and seas appear on a blank canvas of my imagination. I'm flying above it all. From a bird’s perspective, I can see villages turning into cities in a blink of an eye, waging wars constantly against each other. This is what the birth of civilization must have looked like.

I slow things down. I have that power in my mind. 

 Now I’m floating on a nebulous cloud somewhere above the fertile crescent as the armies of Akkad pillage through the cities below. The mighty Babylon whose tower will be the focal point of Brueghel’s painting some three thousand and eight hundred years later is in its infancy - just a tiny village, another nameless obstacle in Sargon’s path to glory. I realize that I’m witnessing the creation of the first empire in history. 

 

Sargon of Akkad – the first emperor. Sargon the builder or Sargon the destroyer? More than four millennia later, it’s still unclear. The man who became a myth while he was alive; a demigod once celebrated in glorious tales as the greatest man that had ever lived is now almost but forgotten. Drowned in an endless ocean of time. 

Where does this desire to achieve glory come from? I close my mind’s eye again, as the river of memories takes me further down the stream. Suddenly, I'm on a shore, sitting inside the circle of men. There is a fire burning in the middle. The sound of wood crackling is breaking the silence. I'm somewhere deep in the past. This isn't my memory. I feel as though I have possessed someone's body. Is this what they call lucid dreaming? It’s beautiful. Ironically, in the realm of the unconscious, I feel as though I have become pure consciousness. How could I envision something I haven’t witnessed myself. Is the remembrance of the whole species engraved in my DNA, or is this just my imagination? But it feels so real. 

 

We don't speak as we stare at the fire. I look above; the view is magnificent. Billions of stars are lighting up the night sky. But we don't see stars, as we look up at the sky. We see the gods. Now, I understand. Since the dawn of man, we have wanted to reach the stars, to reach the gods. This moment in time is the inception of our desire for glory. Striving for immortality, striving for perfection. It's built into us.

Violently, I'm pulled from this state of introspection. I open my eyes, my real eyes. She is awake. She's crying. With her in my arms, I walk slowly to the kitchen to make baby formula. I hum quietly as the milk starts to heat up. She's already asleep. I realize right there; here is the humble man. Here is the backbone of society. The one who feeds the children, the one who makes this gigantic wheel of civilization turn forward. He is the one whose bones are carved into every slab of stone used to build the pyramids, the coliseums, and the Taj Mahals.

I carry her gently into her room. I lay down next to her. She is sound asleep. Her breathing is steady. I close my eyes. I can feel Somnus hovering over me; the god of sleep commands. This time I submit. Dreams flood me like a tidal wave. If only I could sleep forever. I would.

 

The End.

 

 

 


Submitted: October 04, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Mike Croatan. All rights reserved.

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