"What is going on?" we asked the wise man.
We gathered around him by the ancient tree. The weather was warm, the world was in full bloom, rebelling against shame. We did not wear clothes, for it seemed the whole earth wanted to touch us and see us, and we did not want to deny it. Among the blazing petals and fantastic shapes of flowers championing life, we stood, flowers in human form, joining in the celebration of things not dead.
"What do the lights mean?" my best friend, Eurydice, asked the man of many years, who had never once lied to us, nor demeaned us with unripe thoughts. "Last night I saw three balls of fire fall onto the mountain." Beyond the forest and the gardens, there was the mountain that meditated upon us all, never blinking, yet never keeping us at a distance.
"My people," said the white-haired man, the last snow in the world on top of his head. "Do you remember the day when we made the trek, from the swampland to the forest?"
"We do," we said.
"Do you remember the scarred place?"
"The place with the giant circles burned in stone, where you said the others left in ships of fire, because they had destroyed the world and could not live here?"
Said the old man: "They melted the ice and raised the seas. They turned the sky gray and gasped for breath, as birds ceased to fly and fish died on the beach. They looted the ages stored underneath the earth: vaults of treasures filled by geology and cosmology. Billions of years of labor they squandered in a single flash of greed. They ate themselves into oblivion, razed the world with their towers, pillaged it with joy which could not run faster than what haunted them. Like a swarm of wild ants they devoured what they needed to live, until, at last, they had no choice but to flee from the generosity that could not satisfy them, and to lift themselves on top of mighty fires into the blackness beyond us, in search of another world, green and unspoiled as ours once was."
"And is it not true," Eurydice asked him, "that we were the ones they left behind?"
The old man nodded, he had the memory of the rocks. "Not us, but those we come from. They were the ones of no account, the ones who would not fit in the great ships that bore the others to safety, out of the reach of a world that success destroyed."
"We were abandoned!"
"Left behind by the beasts who knew no limits, we clung to the surface of a world left for dead, we clung to its faint heartbeats of green persisting in the desert, to its last mountains desperately leaping out of the clutches of the sea. We breathed its fallen air, lived off of its sputtering fruits and wheezing harvests, clawed and dug for its accidental gifts. We were buried together – our world and the worthless ones – left drifting in the void without a pulse. But somehow, somehow this mighty planet did not surrender. The power of green was too great for the tracks of dead machines. For the empty mineshafts, and the craters ripped into its sides, for the poison poured into its water and air. The muscles of its will to live bulged with things that continued to grow, its breath fogged the mirror of Creation, held up to its silent mouth. From under the ruins, insects crawled, as precious as gold, even the cockroach seemed like a swan; then, one morning, we heard the chirping of birds. The people who were left to die awakened on a healing world, over cuts that had become forests. The earth was recovered by those who had always loved it. Those who merely used it were gone."
"You told us, long ago, of an ancient book," Eurydice reminded him. "It was as it was said."
" ‘The meek shall inherit the earth.’ The proud and uncaring owned it to the point of losing it. It fell back to us."
"In no other way could we have got the earth back," surmised Eurydice. "Only by losing so badly that there was no one left strong enough to stop them from destroying themselves!"
But then, my dear friend’s face grew strangely dark, afraid of a cloud passing over her mind. I held her hand, which was the way I first approached her body long ago, when I wanted her but was not sure what she wanted. "The three balls of fire?" she asked the old man again.
"For centuries, now, we have lived well," the old man said. "Left by those who thought themselves better than us, left by those who thought the earth was only dirt, we learned to flourish. We recovered hand-in-hand with our world, we reinvented ways of living that were dignified and beautiful. Before, they trod down the green places with hearts of lead; after they left, our hearts danced with all things rising from the dead. Our people gathered in deep and worthwhile ways to partake of the miracle of existence. A thousand diseases of the soul were overcome. But there were those of us, in spite of it, who sometimes slept unquietly, with thoughts of those who had spurned us with their fleeing ships."
My love’s deep-feeling, far-seeing face grew darker yet, and it made me frightened.
"We wondered," continued the old man, "what had become of them. Those who fled from their incompetence. Those who left our ruined world to seek another. How can you start from scratch when your mistakes are your religion? How can you escape from a disaster when it comes from who you are? What hope is there for one whose answer is to change one world for another, rather than to change himself? We thought, what virgin green world will these ravenous, unvanquished ships of fire reach; and what will prevent the men who destroyed the earth from doing the same to their new home? And once it, too, is destroyed, after its own cynical cycle of history, to what new world will the hungry, unrepentant ships turn? What new garden will appear in the crosshairs of their lust? What new planet will they discover blossoming in the dark, to be plucked by their insatiable hand?"
"No!" Eurydice suddenly protested, trembling, her words barely comprehensible. "And if they know no other world, but remember the one from which they came? If they have not erased it from their map? If they tell themselves that if it was once green, it might be so again? If nothing else is left to them in the void, but the starting point in their great chart of evasion?"
"Fallow earth!" I gasped. "Leave the field bare, that the soil might regenerate!"
"No such foresight, only desperation," said Eurydice, before rebelling against her intellect and her intuition, which were partners in her soul, always on top of each other like lovers. "Tell us, wise man, that it is not so! Please tell us!"
"I wish I could," he said. "But the evidence is overwhelming. The balls of fire are their ships. They have not ceased their habit of laying waste to beautiful things. They have wrecked the worlds they fled to after destroying ours, and now they have returned to the only one that is left, the one they started from! Paradise is at an end."
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