Plato’s Allegory of the Cave
Shackles opened after a lifetime of knowing only they. My neck crackled as my head turned to and fro for the very first time, though there was beauty and freedom in the pain enough that I refused to remain still. Complex movement was unknown to me and took time to initiate; from blistered feet to loin and up through the torso which, I attained, all functioned together quite fluidly.
Shakily, and with great cost to my physical being, I came closer to the scrolling figures I had watched so long and found that they did not exist; they were in fact shadows on a wall. I noted how the light between figures flickered, a byproduct of something more real and less fleeting than they; that they, themselves, were illusions, merely spaces in between the light.
I climbed the wall that my back had rested against for longer than I could remember, and saw that the shadows were the ghosts of moving things passing before a fire, arms laden with all manner of materials and shaped forms, none of which I had ever before been able to see. I stood rapt, then gathered myself and dropped into the tunnel where they passed, them whose eyes regarded me so curiously, continuing on by as I gawked in confusion. At first I was angry, thinking them to be our captors, but by the looks of the cloth of their robes, which was no more than the ragged garb we, oureselves wore, I knew that they, too, were enslaved, and so I caused them no harm.
I could feel the light of the fire on my face when I stretched up to touch it, and blinked to accustom myself to it, but more than that I felt the warmth on my skin which settled in my bones a creeping weariness. I crawled up to it with my eyes squinted, where I sat and cried, overwhelmed with too much new information. The figures below stared up at me, but made no move to intercede in my lament.
A thought registered: that fire was the ultimate truth, reality and all that was; in essence that very thing which I had been missing for so long. I lost myself in it for a time until, while turning my back to the flame to warm each side equally, I glimpsed a purer light upon the wall beyond that of the fire and, having gained some strength from the warmth, rose and followed its lead. Up a long corridor the light emerged, emanating from an entrance leading to…what?
That purer, whiter light blinded me, and at first I could only stand with my hand across my eyes, though curiosity (and the moans of those behind me still locked in that choking, metallic embrace) compelled me to take it through bitten eyelids little bits at a time. When I could fully see the wonder of what surely must be heaven around me, I stood amazed before a wide field of colours more vivid than any under-ground could ever possess and textures soft and giving, grass and the flowing of wind in the trees on a hill leading up to the greatest light of all. I wept again, but could not weep long lest tears blur that sacred vision.
I stumbled through trees and to the hill, that tall, rocky hill which cut at my bare feet (whose blood had never, itself, seen the light) and basked in the warmth of the glow which bared its own, special hues unto me, until I had forgotten completely what I’d left behind. I wrapped myself up in its golden rays and slept for a time, and in my soul every answer to every question I’d ever asked, every solution to the queries of why the dark had seemed so wrong, a feeling I could never quite capture fully, a distant knowing that chains were not what I wanted, not all that there was for me. It had been a feeling of absence, and I knew this because that absence was now gone, replaced with the feeling of being full.
When I was sufficiently warmed and the awe and succor of the light began to wane, I looked back down the hill and, for the first time, saw my previous home for what it truly was. I was horrified. I mourned the many deaths that had become me there. I shook my fists at my captors though I knew not who they were. I wailed at the insufferable unfairness of chains, of their gnawing, jagged nature, and yet the splendor of my surroundings called louder still as if to say, “Why cry when you’ve discovered, at last, all the beauty you’d ever dreamed could be?”
And yet, instead of succumbing to that simple, silent desire, becoming one with the light and taking its gift unto myself, I turned in sudden epiphany, for everyone in the dark needed to see what I’d seen. Everyone deserved to see and to know the light and feel warmth. And so without a further thought to myself nor the wounds on my feet I ran full speed back into the hole to set them all free.
It didn’t take long to re-adjust to the darkness, and in those moments of waiting I spat at it and called it death, blasphemed it and kicked at its dusty recesses in display of my new-found power. When I could at last make my way I went to the first of them chained there, where light was foreign and far away. I whispered urgently into an ear, I tugged at the chains around the neck, but the figure cursed at me with bloody spittle to my brow and cracked, broken fingernails clawed into the skin of my hands. I drew back, aghast, bewildered as to why it would not let me free it. I tried again and again with the same result, and this time it called me wicked, ignorant, insane.
I cursed it and turned to the next, taking a new approach. This time, I gently whispered in its ear of shadows, fires and all the things I’d seen outside. I told it how I’d come to be free and tried to warm its frozen bones with tales of light and heat. But the figure only laughed and said to me, “This cannot be. This here is what is real. You are mistaken, poor thing, so lost in your fancies.” Flustered, I became righteous and made demands. I called it blind, swore that if it simply saw the truth, if it followed but for a moment it would see that it was wrong. But it would not allow me to set it free and so I went to the next.
Hours later I sat with my back to fire, sniffling and in no small amount of shock. To each I had said my peace and, in turn, each turned me away. Surely a blind man, when hearing all the words that describe the light, and with the promise that his blindness could be reversed, should tear off the blindfold and run screaming towards it, begging thanks for he who gave such hope! With that thought I humbled myself, for it was not I who was looking for reward, rather it was I who wanted desperately to share such a reward with them all. And so I decided to deny myself that heaven beyond the entrance of hell. I chose to stay with them there in the dark, to martyr myself; that surely, eventually, my stories of the light would make them come around and want what I had. And so I would sit by the fire and laugh where they could hear. I would attempt to find words to describe aloud to myself the succor I had felt in the presence of the Great Light. I would anguish rememberances of what it was like to be cold, and reminisce over the blissful moments when my bones boiled beneath the fiery impishness of that ‘blazoned star which sets all things beneath it aglow.
A year I was in the dark and starved, and for all it was naught. Not only did they not heed my wisdom, they shunned it. They took it as condemnation; my laughter as if it were at their expense, my prayers as though they were curses. I realized that they themselves were their own captors, and that there was nothing I could do to free he who held himself in chains. It was then that I turned away.
In the end I left only to spite them. I left so that I could be free, but also that their chosen bondage would hurt the more. I danced through the grass that their chains would bite to wounds upon their scrawny hides. I stood in the Great Light that their coldness might oppress them like a deathly shroud, I stared into it until my eyes watered that the colourlessness of the cave would blacken out even their dreams. But I grew weary of this, for emotions in the spectrum of anger take such a toll on mind and body. I lay beneath a twinkling night and slept well for the first time in my history.
When I awoke to the light blues and pinks and golds of the sky I cried, for in my heart I didn’t wish them pain, I wished only for them to see what I could see. I wished only for someone to share my heaven with. What is the point of having a heaven if there is no one with which to share? And so with a heavy heart I set out to explore the land. I ate of the fruits of the trees and drank deep the waters of the ground. I dug my toes in dark soil and gathered flowers for my hair. Years I wandered.
Then one smoky eve I found an end to the world around me, the finale of all that could have existed before I came. At that stark, leading edge I sat and pondered why the vast void stretched to the horizon and beyond. To my incredulity, when I wished for what I would want to replace that void my wish came into being and was more magnificent than what I would have known, myself, to make.
Thus I, the creator, was born. I looked at my creation and it was good. Such a process silenced any lingering threnody for those I had left in the dark, and after years of creating I stopped thinking of them altogether.
Discovery was not the least of gifts. My travels eventually lead to another creator. At first I could not believe my eyes, for I had been alone so long that I had thought I was the only one. Had I created him myself? Perhaps. Or…had he created me? These questions we pondered together, until we realized that the answers did not matter. Soon creation became a cooperation, better than creation-by-one ever could have been. He told me the names of things, and the one I cherish the most was the name of the Great Light: Sun.
He had never seen my side of the world, nor I his. And so he showed me all that he had done, and it was more than ever I could have made; the colours seemed somehow brighter, richer, the waters more clear and the sky more blue. Yet when I took him through my lands he said the same of them. We laughed until we could laugh no more. In our wonder we never asked where the other had originated, for nothing seemed to matter but the miracle of the finding. He called me Other and I he, for we were of each other and equally amazed.
We wandered in my endless garden mazes until we came again to old lands faint in memory. We followed familiar paths though I couldn’t remember where they lead until I saw, in the darkening of the twilight on the hill, the entrance to the hole from which I had wandered those many years before. Sorrow gripped me, and my Other held me close to him and whispered that he too had come from such a place. A cave, he called it, though he’d lost the memory of where it was long ago. I asked if he would accompany me in, just to see if anything had changed, and he agreed.
Once our eyes became accustomed we saw that nothing had. Bleeding wounds wrought by jagged metal clasps had bowed resentfully to ragged scars. Nothing moved but the mouths of those who spoke of the politics of shadows, the wisdom of static and the plunder of the sounds of our approaching footsteps. I’d never noticed the smell before, but the stench of brute existence was overwhelming. Had it always been this way? I could not remember, it had been so long.
I recalled that last thought I’d had before I’d left, that they had wrought the chains themselves and were responsible for their own slovenly manner. I felt a new sense, something akin to bereavement, for pity had replaced my previous resentment and humility had replaced my martyrian fire which, itself, had stood in a false light and called itself truth. No longer did I wish such a state upon them, rather, I realized that they could not yet be ready for the light of dawn nor the softness of grass. After all, many years had I wallowed in self-pity as one of them. I could never have been ready to break those chains until…well, until I was.
A matronly love pumped through my quickened heart. I only wanted to make their stay in chains less unbearable, and realized that it was more bearable to they than it was to me, for I had been so far removed from it for so long that I knew full well the price and weight of chains; yet they, having known only chains, were accustomed to the weight and knew nothing else.
And so I and my Other tore swaths from our clothes wetted by the river, bathing their wounds and their feverish heads, stroking the skin about their swollen, weathered necks and saying kind nothings. They were nothings because they could not endure, yet the feeling there remained in moments, glistening in their lolling eyes. ‘Twas the seeds of such nothings that would grow in their minds, and this was what we hoped for. We would leave to create, returning from time to time with gathered logs to stoke the fires that perhaps some warmth might reach them or, at least, the shadows might appear more vivid to further fuel thoughts of the natures of movement, because we could hear that some seeds had grown.
Yes, for the first time I truly heard their words, heard the fleeting truths between the falsities, knew the falsities to be more true than anything they’d pondered previously. I cultivated hope for them inside me, knowing that eventually they, too, would wake and wander outside, beholden of the change from dusk to dawn, the dusk that would draw towards dawn inside them, alive in the slow process from sorrow to rapture, the knowledge of creation and the wonder that it would bring. Like a flower it bloomed, that knowledge that there was an infinity inside eternity, and that no time wasted in chains was too long. Once a soul is free, joy rewards in years what days of sorrow made. In the Other’s eyes I saw, and he in mine own, that all was well, always and in all ways, and forever.