They dream of actions, strong and subtle, that might move the boulder. Young boys and girls picture themselves gripping it, putting their shoulder or back to it, rocking it, or shoving it. At the proper time, their fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, and cousins have all tried, some with the visible strain of effort and some in ceremonial deference. Each reveals how much the boulder insinuates it way into the imagination. A strange intimacy appears from the moment they touch it. In thousands of years it has shifted barely at all, perhaps two hands’ widths, but perfect circles ripple out from its place in the center of the village. Every ring marks distant, nameless aspiration.
Naturally, everyone tells stories about how it traveled even this far. One villager found a hidden surface vulnerable to the right sort of toil. Another, choosing two points, made it teeter as if on the edge of a cliff. Sometimes the boulder seemed to welcome a particular touch and moved as if in affection. All of these famous villagers have names, but all are long dead and are now mostly names, myths. In this lifetime, some of the people who have tried to move it say they have felt it respond. A few knotted hands point to its base, asking companions to stand here or there in the sun’s slanted light to see just what they accomplished. It’s polite to nod, but such affirmation relies on belief, not proof.
Occasionally someone will try to put the boulder back, and spectators close their eyes in regret or resignation. But perhaps the crowd misunderstands. It’s too hard to tell what is happening, and no one speaks during an attempt. Many watch the hopeful’s expression rather than its object. They say the truth is there. At least their commitment is apparent—they guess what each person wants from it, what each person thinks comes next.
Strangers travel to see the boulder. Villagers notice their eyes feeling every surface with desire, ready to make their own attempt. Some visitors have approached it, but the guards keep them away. It isn’t for them to come near it, and touching it would be desecrating what’s most holy. Some visitors sense its place, and villagers recognize fellowship in them. They see the glimmers of possibility still guttering in a deep caves, reflected light that bounces between so many walls and flickers so faintly it might be imaginary.
Someone might still move it. Fewer and fewer people believe so, but the ceremony hasn’t disappeared. They gather as they always have, and, though for some the gathering is an excuse for revelry, silence is part of participating. Everyone forms a ring awaiting the next aspirant, and, as each fails and returns to the crowd, the villagers accept him or her as part of a common humanity. And each disappointment sparks more desire in the eyes of youth too innocent to believe they can fail.
And futility eludes them still.
I’m sorry. A couple of people who have read my book tell me they dislike these little stories. They’re too recondite, they say, and leave them unsatisfied. Yet, composing them doesn’t feel like hiding to me. Quite the contrary, they communicate what I can’t seem to say any other way, offering in universal terms what otherwise seems diffused in so many manifestations. They’re about what’s behind their particulars–not any one-one-one correspondence of meaning or symbolism—and their particulars really matter little… if at all.