I awakened this morning to find myself in a cave. It is stuffy and airless and smoky in here. Someone was kind enough to leave behind torches jammed into oil jugs about head-high along the walls. That's where the smoke is coming from, and a yellow, flickering, unstable light.
The walls are rough. That is the first thing I notice. The walls are not smooth. They are not the stuff of stalactites and stalagmites, not rock oozing from walls smooth as glass. No, they are rough, jagged, irregular.
As I approach, I can see the composition better.
The walls are made up of . . . Juices, what's this? Words!
Sentences and paragraphs, line after line. Concepts and stories, facts and figures. Numbers here, poetry there. So thick as to be impenetrable.
Somehow the words seem familiar.
I work my way to the right and study a section that eerily takes me back to college. There are words in German, which I studied for two thankless years. And jokes about the German instructor being from Thailand. I remember them now. Nearby is a wall of noise, of the clinks of beer glasses and the shouts of drunken students warming themselves on Coors deep into a cold Colorado winter night. The Red Garter! That's where we hung out at FAC, Friday Afternoon Club. Guys who were sick of studying cut Friday afternoon classes and headed for the raucous darkness of the Red Garter's bar. And liquid relief. Oh, 3.2 percent alcohol was all the State would allow, but drink a pitcher instead of a glass, and the numbers don't matter.
What is this doing on the cave wall?
I work my way forward the other direction.
Holy shit! That's my first wife there, all the conversations we ever had during our tumultuous eight years of marriage. The laughter, the tears, the insults thrown in anger, the words from the crossword puzzles we would work together in bed at night. The love poems we wrote each other. Right there, as if stone.
Ahh! And my days at the University of Southern California, studying journalism! Wow. Doctor Ed Borgers is here, big belly and small tie, hand on his fat chin reflecting . . . pontificating about how education is backward, going from broad to narrow. To be truly educated, we have to go from narrow to broad.
Ah, Doctor Ed. That's our failure, isn't it? That's what these walls are about, isn't it?
That's what this cave is about.
We use our knowledge to limit where we go. We don't use it to spring to greater enlightenment. It is confinement, this place we have built.
We use our knowledge to force others to our way of thinking. To limit them.
We use our knowledge to restrict what we are willing to accept. A counter opinion must be demolished, not heard and respected.
We use our knowledge to tear down, not build up. Like the Anti-Pinoy and Get Real artists, skilled at launching critical verbal bombs. Skilled at deceits and tearing down in the name of enlightenment.
We use our knowledge to refuse to see.
We can wander forever through these dark catacombs, building new walls as we engage with others. We can stay here for all eternity.
Ahh, but, really, can we? Can we now?
We have seen the walls for what they are. We are no longer virgins in a cave of dark ignorance. We are no longer counted among the intellectually blind, the emotionally insecure.
We see. We see.
What does it take to get out?
To find the light of a greater world? To use knowledge to rid ourselves of our blindness, our stubbornness, our weak self esteem? To grow and learn and listen and respect?
To use our words and acts to build platforms to the heavens rather than holes in the dirt?
What does it take to get out?
You do want out, don't you?