The Glory of Being Dissatisfied
It was an age and epoch not far from our own, though its remoteness cannot be measured by time or distance. It could have happened in a galaxy far, far away or once upon a time or both, though neither one describes things entirely. It was a time of everything and nothing, of darkness and light, an era of openness and repulsion, of rightness and crookedness. The goodness of things only stood so brightly as to reveal the shadowed truth of the entanglement of things, and for all those who lived in such a beautiful time and place, it was simply the way things were.
To understand the period in its entirety would be a dire impossibility but we will attempt to do so regardless, because as best as I can tell, impossibility is a favorite treat of human beings. Much like carnage and ham steaks are favorite treats of large dogs with slobbery teeth.
The people of this time had a simplistic view of things, despite the complexity of their age. They were often found with bumper stickers and T-shirts with such sayings as “the way things are is the way things are,” and “that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.” You would occasionally see monogrammed polo shirt or high collared corporate shirt with the words “stupid is as stupid does,” though I feel confident that neither the wearers nor the readers cared much to think about what it meant.
To say the people were bored was to give them too much credit, when in fact they were more like…disinterested. It wasn’t that their time and place was so different from ours, their flowers blooming in the same season and color, their seacoasts quaking with the same raging seas, their relationships resounding with the same abject possibility. No, it was a world full of many things to be enjoyed, wondered at and annoyed with. And yet such emotions would have inspired the citizens of the age out of their mundane minimalism. And this, this was too high a cost to pay.
Occasionally an overly curious reporter or poet would ask one of the citizens if they had ever wondered if there was more to life than all this. More than going to their jobs and homes, making things work and satisfying the status quo. More than not rocking the boat and keeping people happy and obeying the occasional traffic signal. To such rebellious questioners the citizens would always respond with the same flaccid response: “Can’t imagine why any one person couldn’t just settle in and get satisfied.”
Get satisfied. This was the oft unspoken highest dream of this age. ‘Get satisfied’ was to them as ‘Get a good job and house in the suburbs is to Americans,’ only theirs was seemingly easier to obtain. Some would say the satisfaction of the people was as useless as fishing poles in the Sahara and some would say it was no satisfaction at all, a convenient disinterest, a calculated contempt for anything outside the ordinary. But these kinds of ‘somes’ were generally asked to leave the country and move to France. And generally they did.
It is into this common and uncommon world that there came a Traveler. This Traveler, from the very beginning of her arrival had an uncommon look about her. It wasn’t that her make-up was mal-applied or that she dressed strangely (with the singular exception of a black-feathered hat she only wore twice which everyone knew to be entirely unfashionable, though no one dared to tell her). No, her uncommonness in that world was more effervescent and pliable—it was not easily grasped. Though by the time her stay in that world lasted something between a month and a year, it was an uncommonness that had well outlasted its welcome.
In her short time, the Traveler made only three stops of any significance, the rest of her time spent drinking tea in coffee shops and picking flowers in forest preserves. Her stops were no surprise to the residents of that world, as they were the most famous of their tourist attractions. In fact the residents, though their disdain for the traveler would become increasingly obvious by the day, put their stock in her solely on her ability to pick a satisfactory vacation spot.
First on the tour was the Great Grand University of Everything Worth Knowing Universal Library. The title was a bit cumbersome and so most people just called it the U. The Traveler pleasantly traversed the interior of the U for days, picking up books here and there, reading some from cover to cover, though no one could understand how or why. Even the U’s staff had never actually read any of its contents from cover to cover. Many of them spent a regular portion of their salary at “Cliff’s Notes to the U” across the street, so as to make sure they could effectively explain the short version of the truth to whomever would need to know. When asked by the Traveler how much of the library they’d read, the chief clerk simply answered, “We’ve read enough to be satisfied.”
At the reception of such an answer the Traveler grimaced quizzically. “I’m not sure I could ever be satisfied in such a curious place as this.”
“Whatever could you mean?” responded the chief clerk responded somewhat defensively. “Every time I read one thing, I want to read one more thing. In fact, it all just makes me wonder if everything worth knowing can’t be contained in library. What if all the Truth was hidden somewhere out there, somewhere between the lines of books, that maybe there was a way of knowing that made all the other knowing make sense? Doesn’t the U make you wonder about such things? It certainly does me.”
“I can’t say that it does,” answered the clerk disdainfully. And as if her questions were spoken in an entirely different language, the clerk walked away thinking that perhaps the Traveler’s hat was just a little too tight.
This being her first stop, the citizens of the land thought maybe perhaps she simply wasn’t used to such a wonderfully simple and safe environment. “She must not know that such curiosity is dangerous,” they would say. “It just exposes you needing more than you’ve got. And that simply is no way to live.” And with that the citizens satisfied themselves in their critique of the Traveler. At least, until her second stop.
From the U she moved on to the High Judicial Court of Good, Right and Pleasant. Here at this court, seven judges gave out rulings of what was right and good and generally affirmed satisfaction where they saw it in the land. The “Court” as they were simply called had not made a ruling in twenty-three years, things being as universally pleasant as they were and dissatisfaction having been outlawed many years before. And so it had since become something of a tourist attraction. “It is a good place to be reminded of why we are as happy as we are,” the citizens decreed, and sent the Traveler there, thinking that if anyone could help her be satisfied it would be them.
Upon arrival at the Court, the Traveler smiled, enjoying every minute of it, though her tour guides were certain she was hiding some basic unpleasant curiosity. Her reputation from the U preceded her.
After hearing the historical presentation of everything that was Good and Pleasant about the land, the Traveler responded, “May I ask a question?”
“A question?” balked the chief justice. “We haven’t been asked a question in two decades. Don’t you see that everything that is around you is good enough?”
“I suppose…” responded the Traveler. “But that’s not my question.”
“Fair enough, ask your question, silly as it may seem.”
“I was just wondering, your world is full of so many good things. And you seven justices have made clear how satisfying it all can be. But do you ever find yourself wanting? Wanting to experience the kind of good you’ve never experienced? The kind of good that makes all the other goods make sense?”
With a look that clearly communicated that she had asked the kind of question that ought to find a person beheaded, the chief justice rebutted quickly, “You are new to our land, and thus I will have patience with you. Patience being one of the most important of all goods. But, this much I will say, and I have not said such a thing in many years—your level of dissatisfaction is clearly not good. Such endless wanting for more will only leave you pained and perverse. I pray that your time here at the Court will impart upon you a plan of action that defies such open ingratitude.”
With nothing more to say, the Traveler contentedly walked out of the room. And though any normal person would have gotten on the nearest boat and headed back from whence they came, the Traveler was no normal person (as our story so far as made illustriously clear) and so the following morning she walked out from her hotel into the street and looked for her next adventure.
She stumbled across an old man sitting in a chair outside one of the local businesses. He spoke to no one and no one spoke to him, and though he looked like the other citizens, his face had an air of possibility that piqued the interest of the Traveler.
“Excuse me, sir. I have seen much these past few weeks. I have seen all that you know and all that you do. I have read the books in the U and heard the good deeds of the Court. But one question eludes me. Where are the beautiful things? The paintings and songs and wonder?”
The old man looked about to see if anyone else was listening, and upon realizing everyone was out of ear shot he spoke in just barely a whisper.
“I can look into your eyes and see that this is not the only question that eludes you. You have come here in search of transcendental things, the vision behind the view and the sights beyond the seeing. To this point you have only spoken with foolish people, and I fear that this will continue. But I can send you to one more place, to make your journey in this land complete. You ask a question of being. More than acting and knowing, one must wonder if there is a way of being, a way harmonious and connected. To this end, there is one more stop on the tour of famous sites: The Glorious Museum of all the Beautiful Things. It is to the Museum you must go, and from there things will become clear.”
It was a day’s journey to the Museum by foot, but upon arrival the Traveler realized that it was much worth the trip. From the moment she moved up the steps she was surrounded by the delicate balance of music, art and wonder. There were dancers in the hallway moving about to a subtle waltz while painters expressed gigantic murals across the walls and ceilings. It was a beautiful place, no question, thus deserving of its title. There were people of all shapes and colors and types inside the museum, either placed or gathered there to be a further expression of this harmonious pinnacle of human achievement.
As she watched all that played out in front of her, the Traveler couldn’t help but speak aloud, “It is true, these are good people with a beauty all their own. Perhaps if I travel further in, I will find the reason and source behind it all. Perhaps that is why the old man sent me here.”
She traversed through halls and grand ballrooms for what seemed like hours, all the while convincing herself that she had found what she was looking for all the time. After some time she came to a large wooden door. It was locked shut by one giant lock, and in front of it stood a woman in a little white coat.
“I assume,” said the little woman, “that you are the famous Traveler.”
“I guess I am, though ‘famous’ is never what I set out to be.”
“True glory can never be sought out; it can only be given to us. And the people of this land have given you your due. You are unlike anyone this place has seen in many years. And now you are here in my museum… with all your unanswered questions.”
“Yes, I am the curator of this museum, the caretaker of all that you have seen.”
“It really is beautiful. Some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.”
“And this beauty leads you to a question, does it not?”
“Yes, I guess it does…where does it all come from? I went to the U to find the Truth and only could find things about truth. I went to the Court to find out about the Good Life, and only found that I wasn’t good enough. And now I am here, in this harmonious, beautiful place, looking for a Beautiful Way of Being. And though your Museum reminds me of all the possible beauty, all the glorious things that might come if we chose them, I still don’t have an answer to my question…”
“Where does all the beauty come from?”
“I’m sorry I cannot answer that question for you.”
“Why not? You are the curator, and you can’t help me?”
“Where any of the other officials at the tourist sites able to help you?”
The Traveler was reminded of her disappointing interactions with the clerk and the judge. “Ok, but what about what’s behind this door?” The Traveler’s inquisitive nature now overwhelming her.
“This door represents the Truth of this Good Land, the Beautiful Balance of all that you’ve seen. And, sadly for you, this door is locked.”
“Who locked it? You’re the curator, certainly you have a key?”
“I’m afraid not my dear, this door was locked long before my coming here. I am just the caretaker of the reminders of beauty that you see all around you. For decades I have been standing here as person after person in this land comes to this door at the end of their travels. Tourists from within the land and without, all of them make a stop here. And everyone of them comes to me and do you know what they say?”
“They say, ‘Thank you. This is a very lovely museum. I’m so glad I came to see the beauty.’”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“I think you understand more than you think. Just like the visitors to the U thank the clerks for showing them the truth and the justices for teaching them the good, the citizens of the land think the relics of their tourist attractions are the things they represent. They think they are the good, true and beautiful.”
“I can see how they would. I have seen them all and enjoyed them all so much.”
“And yet I can’t shake the question.” The Traveler’s dissastisfaction raising to a furor. Closing her eyes with a soft pressure of tears pushing against her eyelids. Knowing hin her heart that she had come looking for all that she could find, looking for the a way of being, knowing and acting that superceded everything else that had ever happened to her. Having met so many people in the land, she knew despair was an option, and yet, something in her refused to give up. “There has to be more than this. I want there to be more than this. I want to see, taste, know and be more…”
She opened her eyes and without warning the curator was gone.
In her place she saw a gold plated sign on the lock of the large wooden door. On the sign read, “Seek first.”
“I have been,” she murmured. “That’s all I’ve been doing all this time, seeking and believing and traveling. And now… now this locked door. I just want to know, what’s behind it all…”
And then suddenly, as if by some magic from a world beyond time, in her hand was a small golden key, just the perfect size for the large wooden door.
It was a strange age, the age the Traveler found herself in. It was once upon a time and a land far, far away. It was a land of satisfied disbelief and benign hopelesseness. And to those who wanted little and sought none, the doors themselves were locked. And to those who wanted it all, they found in their very wanting the key. It was an age and epoch not far from our own, though its remoteness cannot be measured by time or distance. It was a time of everything and nothing, of darkness and light, an era of openness and repulsion, of rightness and crookedness. The goodness of things only stood so brightly as to reveal the shadowed truth of the entanglement of things, and for all those who lived in such a beautiful time and place, it was simply the way things were. l