“Ah, Doug, I do need your help. I could not do this without your help. Not to put things too unkindly, but you are the walking stick I need to aid me on my travels. You help to keep me balanced and on the right path. But failure and success are labels placed upon people’s lives the way a child values winning a game whether or not they have to bend the rules in order to do it. But life is not a game and the rules cannot be bent without repercussions that prove damaging later on. We must play the game for all we are worth, and we must play it fairly. We play and lose and play again, over and over. We lose and we pick up and start again a little wiser. We learn the game a little better in the playing, learn lessons for the next game. And should we lose today it is only a step towards the winning of the larger game. We move our piece on the board on step at a time, but it is all part of some larger process.”
“So we’re all pawns in some giant game played by powers beyond our imagining?”
“Our bodies, perhaps, but we are all a part of that will which moves the pieces on the board. Once we get beyond the idea that we are nothing more than the physical pieces, we realize we are forces, each and every one of us.”
“I’ll be honest with you, Ashavan. It scares me when you talk like this. I don’t think I want to be some vague force without shape or substance.”
Ashavan laughed. “Fear is what keeps you a block of wood on a piece of cardboard. Once you see, then fear is left behind in the game piece you used to think was you.”
“What is it you hope to accomplish, then?”
“To be myself, to follow my desires to the best of my abilities. That’s the only end worth shooting for. Success and failure lie beyond us, they may be signposts that direct us, but they are foolish goals in themselves. To truly be who I have been made to be, made myself to be, ah, that is the only mission worthy of all the life that flows within.”
Doug could not stay too long in the ideas that appeared to now be Ashavan’s native climate. And too, he wondered if it were not his purpose to keep Ashavan’s thoughts closer to the ground.
“But what do we do now? What’s our next move?”
“The jewel of Europe has been found. And within it is the accumulated selfishness and corruption of the stones. It alone lies as a barrier to the possibility of a world united. Not the Pangea which I had earlier imagined. That was the foolish perceptions of a man who understood little. No it is a unity of purpose, not of geography. It is what your friend Catherine was searching for in her own little way. It is what Evangeline was trying to accomplish in a divided way, what all the stones divided have been attempting. But each facet sees but a little, and in attempting to unify what lies within its grasp, stretches the greater whole. Think of it, we are a globe of little nations, each of them grasping as organisms trying to strengthen themselves. Each of them sees itself as an idealized state. The United States sees its manifest destiny is to stretch from sea to shining sea, believe it is God himself who has ordained it. Where we go now, we see a Serbia whose ideal boundaries spill over into the perceived boundaries of many other nations. Each nation overlaps the other in its vain perception of itself. Each sees unity within itself, each member believes himself part of something larger. But in their division they tear at the larger fabric. It is only in the unity that they will find the answers to their longings, only then that they will truly understand what it means to be part of something larger than themselves.”
For a moment Doug could almost sense the stone that lie somewhere within the folds of Ashavan’s jacket. He could almost imagine he could see it in his breast pocket and suddenly he fancied he saw it not in Ashavan’s pocket but in his chest, a glowing light that pumped the life through him. And there was a glimpse, just a glimpse, of understanding.
The glimpse of understanding seemed to open up something inside Doug, created a vent in whatever it was that differentiated who he was and everything that was outside of him. A door was opened—just a crack—and through it he could see an outside, a whole universe that was new to him. And even as the door closed he knew there was something out there, that he would never quite see things in the same way ever again. And that was okay. The world had not changed, he had. He was now just a little older, a little wiser. He had sacrificed nothing of himself in the deal. He had merely grown.
From thoughts that were high in the air, he gradually returned to thoughts of his immediate surroundings, of the sound of rail cars endlessly turning again and again, too often to worry about, too steady to be of interest. They turned unendingly in the same circles but in their seemingly pointless revolutions that only brought themselves back to where they had begun, they managed to move the train across a continent.