For all I know, by the time you read this post, we may have witnessed the first salvo of a European war. European war. Those words belong to my parents’ generation, not mine. We baby boomers lived through the Cold War and the Viet Nam war, and the wars in the mid-east. You could say this world is on fire and has been for years. Perhaps now more than ever, we must face the future, an eternity that is closer than we may want to believe. We tell ourselves we have time. There is no fire.
Several years ago, I wrote a parable I titled “The Building.” It seems more apropos than ever.
The hawk glided on the thermal, gracefully veering left then right. Below in the valley sat a red three story building – a long rectangle with large ells jutting here and there from its four sides. The structure stretched for a full mile. A plume of smoke wafted from the end of the building and the raptor zoomed down for a closer look.
Inside, thousands of men, women and children of all ages and nationalities, slept, dined, played, loved, and fought.
In the building, the eight year old boy held up a parchment with lines and notations for his uncle’s scrutiny. “Look Uncle Dan, I found a map!”
“That’s not a real map, Roger. It’s just a drawing. Why don’t you go off and color it for me?” Dan was unimpressed and in a hurry to meet his friends for a game of poker.
“No! No! It’s a real map. See, it shows the way to a door. I found lots of maps just exactly like this. There’s a door, Uncle Dan. We can go outside!”
The hawk, having returned to his perch atop a fir tree, noticed more smoke from the building.
The fire grew.
“Why would I want to go outside?” He patted Roger on the head and walked away to his game.
As if in answer to his uncle’s question, a young man careened around the corner and shouted, “The building’s on fire!” People looked at him as if he were crazy. There was no smoke, no smell.
What an irresponsible thing to do – to yell fire in a crowded building. People began to tell him to be quiet. Only a very few thought perhaps they should look for an exit. It was so pleasant in the building, and no one wanted to leave. But if there were a fire they would need to get out. There must be exit doors that no one ever bothered to discover before.
Roger followed the map which proved to be so clear a child could navigate the route drawn on the parchment.
“Here it is.” the boy jumped up and down with excitement. “I followed the map and I found the door. We can go out!”
He would not stop shouting and soon more and more people gathered around him. Indeed, there was a door. It was a small door. It had no doorknob. Several burley men crashed their weight against it, but it would not budge.
“Stand aside,” said an old man. People immediately obeyed his senatorial command. The man leaned on his cane and inched his way to stand before the door. He waited. The door opened and he walked through to the outside. People looked at each other. After a moment, another man stood before the door and waited. The door opened and he walked out. Clearly people could not open the door themselves; the door itself opened for only one person at a time, as if it had a mind of its own.
And the fire grew.
More people arrived from the far end the building, crying that indeed there was a fire. The people who saw the little door opening and closing fanned out to tell others about the way to safety and to follow them. They even began to tug at people who did not believe them but were rebuffed as the people they accosted clung to pillars and posts, or struck out at the “door fanatics.”
Others looked askance at the little door. Surely there were many bigger doors around. They just had never wanted to look for them before because it was so pleasant in the building. Clearly, building codes would require several wider exits. What kind of architect would plan a building with only one small door? No indeed, these people yelling that there was only one way out were simplistic fools. They were ignorant of draftsmanship and building codes. Ignoring the people trying to usher everyone to the small door, they set out to find wider doors.
“Will you stop shouting?” The woman sounded furious as she brought her face close to another who was screaming that the exit was through the little door. “I can’t hear myself think with all your blathering. Maybe you believe this is the only way out, but not everyone believes there’s really a fire or that there aren’t other exits. You are the most irritating person I ever met. You should be made to shut up!”
And the fire grew.
Quietly, without rushing or fear, hundreds lined up, one after the other as the door opened for each of them.
The hawk watched a steady line of people leaving the building as the fire eventually consumed it.