The Shadow in the Hallway
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more."
People used to be aware they shared their minds with other inhabitants who afforded but fleeting glimpses -- at times beautiful but often frightening or strange. They'd never sit still long enough for us to see them clearly. In former days the Elders taught us to call some of these cohabitants Good and Evil. We were to talk to the one and refuse the other. But for the ones in between they had no name, though they bade us not to speak to them or not to listen to what they said.
And then one day a new set of teachers took over and said that these glimpses were simply artifacts of bad lighting. The whisperings through the wall were just the wind and nothing more. Right after the Pledge, we all took the books of Elders out of our desks where they had been for ages and threw them into the Book Burner.
Then the teachers left us alone in our mansion in the company of video games, Madonna, and Lady Gaga. But then ...
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you' - here I opened wide the door; -
Darkness there, and nothing more.
Who was it tapping? Momentarily we had a pang of doubt. What if the Elders were right after all and in addition to the locks on doors and the barred gates, human beings needed defenses of a different kind. We looked in vain for the walls that were once called taboos which marked off things deemed too dangerous to approach -- at least not without long preparation and perhaps only in the company of the Wise. But we put the thought aside, as the new teachers said. T'was our imagination and nothing more. So it was back to listening to Madonna.
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore -
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; -
'Tis the wind and nothing more!"
If by now it was getting spooky, you could be forgiven for searching in a smartphone store for an application designed to to dispel such insistent tappings. There's one I think which can be customized to countertap at a canceling frequency. But it's still due out next spring. For the moment --
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door -
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door -
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
We have organic food to make our bodies stronger, video games to make our reflexes faster, and welfare to sustain us in our dotage. At great expense society has built an impregnable Maginot line against every physical threat. But for some reason it left the Ardennes forest of the mind completely undefended -- but there's no need to worry; we have long since declared culture and ideas impassable to any evil, which anyway doesn't exist.
Evil is just a matter of taste.
Sometimes those comforting slogans don't keep us from hearing strange sounds. For that we have drugs and counseling. That and a name for a "mental condition" plus assurances that in a little while everyone will feel just fine again. Not that's there much choice about the approach. As a society we have disarmed ourselves against noxious ideologies just as in the private sphere we have disarmed ourselves against the apparitions that children sometimes see standing by their bedsides at night.
Years ago there was a movie called The Good Son which described how a boy suffering from the loss of a parent was slowly being taught things by a cousin against which he had no defense.
Mark: Hey, I didn't know you were gonna do that!
Henry: I feel sorry for you, Mark. You just don't know how to have fun.
Henry: It's because you're scared all the time. I know. I used to be scared too. But that was before I found out.
Mark: Found out what?
Henry: That once you realize you can do anything... you're free. You could fly. Nobody can touch you... nobody. Mark... don't be afraid to fly.
Mark: You're sick...
Henry: Hey, I promised you something amazing, something you'll never forget. Where's the gratitude?
But those are just movies. We know that in reality it is things we should worry about. All we have to do is extend the Maginot line of the flesh and safety will be ours. And then one day when we have locked up the knives, the poisons, and the keys of the cars, we shall look wonderingly down at our hands and realize that ... oh, well where's the gratitude? Who do we call then? How do we describe it to the police? You know that part about Them? After all They never existed.
And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!
(Thumbnail on PJM homepage based on a modified Shutterstock.com image.)