Standing in the Shadows of Greatness  

Posted by Dave in

I stand breathing, high up on a hill. The night is deep, and the huge starry sky dwarfs the tiny countryside that spreads out in all directions before me. The moon is not yet up, and the inky ridge to the east merges into the sky with a barely discernible line. From somewhere near its base, the quiet rumble of a train. Nearby, there is no sound. Not even a breeze stirs the stubble of last year's cornstalks. Tiny clusters of light mark distant villages and seem a dim reflection of the brilliant stars all around me. Traces of the men who settled this land, now nearly forgotten.

I am not of the village, though my house is there. I am not of the villagers, though I pass among them and am not a stranger to them. I am of the land, this land, and the villagers are but a part of the land.

I know the land by its rises and vales. I know it by its shape and its textures. I imagine touching these burly cornfields, my hand following down the hill and up the smooth, fallow slope of the next. I feel the lone oak at its top. Every hollow and rise is familiar to my touch. Though I've walked among the trees below, I know them better by their feel from above. I imagine, for a moment, that this is, in part, how a god might experience a world, from above, not detached, but rather as a part of the world.

Occasionally a tiny light, a car, silently moves along a distant hill as a villager travels on some mission or other. Most of the villagers rest in their homes. Great men may be among them, but for now all is tiny beneath the sky. Sadly, most of the villagers live tiny all their lives. Like ants, they rarley, if ever, take time to ponder the hills they live amonst. They don't wonder why they were born here and not elsewhere. The village seems to have been here always, and they cannot conceive it otherwise.

Though many of the villagers are relative newcomers to the area or even sons of those who came later, there are yet many names that are the same as those who cleared these fields. Many of them bear the names of the men whose homes were the first to stand there, though most of the villagers no longer know or remember the men who came first.

These men were not village folks meant to live in gatherings and maintain routine. They were men who knew feeling of freedom. Some one of them must have stood on this hill, just as I do, and felt the land below. There were no light below to mimic the the stars, but the land must have seemed nearly as deep as the sky. Like me, his day was spent in work, though his was greater than any found today, but in the eve, when work was through and he gazed out over the fields he had carved from the rough woods, he not only knew the feel of the land from below, but also from above. To know the land that closely he must have felt not as mere god, but as close to the Creator as a man can feel.

---I wrote this over twenty years ago, probably in the winter of 1987. I was commuting to and from a corporate job 60 or 70 miles away in the city, and was yearning for the connection to the land I had grown up with. It miraculously survived as a handwritten scrap amongst the detritus that follows me, and I found it while packing for my upcoming move.

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