The Parallel Parliament

Glen Pearson

We Won’t Get to the Future if We Can’t Survive the Present

Posted on October 18, 2018

Since the beginning of time people have worried about their future, especially in days of war, transition and rapid change.  But nothing has matched the revolution that technology has introduced and the speed of change is now a light speed.  So, yes, people have a right to be worried.

But before we descend too deeply into that madness, perhaps we should be worried about just getting through the present.  We’re not doing well at it.  What’s the source of that information?  Think IKEA. That’s right, a world leading furniture company that annually publishes research reports on how people live in relation to their homes.  If that doesn’t very revolutionary, think again.

The most publicized finding of their most recent report involving 22,000 people in 22 countries. says that almost half of Americans (45%) go to their car to have a private moment to themselves.  Two years ago, that number stood at 20%.  That finding, among many others, caused researchers to conclude that people, especially those living in cities, are increasingly dealing with loneliness and the growing sense that they no longer belong in this world.

Perhaps this doesn’t surprise some, although the thought of millions of Americans sitting in their cars outside their homes just for privacy is something unexpected.  The ultimate narrative of the report is that people are no longer feeling at home or belonging in modern cities.  That’s a challenge to every politician, civil society advocate, corporate and social service leader.  More and more people are feeling as though they belong in places outside of their living quarters – parks, schools, social gathering spots. A full one-quarter of the 22,000 respondents stated outright that they are more comfortable outside their homes altogether.  With the new economy gurus always telling us that the future of work might be in the home, there might well be a great disconnect emerging.  It makes sense when you think about it; it just wasn’t expected to be sourced by IKEA.  Consider this from the report:

 

On the other hand, people report a creeping unease with their living spaces: 53% of young families don’t get a sense of belonging from their residential home. Only 57% of people who live with family or alone feel a sense of belonging, and the number drops to 34% if you live with friends or strangers.

 

The five things people are finding as the real sources of their alienation?  Lack of comfort, lack of belonging, lack of ownership, lack of privacy and lack of security.  What’s the one word common to them all? Lack. As our world is facing the prospect of getting by with less and less, the idea of “home” being the place where the lonely go for a sense of peace, belonging and understanding is increasingly under assault.

Naturally this would worry IKEA, who has made a fortune on making people feel more at home with less expensive products.  How would a furniture franchise fix this emerging isolation?  Could it? And what does all this have to do with furniture anyway? This is about something way bigger, far greater than any corporate initiative.  People living in community are now lonelier than they have ever been. They feel less safe, more transient, increasingly financially strapped and lost in the field of risky employment.

We are getting to the place where “stuff” is no longer bringing the satisfaction that it did in an earlier time.  People are more likely to be alone in a social media-connected city than in the country.  Nobody says this better than Olivia Laing, who wrote in her Lonely City:

“Loneliness is personal, and it is also political. Loneliness is collective; it is a city. As to how to inhabit it, there are no rules and nor is there any need to feel shame, only to remember that the pursuit of individual happiness does not trump or excuse our obligations to each another. We are in this together, this accumulation of scars, this world of objects, this physical and temporary heaven that so often takes on the countenance of hell. What matters is kindness; what matters is solidarity. What matters is staying alert, staying open, because if we know anything from what has gone before us, it is that the time for feeling will not last.”

That is just what IKEA is discovering and inventing better chairs, beds and tables is never going to cure it.  It’s about the character of community and its ability to overcome this increasing alienation through better policies regarding business, employment, public transportation, culture, effective housing strategies and leadership that draws people away from their alienation and towards one another.  There is no community without citizens.  Anything else is just a placeholder.

Artist painting on easel in studio. Girl paints portrait of woman with brush. Female painter seen from behind. Indoor home interior for handmade crafts.

The Secret Nook – Chapter 15 (Brush to Canvas at Last)

Posted on October 17, 2018

Five minutes later, they found themselves in the same positions.  She had accepted his offer of a refill of her tea, but the entire exercise was testing her patience – which was perhaps what he had intended.

“In the best possible way that you can imagine, how do you see yourself in the future?  What is it that makes you the happiest in that later time?” He then gingerly poured tea to let her deliberate.

She thought for a moment and was amazed.  Meadow thought neither of romance or wealth, a home, children or joy.  The answer that emerged almost instantly was painting – nothing else.  The question, having never been put to her previously, gave her a moment of great clarity, like a billboard lit up on a lonely drive.

What was transpiring in her mind in those intimate moments with herself was nothing less than an epiphany. She had always shoved the idea of painting to the periphery, sometimes violently so, or in a state of fear.  Now her mind ran free with brushes, the smell of oils, texture of canvas, and the sensation of creating something out of nothing.

She was transported and, in an instant, she knew that she was happy, perhaps for the first time since the crash.  Meadow was dumbfounded how just the thought of painting transported her to a kind of paradise for which she was fully unprepared.  The very suddenness of the realization, the power with which it flooded her spirit, left her breathless.

Staring now at her old instructor, seeing his keen and piercing gaze closely examining her, she understood that he comprehended what was taking place.  Of course, he would; Duyi Koay was a prodigy himself and would be no stranger to the ecstasy of that moment.

“And now you know,” was all he said, in reverence, as if they were in the presence of God, which she realized both he and her father would likely believe.

Saying nothing, he awkwardly moved his struggling form to an ancient Chinese desk, fashioned with exquisite and rare huanghuali timber.  A drawer slid silently open and he removed a small inlaid wooden box and walked towards her.

Her eyes brimmed as she recognized it.  “You kept it?”

“No.  You left it.  And now you must own it once more,” he said with a firm tone.

She took it from him as though it was a newborn baby, running her hands over its contours, then opened the lid.

They were all there – the round, the flat, the Filbert, the fan.  On some of them was the worn wood on the stem from her gentle grip of earlier years and tinges of paint at the edge of metal that refused to come out even after repeated cleaning.  Picking them up one by one was an exercise in discovery.  They felt alive, not just with history, but promise.  And then her soul opened again, filling her spirit with a light finer than anything the sun could produce.  Just as she had a few days previous, she felt the elation, as if she had wings.

She was so fixed on the emotions swelling inside her, she hadn’t noticed Duyi moving towards the desk once more and returning with a small tabletop easel, covered with years-old paint, and chiseled with her initials on its base.  A moment later, he returned with paints and a generic canvas. He bowed with as great a dignity as his frail body would allow and returned to the kitchen, pulling the door closed behind him.

Meadow Hartley was left alone with her destiny.  It was important, at that moment, that she not think of her past.  It never crossed her mind, regardless.  In a ritual she had not engaged in since the sound of grinding metal had marked the end of life, she mixed her paints on the palette, feeling the years fall away. Tilting the easel to her liking, she arced thin strokes across the surface until their combination formed the face of what clearly was a woman.  The mistakes she made out of a lack of practice, she efficiently covered with more assured strokes.

One hour later, the refined features of an older woman emerged from the canvas.  The greying hair was swept back from the face.  The nose was prominent, the chin held up, almost as if in defiance.  The shoulders sloped away and what was almost a subtle smile spread across her lips. No makeup, no hiding, no pretense.

It was the eyes that gave her away.  Green, clear and seasoned, they looked little like those that Koay had composed of the same woman the day before.  They had been burdened with living; these were aloft with hope.  They were pulled down in the corners through grief; these were lifted up through love.  They were of a woman imprisoned by tragedy; these were of a bird floating free from its cage.

Meadow looked at herself, realizing that the figure was gazing directly back at her, as if alive and beckoning.  Why the grey hair and seasoned gaze?  She knew that it was her gift putting on canvas what Koay had urged her to believe in: her older self.  The woman looked so … satisfied, almost like she herself had been in a prison, captive until only her younger self could free her.  And now they were both aloft, liberated by the truth that until someone discovers their potential, they can never be delivered.

The very action of mixing, painting, creating, layering, capturing the light and perspective, had slowed her wounded heart into a steady rhythm of work as she completed the canvas.  But now it raced, jumped – elated that it had been united once more with a gift that could express and capture it.  The innocence of her youth fell away as she embraced the innocence of her maturity. What she once painted only as a form of copying, she now had painted with the genius of empathy – of an artist who understood life and could depict it in depth.  Her captured heart was now free, and the beauty and knowledge of her were now themselves captured by her gift.

Her hands cradled gently over her eyes, Meadow unleashed the tears of years, of relief, of a purpose now achieved, and an end now found.  To her delight, she thought of her parents without the accompanying strains of tragedy that had played their darkened melody across the scars of her heart.

After a time, she rose, gently carrying the canvas by its edges, and found Duyi Koay sitting perfectly still and looking out the kitchen window as the wind began rustling through the trees.  He turned to greet her, stopped, and stared in wonder at what she was carrying.

“As you gave me a gift earlier, this is mine for you,” Meadow said.

A moment later he said, “Yes, and it is the same woman, I see.”

“Same, but older.”

“But far more beautiful and … complete.  Better than anything I could have done.”  His words had caught an edge of emotion.  “Hello, Ms. Hartley” he said through a smile.  “I have waited for this day.”

Meadow burst into tears again.  “Oh, Duyi. You have waited for this woman and I didn’t even know she existed.  Thank you. Thank you.”  She embraced him and wouldn’t let go.

“Welcome,” he whispered. “I knew you would come.”

Elections: Social Media Gets It Right When We Use It Right

Posted on October 16, 2018

Technology and elections have gone hand in hand for a long time and it hasn’t always been a comfortable fit.  When radio and television came along, so did the opportunity to put image in front of substance.  Voting machines, while quicker, became known for glitches, recounts, and recounts and hanging chads.

But nothing – nothing – has confounded politics and elections the way that social media has in the last decade.  Rather than putting more meaning and information into the process, platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Google and Twitter have front-end loaded misinformation, hackers, trolls, “fake news” and even the commercialization of privacy.

Perhaps the worst of it all is that none of us feel we can do anything about it.  Facebook and Twitter especially have permitted their platforms to be used for purposes ranging from racism to the public shaming of women and yet we continue to subscribe to them.  We rant and rant about their evil effects, yet we won’t disconnect, sometimes because we’re addicted to the rage, but occasionally because we believe these tools can still be used to bring us together under a new mandate for civil society.

It remains a difficult thing to have confidence in such platforms when we hear that they are buying and selling our privacy, being used by countries like Russia to undermine our collective choices, and basically watching and assisting our communities to destroy themselves while doing nothing to assist.  The reason why they don’t do more to protect the public space isn’t so hard to decipher:  their systems of automation and algorithms have made them billions in a decade and they wish no legal or regulatory intrusion into those profits.

The fact that these corporations promote outright lies, fake news and vicious political attacks and that same time they say they are good for democracy is deplorable.  A simple search on the Internet unveils countless instances where the negative uses of social media have dumbed down the entire electoral process, permanently divided the electorate, and have laid waste to what once was a more promising democratic global landscape.

And yet these companies turn a blind eye because we continue to support them.  We see the damage, personally feel the sting, and some have had lives ruined for getting involved in politics and becoming the target of online hate.

My own community of London, Ontario is going through a civic election campaign that is decidedly more divisive than most in its history.  Transparency has been mostly buried under mountains of social media fake news and lies, more signs than usual have been destroyed, and personal attacks have been lobbed from all sides.  Nevertheless, groups of citizens who care about this kind of stuff have reverted to the very platforms they distrust to bring integrity to politics once more. They don’t meet in secret locations but instead support those speaking out against negative attacks, secret donor lists, or outright misinformation campaigns.  And gradually, perhaps too gradually, the facts of true policy and campaign are beginning to emerge that are designed to give voters the correct data to make informed decisions.

The Guardian, following the democratic disaster called Brexit, felt that lessons needed to be learned about how social media was used to blow up anything that was credible in the campaign.  They concluded:

“It would be helpful if more politicians understood the ‘social’ element of social media. Then, instead of spending hundreds of thousands just getting views for their posts, they can create things that actually engage people and help shift the narrative in people’s minds. They should encourage their members and activists to share things online. Seeing posts by actual human beings, rather than a party, is way more convincing than seeing a paid-for ad.”

But in civic elections there aren’t official parties, only official positions and that gets complicated. The need for proper research and data are essential to informed choices and, in our city, such a consensus is beginning to emerge.  This represents the true strength of social media that people once believed possible with its emergence years ago.  But that was all ruined, not only by trolls and hackers, but by well-meaning citizens fighting for causes who nevertheless planted landmines wherever they tweeted and making it difficult to build on so much wreckage.  In the past, people always had strong opinions and expressed them to family and friends.  Today, however, they can tell the world in milliseconds.

We must expect divisions of opinion in every election, but what we should all hope for is that people are working from established facts and research.  When politicians and organizations tell outright lies or manufactured conclusions, then there is nothing to build on once the election is over.

This is where those citizens active on social media have attempted to blow right through the fabrications and seek to strip away the fake from the factual.  Without social media platforms such efforts would likely be impossible, but they have used the platforms as they were meant to be used and, in the process, are making policy come alive again.

Civil society, like political society, requires facts to function.  Demean those realities, or deny them altogether, and you have broken the compact between politics and the people.   Build your principles upon them and elections have a chance of being meaningful again.  And for that, social media will prove essential.

The Secret Nook – Chapter 14 (Somewhere In the Future)”

Posted on October 15, 2018

The conversation had been wide, yet introspective – and long.  Meadow told him of the crash itself and the immediate aftermath – details he had never known.  She spoke fondly of Nana, but also of the terrible price they both paid at watching a mother and daughter waste away from a brain injury that eventually took her. She left out the romantic parts of her life, in part because she felt they weren’t important and also because she didn’t take well to revealing that she just might not be a suitable partner. And he never asked.

When she felt exhaustion creeping in, Koay mentioned that he had placed a frozen lasagna in the oven soon after she arrived and that they should move to the kitchen.  She was thankful that he seemed to understand she needed the break.  Placing the plates and cutlery on the small old pine table, she asked, “You knew I would come, didn’t you?”

The old teacher closed the oven door and with difficulty placed the tea towel over his shoulder. His eyes traced the counter in front of him and then looked up into her own.

“Yes … at least I’d hoped so.  I knew you had the choice to go back to Charlottesville, but the emotion flowed strong in you and I thought it would not let you leave.”

Things were quiet for a time as they continued their meal preparation.  Meadow offered to help him take the tray from the oven, but he begged that she allow an old man his moments of pride.  In a practiced fashion that he must have developed over the years, he placed oven mitts on his forearms and somehow manoeuvred the hot lasagna onto the mitts, and then, gently, onto the table.

“That was impressive,” she offered in good humour.

“It wasn’t always that way,” he countered.  “In fact, I still have some burns on my skin from so many failed attempts.”

He had produced some red wine and garlic bread to go along with the meal and she cut the meat and flat noodles into sections, placing them gingerly on each plate. The only sound for a time was that of their knives and forks scraping the plates.

“Duyi, I don’t fully know why I came here.  Do you?”

Her plaintive tone caused him to put his fork down.  “You came because this is where you are.  I know that is difficult to comprehend, but I hope you might understand that the Meadow Hartley that you will be has been prompting you to move on with your life, and since this was where you chose to leave it, then you would have to pick it up from here.”

“Yes … it’s … difficult to comprehend,” she said.

He motioned to her for more wine before saying, “We all have our future personalities in our lives. And we all have desires to be better than we are, to pursue those things that matter in life, to recover lost love or forgotten talent.  That person is in every aspect of our lives.  In moments of love and anger, waking and sleeping, safety and danger, and rest, marriage, children, fear, loneliness, friendship, knowledge and art, health, sickness and death – she is there in all of these.”

He seemed a little frustrated in attempting to capture the words, yet continued on.

“Think of our relationship to nature, ideas, to pleasure; think of our sense of identity and self-respect; think of where we live and with what things we surround ourselves; think of all of our impulses to help others, our serving larger causes; think of all our psychological and biological needs; think of where we go, how we travel, with whom we associate.   Or just think of what you were doing yesterday, what you will be doing tomorrow, or in an hour. She is there in all of it, waiting for you to grow into her and attempting to draw you to her.”

“That’s interesting,” Meadow said.  “I sometimes have felt that tug, but I just assumed it was to the past, to the memories of my mother and father, and to a happy life.”

“And sometimes it is,” he added.  “But I have lived long enough to know that it is always more than that.  I say this from experience.  I am closer to that person I seek now than I ever have been, thanks to my many years.”

This all seemed, perhaps, too metaphysical for her.  Yet it was registering somewhere within her soul, making it impossible to escape. Perhaps it was the Eastern mystic in him, speaking out from a past age, glad for an opportunity to reveal its wisdom to a new generation.  “Each moment unleashes a hundred messages from God,” she remembered her Dad saying once, as he tucked her in at night.  It was odd coming from him since his religion was more of a quiet and reserved thing, but he explained to her the next day that he sometimes felt a divine pull when he came upon a majestic mountain or beautiful heritage building. They were transcendent moments, he had told her.  Is this one of them?she asked herself.  More importantly: were there others?

“Let’s just leave the dishes; I’ll get them later.  Let’s go sit on the softer chairs in the studio.”  From somewhere he produced some Chinese tea in a large pot.  They sat facing one another, each cradling a tiny ceramic cup.

“You do much better with daily tasks than I recall when in your class?” she noted.

Koay looked down at his cup before saying, “That’s therapy for you … and practice.  Over the years I have developed some basic motor skills which have helped with the daily chores.  I couldn’t have held this cup five years ago.  I will never be free to paint as I once did but neither am I chained to my paralysis.”

There were those words again – free, chained.  She remembered such phraseology had been part of her instructor’s way of communication since she had known him, but in this particular moment his selection of words was instructive.

She looked up to see him smiling at her.  “The proverbial penny for your thoughts,” he said quietly.

Meadow sighed.  “I was just thinking that we are just flirting around the edges of this situation, but the time has arrived for you to tell me what you think I should do.  I am lost; I admit it.”

“Not if you are here,” Koay said.  “You have arrived here in this place, not because it’s the place where you recover your past, but where you begin your future.  That is hardly what I would call lost.”

“That’s encouraging, but I need to find the woman you say I am in the future.  Unfortunately, I’m not even sure I understand the concept.”

He paused, as if reflecting, which he surely was.  “That is always the problem with Western thought,” he began.  “People envision their world in concepts, economies or new ideas.   The East developed in collective fashion; people lived their lives out in relationships since they were part of an ecosystem of responsibilities to others. Observers sometimes say that the East and West see the world differently, but the truth is that we see two completely different worlds.  We not only see our dead ancestors as still part of the living, we see ourselves as part of the future and therefore have a consciousness of our future selves.  It is much like how religious people find a place for themselves in the afterlife.  Even with no proof that such a place exists, they have felt themselves there for their entire lives, and that is all the proof they need.”

Meadow smiled before offering, “You sound so much like my Mom and Dad right there.  They were people of faith, not outwardly so, but they always believed that we would all be together again someday.”   Her eyes suddenly moistened and she drew quiet.

Koay waited a respectful moment.  “In China, we believe our parents are still with us, guiding us, chastising us, encouraging us.”

“Funny, but I believe that too.” She used her sleeve to wipe away a final tear.

“But why would you? They are gone, not here.”

“I see what you’re doing,” she said with a smile.  “I believe they are here because I still feel their pull towards me sometimes, and what you are saying is that the woman I will be in the future creates that same tug in me now.”

Koay laughed slightly. “You always were my brightest student.”

“But how … how does it work, Duyi?  How do I get better at finding myself?”

“Somewhere in every human being there exists an intimation of what we are yet to be, what we can be, and it is calling us – often wordless and obscure, but calling to us still.  It is a longing, a call, that throws into question every other aim and purpose of our lives.  We do not hear that entreaty very often, or distinctly, but when we do hear it, we see that it comes from a part of ourselves that is disturbingly unrelated to the rest of us.

“The life of every man or woman contains glimpses of another quality of being, another state of consciousness that our busy lives have no respect for and thus seek to cancel or crowd out with other things that are supposedly more important, more real, more here.  But we begin to see what life is like outside of the walls of our prison whenever that urge, or that call, comes to us.  The Eastern mystics viewed these as moments of grace, granted to us to keep us believing in things greater than ourselves.”

“Well, I must admit that it all sounds appealing, and it makes sense given what I’ve been experiencing and thinking lately.   But how do I get there from where I’m at right now?”

Meadow’s question prompted an unexpected reply.

“The important thing is not where we journey to, but what are the tools that assist us to arrive there. In such moments, when we sense the call, we literally divide into two.  A second self appears which at first confuses us, even terrifies us, but as it continues to emerge we come to realize that is the better angel of our nature, our future self, urging us to open the door, leave our prison, and move forward, not back.  It is an unveiling of ourselves, and those moments become utterly lucid and begin to free us from our burdens, including the present and the past.”

“Oooookay … but the tools; what do you mean by that, because obviously I can’t get there without them?” She had pulled herself forward onto the edge of plush chair – a subtle movement her host noted immediately.

“Sadly, while we occasionally see that second part of ourselves, we are never in consistent contact with it.  The secret is to develop that relationship, which can only be done through the gifts given to us.  We must ask ourselves if we are forever cursed: will such moments occur only accidentally or sporadically, or is there a way of living that brings us more into contact with one another?  More important still, can the two be harmonized to complete us?”

“And the tools?” she asked again in flustered fashion, feeling he had forgotten her question. “What do I use to reach out to myself?”  If Meadow would have heard herself utter such sentences even a week ago, she would surely have thought she had lost her mind.  But at this specific moment they were like a prayer – a desperate call for help.

“To answer that, we must begin an exercise,” he said, moving his way to the kitchen for more hot water, leaving his guest in a heightened stated of exasperation.

The Secret Nook – Chapter 13 (The Older Self)

Posted on October 13, 2018

She didn’t know how long she wept, only that she had been inconsolable.  Meadow had taken what she regarded as a sacred writing to her bed, holding it close as a mother would her needy child.  Her eyes were dry and sore, her pillow wet from regret.

It was clear now that Koay had understood far more than she had intuited, perhaps to a degree greater than what she knew of herself.  The painting had fascinated her – so young, so old.  Somehow, he had drawn a perfect composite of two Meadows.  The youthfulness of it held out hope and imagination.  But the sadness in the gaze overpowered everything else, and she couldn’t escape it. It held her fixed and, again, hopeless.

It was only after a time that she realized the writing beside the portrait was decipherable.   Each journal entry from the month of July had something to say and, after some considerable effort, she came to understand that it had been his writing from some time in the past.  It was clear that it wasn’t from his youth, but sometime following.  Then, as if by magic, she saw her name spread, interspersed through the penmanship.   She peered harder until she felt a bit dizzy.  The writing spoke of her divine gift, her ability to put on canvas almost immediately what would take an average painter three times as long.  Some of the sentences had been cut off by the brush strokes, which annoyed her, but he had extended the margin of some of the sentences so that they would flow onto her face.  Within the contour of her cheek, she saw a written assertion of how her talent had seemed to touch the face of God, and that of humanity.  And a further thought that whatever it lacked in depth of soul was made up for by sheer refinement.

One of Koay’s sentences was clear enough: “She only requires her older self to become a complete artist.” That was what he had talked about in his note.  “Can you not sense her calling to you?” he had penned.  Truthfully, she couldn’t – the future Meadow was as dead to her as her past self.

And then the tears re-emerged, as she felt abandoned – imprisoned – in the cave of her present. Stuck in neutral, that’s what she was – incapable, despite all her energy, of going back or forward.

Her travelling case sat by the wall, but now she wondered whether it was right to leave.  Too many loose threads were still dangling through the narrative of her life.  What of the dream?  Of reconciling important aspects of her in it?  And what of Duyi Koay?  Somehow, any hope she had of working out the puzzle and drama of her life now seemed to lie with her old Chinese instructor and his ability to see beyond the merely physical.

After reading his note one more time, she rose and showered for a lengthy time.  The hot water was strangely soothing.  Meadow used conditioner to help untangle the knots that had been created from her restless tossing and turning during the night.  When wiping away the steam from the mirror, she could see her eyes were hopelessly red.  Nothing could change that.   So she concentrated on fixing her hair, applied a little make-up, and put on a pair of smart slacks and a blouse and then proceeded downstairs.

To her surprise, she ate heartily.  It came to her that she hadn’t consumed anything for almost 24 hours.  And the coffee was good, slowly stimulating her struggling brain to overcome the lack of sleep.  Meadow was happy just to be left alone at her table in the corner, watching the two waitresses efficiently work the room.  They toiled hard, she noticed.  As had she – for years.  Was this what she wanted for the remainder of her life?  She knew the answer, but what else was there for her?  True, she could find another job, but it would pay about the same and she would miss Les and the friendship they shared.  Having never gone to college, as she had hoped, her odds of getting something better paying were pretty much nil.

She journeyed back upstairs, brushed her teeth, grabbed the truck keys, and headed to the parking lot. This was going to be difficult, she knew.  It wasn’t that she would feel humiliated in heading back to Koay’s cabin.  He was never the kind to instill that negative emotion in someone – especially a former student.  No, it was that she didn’t know what to do next.

He didn’t answer her knock at the front door, and she worried for a fleeting second that he had gone away again.  But then she heard the sound of something crashing from back in the studio and she wandered around the perimeter until she came to the door – it was already open. She walked in to see Duyi Koay attempting, with his partially paralyzed arms, to pick up a number of paint brushes that had fallen to the floor.  She saw the broken glass of their container everywhere.  He was on the floor, and didn’t initially see her; he gingerly picked up the brushes as best he could.  In an instant, she was on her knees beside him, attempting to locate the larger pieces of broken glass.  He looked up, smiled, and said, “Well, this is a bit embarrassing.  These brushes just happened to be on the bottom book shelf and I knocked them over with the broom handle by accident.”

“When did you last use these … the brushes, I mean?”

“Every day,” he said. “Every day.”

Meadow looked at him, perplexed.  “Many years ago, my specialist for paralysis told me that my painting days were over and that no medication or physical therapy would bring my motor skills back again. I didn’t – couldn’t – believe him, and so I set up a regimen where I would attempt to get my coordination back.”

“But, that was over 40 years ago,” she blurted, effectively interrupting him.

Koay nodded his head, almost imperceptibly, in assent.  “And I will continue to try until I can no longer breathe.  As long as the gift, the vision, are still inside me, I will seek to honour them and the God who granted such treasures.”

Which is exactly what I haven’t done, she thought to herself. Recalling the message she had listened to earlier at her parents’ old church, Meadow realized again that she had become more than preoccupied with a mundane life.  She had been living “under the sun.”  Her world had become so suffused with the pressures of living that along the way she had put aside the great transcendent qualities of life for those that only left her feeling empty and dissatisfied.

Once the brushes had been put in a new container and the floor swept of any remaining glass shards, they both looked at one another as if wondering what would come next.

“Your painting and note touched me to my depths,” she began. “I realized how much toil you must have gone through to produce it with that marvellous technology of yours.  And you were right – I amimprisoned with what seems like no hope for any kind of parole.  But can I ask if the words in the transcript were originally what you wrote of me all those years ago.”

Koay merely nodded in affirmation.

“I am not sure that I like what you painted of me, Sufi, but it was accurate.  And in some way, it was comforting to know that at least one person saw me as I truly am.  It makes sense that the person would be you.”

Meadow paused for a moment to look out the tallest of the windows, facing the mountain ridge far in the distance.  “But I was – and am – confused about what you meant concerning the woman in the future. I would like to talk about her.”

“We can do that,” he said, as if gratified that this was what she came for.  “But first we must go back to the beginning and you must tell me your story of what became of you after you left here.”  He pointed to the two chairs by the window, and they both moved towards her appointment with discovery.

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