Lockwood Courtyard was a large square outpost one-hundred meters long by one hundred meters wide, flanked on four sides by four stone buildings that represented four different departments of the university. The courtyard was completely bare, containing no trees, no shrubbery, no pond, no statue, only a large patch of grass and dandelions. Utterly unambitious and seemingly purposeless, it was never frequented by anyone in the university other than its monthly mowing; it sat as the canvas on which the surrounding buildings’ cast their shadows, nothing more. It often brought an architect consternation over why the centerpiece of our university was a screed of useless tufts of domestic fauna. So avoided was this large, flat patch of grass, that one student ventured out to the middle of the courtyard and placed a single wooden chair in its very center; to this day, that chair still stands, weather-beaten and moldy, but nevertheless taking on ironic form as the physical centroid of our university.
It was as I was passing by this courtyard on my way to my lecture that I had begun to notice, in the eyes of my classmates, a look of dread draped onto each and every eyelid, beasts of despair clawing and scratching their ways out of hollow walking eggshells. Every back was arched into carrying the weight of veritable mountains of books; every shirt sweat-stained with nerves and caffeine and niggling nothings-turned-ends of the world. Almost everyone walking against my direction had their heads sagged and trained on the floor. Yet, of those few men and women whose eyes met mine, I saw in them weary pleas, each to varying levels of exhaustion, but each pining for the very same thing – respite.
Immediately after this recognition I could not look at my classmates the same, nor my professors, for each and every one of this school bore this same look smeared on their collective faces – a slow-cooked anxiety threatening to boil over into personal meltdown. The creases on their foreheads were forty years foreshadowing. When a paper was in their hands, it was as if it was a forty-pound boulder. Not only their wrists but the entirety of their arms began to shake. I could liken two-hundred-thirty-two students in a lecture hall to two-hundred-thirty-two miniature tremors along a fault line that only I had suddenly become aware of.
Surrounded by the pitter-patter of the restless, I felt the air in this room suddenly hot, and cloying, even though it was November and crisp outside. I desired to leave at once. At first opportunity, I burst for the restroom, for fear that even another minute in that atmosphere would either effect a stroke upon me, or regress me back to the blithe unawareness that has so afflicted my peers that they could no longer perceive the dread or despair sunk into their own eyes.
Now retreated into the pallid walls of the boys’ latrine, stewing in the fumes of urine, I finally managed to look at my reflection once again. What I saw startled me. Laid plain in the mirror, I realized that I too had the look of my passerbys; moreover, when my fingers came to my chest, I realized I had their irregular, skittish heartbeat. I had become a foreign object, utterly devolved from my inner being. Access to myself was clouded by the smoky irises in my expression, the folded creases in my face, the raveled muscle-knots gripping the spiritual sores in my body. In the process of absorbing these walls, these tests, these peers, I had fallen in line with them. I had become a facsimile of everyone around me, and in the process, had buried myself beneath the lines of my forehead into sad hibernation.
At once I desired to rid myself of this malaise, to seek a place to shed this affliction. It was then when I turned my head to Lockwood Courtyard, to the single, unused, wooden chair in the center of that field. Before this day, I had glanced only askance at the object, and then away, somewhat embarrassed for its neglect. But now, amidst the internal turmoil that I had felt rather strongly at the moment, a pulse within me dictated that I move to it. And like a blindfolded man led only by a series of handclaps, I dared not question my navigator. I followed as a man in a trance, unaware of my classmates’ startled glances as I put both feet into the open field, then began treading still farther in. I might as well have been walking on water. The surrealism of the moment only started to take hold once I was ten feet into the courtyard, as more of my peers stopped and gazed, some murmuring to themselves incantations of disbelief. But exposed as I was to the overcast day and quizzical glares, I could only transcend still further; each step I had drawn drew me another. Civilization faded away. In this field I was left among the savage life.
Encased as I was by four grave stone buildings, I distinctly felt outside their grip. Lectures and facts simply slipped from my head and disappeared into the liminality. And yet, even as my head was disposing of my understanding, I began to feel fuller, a waxing moon revealing more of its essence with each iteration of itself. Every step I took towards that chair I was a new iteration, and each iteration led to more shedding of the anxious cloth I had worn all these years of my life.
Finally I reached the chair. It was mahogany, about four feet tall, a stolen gem from the Physics department, never returned. From the outskirts of Lockwood courtyard, it stood painfully isolated from everything around it, but now up close, I could see that even as it seemed so neglected, it was actually perfectly content amongst the bees and grass. Cast into the wild, what was once so ordinary and mundane had become overlord.
I reached out to touch it. Its surface had been smitten by rain and bugs, but the cool, damp wood felt as sturdy as ever. Unbothered, unprocessed by the weight of nagging interests, the chair had grown a lean skin. Its wood had become tough and rich. It was in every way superior to every other pampered piece of furniture of its race.
In the overcast day, a breeze gently feathering my face, I could not resist but to sit down in that stately chair, tentatively at first, for fearing of breaking it, but then realizing that it was taut and tougher than ever, reinforced rather than weathered by its roost. There were gawkers, but they were so far away, their calls so distant and ignorable that I paid more attention to the peals of the clouds drifting in the sky than their chatter. And as soon as I set my back to the chair I felt all my burdens suddenly loosed; an entirely new peace swept up my spirit and carried it away.
Such a peace had never been planted in me in all my life as a civilized man. It was the peace of every trouble of mine suddenly drawn to scale with the universe. It was the peace of the disintegration of everything that was in fact nothing, and the restoration of order into its true place. When I sat in the moss-covered chair and looked up into the sky and all of its majesty, I became keenly aware of the presence of God. Behind four walls, caught up in the pipe of civilized life, I could not see God in the clouds, but now, my eyes turned skyward, my mind renewed, God came to me not just through the clouds but through the grass, through the soil on my feet and the air on my nose, majesty pouring into me through the immensity of creation. In the rooms with tables and figures I was a crusty skeptic; in the chair in the field, I was held by God in awed captivity. It did not matter that a small crowd was forming at the edges of Lockwood Courtyard; they were as far from my mind as the Orient. It only mattered that in these moments, having recognized the scam of society, I had divested myself of my worldly desires and became observer of all things, a simple wanderer of God’s creation, as Adam was in Eden.
I sat for hours. In no minute of those hours did I grow weary or tired. As the afternoon slipped into evening, I saw a great shift in the horizon. In deference to the will of the master, the clouds parted and Apollo’s sun in all its glory made its name known in robes of light. The colored hues of the evening spilled into the chair before me. I shuddered as a broad ray stroked my face. Ah, the nurturing light of Heaven! How sufficient it is, and yet, how we ignore its sufficiency!
Now darkness came over Lockwood Courtyard like a soothing instrument, and the colors evaporated back into the sun from which it came. For the first time, I felt as if I was truly fed. All these years racing, all these days wasted in the pursuit of philosophy! And yet true meaning was locked into my soul from the very beginning, and Nature was its key.
I am now returned to my chamber in order that I may write down these fascinating exploits, so that others may walk in that light, the dew of sweet solace. I send this message: Lo, the Truth has always been, and always will be, inside your mind; everything else is distortion. All of civilization is distortion. Only by walking inward may one unlock what I have unlocked. I write these words down tonight so that they may be shared tomorrow, among generations of needy men, who desire the peace that was wrought unto me today. They may read and disbelieve me. No matter! Tomorrow, I know where I will be, early in the morning, before even the breakfast-bell rings: I will be sitting in the chair in the middle of Lockwood Courtyard, gazing at the sky.
Special thanks to Randy Nelson, English Professor, for his help with the short story.
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