Once upon a time, there was a race of people who lived in the dark tunnels and caverns deep underground. They didn’t belong in the dark; in the beginning, the earth was under their feet rather than all around them. But they took a wrong turn one night, and then were trapped by a rockfall. Unable to go back the way they came, they travelled on, ever deeper into the underground, looking for the way out.
Time passed. At first, they encouraged one another with stories of the outside; of the sun and the rain, the stars and the gentle breezes. But years went by, and they began to forget the smell of the meadow after a shower; the sound of birds singing at down; the layered greens on green lit by a shaft of sunbeams under the trees of the cool forests.
They found ways to live on their long journey. They caught blind fish and pale eels in the streams that ran through the tunnels. They found which mosses and lichens could be made palatable, and learnt ways to prepare them. They made pets of the creatures that hid in the shadows.
Generations passed, and the memories of the outside became stories passed from mothers to their children. Some retained their beliefs, hoping that one day they would turn a corner and see the bright light of the sun, or the pale light of the moon and stars. ‘Tomorrow,’ they would say to one another. ‘Perhaps tomorrow the journey will end and we will be outside where we belong.’
Some scorned the stories, claiming that the underground was all there was. They laughed at stories of the sun, which they thought of as a rather large candle. They mocked stories about horses and cats, about snow and soft spring showers, about trees and flowers. They asked for evidence that there was an outside, and they demanded the end of the journey. ‘This is a beautiful place,’ they said, ‘and we have made good lives for ourselves. Let us enjoy our lives now, and forget about a fantasy that never existed.’ And they showed evidence of experiments that showed the world consisted of tunnels, caverns, and rock.
Others changed the stories, claiming that those who died were instantly translated to the outside. Some of them killed themselves to get to the outside more quickly. Some killed other people, especially those who disagreed with them.
Still worse were those who wanted to blow a new tunnel to the outside, and didn’t care how many people they took with them.
Though both kinds of killers claimed to be believers, they – too – wanted to stop journeying.
Those who doubted that the outside existed said: ‘Look at how much evil these believers do. Those who think there is an outside; those who think that one day our journey will end; they are all wicked.’ Not only did they refuse to journey any more; they refused to allow those who still had hope to teach their children about the journey. ‘This cavern is reality,’ they said. ‘The outside is just a fantasy. Teaching your children about this fantasy is just a form of child abuse.’
The believers were offended to be compared to the bombers, and worried to be labelled with the name ‘child abuser’. Such name calling is often a precursor to real persecution. Yet for all their anxiety, they could not deny the solid feeling in the centre of their being that told them they were made for more than the tunnels and the caverns and the rock. When they spoke together of the outside to come, something inside them said: ‘this is real; this is where we belong.’ And, though they were no better able than the doubters to visualise the sun, and the dome of the sky, and the spread of land and sea to the far horizon, yet they longed to know these things. ‘If these are fantasy,’ they said to one another, ‘then fantasy is better than reality. Richer, more complex, more concrete.’ So they continued to journey, and some day (perhaps tomorrow) they will reach the outside.