The Vials of Life and Death: A Fable

Once, a man inherited magical vials from his father, vials that his father inherited from his father, and his father from his father. When the world was young, the man’s father told him, water was drawn from the well of knowledge and the well of life. These two waters were mixed and stored in the vials and provided the power to cure many evils in the world. 

Yet the world broke when it was young, and a few vials filled with death and ignorance were scattered among the vials of life and knowledge. The vials of death and ignorance could not be separated from the rest, nor identified, except through years of careful study. Further, death and ignorance would not remain in a single vial, making the thorough study of the vials essential. One could not simply discover all the vials of death and ignorance and remove them from the collection. What was once a vial of life might become a vial of death. 

Consequently, an extended study of the vials was necessary. Indeed, the vial of death could not be easily discovered even after usage, for the power appeared to be the same as the power of life — at first. And so, the man was entrusted with the vials that gave him the ability to bring healing, death, knowledge, and ignorance. 

The man received his inheritance from his father and was warned to use them, if at all, only after wary reflection on each vial’s nature. Yet soon after his father’s death, the man’s land suffered violence from outside and came under attack. War broke out. The man was young and cared much for the suffering of his people. He felt the passion of their passion and the fears of their fears, for they were rural folk and unaccustomed to violence. 

Nevertheless, he remembered his father’s instructions. Though he decided to use a vial to heal the land’s suffering, the man studied the vials for months before deciding which would give life. He drank that vial and called on the power of life to strengthen his people’s hearts and organize their spirits. The man also gained knowledge of weapons that would cast the enemy away and give peace to the land. The people banded together and drove their enemies into the wilderness.

Peace reigned. However, the land suffered again. Starvation swept across the lands after a long drought. Many forests and fields were destroyed during the war and the construction of defensive weapons. The wilderness stretched itself into the places that people lived. Streams and rivers dried up. The man now studied the vials, looking for one that might bring life — though perhaps with less caution and more eagerness to heal his people’s suffering. Indeed, the man had a new love, and he feared for her life. 

After a month of study, the man perceived the vial of life and knowledge. He drank from that vial. He saw — with clear knowledge — that he could dig into the earth and sink deep wells that would give them the water they needed. He rallied the people, taught them the ways to find new waters. Pure liquid burst forth in springs and rivers, and prosperity came over the land. The crops rang green, honey-gold sang from the hives, and all the land was happy and full. The man’s wife became pregnant and gave birth to a son.

Yet prosperity brought a desire to possess and rule, and now the people had weapons to dominate others. A new generation of leaders arose. They oppressed their fellow citizens and stole from them. In fear for himself, his wife and son, and his people, the man once again studied the vials. One night, the leaders pounded on his doors, demanding his wealth and magic.

So the man drank another vial. He was confident it was the vial of life, not death, for he had not been wrong before. The vial gave him knowledge of people and the power to persuade. The man cried out, and a crowd sprung up to protect him. The leaders fled back to their strongholds. The man gathered the citizens together, and with their collective will and weapons, the treasonous leaders were driven into the wilderness. Peace once again rested on the land. Once a rural people who came to town rarely, the people began to gather together. Their small village grew into a city, wealthy and powerful, as more and more people flowed in and the people planned and discussed and debated on its streets. The city became known for its wisdom and strength.

Yet a sickness appeared soon after; death that occurred quickly and cruelly and spread with the speed of an autumn fire. Again, the man was afraid for his family and swallowed a vial after a day’s study; his need overcame his caution. He gained a greater power than before. The man created a powerful compulsion that swept over the diseased people. They left the town, entered the wilderness, and passed into the eternal shadow. Anyone that had touched the diseased and sought to cure them passed beyond as well. The city was healthy, but the streets were empty. Few people remained. The wealth left the city, and its defenses were abandoned. Marauders roamed the land. The man’s house was empty: his wife and son had also passed beyond the walls into the wilderness, for they had cared for the ill.

The man grew old. Broken and alone, the man drank a vial and asked for the power to understand rather than heal. And he wept bitterly when he saw that he had not studied the vials enough. The man had, each time, drunk from the vial of death and ignorance – for what brings life rather than death can only be known through patient contemplation and gentle Time. Much that appears fair can corrupt and destroy if not approached with wisdom and caution.

The man’s heart broke, and he fell to the ground. He had sipped, for the last time, from the vial of death. What remained of the city found the man’s body and gave him a hero’s funeral. Neither knowing the vials’ nature nor how to understand their powers, the people poured their contents into the ocean, where they mixed with all the world’s waters. 

So it happened that all humans drink of life and death and knowledge and ignorance. And even now we cannot distinguish between the two vials, for we do not have the patience to study and separate the waters. 

Photo by Brianna Fairhurst on Unsplash

Death of a Hive

Once, a hive of bees lived together in perfect harmony. The worker bees busily did the work of the hive; they knew where the pollen was and how to collect it. The drones cared for the queen and helped populate the hive. The queen, of course, laid the eggs and gave meaning and direction to the whole hive. As they cared for her, she cared for them and gave generation upon generation.

One dark spring day, the Queen died before her replacement was born. The hive was thrown into chaos and confusion. Some worker bees continue to collect pollen and create honey, since that was what they knew. They continued in the old traditions and the old haunts, reproducing the old ways and old days. Thus, honey was still being made and stored away. But no new bees were born. All that remained were the few final eggs the queen laid before she died, and these eggs and new larva formed the basis of the hive’s long-term hopes.

Some worker bees, sterile as they were, reasoned that the hive had need of a leader and that they, experts in where the flowers were and how pollen was to be stuck to their legs for transportation, could assume the role of the queen. The drones joined with the new worker bees, the new queens, since they needed to serve someone or something and continued, in some small way, to care for the few remaining eggs and larvae. A few, though, ceased to serve anyone other then themselves.

Some worker bees remained traditionalists, though they were just as sterile as the worker-queens. These older worker bees remembered the old queen and continued to produce honey with traditional methods. However, they were focused on maintaining the traditional ways and largely ignored the new queens and the ways of the hive.

Both sets of workers were, of course, to unable reproduce but the crisis demanded their immediate attention — to the maintaining of the tradition of honey-making and creating order and efficiency. An uneasy alliance was formed for the good of the hive. Meanwhile, the drones continued to care for others or themselves.

By the end of spring, the remaining queen-workers were larvae when the queen died. Almost all traditional workers had died off. The new class sought to bring about improved efficiencies and new ways of doing things, by providing other drones and workers with guidance as to when and how to gather pollen.

The first generation of worker-queen advice had conflicted little with the traditional gathering techniques. But over time, as the youngest workers grew up and the oldest workers died, few maintained the previous traditions. Large groups of workers focused on new techniques of gathering pollen exclusively from the spring tree flowers that populated the plains, and the annuals that lay on old laws; mainstays like clovers were forgotten.

Meanwhile, the drones began to eat their way through the honey rather than care for the new larvae. No new workers — whether the new queens or traditionalists — or drones were being born by this point in early summer and, thus, an aging population of traditional workers were producing most of the honey.

Access to the royal jelly was given, though primarily for the worker queens as a way of sustaining their leadership, which was necessary to provide order to the hive. More and more Drones and workers, past the end of their life cycle, began to die off – solving, the new generation of workers queens rejoiced in their private moments – the problem the declining honey supply.

When a lost egg hatched, the hive rejoiced at the possibility of a new worker or drone. But it was a true queen.

They killed her immediately.

They despised the freakish creature. The new generation no longer had the capacity to recognize their queen.

It was summer. The hive was functioning well enough, now: there were enough workers. The old drones and workers had died and the amount of honey that remained served the remaining bees.

More time passed. By late summer, the final worker-queen died of old age among the bodies of its siblings. The hive was empty.

A bear wandering by was disappointed by the lack of honey and local biologist blamed the empty hive on hive collapse disorder — the sudden death of workers leading to the death of the queen.

I Awoke As A Lilly

I awoke as a lilly. The valley was still and soft, still sweet with the morning dropsy. The air was cool, but there was still that hint that a warmer day was to hcome. I was not bothered to be a lilly. Nor was I surprised. I simply turned toward the morning sun and stretched out my leaves and I waited — waited for the warmth and the light and the nutrients that were to come.

And I knew I was beautiful. There was no question, no other thought, other than a knowing of my own beauty. It was not cognitive, it was not anything other than that — a knowing.

Descartes implied this. He implied that one could not separate thought from being, knowing self from existing.

But I — I could not separate the knowing of my own beauty from the world around me. As a result, I shown to the world whether I could be seen or not. The question of being seen was not one that I could even know. There was only the beauty.

Only the beauty which needed to be. One day I would wilt. One day my petals would fall one by one, drift from my face and decay into the peat and the dark-moss soil. One day that would happen. but that was not today.

And even then, there would be no fear in my heart. Only regret that my beauty was no more. But for now,I did not shine for anyone — I did not shine for the possum that sniffed at my stalks when the moon had reached its heights; I did not shine for the heron that stood, head cocked, one one leg, searching for fish. I did not shine for the couple that passed by on the woodchip path that commented on my color and figure.

I was beautiful because I was beautiful — because beauty needed to be expressed. Not even that: because beauty. The cause and the explanation followed the action. the initial impulse was thoughtless.

And what could one expect of me? I was a lilly. I could think of nothing else.

But now that I am a man, I wonder — I wonder whether that beauty was something I can know possess. Whether there is that thing that can be expressed without thought without mind without other, the thing that is done for its own sake.

As I place my legs into those grey pants and I tighten the suit-noose around my neck and I look down the road at the cars that follow me and the cars that precede me, now I wonder whether this is something that I can have.

When I was a lilly I knew all that I was.

Now that I am a man, I know nothing, for I need others to tell me who I am. And without them telling, I do not know. I do not know much of anything. I was a lilly, once, and true. And now I am a man and I am less than a lilly — and more.

Under Construction

He had not noticed the sign earlier that day — the one that read “road closed, under construction”. He wondered at that but didn’t wonder too much. A man drives up and down the same road for the majority of his life and he begins to not see it. Though, still, it seemed strange — it was his street. He should have seen the problem with the road. He should have noticed the new bumps and lumps, should have smelled the curling asphalt in the summer.

But it was another thing to deal with in a day full of strange things. He’d just been fired. His boss cited the economy, but he knew better. There’d been hints here and there throughout the last month. People in his department being released, subtle conversations that no one seemed to think he noticed. When he was called into his boss’s office, she said to him, “I’m sorry. We’re not seeing the kind of performance that we’re hoping for out of you.”

He didn’t have much to say about that. So he didn’t respond. He grabbed his coat, a few things from his desk, and left the building.

There didn’t seem to be much construction on the road, at least nothing that he noticed. He realized that this might be the case, that the construction might be down the road but not visible right now but the absence of visible construction infuriated him for some reason.

He kept driving and kept thinking. He felt the tension throughout his body — what would he tell his wife, his family, the ones that seemed to think that he had it all together? He knew that he wasn’t going into that career again — not that, not that dog-eat-dog self-hating monster that consumed him for the last fifteen year. And he wasn’t sure who would understand and who would look at him with disgust.

He arrived, parked, and walked through the double-front doors that his wife had workers install shortly after they bought the house.

“Why didn’t you have this done when we bought the house,” he asked her at the time. “The best time to do the work is before we’ve moved in.” But she just shrugged.

“A house is always a work in progress,” she responded.

He took a deep breath at the entrance and went on in. His wife was in the living room, reading a book. “How was your day?” she said. “You’re home early.”

He glanced out of the window and saw the way that the snow clung to the road and then blew away, revealing the cracked and wrinkled asphalt underneath. A few yellow and orange crews wandered up the street, setting up signs and barriers that prevented others from getting in. The road needed work, he thought. Seems time for it to be closed.

“It took longer to get home. The road’s closed,” he said. “It’s under construction.”