“I remember how we tried everything.”
The old man’s face was turned towards the students, but he wasn’t looking at them. His eyes tried to see something else, something in the space between what was before him and what had been. His silence seemed to unnerve a few of them.
He began again. “We tried everything to keep what we’d thought was important. We tried turning our food into fuel for our cars, but then there wasn’t enough food to eat. Going fast or forcing others to fast–that was the choice, and hungry people who don’t need to be hungry become angry.
“All those wars. They’re still going on, of course. Some people still holding on to what they we thought was important, what they have rights to have and do, as if rights and the wrongs of humans are each alone and affect no-one! Going fast while others were forced to fast, having things by making others make things for us. Tearing down forests to get at the wood within them, tearing off mountains to carve out the coal from inside. Washing tar from sand, breaking the earth to release its ether, choking rivers to power machines, forcing asunder atoms to trap their pain at parting–all so we can have things.
His rage exploded in those last words, and he saw the sudden unease of his small audience. He breathed, then shook his head slowly.
“I am sorry for my anger. I am angry at myself, though there’s little use in that rage. So much wasted time in front of screens, looking at others without seeing them, looking for the Other without noticing it was around me always. So much I should have done but didn’t, so much I should not have done.
He shook his head again. The memories flooded his soul, and he feared almost he might drown. Even in his old age, he’d not yet found a way to tread the currents of such sorrow except in story, weaving words as a net to catch what could be salvaged from the torrents of the past.
A slight chill had swept across them as the sun, sinking ever lower in the sky, became veiled behind great clouds.
The voice of a woman woke the Druid from the reverie of his sorrow. “What happened here?”
The Druid regarded her, tracing the lilt of her accent, noting for the first time the thin scarf she wore under the hood of her coat. She reminded him of someone he’d known, someone he’d met amongst the throngs in the street 3o years before. That day…
“May I ask,” he said, cautiously. “You are a follower of the Prophet, Peace be upon him?”
She nodded, smiling. “I am.”
“I will tell you a story, then, though you may have already heard it, because I was there and remember it well. It still gives me hope.
“Before this bank burned down, there were so many throngs in the streets, and with them, such rage and fear. And there were those who looked always to blame others for why we could no longer have things as they once were. It is an easy thing to do, too easy, to blame small groups of people who have little, instead of looking at those who have more and refuse to share.
“Such blame always suits those with power. Blaming the descendents of Mother Africa, the children of Judea, the refugees from wars in Asia, the impoverished from the southern lands–they were easy targets, because they had so little power, and the most powerful amongst us worked their power to encourage this hatred.
“The Imam in the store-front mosque did not make the oil dry up, but his windows were smashed anyway. The families from lands where once thrived the greatest civilizations in history did not make the electric grid turn off, but they were arrested nonetheless. The small souqs in immigrant neighborhoods were not causing Capitalism to collapse, but their wares were seized regardless.
“It horrified us all, but no one expected the Oracles.” He laughed aloud at these words. It had seemed so wondrously strange, back then, that the gods had taken such an interest, so many gods, and so many at once.
“I first heard of them from a witch. Her cards had said she should help the Muslims, and she hadn’t believed it at first. But her coven had heard the same thing, and had heard of Animists dreaming of animals speaking of the same matter. There were several shrines in this city, and their priests had heard a new demand from their god. Ceremonial mages had heard from their spirits, Shamans and spirit-workers from the land and the dead. They all heard the same thing: we should stop the violence against the followers of the Prophet.
“I remember that day so well it is as if it’s before me now. The usual sorts were there in the streets, the socialists and the anarchists, the well-meaning liberals. But there were Christians, too, and Native elders and what remained of their dwindling tribes, joined by Heathens and Wiccans and all manner of gods-worshipers, staring down the hired-thugs and soldiers who’d come to arrest the worshipers of Allah.
“Everything changed here that day. The gods of others and our own gods had led us there, and it was as if we all understood something we’d forgotten for so long–our belief mattered, and the gods behind our belief were strong enough to lead us away from the ruins we’d created.”
The man who’d objected previously did so again. “But that’s just mutual support and self-interest. Makes sense, of course. You don’t need gods for that. Besides, you can’t mean every single person received some sort of divine message?”
The Druid smiled. “You are correct, my friend. We don’t need gods, anymore than we need happiness. But I would not live in a world without gods anymore than I would live in one without happiness. Fortunately, that’s not a choice I need to make.”
Then, softening his tone, he added, “But not everyone that day believed in gods, nor does everyone now, nor do I suspect they all will or must. Only a handful of people heard from their gods, but they were well-respected. The Odinist who’d heard from the runes was known for his translation work and after-school teaching classes, the priestess of Dionysos for her home-brewing, the Feri witch for her elegant parties and candle-making. And they all had built communities around those things, as well as their connections to their gods.
“If you had been there, my friend, you may have seen what we all saw, us with our gods and us without gods. Something could happen that might change everything, something we could all do together, something we could all build from the ruins of what we thought was important.”
One of the students, his glance averted from the Druid towards the trees that surrounded them, his gaze rapt, as if seeing something there within them, asked, “like this grove?”
The old man laughed. “Yes, like this grove. I’m getting there.”