by Martin Bolton
The mind is a strange thing.
It is quite without limits in its power and potential. It resides outside time and space, and yet can dictate and control events within. Unbound by the shackles of the physical universe, the mind can visit distant worlds, parallel dimensions, and alien planes of consciousness. It exists in harmony with the natural and the supernatural, for it is both and neither. It can feel with endless senses, discover, create, destroy, it can see and hear all there ever was and ever will be. It possesses all knowledge, if one is only able to open its many doors, and then withstand the crushing weight of infinity. The mind is omnipotent, immortal.
This, I am sure, is the reason so very few have ever been gifted with the ability to unlock its unfathomable depths. Almost all are barely able to scrape the surface. Occasionally though, one is pushed to the most desperate limits of their physical and mental endurance, and by necessity find the obscure, primeval faculty that lies buried deep within them. The possibilities they discover there are untold.
This mind that speaks to you now was once anchored in the flesh of a man. I don’t remember his name for it grew vague and intangible when I was freed for good from my hellish, rotting prison, but I do remember the man. I remember his suffering, his courage, his pain. I remember his fellow soldiers too, his dear friends, here in the trenches of The Great War.
It was not long before his body died, cut down by heavy machine gun fire, that he was first driven by squalor, exhaustion, and fear, to escapism. While his peers played cards, wrote letters or slept during their afternoon downtime, he journeyed. At first it felt like he had fallen asleep and simply dreamed, but his dreams were dark and foreboding, filled with the screams of dying men, the ear-splitting booms of exploding shells and the stench of decay and effluence. Sleep had become as exhausting as being awake. This was different.
Instead of slumbering, he retreated within, unpicked the threads that tied him to his bone and blood cage, and travelled abroad. He saw the world, and others besides, through new eyes, free from pain, fear or prejudice. He watched his friends write letters and poems alongside him, letters to loved ones, sweethearts, wives, mothers, fathers. And through those letters he saw the intended recipients, full of hope, pride and trepidation. He felt and shared their hurt, their good and bad memories, and he wept and laughed with them, though they did not know.
He drifted further afield and found other places, the scenes of ancient tragedies, reclaimed by nature but with the same sad memories. What wars were these? He thought. How much war is enough?
He saw the men who created and directed wars living in luxury, never standing ankle deep in freezing water waiting for the next shell to land, never living on rations, never sharing their space with rats and disease and the broken bodies of their dead friends. Never running aimlessly towards heavy machine guns, bullets searing and ripping their flesh. Never listening to friends die slowly, their flayed skin snagged and tangled on barbed wire, just out of reach.
He saw those men who had sent millions to die in the cloying mud, and he pitied them, for they would never know courage, nor would they share what he had with his fellow man. They with their closed eyes and rigid, barren minds knew nothing and would never learn. They would die as thin wisps of smoke to his roaring fire.
He fled, yearning for a place of solace and tranquillity, and found himself in a verdant dale. Weeping willows drooped lazily, dipping their branches in the rippling water of a pond. The only sounds were the buzzing of insects and the trickle of a brook. He floated, washed by a feeling of serenity.
When he returned to his filthy skin, lying there in the sodden trench, he found new joy in the lark’s song, the sigh of the wind, the rays of the sun, even the shadows cast by the bright full moon, despite what darkness brought on the churned and charred fields of Flanders. He rejoiced in the laughter of his comrades, their camaraderie, their bravery.
He did not reveal these things to them, for he knew they could not possibly understand. Instead he offered them his smile, his friendship, his trust, and his words.
“When do you think the war will end?” he was asked.
“Maybe tomorrow,” he replied, knowing that tomorrow exists no more than yesterday does. There is only today, only now, only the eternal moment.
When the order came to go over the top, he was not afraid. As he and his friends ran towards the machine guns he smiled, and as their bodies fell to utter ruin, I was freed.
I remain here now, and remember my fallen friends. I remember their laughter, their generosity, their courage and their hope. I will linger here eternally at peace, for I am the trees that shade their resting places, the grass and flowers that stand where they stood, the earth that embraces their lost bodies. I am the lark’s song, the wind’s sigh, the sun’s light and the moon’s shadow. I am everything and nothing.