We’re walking in a group, about 25 of us, in orderly columns. We’re supposed to be marching, but none of us have the strength for that anymore, and as far as that goes our columns are none too neat as we shuffle along in our cardboard shoes or bare feet. It seems they’re anxiously organizing more of these little “marches” of late, as though they’re hurrying to finish something and can’t possibly get it done. As though there’s someplace else they’d like to be getting too. As though none of us want to be here, are just forced to be.
What others are able watch our progress are slumped against the sides of the huts or sitting on the ground, offering what sincerities they can. There; I see my friend, sallow-eyed and somber, but with such a look of love in his eyes it seems to embrace me. He is holding the gift I have given him, scrawled onto what used the be a piece of the cardboard sole of my right shoe (I’m still wearing the left one) no more than an irregular 20 square centimeters. He had been in such despair over his wife, pulled from his grasp and supposedly sent on to the next camp so many months ago. I asked him to describe her to me in detail; not just her appearance but her spirit. So many conversations over the months until I could close my eyes and see her clearly in my mind. She became a living being, as familiar to me as the back of my hand. And then I took what was left of my shoe and used it as a canvas. I’d sharpened a small piece of char I’d found into something like a point. As I scrunched close to the cardboard it was like I was back in my studio, standing in front of the big bay window bathed in northern light, creating a new portrait, self-absorbed, the rest of the world blocked from existence. Slowly, because my hands tremble so now, I created life on my tiny canvas. I brought my friend’s wife from a place of dark dread to a brilliant vision he could hold in his hands. His eyes lit up and he sunk back as he beheld the image, overcome by the emotion flooding over him. “It is her”, he gasps in a whisper, “Her very essence!” and just as I had felt the last of my strength flowing into the portrait I can see it returning to my friend like a wave of sunlight. “How did you know?” he gapped wide eyed, unable to look away from the image. “I knew”, I told him. “I am an artist.”
We move past, we weather-beaten pajama-wearing scarecrows, and I am so happy as I think of my friend. So thrilled! I lift my head higher and I do lapse into something resembling a march. I know, no matter what happens, my friend will persevere. My friend will have the power to side-step these little walks and carry on because I have shown him ‘possibility; I have reignited ‘hope’. Decades from now he will still carry the vision with him. And in an instant I realize, I have won! I have beaten them all, despite everything! I have emerged on the highest plane of humanity! And I am beaming like a madman as they use the muzzles of their rifles to direct us into the showers.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.