The Fable of the Actor and the Hermit
This is the story of a staircase to the stars. You know that nowadays famous people are very busy getting on with their glittering lives, interviews and all that. One day, however, an actor rode away in the sport car he was meant to be driving in a scene of the next movie he was playing in.
He drove and drove till he found himself quite lost in a desert. As he started to feel he would have better stayed in the job rather than run away, he saw a hermit clothed in a humble sack hitch-hiking in the midst of the only motorway cutting through the orange desert.
“What the hell are you doing here?”- he shouted at the man, with the candid arrogance of a Hollywood actor.
“I am searching for heaven,” was his answer.
“Well,” the actor said scraping his head, “you’d better jump in if you don’t want to die schorched by the sun. I can’t give you the heaven you’re talking about, but we can still keep each other company.”
The hermit complied and off they drove, down the huge, empty motorway.
It was only during the night that the actor started to suspect the hermit was a poor madman. He watched him speak aloud in incomprehensible languages, his face raised towards the sky, as if on the point of soaring. He was praying for a sign, but to the actor he was just raving and being eccentric. Every night, as they rested from their journey, the hermit would behave that way, until once something happened.
The Milky Way was sparkling and pulsing with light over their heads and, as the horizon grew clear in their sight, some far away planets became visible. As dawn approached, a big pink balloon was floating nearer and nearer in the sky, till it landed in front of them. The actor, who was a bit superstitious, wanted to start the car and drive away at once. He still remembered creepy stories of aliens in disguise, but the hermit bade him stay and be calm.
Out of the balloon a silver-haired child came and spoke this way:
“You called me by your prayers and asked for my help: I am here to help you ascend to heaven.”
The actor was now convinced that the child was in fact a dangerous alien, but the hermit explained:
“She is a star child, the star seed that will save us from our misconceptions and illusions. You’d better pay attention to what she says.”
The child nodded, and said:
“If you can think of a time when you were truly happy and free, when you did no harm and received no injury in this world, you’re halfway to heaven. If you can think of a time when your hearts were aching with the hot pain of injustice and sorrow and felt you would try to change this world, then, you’re almost there. However, if you can close your eyes and conceive a world of plenty and sharing, without doubting that this is the nature of the universe, you’ll get there straight away.”
The actor, who was used to dramatic scenes and special effects, could not believe
that was all and did not want to be tricked by this seeming simplicity.
“There must be more to it”- he thought to himself.
But the hermit was baffled, as he had spent such a long time fasting, praying and being lonely.
The child read their minds and smiled. She would show them the starway to heaven. She stretched her left arm and pointed to the North Star with her fnger and closed her eyes: an astounding vortex of light descended from the star, sweeping the sand-dunes and leaving the two men speechless with awe. It took the shape of a golden staircase. They would be able to step on it and proceed only if they could think the way she had already described.
As simple as it sounded, they failed many times. The child left them when the sun was high in the sky, but encouraged them to trust and not to give up.
Since then, the actor and the hermit became one another’s shadow, supporting each other in the attempt of ascending. In time the actor abandoned his shallowness and the hermit stopped frowning at wordly pleasures. They got back to the city and started a charity to provide for street children and war victims, together they became very active in the world.
Still, for all their efforts, they could not see a way forward,
as the world appeared to them as a place of darkness and sorrow. It was only when the economic crisis came and people stopped going to the cinema, that the actor started to ponder what he liked about his job, and why he had chosen it among many.
The hermit too remembered how it had all begun for himself: his sorrow for his beloved had led him away from the world. They engaged in long conversations and little by little they realized they had been looking for something that would keep their minds away from what really mattered to them. And what was it that really mattered to them?
Well, the fact is that they had been spending so much time together in the last two years of their lives, that they came to realize, they wouldn’t have liked to be parted from each other. Their friendship had given them a new direction and a deep level of insight in their condition: nothing could match that. It was relationships, authentic human contact they were hungry for, that was what really mattered to them.
And still, it was difficult to live that kind of authenticity in everyday life, where you had been used to fight tooth and claw to get your own slice of the cake. What could be done, then?
They decided to call upon the star child again.
She came at night. This time they were on the roof terrace of the actor’s villa in Beverly Hills, they had just had dinner and prayed intensely for about two hours. Down she came, this time there was no sight of the pink balloon. Instead they saw a ray of light coming down from a cloud covering the full moon.
“You need to play again,” was her answer to their perplexed questions. “You are doing much good to the needy and raising consciousness of the many things which must be done to make this world a better place to live in, but you are growing sad. Connect to nature, wonder at her marvels and stop being anxious. You are here to play the game of life with lightness and joy. Above all, remember, you are not alone, we are connected to each other.”
She stayed only the time of a wink, she must have been busy enlightening other people too.They stood gaping at her words: how could they achieve what she had said?
For a long time they cracked their heads in doubt and despair of ever getting there.
One day, after a long conversation, the actor stood up and went to the door. The postman delivered a small packet to him: it contained a key and a letter. His brother in Nebraska told him about their mother’s last desire, that her famous son would
have the key to the small attic he used to love as a child.
He was struck numb with emotion. He had never thought that his mother had guessed his innermost, childish longing. Tears run down his cheeks and wet the letter itself, he could not stop crying.
He flew all the way to Nebraska, to the familiar, hated and loved Omah and met his brother and his family. However, it was only when he turned the key in the latch of the attic that he felt he had come home again.
As he opened the door, a grand spectacle presented itself to his eyes: his mother’s old school ball dress, old broken toys and his grandfather’s portrait as a young man, together with an Indian rug he would use as a tent in his games, a huge basket with old actors’ pictures, all of that and more -- now he realized -- had played a role in his choices.
He was who he was because he had dreamt and played in that attic, and those old, bizarre objects had been once his treasures. He laughed and cried, and laughed again, as he bowed under the sloping ceiling and blew away the cobwebs.
As he crouched down, the youngest of his nephews, who was only five and had been piping through the keyhole all the while, stepped in tentatively.
The actor did not notice at first. When he did, the child was offering him an old smoking pipe and coloured feather he used to love as a kid. He embraced the little one and put the feather on his own head, while playing together. They spent a considerable time playing there completely carried away by the world they had created, with its own magical rules and consequences. When the time to leave came, the actor gave the key to his nephew with the agreement that he could be back any time he wanted.
That night, as he lay in his bed staring at the dark, he saw the starway to heaven and the silver-haired child was standing on top, clapping her hands in sign of joy. He would tell his friend down town, when he went back -- he thought before falling asleep. They would share this great coming home, but he knew his friend would have to find his way.