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  • For JLB

    There is a man, a prisoner, confined in solitude to a dark cell. He lies at the bottom of an abyss with a single entry some distance above through which his food and water are lowered daily along a silent pulley, timed such that he rarely sees it in motion and so loses faith in the certainty of the existence of other men. There is a small hole into which he defecates, but he has never heard the refuse echo. He cannot enlarge that hole, nor can he scale the walls; he cannot escape. The only light is the single star in the vague heights of his cell. He has forgotten his crime, if indeed he committed one, and he has forsaken all thoughts of freedom, even in death. He hasn’t felt his face in recent memory and is now reluctant to try for fear that his hand will meet no resistance.

    At first he dwelt in favorite memories and soon exhausted them like old clothes, and unable to fashion new ones, the beggar repaired them, patched them together, interpolating moments and years of happiness until he lived in a state of hazy bliss, sleeping, as it were, in the nothingness of wakefulness. But he polished this paradise too far and like a blade oversharpened it simply vanished. He despaired, then lost the will even for that.

    He then began cautiously revisiting other memories, and recalled the totality of certain insipid days at a brown desk. Emboldened, he returned to a park with autumngilded maples and to other days, careful to live them faithfully. He trained himself to skip nothing, to see every detail, to savor every agony, to consciously participate in every moment. He practiced again and again and again for what you and I might call an eternity, reaching ever greater heights of joy and terror, imbuing each moment with ever greater intensity. He reached a certain precipice or escarpment beyond which he dared not pass; he understood that stoking the flames any more would destroy everything.

    Thus armed, he began at the beginning and relived his entire life, serene in the certainty that there had been no Crime and no Trial, and that the fervor of his task would kill him a precisely the moment he reached his imprisonment.
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