Posted by: Dan | February 1, 2013

There Lived… An Emperor


Is the desire to convince ourselves of our significance — the desperation to participate in something meaningful — is that a symptom of our particular historical moment?  A symptom of the spectacle?  Of life after God?  Of opulence? Of enlightenment?  Of living in a world where we are all now aware that our high standard of living comes at the cost of the health, children, and lives of others?

Or what?

Whatever the cause, it’s a sad desperation that is masked with irony and alcohol and adrenaline and name brands and accessories and Facebook friends.  Because I hear people describing daily occurences as “epic” and I see people repeating the same lines over and over, and reliving the same moments time after time, and throwing all their intimate details before the world on a computer screen, and I look into their eyes and I examine their brands and I listen to their voices and this is what I here:

Am I living a meaningful life?  Do I really matter?  Does this?  How can I know?  How can I be sure?  How can I know? How can I know?  How can I be sure?  HowHowHowHowHow?

I matter, right?  I matter?  Please, tell me I matter.  Please, believe that I matter.

Because, look, we see others getting up for work everyday.  We see their smiling families online.  We see the tan they brought back from Cuba.  They tell us stories about sex and parties and promotions and awards and paying off mortgages and buying new cars and making a mark in their field and publishing papers and books and articles and chapters.

We hear them talking about how rewarding their lives are.  We hear that their dreams are all coming true.  We hear them talk about sleeping well at night.

And the Emperor’s clothes really are as beautiful as everyone says they are, as long as we say it enough to believe it.  Just a few more times.  Tell me again about how beautiful they are.  Just one more time.  I can almost believe it… almost… Tell me again.  They really are beautiful, aren’t they?  Aren’t they?

That’s the thing, isn’t it?  That’s what drags us on and on.  That we can all almost believe it.  We get so close.  So close.  And we think that one day we’ll cross that final barrier and be free and oblivious and drugged and happy… but we never quite get there.  Or do we?

Did you?


Solidarity’s going to give a lot less than it’ll take
Is there a girl at this college who hasn’t been raped?
Is there a boy in this town that’s not exploding with hate?
Is there a human alive that can look themselves in the face
Without winking?
Or say what they mean without drinking?
Or believe in something without thinking what if somebody doesn’t approve?
Is there a soul on this Earth that isn’t too frightened to move?


Before I realized that every land we live in is a fantasy land, I used to have this idea in my head about “the real world” and how mind-blowing it would be.  I think this was partially the product of reading a lot of adventure novels (including the Bible) and watching a lot of stunning nature documentaries at a young age.  One of the results of this was that I discovered that I had oddly high expectations of a lot of things.  Like mountains, I still remember my first time seeing mountains (I thought they would be bigger) or flying (you had a better panoramic vision in the documentaries than from the window of the plane) or even seeing animals in “real life” (wait, I blinked and missed something… I can’t rewind that or wait for the slow motion replay… and if I was looking at animals at the zoo they kinda looked restless, plus the bars were in the way of a totally clear view).

I think there is something about imagination that allows us to feel the unspeakable or the inexpressible or the unrepresentable.  As I child reading those stories and watching those documentaries gave me something of that feeling.  My mistake was thinking that somehow, somewhere,I would encounter that unspeakable, inexpressible, unrepresentable thing and then I would know it in a way that could be spoken or expressed or represented.  But every word, every form of expression, every representation, every signification, and every thing ends up falling short and (at the very first, even if only for an instant) feeling like a let down — “Oh, I thought that this would feel like… I don’t know… something else… something more…”


We are young
So let’s set the world on fire
We can burn brighter
Than the sun

So if by the time the bar closes
And you feel like falling down
I’ll carry you home,


I walked that way for awhile.  Alcohol and parties and three day hangovers and walking home as the sun comes up still drinking one more beer and smoking the last of your cigarettes.  And, despite the beauty and the intimacy and revelation that occurs in communities of beautiful and broken people who gather around a particular substance which both devastates and enlivens them (which both defiles and purifies them), I chose to walk away.

This will not be the fire that consumes me.


Instead, I think, the key is learning to live with longings that will never be satisfied.  Feelings that will never be translatable.  Rather than desperately trying and always failing to cross over into meaning, the key is accepting that we live in a liminal state.  We live in the borderlands.  Like Moses on Mount Nebo but, even then, we die before we make it high enough to get a decent view.


This, too, is a beautiful outfit is it not?  Look at the cut of the vest!  Look at the buckle of the belt!  Look at how the colours match his complexion!  Beautiful!


Because, babe, here is the truth that cannot be spoken: reality is the most beautiful clothing of all and we are, all of us, naked.


  1. Well thought out, well written. Glad to find this. Thanks Dan.

  2. After an easter weekend of betrayal and weeping… I fall into the liminal place. Can’t hope for that indescribable longing to be filled, but I have to believe in the possibility of joy. May my pain and doubt birth belief…somehow.

  3. Hi Dan,
    thinking of you.

    I thought I could share this poem with you… not much else to share. It’s not one I wrote, but one I learnt;

    The day the boy was born the wall fell down that flanks our garden. There’s an espaliered pear, and then the wall I laboured with such care, such sweat and foresight, locking stone with stone to build. Well, just a wall, but it’s my own, I built it. Sitting on a garden chair it’s good to look inwards. But now some freak of wind has blown and tumbled it across the lawn; a sign perhaps. Indeed, when first I saw the boy I thought, ‘He’s humble now, but wait a few years and then we’ll see, out following a line not of our choice at all.’ But then with joy I looked beyond the stones and saw the view.

    Take care.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 95 other followers

%d bloggers like this: