The Wall: A Metaphor for Happiness

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This is a short story about a dog and a wall.

It’s about a dog because I like dogs (if you don’t like dogs then shame on you but you can replace it with whatever animal, person, or inanimate object that you do like).

It’s about a wall because the metaphor won’t work without it.

The set-up for this story goes like this:

Our canine protagonist – let’s call him Marcus – wakes up one day, not in his bed, but on a pavement next to a large brick wall.

This brick wall isn’t just high – so high that Marcus can’t see over the top of it – it’s also LOONG.  It’s so long that once Marcus fully wakes up and starts walking there doesn’t appear to be an end to it:

The more Marcus walks, the longer the wall seems to become.

At first, this confuses and frustrates him, but – eventually – Marcus realises that there’s no point worrying about what can’t be changed and so he reminds himself that he should be grateful for what he has (in this case himself and the wall) and decides to just keep walking.

There’s just enough food and water here and there to sustain Marcus and allow him to survive and so – in a way – he has pretty much everything he needs.

“It could be worse”, he thinks to himself.

To pacify himself, he tells himself that EVENTUALLY (the key word) he’ll either reach the end of the wall (because he knows bricks aren’t infinite) or that there’ll be some kind of way THROUGH or OVER the wall – for example, he tells himself, maybe there’ll be a DOOR somewhere or a LADDER to let him climb over.

Telling himself this – without any real evidence that he might be RIGHT – gives dear Marcus just the right amount of HOPE to be able to keep going.

Marcus walks besides this wall for DAYS and DAYS – before he knows it those days turn to months and those months turn to years.

Things move like this for decades with Marcus simply telling himself that “bricks are finite” and so he must reach and end to the Wall one day.

Still, there’s no perceivable end to the wall – nor any way over it – but with the seed of hope carried inside his heart (that there must eventually be an end) Marcus becomes quite satisfied – or should we say “complacent”? – with his daily routine and becomes accustomed to his way of living.

In fact, it starts to become part of Marcus’s identity: it’s no longer that getting up every day and walking besides this endless wall is something he does, it’s who he is.

It goes like this, day after day, for years and years, decades and decades (in doggy years, of course):

-Marcus wakes up next to the wall: “Maybe today will be the day”, he tells himself.

-Yesterday was the same as the day before and this colours Marcus’s expectations for the day ahead.

-He doesn’t really want to walk further down the wall but he feels like he doesn’t really have a choice: going through the motions has essentially become his life purpose and – like we said – it’s who he is.

-He sets off walking, hoping that today will be the day that things change.

-As he walks besides the wall, time keeps ticking and eventually the day turns to night.

-He goes to sleep with nothing having changed and then the cycle starts all over again.

-Marcus wakes up next to the wall: “Maybe today will be the day”, he tells himself.

Marcus gets lost in this cycle for years (and in doggy years that’s a lot of time).

His life actually starts to feel meaningless but because he has just enough food and water to keep him alive and enough hope to hold on to, he keeps going without really changing anything – just waiting for the opportunity he’s waiting for to show up.

The problem, of course, is that nothing new ever does show up: just an endless stream of BRICKS passing by his awareness as he keeps plodding along besides the wall, hoping and wishing, waiting for something or somebody new to appear and help him to mix things up.

Because Marcus is a dog his hope is coloured by his doggy-shaped desires:

He starts telling himself that on the other side of THE WALL is a beautiful garden filled with resplendent grasses that he can jump through, a verdant lawn covered in dog toys, and an endless supply of juicy BONES that he can chew on, play with, and bury to his heart’s content.

All he has to do is keep going and eventually he’ll find a way through or over the wall and all of this effort and endless plodding along will be worth it – this has to be the case, right?

“Bricks are finite”.

Unfortunately, Marcus has forgotten one very simple but essential fact that applies to all of us: he’s going to be DEAD one day.

Bricks might be finite but life is even more finite and so it’s quite possible that the wall could last a LOT longer than Marcus himself.

If Marcus realised this then perhaps he’d start to think about changing things HIMSELF instead of just waiting or ‘hoping’ for them to change.

Perhaps dogs simply don’t reflect on their own mortality or have an understanding of the power they have to change their own lives through the CHOICES that they make…

In this case, Marcus certainly didn’t – he simply knew that there was a path to follow and so that’s what he might as well do. It was better than doing “nothing” at least.

The problem was that as the years continued to pass, the strength of Marcus’s hope began to DWINDLE.

In fact, the pattern was quite simple: with each day that passed, the hope-o-meter went down a little and Marcus became a little more dejected and disillusioned.

At first, he tried to talk himself out of this or play mental gymnastics with himself:

“Bricks are finite”, he would say to himself as he kept walking.

“The garden of bones is coming to me”, he would say (as he daydreamed about what it would look like and how happy he would be frolicking away with his bones).

But, alas, mere words and mental gymnastics are not REALITY and Marcus couldn’t escape what he knew in his heart of hearts as the hope-o-meter eventually sat itself at ‘Zero’ and then eventually went into the negative:

“What if there is no bone garden?” he started to think.

“What if I’ve wasted my whole life walking next to this wall?”

Without his HOPE – which had been UNREAL the whole time, as far as Marcus knew – his dejection and disillusionment turned to DEPRESSION.

The main difference between depression and ‘happiness’ is that depression stops you moving and that’s exactly what happened in Marcus’s case:

He realised the futility and pointlessness of the meaningless purpose he had set himself (walking besides the wall) and instead curled up in a ball with his tears and existential angst.

For days, he sat in the same place.

The sun went up, the moon came out, and dark turned to light.

Nothing changed.

After a week or two (in doggy weeks) Marcus started to awaken from his depression.

He started to understand the FUTILITY of being miserable and awoke instead to the injustice he had suffered over the past few doggy decades of his life:

-WHY THE HELL WAS HE NEXT TO THIS WALL?

-WHY THE HELL WAS THERE NO END TO IT?

-WHY THE HELL CAN’T HE GET A BREAK OR AN OPPORTUNITY?

Reflecting on these kind of questions and the senseless horror that his life had become made Marcus ANGRY.

In fact, he was beyond ‘angry’ – he was vehement.

He started BARKING at the wall to alleviate some of his frustrations – this actually made him feel a tad better but it wasn’t changing anything because walls don’t listen.

This just made Marcus even angrier.

He decided that it wasn’t enough to just bark – he would have to bite (so to speak, not literally – biting a wall isn’t gonna get you anywhere).

Marcus drove himself into a fury of emotions and started scratching and clawing at the wall.

He kept thinking about how OLD he had become and how he’d spent his WHOLE life being restrained and directed by the Wall.

He thought about how unfair it was.

He thought about what a TRAGEDY his life had become.

All of these thoughts served as EMOTIONAL FUEL for the fire that was burning inside of Marcus. It gave him a strength he thought he’d lost.

Slowly, Marcus noticed that the bricks in the wall were beginning to crumble. In fact, the more fury Marcus put into clawing the wall, the greater the size of the pieces that started to fall off it.

Seeing these pieces inspired him even more to keep going.

Eventually, a whole brick fell out and Marcus could see sunlight shining through the hole.

Another brick and then another brick.

Marcus started to wonder why he hadn’t done this decades ago when he was still a young pup.

Another brick and then another.

Before Marcus knew it there was a hole in the wall big enough for him to fit through it.

He paused to get a grip of himself – for an old dog, he’d done amazingly well at bringing parts of the wall down but doing so had exhausted him and he didn’t know if he was emotionally equipped to face what was on the other side of the wall.

He took a deep breath and reflected on where he’d been over the last few decades – his life flashed before his eyes but it was all the same image: the goddam WALL.

Freedom was right in front of him but Marcus started to doubt himself: what if couldn’t handle it? What if he’d become too used to the wall? What if he actually needed the wall (his whole sense of self was attached to it, after all)?

Suddenly, a breeze came through the hole carrying a smell with it: BONES.

Marcus snapped out of his existential reverie and decided that it was now or never:

He stuck his head through the hole to see what was going on.

When he did, he couldn’t believe his eyes – they were greeted with everything he ever wanted:

Long grass, bones everywhere, a lawn covered in the latest dog toys, and even balls being flung back and forth that he could chase to his heart’s content.

It was at that very moment that Marcus’s blood pressure got too high and he dropped dead.

The End

 

 


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