Tuesday, September 23, 2014
"Grandpa, what does enlightenment mean?"
Frank carefully turned the prickly question over in his old mind, grey eyes steady on the road.
"Well, young Killian..."
He paused for dramatic effect. How to answer this question...
"Enlightenment... where'd you hear the term?"
"Joey at school."
Another pause, this time noticeably less dramatic. Killian waited patiently, his eight-year-old ears perked.
"Enlightenment is a kind of happiness, but not all happiness is enlightenment."
Frank's hopefulness in his vague answer fell away as he saw that Killian's waiting attention showed no sign of satisfaction.
Another pause. When he spoke again, his voice came from the mountains far ahead of them.
"It's the happiness that comes after you've felt pain and overcome it. Enlightenment comes after you've sang the saddest songs you know off-key, mouthing the words because you can't actually speak, when you can't even breathe you're crying so hard from the pain. When you've cried so much that you feel like vomiting, and simply cough up tears that aren't there, when you reach that point where the person you value most--"
His voice caught. "--or thing you value most, of course.
"When that leaves you, then you find yourself with nothing but the worst pain you can imagine, then you eventually come out the other side and realize that you're still alive. What's more, that even though you lost what was greatest to you, some things in life still make it all worth it.
"After a time, you come to understand that nothing can keep you down forever, because there's always good out there, no matter how small."
He turned back and looked at Killian. "That understanding gives you strength and gives your happiness endurance. That's enlightenment."
"So enlightened people can't be unhappy?" Not a beat was skipped.
"Oh, yes they can." Frank's eyes returned to the hills in the distance. "But it takes the edge off to know that you can be happy without... whatever it is that you miss, even if it feels like you lost the whole world."
Killian began to grasp that his questions were hitting Frank just below the sternum, but not that this meant good graces called upon him to cease.
"Are you enlightened Grandpa?"
Frank chuckled at the suggestion. "No my boy, not by a long ways."
Killian paused for a moment, feeling a connection but not understanding its' full nature.
"Was Grandma enlightened?"
A minute passed by silently as the pair drove on. The mountains loomed, ancient and ambivalent before them, and the road trailed away into empty farmland behind them. Frank's mind raced like their car towards the ominous, dark cliffs rising up ahead, nearly leaving Killian behind. But after a moment he remembered the boy and came back.
"Yes Killian. I think so."