2019年11月21日 星期四

Piece by Piece


The islanders journeyed to the southeast, and after many days' travel they arrived at their idea of heaven.  It was very hot, and they were all very tired, so they thought it best to set up camp, and pass a few days near the ocean.

A few days became a few weeks, and slowly their camp began to resemble a village.  They elected a chief to watch over their affairs and to organize their society.  They considered their chief to be the wisest among them, a man or woman who could see far into the future, and they didn't question his or her judgments in the wake of personal disputes.

Some of the women bore children in that village, and the men built strong huts to withstand the weather.  They tried to live in harmony with their surroundings, but of course every day there were more of them, and new people wanted new things.

A few weeks became a few months.  One day the chief said to his people, "We need to trade with other villages, in other places.  We love this place, we still consider it heaven, but a few extra things would make life easier.  We can trade with other villages, and in this way make heaven even more heavenly."

So the villagers began journeys to other villages, far from their home by the sea.  Their feet wore paths through the forests, and their feet wore grooves into the sides of mountains.  They learned how to trade what they had with other peoples, and other peoples learned how to trade with them.

"Let's build a road," said the chief one day.  "Just one road, to make life easier.  We love this place, we still consider it heaven, but a couple of roads would improve trade.  When we can trade easier our lives will be complete."

Some of the villagers worried that new roads would bring new people, and that the land might become too crowded.  But they set about building the road anyway, trusting in the wisdom of their leader.  In a few months the road was built, and travelling to other villages was no trouble at all.  Trade increased, and people enjoyed many new things.

A few months became a few years.  Slowly the village began to resemble a town.  The chief was replaced by a mayor, land was cleared to grow more things, other roads were built, and immigrants arrived from other places.  The townspeople still had the green mountains above them, they still had beaches beneath palm trees, but they also had other things, newer things, and this made them happy.

"Let's build a railroad," said the mayor one day.  "Just one line, to take people and goods back and forth.  We love this place, we still consider it heaven, but a railroad would make life even better.  We'll travel easily to other towns, and our lives will be complete."

Some of the townspeople worried that a railroad would change the character of their town, and that it might give rise to other towns, near new train stations.  But they set about building the railroad anyway, trusting in the wisdom of their leader.  In a few months the railroad was built, and traveling beyond the mountains was no trouble at all.  Their town slowly became a vacation spot for other people, all over the island.

A few years became decades.  Slowly the town began to resemble a city.  The mayor was replaced by a magistrate, and highways, movie theaters, hotels and shopping malls were built.  Tourists arrived from all over.  They still had some of the green mountains above them, most of the rivers weren't polluted, and they also had money, new jobs, and new careers.

"Let's build a freeway," said the magistrate one day.  "Just one freeway, to make it easier for the tourists to visit us.  We love this place, we still consider it heaven, but a freeway would make us even more money.  More and more tourists will visit, and this will make our lives complete."

Some of the people worried that a freeway would change the character of their city, and that it might give rise to other cities, near new freeway exits.  But they set about building the freeway anyway, trusting in the wisdom of their leader.  In a few years the freeway was built, and tourists flooded the city on weekends.  Their city became a world-famous destination, celebrated all over the globe.

Then came more and more houses, more and more roads, more and more restaurants, and more and more garbage.  When they were tired of their houses they built new houses, where the forest used to be.  When they were tired of the old roads they built newer roads, where the rivers used to be.  When they were tired of the restaurants they built bigger and better restaurants, closer and closer to the mountains.  And all the time they told themselves that they were making their idea of heaven better, even if the place they lived in looked more and more like hell.

A few decades became a hundred years.  The city slowly became a metropolis.  The magistrate was replaced by a mayor, traffic was a daily problem, and fewer people thought of visiting that part of the island.  They metropolis had a few small parks, in the center of town, and the air quality was terrible.  But hey, they finally had a Costco, right?

"Let's pass some laws to protect the environment," said the mayor one day, "And let's really enforce these laws.  Let's stop building so many roads.  Let's stop driving everywhere.  Let's try to stop all this development, and let's turn the clock back to the heaven we used to know."

But some of the people worried that new laws would change the character of their metropolis, that their fortunes and jobs would be threatened.  They protested loudly, and the mayor, always concerned about votes, changed her tune and encouraged still more development.  They built a subway, they built another airport, and they built a slew of new 7-11s, and this, they thought, was just what they needed to make their lives complete.

And if you visit that metropolis now you'll see pieces of the heaven that was.  Little pieces of the past, preserved as parks, tourist sites, and nature preserves.  You'll see those pieces of heaven, and you'll wonder what happened, how those people could spoil a place so close to perfection.

All of those years spent making lives better, only to make heaven worse.  And were those lives really better?  More productive? Happier?  None can truly say, and perhaps in the end all we can hope for is another glimpse of heaven, in another life, yet to be fulfilled.

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