Our nation was fighting another nation. All the nations were fighting across an imaginary line they drew to distinguish themselves. There were guns and rocks and tanks and rockets and knives and anything you could use to shoot and stab and maim and kill.
There were fighters in wet, buggy, cold and miserable fields where some died of the weather and all of them tolerated mud. There were fighters in hot deserts who wore heavy clothing to keep out bullets but retained intolerable heat. They fell dying in the sand. There were people firing from behind trees and from newly dug trenches. Each felt the loyalty of a brother to fellow fighters and hatred for everyone else.
It was a scene of tremendous misery, a kind of Hieronymus Bosch portrait of modern hell. How did we get into such a state? There was so much fear and anger circulating among the men that no one stopped to ask.
It was approaching midnight. I was moved to break the hypnotic stance of hate. I approached that imaginary line of a nation. and called, “Hey, it’s nearly midnight, let’s stop and celebrate.” There was a sense of shock among the men after hearing my words, like awakening from a bad dream. My request was passed along In a broken language, a wedding of the two which produced a bastard offspring. They all agreed.
So they put down their knives and rocks and guns and slings and arrows. They turned off the engines on their tanks and dropped their shields. It became so quiet we could hear each other breathing. Then someone started to sing a national song of the new year—which turned into a polyglot auld lang syne in which everyone joined, some beating on their helmets with stones. Then others started to sing and dance and make a beat with whatever they could find to bang on. They jumped up and down together in an increasingly huge circle dance. Then women, the camp followers came out of hiding and began to dance and sing. The noise we made roused people from a nearby village and then from distant houses. They came from all around and joined the celebration.
Then the kids came. How could you keep them out? They joined the pack. Pretty soon they were in the middle, the loudest singers, the most limber dancers. Then their grandparents came presumably to keep an eye on the kids and joined the dancing and singing. Everyone, every single one was dancing hand in hand, eyes wide open seeing each other as if for the first time, some bursting into tears of joy.
Then as dawn approached, the timer came, that was what he called himself, standing outside the circle with his Timex watch outstretched, ready to call a halt to things. He was untouched by the joy of the moment, focused on his job and proud of it too. He called himself patriotic and thought, “War’s the thing.”
So he came to the circle with his watch held high to show the rightness of his position and said, “Time’s up. Let the fighting begin.” Someone pulled the watch out of his hand, dropped it on the ground and stomped it which broke the crystal and put an end to this sacrificial time.
The timer did not know what to do now so he continued to stand and watch. After a while as the sun came up, the group stopped dancing and singing and resumed their everyday life, but not entirely. They did not go back to their country. There was no formal country anymore. The line that divided them was gone. They went to houses, shared their houses, built new and simple houses, created gardens, shared produce, traded this for that and lived.
And every evening this conglomeration, all of them together, began dancing and singing and drumming. They created new instruments and played them as happiness spread around.
The timer watched as he had done before, unsure about what he was supposed to do. Then the internal child which is in all of us, whispered in his ear, and told him what he really wanted to do. He got up and danced.