Two Sets of Stairs, Two Statements
Two sets of stairs, in two different countries. So different and yet so similar. Both created by individual men but for different purposes. The stairs in Prague, a piece of art, are a political statement. The stairs in Hamilton were created by a man who retired and needed something to do. On whim, he began to create these stairs from materials he found on the path.The city threatened to tear the stairs down but the locals objected and the stairs remain. Both sets of stairs make a similar statement: the individual and art will prevail.
The Boy Who Climbed Stairs
The boy played happily for the first four years of his life. He did whatever he pleased and no one scolded him or told him to do this or that. But that changed one day. He went to school. There he met many children of his age. They were practicing stepping on blocks. Each child must step up on one block then step down and step up on the next. This was easy for the boy and he enjoyed the activity. Some children could not step up well and had to have help, but he had no trouble. During the break, he played with the other children.
He liked school and was still a happy boy. One day, he was sent back to his first home.At first, he was sad to leave his parents. But when he arrived and saw his beloved home and grandparents again, he was really, really happy. Again, he could do whatever he wished. There was no school. He played whatever he wished, whenever he wished. He rode the horses, he herded the geese, he played with the other boys. And he was outside all day long.
After a year, he was sent back again. He was glad to see his parents and happy to see his friends at school. But now the children had to scale four blocks. This meant jumping up as high as they could. Some children could only scale one or two blocks. The boy managed to scale three.
“I can do as well as the others,” he thought. “I just lack practice. While I was playing, the others were practicing. I must practice every day.”
He did practice, at school and at home until he could easily jump up on to the fourth block.
“But I can do better than that,” he said to himself. “Why not try five?”
So he kept practicing at home and soon he could jump upon five stacked blocks and then six. Only one other child could do as well as he.
Every year a block was added. But the boy was already ahead, so school continued to be easy for him. It came time to choose another school. One school only required that the students jump upon eight blocks. Another required nine. But the top school required ten. The boy couldn’t quite yet jump upon ten blocks. So he took the easy route and entered the school with eight blocks. But he soon found this boring. So he went to the top school and asked to be admitted.
“You may enter and try,” the principal said. “But you have missed the first month. Our students are now jumping on eleven blocks.”
Well, the boy knew that he could do this if he tried extra hard, so he practiced every day after school and soon he could jump the eleven blocks as well as anyone else. So he continued to enjoy school. Now there were added activities, such as music and languages. He enjoyed these and excelled at anything he tried. Other students had special blocks at home for practice and tutors to help with music and languages, but that did not hinder the boy. He just made his own blocks out of bricks he found in the back alley and he practiced his violin every night. He read his Latin reader late at night when the family was asleep. And soon, he was the top student in many areas.
Finally came the time to enter the Superior school. The boy’s family had no money to send him to the school, but he worked in the summer and saved enough to afford the schooling. He excelled in this school as well. Now students did not jump on blocks but rather climbed stairs as far as they could. The boy would always climb a bit farther than the others, just to show himself that he could. The end of the year stair test was always easy for him. He went from the Superior school to the Great School and finally to the finest school in his nation. And he still excelled.
When the boy, who was now a man, left this last school, he decided he would like to teach stair climbing to others. So he sought a job in one of the Great schools and was soon accepted.
For many years he worked in the Great School, teaching stair climbing and practicing himself, so that every year he climbed a bit farther. He soon found that the stairs never ended; they went upward for as far as the eye could see. This did not disturb him. He enjoyed climbing and loved the challenge, so he just kept climbing. Even when he grew old and left the Great School, he continued to climb, albeit a bit more slowly. And if I’m not mistaken, he is still climbing his staircase somewhere, every year going a bit higher and setting an example for those who climb below.
a translation of Hermann Hesse's Stufen
Just as every blossom wilts and every youth
Gives way to age, so too does every stage of life,
Every wisdom too, and every virtue blossom
When due in time and may not endure forever,
At each of every call of life, one's heart
Must be prepared to part and start anew,
On order ably and bravely and free of sorrow
To give itself to other new commitments.
And each beginning harbors its own magic,
That shields us and that helps us on with life.
Let us with joy exhaust one sphere upon another,
And to none of them as to a homeland cling,
The cosmic spirit is not upon binding and limiting,
It wants to lift from stage to stage and broaden us.
Hardly at home are we in any circle of life,
Cozily settled,before we threaten to go limp;
He alone who is ready to leave and to journey forth,
Can the paralyzing force of habit escape.
It is quite possible that even the hour of death
Us will youthful further to new realms,
Life's call to us will never end...
Well then heart, take leave and fare you well!
An epigram a day:
Life should be an upward spiral, not a downward plunge.
Dreams realized are dreams trivialized.
To strive is to court failure,
Not to strive is failure.
Goals are many, few are reached.
Some pursue their dreams, others only nurture them.
Thrash and flail and you may prevail.
It is the step beyond expectation and obligation that spells success.
Though my legs may
Be very short, they
Up stairs can bound
As well as a long-legged hound.
Race up stairs with glee
And boundless energy,
But never descend
Lest you your back rend.