Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Keeper of the Arch

"Spectator or Gladiator?"

I pause before I answer, fearing both his disapproval and the chance of a pre-pubescent squeak in my voice (a bad first sign for a gladiator). But answer I do:
"Gladiator" (not loudly, but no cracking either)

"Hmmm." he says as his eyes scan me much more deeply than I'm used to. He truly is a marvel of a man, towering inches above me with keen eyes and cut arms. I realize as he weighs me that this man could only be Keeper of the Arch if he was found faithful in the ring. . .
"You did not come to this decision lightly" he states.

These were his first words after the testing silence. I knew then he was more than faithful in that stadium beyond his shoulders, he had gifts beyond sword and shield.

"Yes. And to be honest I am still plagued with concerns" I answer.
(as 3 new gladiators run in through the arches and shout a quick "Gladiator!" to the Keeper.)

"Then let me tell you of the plagues I know of and see if it helps cure your mind, young one," he says, "You will always struggle with pride, whether standing silent or speaking up. . .Better to struggle with the pride of a word well-spoken than the sullen anger of 'I could have done better'. "
"Your identity will always be in The Truth and the One who sent Him to us, but all who work out that eternal Identity in the here-and-now will always be baited by the fading glories of this passing age. Yes, if you enter that arena, you will grapple with the applause, the disapproval, the comments, or the lack of comments. You must handle correctly that which was entrusted to you and swing anyways."
"You will have weak-spots and bad strokes. . .stumbles and weariness. . .you will be tempted to use the shield more often than the sword. . .and yet through all of these, the gladiator fights on, not for his own renown, but for Truths greater than he."
"You are even now asking if you have anything worth proclaiming in there. . .it is a good thing. I would rather have a few of you fighting within yourselves before you stand full-force in the stadium lights than a thousand young would-be-warriors flailing untempered swords in untested arcs."

He pauses and I soak in all of his words. . .they are true to the mark, and although they are unflinching about the inevitable challenges they are nonetheless encouraging.
"Thanks. What do I do when I'm in deeper waters than I can swim in?"

He smiles, "Don't pretend you can swim in them in the first place. Tread cautiously in the dangerous waters (and pools with no danger are scarce these days) and know your limits. The patron Gladiators of Doxy and Praxis will guide you. . .though as I look at your gear I sense your desire is to bridge the gap between the two, no? Let me see that rat-sticker", he says.

I pull out the sword and hand it to him gently, it has served me well and proven true for so long. It looks frail in his hands. A thin blade with an acute point. The hilt is non-descript but has protected my hand when needed and flows nicely into the drab blade.

"The rapier is not the weapon of choice these days," he begins.
His eyes going to places beyond the Arch.
"They carry the two-handed broad sword these days, and favor wild offensives, with massive blood spurts and dismemberings. The crowd loves it. . .all the favorites carry them, and pretty much anybody with anything else is doomed to the outskirts or to be ganged up on by the big blades."

I begin to respond but he continues. . .

"But when a man's arms tire from wielding a weapon beyond his inner strength, why then a man may wish he had a free hand to use a shield. . .because if he can't kill his target with that first onslaught and that prey has a rapier. . .well, it's only a matter of time then."
"I've seen a man use one of these with such precision and quickness that he fell all the popular broadsword brutes in an era with nothing but accuracy and integrity. Not that it made him popular or perfect. . ."
He stops this speech not strongly but with a gentle tailing off. . .and with that mumbled silence he hands me back my blade.
"It's not about you, so only strike when you know what you'll hit. And whether they cheer your deeds or chant for your death, it's still not about you."
"Now, get in there"

The last thing I see as I step beneath the Arch and blinking into the Blogosphere Arena is a perfectly made rapier-hilt between the now distracted back of the man they call the Keeper. . .

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Entering the Colosseum

I have loitered outside the Colosseum, for what seems to be months now (maybe years), not quite cowering in the shadows, but nonetheless remaining anonymous and as much as possible, inconspicuous.
I have on occassion been engaged by a fan or a spectator entering the monstrous arena about this or that or dialogued with an active gladiator about their sword, shield, or cause.
But now, motivated by some impulse from within, I spend my last few coins on a last few morsels to eat in a somewhat sacramental and solemn final act of privacy.

I inhale deeply and walk the dusty approach to the stadium. Once again, my inadequacies roll in my guts with that impulse that has moved me from the shadows to the entrance. The final sigh is sighed and I walk forward through the vast, open gates with the rest of the clamoring humanity.

Most of the gladiators are obvious to spot. Their armor is well-polished, the swords are VERY visible and their shields are, as expected, nicked and battered. The only thing more noticeable than their large and unwieldy weapons, are their hearty lungs. Already these warriors have gathered fans and followings. . .

The majority of people, however, are headed for a seat in the stands and most of those are easy to distinguish as well. Their rabid posturing and passionate debates hang in the air like laundry that needs to be dried but not necessarily seen by the neighbors. Their attire is a mish-mash of team colors and slogans and mottoes of gladiators past and present. They move with a purpose. . .but is spectating and sitting in the seat of judgment truly a purpose? (I ask myself this again not for the last time)

But the people in this mob, my mob now as well, that really interest me are the quiet ones, the unobtrusive ones. . .no, not the pseudo-meek kind of the fearful variety or the told-you-so type who never "told" anything until the verdict is already in. . .but the type whose quietness comes from an inner conviction, a stability not born from ease and affluence but the consistency springing forth from steady living in a great Truth.

These are the men and women I try to make eye contact with and gain strength from. . .these are the ones who may be gladiators or may be spectators, or even both. Ones whose swords are not shiny because they are tested, and whose shields are practically unused because of their deftness with a blade. Ones who when they cheer in the stands it is not for verbal violence or vain posturing after a phantom-kill. . .no, they rise and put their calloused hands together only for the skillful and true strike of veracity.

The confidence that radiates from them blows on my small burning coal of hope. . .and because I am lost in that affirming warmth for a moment. . .I fail to realize I have reached the Arch of decision. . .

The marble arch is perfectly shaped, and through it I dimly see the shifting dust of the arena floor. But my sight is cut off by a shadow of imposing proportions. It is my turn to decide. The Keeper of the Arch has blocked my sun and asked me the question I have hidden from for so many months. . .the question I have known the answer to for even longer. . .the answer which has taken me and my trusted rapier to the crux:

"Spectator or Gladiator?" he asks with no malice or warmth.