from Theosophical Notes, Nov., 1955

Once Upon a Time

(Contributed story)

He and She lived in the middle of the block. For the most part, they were like lots of other people, at least it seemed so on The Surface (which is where they lived.) A great many people in that year of 1955 lived along side of them on The Surface, but the geography of that town was strange. The neighbors on one side of them, unknown to He and She, lived below The Surface and the ones on the other side lived above The Surface, but the slope was so gradual that it seemed to He and She that they were all on the same level. Their children intermingled freely, for their bodies and minds were young, and they didn't yet feel the strain in their legs or the change in their breathing as they raced up and down the slope - (that could be called "Understanding").

He and She lived a "normal" life, and they had three children. Names 1, 2, and 3. 1 dearly loved a young one of the Above family, and was at that house most of his waking hours. Little 3 was inseparable from the youngest in the Below household, but 2 seemed to prefer using his own backyard as a playground. All in all, their situation was a common one.

He and She, as I have already said, were like lots of other people, perhaps a little better than some. They tried to be - and more often than not succeeded in being - good, in the accepted sense of the word. They planned family outings for "the sake of the children," were pleasant toward their neighbors, and occasionally felt "they owed it to themselves" to have a baby-sitter come in and give them a chance to "get out by themselves." Yes, you would have called their life a good one - if you lived in the middle of the block too.

However, one morning in the middle of their years, He and She woke up feeling uneasy, Something that they couldn't quite put their finger on, was wrong. They said nothing to each other, but both put more effort forth to keep their life a "good one." She madly and consistently put her mind to planning excursions for the children. He conscientiously suggested and carried through plans for getting off by themselves, but inside both the uneasiness persisted. They had no weapons to combat it effectually. He gained a temporary relief very often with laughter and scoffing. She used the weapon of books and housewifely discussion of children and cooking, and they both made an attempt to "cultivate the neighbors;” for they saw the same thing happening inside those they called friends. (All "Middle of the Blockers" of course.)

First they tried the family Below. It was just a matter of convenience - it was much easier to go down a few steps and the garden between was most pleasant. The visit, though, ended in catastrophe. They found at the Below's a terrific battle ensuing - and with the Below's it was a continuous state of affairs. The confusion quieted somewhat on their arrival, for the Belows were great ones for "appearances." Mr. Below soon cornered He in the kitchen, and over several cans of beer, carried on a monologue concerning his one passionate interest in life - business. For Mr. Below had not just a job, but a "Position." He was manager and director of the "Dog eat Dog" department of the "Financial Advancement and Personal Prestige Corporation," and he was devoted to his work. In the front room the ladies held forth. She listened mostly, for she was outnumbered. (Mrs. Below's mother was a strongly entrenched member of the Below household.) The interests of mother and daughter were divergent, but they had a "give and take" between them that must have been worked out long ago, so smoothly did the conversation ebb and flow between them. Mrs. Below had interests in many organizations and clubs. Not only social - oh, no - for she believed in "good works" and "the betterment of humanity." That's why she took so much time away from her beloved family - for the advancement of the whole world. Her official capacities did drain her of a great deal of time and energy, but if it were not for her, who would know about what furniture and appliances it was necessary to have in your home in order to be happy? Or what was absolutely essential in the way of clothes to demonstrate that you were in style and your husband was a success? And take last year, everyone just raved on the research (it took seven solid months of day and night work, and many field trips to prepare) she had done on "The Jones' and how to keep up with them."

The mother, it seemed, regarded all this as a waste of time that could better be spent in a confessional booth. The church, she said, was the only thing that mattered in the chaotic world of today. Why, mercy sakes, without her Priest to talk to and tell her what to do, she would have been in utter despair these last years. She prayed every night that the young people (Mr. and Mrs. Below) would come to their senses and take their burdens to Jesus - place their sins on his shoulders and be forgiven for their wicked ways.

As you can probably tell, the conversation had its heated arguments between the two. But the real blow-up came when He and She were about ready to depart. An inadvertent remark about the uneasiness they had been feeling brought all three Generals to the "front" to fight for their causes. The uproar became loud and furious, and finally breaking away, He and She fled across the lawn with the three voices screaming after them: "You must come to club with me sometime!" - "I'll ask the Priest to come and call!" - "There's an opening coming up in our organization - greatest bunch of guys to work for." - But He and She had "had it", and early the next weekend He planted a flowering hedge of "Pity and Contempt" (deeproot variety) between the houses...

After such an experience, for a while they made no further effort but mingled with their friends and concentrated on their usual activity of "leading the good life." But the unease continued, and one day, acting upon their little 1's suggestion, they decided to try and get to know the family Above. It was dark when they started out, and the path between was rather difficult to follow. Guiding his parents' footsteps, however, was little 1 with a flashlight to show them the way that was so familiar to him. Music poured soothingly from the Above house, and the lamplit windows shone a gentle welcome through the dark. He and She were warmly greeted, and they spent a most pleasant evening. The Aboves were a very "different" type of people than they were used to, however, and though the conversation was stimulating and for long moments at a time their unease vanished, He and She found it difficult at times to understand. She felt more at home than He did for some of the things that were spoken of were echoes of a few of the books she had read, and she could follow them part of the way at least. He, though, when the uneasiness started creeping around him, had to fall back on his old friends "laughter" and "scoff" in order to feel comfortable again. At the end of the evening, when they reached their home, they discussed their visit - admitting that they had enjoyed it, but tacitly agreeing not to repeat it too often. They had no time for "figuring things out," and no desire for study which they would have to do if they were really to understand their neighbors the Aboves. (And there was a strange inner knowledge that maybe once they understood they wouldn't like themselves very much.) So, before many days passed, He planted a hedge on the other side of their house - "living the good life" had to be enough. And the name of this variety of hedge was Fear, sometimes called Ignorance. (Seedlings obtainable from the nursery at Procrastination.)

Suddenly, one day, the Planning Commission of the City in which they lived, decided that all the houses on The Surface had to be evacuated and torn down to make room for the coming highway (U.S.Future) and everyone had to move on.

Moving Day was utter confusion, as moving day always is. Mrs. Below came in to say "Goodbye" over the hedge. The whole Below family was elated at the move they were making. They were off to settle in the big city of Retrogression, and Mr. Below had a promotion and would now be working in the Home Office of his company which was located there. For Mrs. Below there was, of course, a much larger variety of organizations in a city of that size, and she was looking forward to expanding her good work. Even her mother was happy, even though she had to leave her Priest, for his best friend had a large church in Retrogression, and he had given her a letter of introduction as well as the information that in the city were more churches per capita than anywhere else on Earth.

The Aboves had moved out the week before, seemingly content on going to a little known town called Advance, though how they could ever be happy in a place with such a small population after living on The Surface, no one seemed to be able to comprehend.

Children 1 and 3 spent moving day in tears at the thought of being separated from their playmates. She consoled them as well as she could with the thought that they would make other friends - very much like them (which no doubt they would.) Finally they all piled into the car and suddenly tears came to She's eyes. "Our life here hasn't been the happiest in the world, and yet I feel rather sad leaving the old place. I feel as though I had misplaced something or other ... Are you sure we haven't forgotten anything?" He patted her on the shoulder and laughed away her tears. He reminded her that most of their friends were moving right along with them, so they wouldn't be lonely in their new home. (It wasn't as though there was any choice, it was the only town in which they could all make a living.)

And so they drove off to their new abode in a district called Flatland, where they had awaiting them a house in the middle of the block on a street named Repeat.

And they all lived ever after.