Shorts – Adam Lark, “Circles”

“Everything arises…, opposites from their opposites.” – Plato (Phaedo, sect. 71a)

If you run, the world might call you a coward.  Eventually you might notice a difference between you and them, and so realize not to listen to them.  Their core complaint is that running is cowardice and stillness is bravery.

Adam Lark, for one, disagreed.  Running had for eons helped humankind survive all manner of trouble it was not ready to face.  In fact, standing still, Adam would postulate, was the cause of most worldly troubles.

Adam was pretty certain that Betty Ann Bartman knew this as well, because Betty Ann Bartman was trouble.  She was also terrifying.  Betty Ann liked the idea of stopping.

Adam concluded this in junior high school.  The laps for track and field always came full circle back to Betty Ann, and while he ran, she watched him from a booth over the field like a ready eagle.  He could feel her analyzing him, planning her descent always at that last lap, so to catch him, to make him stand still.  Nothing good could ever come of it.

So in senior high school, Adam switched to long-distance running and took the town.

But long-distance running was just a bigger kind of circle. Betty Ann got into an unpleasant habit of finding his towel while he was away, hoping he’d ask for it.  As time went on and towels became rather scarce, he decided to join the cross-country runners.  This helped for some time, but in the end this, too, was just a bigger circle.  Betty Ann was always waiting at the starting point to break his orbit and send him crashing into whatever plans she was weaving in those eagle-brown eyes of hers.

If he could find a way to truly run away, Adam was certain Betty Ann would find no way to catch him.  She depended on the circles of civilization. Civilization was, then, a kind of trap, a hamster wheel for the Cult of Standing Still.  The wheels might be electrical, economical, or political, but those who watched from the foci knew exactly where they went and could stop the gears anytime.  The terrible truth was, in civilization, there was never a trap a hunter couldn’t close on a runner to make him stop.

It was not long before graduation that Adam came up with a metaphor for this opposition between himself and Betty Ann.  Both Adam and Betty Ann were a kind of arrow.  He was a ray, shooting away from its origin point into infinity.  She was a shaft of wood with a poison barb at one end and brittle fletching at the other.  Her soul was that of a hunter—driven to move only in order to stop her target dead, which was the ultimate standstill.  And his soul, unlike hers, while at first glance similar, was in truth meant for higher things.

To Adam the call of “away, away” was like the pulse of his heart on his blood.  The drive of his body “to move, to move,” was every synapse in his brain.  He had a sense that these manifested an intrinsic part of his nature.  He also sensed they were something in and of themselves, a kind of being-immortal, a soul-source.  This call, this drive, this urge, was manifest in him strongly because he was a natural-born runner.  Or perhaps he was a natural-born runner because it had chosen to manifest in him.  Either way, the match must have been literally made in heaven.

But Betty Ann, liar that she was to call him a coward since junior high school for running away, must be the opposite.

Adam would never accept being called a coward because, like the gifts of the Spirit in Scripture that would not be spurned, Adam had another sense of something, the sense that this innate guide to his existence would, if ever he abandoned his quest, abandon him, and so leave the shell of him behind for some better, more faithful vessel.  Adam’s well-deserved punishment for such betrayal would be that Betty Ann, whose soul was that of the hunting beast (a match made elsewhere than heaven), would catch him in her talons at last, just as the devil catches the fool.

It was a Tuesday afternoon, not long before graduation when Betty Ann, keen to the route of Adam’s morning jog and all seven of its variations, first stated directly something of this insidious purpose.  She did have some skill when it came to the mad sprint, Adam conceded.  It was a decisive, sinusoidal approach much like a serpent.  Adam struggled to keep his feet under him as she appeared out of the gray haze of a morning fog.  He veered down a side street and she followed.

She said, “My mum’s been to see your mum, Adam.”

He gave her no sideways glance, just pumped his arms and continued his run.  He knew he could, if he didn’t lose focus, beat her for endurance.

Betty Ann said, “My mum thinks you’re a fine catch of a man for your stamina.”

Adam turned a corner.  Now he let the edge of his sight catch her avian profile, to encourage his instinct to spur on his speed.  His endurance won out.  Eventually, Betty Ann was forced to stop running, and go home.

Adam decided almost immediately after that to go to Europe.  There were universities with courses he preferred and he would run across Europe as he had run across the United States, and that would be that, so he did it.

He had not expected, however, that Betty Ann would claim an interest in Proto-European Anthropology, and so this victory was short-lived.  Once again Betty Ann Bartman perched herself on a high place, this time in Zurich, and aimed herself once more to stop him.  The whole of Europe was just another circle with another starting and ending point, and she was still the arrow and the hunter, waiting to strike him into stillness.

It was an academic advisor who inadvertently spurred Adam on the next leg of his pilgrimage.  It was this unassuming man’s duty to advise all athletes to pursue academic studies in tandem with sportsmanship, because eventually we must all trade the strength of our youth for the wisdom of old age to maintain our board and bread.  Adam considered this advice (though this pause gave Betty Ann a moment to gain ground) and what he might supplement for running should running become impossible.

Adam couldn’t imagine a life without running, but he could imagine with terribly clarity a life with Betty Ann Bartman.  So he communed once more with his running soul and its source, and at last (surreptitiously) declared his double major at the end of his first term. He would become an astronaut, and head to Mars.

He was careful to keep this decision from Betty Ann and even his parents, and so at last graduated with honors and moved back to the US with high hopes of high flight as a space explorer with NASA.  Betty Ann, who understood the need for high trajectory in any efficient attack, realized such heights were beyond even her.

But as he’d studied, Adam had grown troubled by something far more sinister than even she.  Circles became clear to him, even in the depths of space.  Everything moved in circles, but all moving outward, just as he had, into bigger ones, all running away from each other.  He thought on this for quite awhile.

At last, Adam decided that this fact only made the Cult of Standing Still more despicable. If humankind was not careful, the Cult’s deadly intent would corrupt the heavens themselves, turning the glory of creation into a trap.  Those who couldn’t break free from the cycle would never find Enlightenment.  In fact, in attempts to bring these musical spheres to a halt, the Cult would bring the whole universe to a standstill.

He had shaken Betty Ann loose, Adam thought, but truly it was the devil himself at his heels.  Although Adam’s space training took years, not only for interplanetary travel, but in preparation for his survival upon a harsh and unforgiving world, Adam found in this revelation the drive to persevere.  He had to reach outer space before the Cult of Standing Still managed it.  Mars was the frontier of human civilization, the New Old West. Like Leif Erikson or Ernest Shackleton, Adam would become a pioneer who would fight to survive, and leave a legacy worth running after, somehow.

The day of his mission’s launch came and the weather was clear.  Packed into a spacesuit at the top of a rocket, Adam rode with his colleagues to the International Space Station, and from there they boarded a sun-sailor, the first of its kind, the ship that would take them on solar winds to the new world of Mars and its nascent colony of scientists.  Adam had seen the last of Betty Ann before flying from D.C. to Russia for the takeoff and, though she was hardly so formidable as the devil, he was happy to think he’d seen the last of her forever.  The sky would never be the limit.

At the breakfast table one morning, about halfway to Mars, Adam overheard some of his colleagues discussing the nature of the shape of the universe and the old problem of the circles came back to him.

Pasha, a woman with considerable knowledge in physics, turned about a few plates and cups to demonstrate when he asked about it.

“If the universe has limits, and if it is not curved at all, the expanding movement we observe will slow eventually,” she said.  “A straight line is a straight line.  It will never really stop spreading out completely, but it will drift towards something like zero.”  She added, “If the universe turns out to be curved in a negative way, we will all eventually end up back where we started.”

“Like a circle,” Adam realized unhappily.

“It will of course,” Pasha went on, “be after so long that neither you nor I will exist.”

Adam thanked Pasha for her insight, and went up to the helm to think awhile.

Suppose one day humankind made it to the end of the universe?  They would find themselves back at the start.  If so, the devil wouldn’t let resistance to his Cult of Standing Still stop him. He would simply stay still himself where it all began, ready to spring his final trap.

Adam could hardly stand the thought without shivering from head to toe.  In the end, would the inner beast of all the Betty Anns, the arrows that had driven her side of the species, be there too, with the devil at the start, all in league with him, all waiting for the return of the arrow of inner light that had been gifted to all humans who ran to touch heaven?

Adam considered this for a long time.  Once again, the idea came to him that he, too, was an arrow, but an arrow always ahead of the one standing still.  Adam thought of this and he thought of this, and his thought began to shine with a certain truth, warming his innermost being. He was ahead, always ahead, ahead and running to the end, and such an arrow that kept on running would run until it doubled back.

Adam had, up until this point, been only focused on the getting away in his life, but this revelation was mind-blowing.  If he was an arrow that came back in the end, he was the final circle, together with the soul of all humankind that ran towards the unknown.  With this arrow, G-d would defeat the beastly devil and his followers, those horrid, taloned predators who used all other circles as traps.

In fact—Adam felt like his spirit had touched holy fire—before time began, the souls of all runners must have been set upon the bowstring of eternity and fired towards the beginning of the end to stop that great immobile gargoyle!  The devil sought to trap the world because he sought to avoid his fate, but that fate was fixed.  The arrow had been fired.  The devil and his beast would meet their punishment at the end of space and time, when together they would be shot through the heart and served up for dinner!

If Adam had been Pasha, he might not have thought nearly so hard about this.

And so, it came to pass, at the touchdown three months later, that Adam Lark of Earth first set his feet on the rust red dust of the planet named after War, and decided to start a religion.

After a nice long run.