Once upon a time, a small tribe of fleas lived upon the surface of the Earth. They existed and survived by feeding upon whatever small detritus and debris they could find in their immediate vicinity. I’m not sure what fleas eat, but whatever it is, this little tribe of fleas was able to eke out a meager existence and survive from one generation to the next.
The Earth upon which the tribe of fleas existed was sparse and unforgiving. The ground was hard and impenetrable and could support no plant or animal life whatsoever. The digestible items that the fleas fed upon came down from the sky in intermittent waves; the tribe never knew or could expect when the next downfall of sustenance would occur. Were they in the middle of a famine or just about to be inundated with nutrients? Who could guess? Nonetheless, the flea tribe employed a witchdoctor who would dance about on the ground in an entreaty to their almighty for their next abundance. Sometimes the deity listened, sometimes it did not. Fickle is the Father of the Fleas.
Now it should be recognized that fleas are jumpers of renown. It is a natural skill imbued to them, but unfortunately the skill that comes so naturally to them, as the spark of impetuous curiosity is imbued to a chimpanzee, was muted, shackled and discouraged. The elders and other authorities within the tribe always discouraged jumping in their youngsters with tales of danger and fear.
“If you jump too high, you will break through the protective veil of the Earth, fly off the surface of the world and never return” was the usual refrain. And, because the flea youth was taught to obey their elders, no flea had jumped in ages. Yes, yes, there were always tales whispered after bedtime of the fleas who had gone before who braved their fear and jumped. Those enlightened fleas existed for a time and taught other fleas of their innate jumping nature. But those fleas had vanished into oblivion, never to be heard from again. “Where do you think he went?” or “He surely fell from the Earth and died after he surpassed the veil” was the usual rhythm of these conversations.
One day, as the small tribe of fleas went about their daily routine, the Earth beneath their spiny feet suddenly began to shake and move. Panic swept through the flea village as the Earth moved first up, then down and then up again. Sometimes the movement was long and sweeping whereas other iterations were short, sharp shocks to the steely ground beneath them. And then, just as suddenly as the movement began, it ceased. After a short period, once the fleas had regained their flea composure, a quick tally was made only to discover that several of the tribe had gone missing after the Earth-shake.
A search was mounted and flea search parties were sent to the four corners of the known world to search for their lost brethren. All returned without having found the lost fleas. When the last of the search parties returned empty-handed, many assumed that the Earth-shake must have thrown the poor souls off the Earth, through the veil and into oblivion to be lost forever.
Contemplating this horrible possibility, a young flea named Iam wondered to his friend, We’are if it would be possible to jump only straight up and land again on the silvery Earth beneath them. “Is it possible to jump straight up and land exactly where you jumped from? This way you would not jump off the edge at all, but be able to survey a larger distance to seek out our lost flea-brothers!” We’are was intrigued by an idea so radical posited by his friend, Iam. But We’are had reservations.
“But what if one jumped so high that he wouldn’t return to Earth at all?” asked We’are.
“Surely that is impossible,” answered Iam. “Has that ever happened before? The friends that we lost in the most recent Earth-shake were lost because they fell off the edge of the Earth, not because they ‘fell upward,’ no?”
“This is true. Nobody has ever jumped to such a height straight up. They must return to the ground. And if that’s the case, then where’s the harm in jumping? And, we might spy our friends,” said We’are.
And with that, both Iam and We’are decided to test their theory. Once they found a spot sufficiently removed and hidden from the elder fleas who would surely admonish their actions, they began jumping in place. At first, their jumps were small; but with practice and bravery their jumps became higher and higher. Finally, Iam jumped so high as to be able to observe all four edges of the Earth. He was astounded at what he saw and the perspective his jumps provided. From his great height, Iam yelled down to We’are waiting on the ground.
“We’are! I can’t believe it! I can see the entirety of our Earth!”
“What do you see?” We’are asked.
“Everything! It’s so small!”
And with that, Iam finally touched back down to the ground, grabbed We’are by his carapace-covered shoulders and shook him. We’are immediately asked,
“The Earth is ‘small?’ How can it be small when it is literally everything we know?”
“Jump and you will see, We’are. You will see that there is so much more! We haven’t seen it properly because we have been so fixated on what was right in front of us, but with only a little distance from what we so intimately know, we see that our Earth is but integrated into a larger but sovereign whole. All we must do to fully realize it is to step through the portal of our own limitations. Jump!”
And so We’are jumped and he too saw the vast world beyond the silvery mechanic’s wrench upon which their village had lived for untold generations.
With this new revelation, Iam and We’are traveled to their elders to disclose what they had discovered: that their village was but a mote upon a mechanic’s wrench and that they had made this discovery by (safely) jumping in place to great heights. While the elders were initially displeased with Iam and We’are’s secret actions, they were too intrigued and curious to let this new information to slip by unexamined. So in short order, several brave fleas also jumped to similarly high altitudes to confirm Iam and We’are’s claims. Upon reporting their findings, the flea council convened.
“We must fully study this wrench. We must know everything about it. We must discover its secrets and we will stop at nothing to learn everything there is to learn about our Earth, this wrench.”
Shortly thereafter, a special investigative flea commission was formed to study the wrench in all its aspects. What was it made of? How did it work? What did it look like? What was its shape and dimensions?
After much study and discussion, the flea commission reported back to the flea elders on what they had discovered. They gave an exhaustive report and even included some of their unanswered questions as well; aspects of the wrench that they could not discern. The flea commission and the elders agreed that yes, while they were able to answer a great many questions concerning the wrench upon which they lived, mysteries still remained. With this acknowledgement then, the commission was constituted to remain in effect for as long as was necessary to remove any mystery at all about the wrench that was their home. “There can be no aspect of this wrench left unexamined!” exclaimed an elder.
Of course, others fleas within the tiny flea village dismissed out of hand that their home could be a wrench; the idea was preposterous. “Everyone knows the Earth is the Earth. There is no mystery there!”
Eventually, flea life went back to normal. The tiny flea village returned to its hard-scrabble existence and fight for survival with only a minor mention from time to time regarding the new scientific notion that the Earth was nothing more than a steel wrench. But even this grand revelation impacted the villagers only slightly, so determined they were for their own survival that they had little time to ponder the implications of such a discovery.
As it came to pass, Iam and We’are were having a quiet lunch one day when We’are furrowed his brow for a moment, looked up and suddenly asked, “Who turns the wrench?”
“I don’t understand. What do you mean?” responded Iam.
“I was thinking about our recent scientific discovery and all the commotion regarding what the flea commission reported, but they never once asked, ‘who turns the wrench?’”
It was at this point Iam realized what We’are was asking.
“Of course!” exclaimed Iam. “A wrench is nothing but a tool. But who is using the tool itself? And what is he fixing? I have been a fool! We have all been fools!”
We’are and Iam rushed to the flea elders with their new question, but to their surprise the flea elders were completely uninterested.
“You come in front of us with questions and not answers? What good does this serve?” asked the oldest and wisest of the elders.
“But sir,” entreated We’are. “We have discovered that there is so much more to learn. Merely describing the tool does nothing to advance our knowledge of our place in the universe. There is so much more!”
“No,” replied another flea elder. “There is still much to learn about the wrench. Why does it reflect light as it does? How hard is it? How much does it weigh? These questions merit investigation, not speculation on what lay beyond the wrench! We are interested in facts, not guesses or supposition by the likes of you.”
Iam and We’are retreated from the elders with their heads hung low. They had been publicly defamed. Slowly they realized that the elders were not in their position because they were wise (that much was obvious). They were called ‘elders’ after all; they were simply the oldest fleas in the tribe. They held no special attributes other than their age.
With a defeated look, Iam murmured, “We are on our own, We’are.”
“I know,” replied We’are. “I also know we can never return to a life in the village suspecting what we suspect”
Iam responded, “I agree. How can we? Now that we know that the firmament under us is nothing but a tool owned by a workman whose use occasionally causes Earth-shakes, I now have so many more questions! Who is the workman? What is he working on? Are there other tools? Is he fixing something or building something? Why did something break that now requires its repair?”
To this, We’are continued, “our flea elders are foolishly fixating on nothing but a tool in a workman’s belt and don’t wonder about the workman! How do we convince them to step through the grand portal of curiosity and accept the tool’s existence? Why don’t they simply ask larger questions about the larger reality of our existence?”
Iam looked down at the ground and hesitated for a moment before saying, “They can’t.” Iam raised his head, looking into We’are’s eyes and continued:
“We’are, fleas will be fleas and can only be fleas. They lead flea lives and have flea thoughts. They have flea desires and enjoy flea entertainments. But at the end of their short flea lives, they will not have the ability to see beyond the edges of our wrench-Earth and wonder what lay beyond.”
“Perhaps it was our jumping that gave us the new perspective and expanded curiosity; how can I say? All I know is that our elders did not jump nor did they glimpse the workman’s workshop that surrounds us; they are blind to its existence in spite of their knowledge of the wrench. Because of this, they are hopelessly lost. The horrible and pathetic irony is that they feel knowledgeable because they can describe an insignificant part of the great machine with great detail; this stupid wrench upon which you and I ignorantly stand.”
We’are responded with a small amount of flea indignation: “I certainly don’t feel like a flea; not anymore.”
“Of course you don’t! Neither do I!” exclaimed Iam. “We have lifted the veil of oblivion and glimpsed beyond it. I must know more.”
And with this silent flea understanding, the two turned toward the edge of their Earth, took a deep flea breath and jumped. They did not know if they would survive nor did they know what horrible truths they might encounter if they did survive.
Nonetheless, they jumped anyway. All they had ever known was behind them now as they plummeted to the shop floor into mystery. They had stepped through the grand portal of curiosity and left the Incunabula behind.