The Old Man in the Tower

Old Man Tower smaller

There was and is a tower, a tall, dark tower.

One day, a fugitive – ragged but not lost – came to this tower.

The tower stood beside a wild sea, which constantly washed its face with spray. Day after day the sea would send clouds of cold spray high into the air, where some of the droplets splashed onto the thick, crystal windows of the tower.

The sea thundered on the rocks and covered the arriving ragged man with salt-water, but his only reaction was to smile.

Through the crystal glass at the top of the dark tower, an old man watched the world beneath him. Every day he would look out at the streaks of sea water on the outside of the thick glass. Sometimes he shuddered at the ferocity of the sea; at its determination to get through the crystal glass. At these times he wondered at the stupidity of the natural world, that it would waste such energy trying to get through his toughened windows to the place where he was safe. Science had given him the glass. He thought about the cleverness of humans, about everything they knew, all the knowledge they had amassed and how they had been able to store it so effectively.

His tower was a repository of such knowledge. Its white, winding stairway, which spiralled up to the top of the tower, was lined with expertly-crafted, curving shelves. These shelves contained every book that the old man had wanted in his long life. Many were unread; some were partly-read. A few – nine of them – lay on the large, oak table that was the main feature of the single room where the old man lived, high above the dark, rocky coast, and the relentless sea that spat against the crystal windows.

The old man became aware that something had changed in the out-there. His life had been marked by acute awareness and he trusted such instincts. He stood up from his task of rearranging the nine books, and looked down through the smeared, crystal windows at the sea-spray and the raging sea. Against the sea was framed the dark figure of the fugitive, staggering backwards towards the boiling foam.

“Nooooo! You’lll die in that deep!” cried the old man, his voice seeming to shake the entire top of the tower. The figure below seemed to be laughing up at him. Was he drunk or ill thought the old man? He gripped the lead window frames as though the panes of crystal glass were about to be blown from their secure places – and the horrors of the world let in…

Before he could object to his unfathomable decision, the old man found himself racing down his spiral staircase to the solid, oak door that was the only entrance to the dark tower. He swung it open and ran outside, skidding on the salt-slippery limestone into which the foundations of the tower were deeply bored.

The fugitive was on his hands and knees, being dragged towards the edge of the land by the howling wind and a draught of air so salty that the old man could taste it. As the old man rounded the tower’s base, the fugitive, kneeling in the spray, looked up at him with a light in his eyes, a light that did not belong to the storm. The fugitive held out his hands as a vicious gust of the salty wind threatened to spin him around and toss him into the dark sea.

Before he could understand how he had come to be there, taking such risks, the old man found himself clutching the dirty fingers of the fugitive–then the wrists, as the slippery flesh of the thin digits began to slide from his unpracticed grasp.

Minutes later, the two of them stood in the shadow of the tower. The old man was shaking with an emotion that made his throat feel tight. The fugitive was also shaking, but with the cold and the effects of his sodden clothing. The old man still had hold of the fugitive’s wrists. Laughing, the fugitive prised his hands loose, and thanked the old man for saving his life… but there was a gleam in his eyes when he said it. The fugitive asked if he might come in and dry himself. Mute, the old man pointed the way to the oak door, which, and inexplicably, he had left open.

They began to climb, but the dripping figure of the fugitive kept stopping.

“I’ve heard of that book,” he said, after each few steps, brushing the dust from the spines so he could more clearly see the name and author. “And you have read them all… how clever you must be!”

“I haven’t read them all,” the fugitive found himself responding as they climbed. Why did he feel the need to justify himself to this pathetic figure, he wondered?

“But most of them?” asked the fugitive.

The old man shook his head, exasperated at the truth being dragged from him. He clutched for something, but was aghast at what came out of his mouth. “I know where they all are!” he said, trying to bite back the words the second they were uttered.

After that, the fugitive said little, and their ascent was punctuated only by the dripping and slopping of the other man’s old coat on the white stairway.

They reached the warm chamber at the top of the tower and the fugitive’s eyes fell on the blazing wood fire. The old man motioned him to stand beside it. The fugitive continued to say nothing, but looked down on the heaving seas, below. As he did so, the sea lashed the crystal windows with such force that the old man shrank back to the far reaches of the circular chamber.

“It’s me she wants,” the fugitive said softly, staring into the black, ever-shifting mass of the ocean.

“Why does she want you?” asked the old man.

“Because of what I don’t know,” said the fugitive.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

27 thoughts on “The Old Man in the Tower

    1. Hi Robbie. There are two kinds of ‘knowing’. The normal acquisition of knowledge – as facts – is what most of us understand. The fugitive in the story represents another, and much deeper form of knowing. Though perceived as a fugitive, he is completely open to the wild world around him, and thus capable of being taught at a very different level… Or we could just enjoy the symbolism of the story.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Another thought, Robbie. This kind of story is perfect for a kind of meditation where we enact (in our minds) one or both of the characters, exploring their perspectives and feelings. This approach can throw up many inner meaning relevant to our selves and the path we are taking through life.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for your explanations, Steve. I knew more was intended with this story than the symbolism and, although that is very enjoyable, I do like to understand things properly. I shall think about your comments. We are looking at relocating, as a family, to the UK next year. I hope things pan out and they I can hopefully meet you all.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. This is a great story Steve and much deeper than it at first appears. I found it truly compelling and it will be something to ponder on today. These too men one who has trapped and almost wasted knowledge making it a show of possession and the other who instinctively knows the truth. Thank you you sharing this. I may not of understand the true meaning but you have given me food for thought.💜

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  2. I think no matter how many times we work on our course, or how many posts we read, or the wonderful books you all have written, there will always be more we can learn and grow from besides writing on the comments and meeting each and every companion. When I first came on board, I felt so stupid, for I struggled to understand all the symbolism. But I want to encourage everyone who is not quite sure of what this and that means that it will come to us, each in our own time and our own ways. We have all grown up differently- some with very happy childhoods and adulthoods, and we have not suffered much, while others perhaps have had to struggle – perhaps deaths in families when they were young, and perhaps other traumas and challenges of severe illnesses, etc. So it is no wonder that it takes a while to come to understandings of what is meant in these lessons.

    I am so amazed and in awe of the profound ways we are taught. It is far more than just learning will ever come close to being. It bears something almost magical, like suddenly being able to see and understand the birth and evolution of a star. When we learn these things, we don’t just function with new learning, but whole new lives, as if we have in a sense been reborn into some magical place with a whole new context of life and all that it entails. How wonderful to be able to do this. It may well be the very best gift we have ever received. I know I feel so much lighter and I have gotten back some of my creativity that has been missing for a long time. But most importantly, I am getting back the whole me! Thank you good folks all. Everyone adds a whole new dimension to this never-ending (we hope) story!

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