by Stephen Parrish
Illusions was Richard Bach’s encore to Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and in my opinion, his magnum opus as well. The novel is best summarized by a quote from its introduction: “…what if somebody came along who was really good at this, who could teach me how my world works and how to control it? What if I could meet a super-advanced … what if a Siddhartha or a Jesus came into our time, with power over the illusions of the world because he knew the reality behind them? And what if I could meet him in person, if he were flying a biplane and landed in the same meadow with me? What would he say, what would he be like?”
The following selection is from the prologue of the novel, and consists of a parable within a parable. In original form it appears in the author’s own handwriting, on journal pages smudged with greasy fingerprints:
Once there lived a village of creatures along the bottom of a great crystal river.
The current of the river swept silently over them all—young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, the current going its own way, knowing only its own crystal self.
Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to the twigs and rocks of the river bottom, for clinging was their way of life, and resisting the current what each had learned from birth.
But one creature said at last, “I am tired of clinging. Though I cannot see it with my eyes, I trust that the current knows where it is going. I shall let go, and let it take me where it will. Clinging, I shall die of boredom.”
The other creatures laughed and said, “Fool! Let go, and that current you worship will throw you tumbled and smashed across the rocks, and you will die quicker than boredom!”
But the one heeded them not, and taking a breath did let go, and at once was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks.
Yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom, and he was bruised and hurt no more.
And the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger, cried, “See a miracle! A creature like ourselves, yet he flies! See the Messiah, come to save us all!”
And the one carried in the current said, “I am no more Messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.”
But they cried the more, “Savior!” all the while clinging to the rocks, and when they looked again he was gone, and they were left alone making legends of a Saviour.
I first read this book as a teenager. It changed my life. I’ve employed its message, and to this day I refer to “letting go of the river bottom.” Which may explain why I’ve lived in Europe for 25 years, and why, despite being afraid of change, I moved there in the first place. And why I majored in math, even though I suffered from math anxiety (I got nauseous before tests). In each case I knew I would land safely, and I did. Bach himself was afraid of heights, yet became a pilot.
Sometimes stories take the form of parables. Sometimes their primary purpose isn’t to entertain, or inform, or even to pacify us on beaches and airplanes. Sometimes they’re meant to enlighten us, to change our lives. They have the power to inspire revolutions; Uncle Tom’s Cabin is one example, The Grapes of Wrath is another, Atlas Shrugged yet another.
One day something will rattle us, go viral, and cause peace and prosperity to break out on Earth. It might just be a story.
What do you think?
Click here to visit the book’s Amazon page.
The following wasn’t composed as a poem. I structured it as such. See if you like the result.
The Realm of Art and Science
Where the world ceases to be the stage
for personal hopes and desires,
where we, as free beings,
behold it in wonder, to question and to contemplate,
there we enter the realm
of art and of science.
If we trace out what we behold and experience
through the language of logic,
we are doing science.
If we show it in forms whose interrelationships
are not accessible to our conscious thought,
but are intuitively recognized as meaningful,
we are doing art.
Common to both is the devotion to something
beyond the personal, removed from the arbitrary.