The Rider

In the days of old, days of revolution and unrest, the watchmen appointed a rider. Though imperfect in many ways, as all souls are, they wanted him for their army and for this specific task, not just for his able body and horsemanship, but also because of his intelligence, passion, purity of heart, and his deep love of freedom and truth. Freedom, they solemnly whispered, as they presented him with the gifts of a dark horse and twin lanterns, requires calm reason and endless vigilance. And thus began a lifetime of insomnia for the rider, as he endured the trial of waiting for the right time to ride. They told him he would know, but it was not that clear when he would know. The first time he saw bombs bursting into the night sky, he began to gallop down the road, but the watchmen stopped him. Those were just fireworks, they laughed; the real bombs would come later. And so the rider returned to the stables. Every night he prayed, stayed awake, and read the communiques, pamphlets and the books of classic philosophers. When pamphlets warned of death and taxes and the communiques spoke of riots, the rider would begin to saddle his horse and fill his lanterns with oil, but then he would hesitate. The riots might be isolated disturbances; the pamphlets might be exaggerations of the heated moment. And so he would walk from coffee house to coffee house to confer with other watchmen, but they were divided in their assessments. Some wanted him to hurry up and ride; others saw no reason yet to ride whatsoever. It seemed it would never be midnight. It seemed as if the whole weight of the revolution bore down on his breaking shoulders. It seemed as if the revolution were a dream or fairy-tale from another continent. The rider saw riots, read pamphlets, and heard the thunder of bombs blazing like roman candles. The watchmen whispered. When they were terrified, he tried to remain calm and calm them down. When they were nonchalant, indolent or apathetic, he tried to rouse them from their sleep with glorious words. Some nights, it did indeed just seem like fireworks. Some nights, he fell asleep in the saddle after hours of deliberating as to whether the thunder outside meant that he should ride out. The rider began to hate the revolution, but he hated tyranny even more. Every night, he stayed awake to pray and read, wishing he could have time to think, or better yet, to sleep. There were nights when the lanterns seemed like the chains of a prisoner. There were days when he wanted to shoot the dark horse. And there were times when in the innermost secret places of the heart, the rider felt that the watchmen and the tyrants were a gang of thieves working together, but he could not prove this. To make matters worse, he could neither commit to fearing this nor resigning himself to it. It only made him feel sick and tired. The horse was getting old, and the rider was no longer a youth. Most nights, he allowed himself to sleep, to sleep and dream of four horsemen who rode out and absolved him and freed him from his excruciating, maddening life of insomnia and sleepwalking. Revolutions are endless and they devour their children, he often thought. The midnight would never come.