The first part will not take very long. It is something we have spoken of before.
Allister liked to make eye contact as he walked. He liked to make eye contact and smile. There was something connective, something that needed to be found even in those that avoided his gaze. Quite often, there was a hurriednes happening. And Allister sought to break through. His eye contact and smiles led to many a different response (hugs, handshakes, friendships, enemies, phone numbers, cups of coffee, games of billiards, tears, and more than several punches to the gut). But, those are parts of other stories. For this one, we need only know that he did, indeed, feel that calling to look for open eyes.
The second part involves a calling of another sort.
Allister's friends, Tungsten and Regina, were chair-eaters. And that is meant in the most literal sense. Tungsten and Regina both ate chairs. What kind of chairs, you ask? Oh, any kind of chair, I answer. Eating chairs was one of the many things they had in common. And it led them to a happy marriage. And, of course, there were differences between them as there are between even the most compatible couples. Tungsten, you see began by eating the cushioning because it was the easiest part to chew. He nibbled on the stitches until the fabric parted and revealed the stuffing (be it cotton, feathers, straw, or what have you). Regina, however, saved the softest and easiest part for last. She would begin with the solid parts of the chair, gnawing through the resin and stains and teethily whittling the legs (be they wood, ivory, steel, or what have you) down to toothpicks-which she would use to dislodge any rogue splinters in her canines and bicuspids.
Once in a while, Tungsten and Regina would eat a stool. But, mostly, they ate chairs. When asked, "Why?" they merely answered in unison, "It just feels right." They craved chairs, though they were not gluttonous. One chair a piece could take them an entire day or even an entire week, depending on the make and age of the chair. And some of the sturdiest feasts gave them leftovers for months.
Still, standing at Tungsten and Regina's kitchen table, an irrational worry (as many worries can be) built in Allister. His friends, indeed, ate only what they needed to be satiated. But, even so, if there were already two people with this implausible desire, one could assume that there were three and four and perhaps more. And did the world have enough chairs to feed them all while still giving the non-chair eaters places to sit? And, if not, where would we sit? Would we revert back to rocks and logs? And would the chair-eaters evolve/de-evolve into eating those, too? Allister asked Tungsten and Regina those questions and they answered, "Everyone has their limits." But, when Allister asked them what their's were, they answered in their in-unison way, "We're not sure." And, like many a conversation between friends, this one ended in an awkward silence that became soothing and gave birth to new conversations.
Eventually, Allister moved on to another town from Tungsten and Regina. But, they left as good friends do, with their differences intact.
Now, the third part is similar to the first part (in that it is about something we have talked about before) and the second part (in that it is about a calling of sorts).
Allister once worked in a coal mine. The pay was poor, but the living was honest. And all around Allister were men whose faces bore the marks and wear of years of tunneling (faces that had seemingly been smeared with dust in utero), whose shoulders and hands pushed through the rock and supported the walls even when the tunnels threatened to collapse. There was patience in all their sunken eyes. Each morning, they moved together as if a breath had inhaled behind them and exhaled into them. Their picks, slung over their shoulders, shot beams of the sun back into the sky as the owners and coal barons were slowly getting out of bed.
Once inside the mine, the miners traded sunlight for lamplight and went to work. It was dangerous work. This we know now and knew then. And the conditions were atrocious as we know now and knew then. And the owners and coal barons knew now and knew then that the conditions and the pay could be better, but they knew it would require more money. And they were, then and now, unwilling to lose money. Poor, needy humans were easier to come by.
But, one particular day, the miners walked towards the mine and stopped at its entrance. They planted their feet in the ground and stayed there. They had decided the mine was theirs. They had paid for it, in lost wages and lost lives, much more than the mine was worth. They had asked for better conditions, for better pay. Had even signed petitions. They had pleaded. And received no answer. There were many miners, too, who could not come down to the mine and had not been able to for some time-whose health had been compromised and whose racking, violently-loud coughs did not resonate beyond their modest shacks. And some would say that those words were just an exercise in melodramatic hyperbole. But, for the doubters, Allister had prepared a bluntly simple list of names. Pages and pages of names. All miners. All dead. Each cause of death a preventable condition.
Something needed to change.
And the news spread quick. The owners and coal barons sprang to their feet. They rushed to their conference rooms and jammed up each other's phonelines. They were already and always falling behind schedule, falling behind their estimations of what they could have. And this was not the first strike in the area. There was a pulse being felt across the entire country, in fact.
And, as the first day of the strike pressed into another day and another, the wives and children of the miners brought food and drink and chairs to sit on. And the owners and coal barons unleashed their usual arsenal and tried to hire strike breakers and scabs. But, the feeling in town had changed. The desperation and depravity of the down-on-their-luck people who would usually fill in as strike breakers and scabs was replaced with pride and a surge for something better. Unity was in the air and those that would be strike breakers and scabs, instead, stood guard over the miners.
Yes, the town was in full support of the strikers and their families. The bakery gave them free bread. The grocer gave them fruit and greens. And the butcher gave them his best cuts. The mine belonged to the miners’ and the miners belonged to the town.
So, the owners and coal barons called in the National Guard. And the National Guard confiscated all the miners’ chairs. When more chairs were brought by the families, the National Guard confiscated those as well. And, when the baker and grocer and butcher began to bring chairs, they were confiscated. The National Guard organized search parties throughout the town and any and all chairs were confiscated.
The chairs were taken into a small plank-board shed outside of town. The butcher (who had a tendency to snoop) saw this shed and claimed it was far too small to fit in more than a few chairs. And yet, time and time again, the town's chairs were collected and walked through the shed’s door.
But, the miners would not leave. They sat on large rocks, on tree stumps, and on the ground itself. And they locked arms behind the would-be strike breakers and scabs who had locked arms in front of them.
Rumors began to circulate that the owners and coal barons had hired a special force and there came the sound of marching in the distance.
The first to arrive at the mine was one of the coal barons, a gentleman named Mr. Stuyvessant. Mr. Stuyvessant walked up to the entrance and asked the miners if they would leave. He said he did not want to harm them and he only wanted what the miners wanted-for the silliness to end. The miners asked if their terms would be met and Mr. Stuyvessant would not give them a straight answer. So, the miners remained seated. And Mr. Stuyvessant said, “Have it your way.” He looked behind him and shouted, “Bring in the chair eaters!”
And, as implausible as this may seem (remember, I warned you implausibility would be a possibility), Allister watched as Tungsten and Regina led an army of uniformed chair-eaters marching towards the mine's entrance. Tungsten and Regina had been hired by Mr. Stuyvessant and his friends, paid to eat what they loved most. But, the workload had been far too much for two. And, when the National Guard had begun its rabid search for the town's rogue chairs, another search was started by Mr. Stuyvessant to find more chair-eaters. So, more were found and shed shifts were arranged and many a chair-eater's dream was realized. But, it became obvious on both Tungsten and Regina's faces that they did not know the context nor the reason for their never-ending meals.
They asked, in unison, “Where are the chairs?” And Mr. Stuyvessant pointed to the rocks the miners were sitting on. “We are out of actual chairs. But, people are now sitting on those.” And Tungsten, Regina, and the entire army of chair-eaters all responded in unison, “We will not eat those.”
When Mr. Stuyvessant asked, “Why?” they responded, “We have our limits.” And they did. The chair eaters would not eat any chair that was supporting someone.
And that was the end. Oh, not right away, of course. There were a few more days of striking. But, immediately after the chair-eaters refused, all present could see the tiniest crack in Mr. Stuyvessant’s stance. At that very moment, he was defeated.
Mr. Stuyvessant left the mine, followed by The National Guard and, retreated to his estate’s grounds. And the butcher (who had that tendency to snoop) peeked into a window and saw Mr. Stuyvessant fall back into a large and ornate chair and mouth the word, “How?”
And, back at the mine (because there were no chairs to sit on), all those who remained (the miners, their families, the would-be scabs and strike breakers, the townspeople, and the chair eaters) stayed on their feet and danced until the wee hours of the morning.
Unity should be a visceral thing. To place it in a heavenly body or a government building is to detach the most important element (in fact, the only necessary part)- the human part. If you do not know the feeling of unity, you will not know when it is gone. And, furthermore, you will not know that the ingredients are in inherent in you and need only be given to another to flourish.
From that day on, Allister made eye contact and smiled at everyone he passed because he felt the undercurrent. It was bubbling. And Allister was collecting. He was starting a union, a bigger one to fuel a bigger revolution. And those that would smile or nod or acknowledge Allister in any way were inducted.
And, to those that hurried by and avoided his glance with an upward turn of the collar, a targeted shove, or a purposeful glare back, Allister would smile even harder. And, once in a while, he would catch one of those people turning back to him with a little less malice, a little less ice. And Allister would know that their hardened shell had been given the tiniest of cracks.