Kevin drew on his pipe and leaned his head back in his chair. His favorite chair. He had felt like he had been running, physically running, for nearly his whole life. Not for any reason other than he felt like he had to keep busy. Kevin felt like there was a responsibility to move, move, move. It was a break from tradition from what his parents taught him. His drive to compete and succeed puzzled them. But they did not plead with their son to change his ways. Instead they gave him time to decide for himself what was important. It was his choice to make.
An old friend taught them that.
Kevin drew on his pipe and smiled. If he was being honest, he didn’t care much for the pipe other than the aroma of the smoke as it swirled around his head and the room. It was a sensual pleasure he had enjoyed for as long as he could remember. The smell of that old pipe meant he was home. The rare leaf released a warm, pungent odor into the air, and made just about everyone who smelled it think of trees. And mountains. And winter.
Kevin was born in the mountains, high and far away, on a bitter cold night (though he never remembers being cold). The winters were cold, but for the village he was born into, the winters were the most joyous. A year’s worth of planning and work and dedication all came together during the winters, and the village where Kevin lived came alive.
But it wasn’t like the charging and dealing and working and grinding and running that Kevin had known later in life. The village where he had grown up was a community, small but close. Communal. There was a common goal, and no one person worked harder than the other, and they all worked together. For a common goal.
To serve others.
Kevin was raised in the mountains, high and far away, under the shadow of a man the entire community loved and cherished. A man who had lived most of his life being busy himself, until one day. One day, when that man’s life changed. And as quickly as it changed, it changed again, on the advice of a stranger. Kevin only knew this man after he had lived his life in the mountains, teaching people the importance of serving others. And though Kevin knew the lessons, it would be years before he understood them.
He left his mountain home for the city at quite a young age. Kevin was smarter than many other kids, and his intelligence allowed him to move to the city and get an education at some of the finest schools. The challenges he faced invigorated him, and he found himself drawn to the life of problems and chaos. It kept his mind busy. He was adept at solving problems, and people needed him. He was drawn to the chaos. Drawn, but not fulfilled.
Kevin finished his schooling, and joined the working class atop a steel mountain in a concrete jungle. The days turned into nights, the months turned into years. He continued to solve problems in the world, he continued to be needed by others. Kevin thrived on being someone others turned to, and did his best to enjoy the rewards of his labor. He was drawn to the chaos of solving problems in the world, other people’s problems. Drawn, but not fulfilled.
Before he knew it, Kevin had lived more of his life in the city than he had in the mountains. He had exchanged the warmth of the trees and the meadows and the love of the village back home for the cold reality of steel and glass and an empty flat in a city of millions. Loneliness crept in, as it does when the days go by in a blur. Kevin realized he wasn’t truly solving problems in the world. Not really. He was fixing things that continued to get broken because people broke them. People broke their relationships, and their character, and their integrity, and self respect. People broke these things trying to serve themselves.
He remembered the lessons he’d learned from the man in his village, the one to whom everyone looked. The one with whom everyone loved. Kevin remembered the lessons, and then finally understood them. With a smile and a long draw from his pipe, Kevin understood. The man in the village who, once he was much older, smoked the same pipe on occasion. The flushed cheeks, his cheerful smile. The bright red coat he had found the night his life had changed forever.
Kevin had sold his flat in the city. He sold nearly everything. He felt broken himself, but didn’t need others to fix him. He was drawn to solving problems, and he knew exactly how to fix his own. Kevin sold nearly everything and decided to start anew. He began with a letter back home, and then he wrapped up his few belongings into his satchel and walked out of the city for good.
The money that Kevin made from his things allowed him to purchase the silver bells and other supplies he would need. Canvas wrap, small wooden toys and seed. Just like when he was a child. He found a cozy place in the country, close to the people who were hit hardest by the problems of the people from the city. The people who needed Kevin most. He found his little cottage, complete with a fireplace perfect for keeping warm.
Kevin counts the years now. He counts the years he is serving others, spreading hope with a silver bell. He no longer feels like he is running, running, running. He keeps busy, but no more so than the others. He returned to his village for a while, to the mountains high and far away. But it’s the little cottage away from the city he calls home. The winters are bitter cold, but they are the most joyous. Especially now with all of his grandkids running around his chair as he snuffs out his pipe.
Just like when he was a child.
[Author’s Note: I’ve been daydreaming as of late. The cold weather, the holiday season, a roaring fire; they’ve all gotten me thinking about how much I love this time of year. So joyous. This short story is part of a greater universe first explored in the tale “The Kingdom of Winter”. “The Kingdom of Winter” is an origin story about the jolly fat man in a bright red coat who brings presents. I think you know who I’m talking about. Anyway, to learn more about the lessons Kevin has learned check out the book “A House in a Field of Reeds”. That’s where you’ll find “The Kingdom of Winter.”]