THE WALLS WE BUILD
With no consideration, no pity, no shame,
they have built walls around me, thick and high.
And now I sit here feeling hopeless.
I can’t think of anything else: this fate gnaws my mind-
because I had so much to do outside.
When they were building the walls, how could I not have
But I never heard the builders, not a sound.
Imperceptibly they have closed me off from the outside
(C.P. Cavafy, translated by Keeley and Sherrard)
What are these walls that the Greek poet Cavafy talks about?!
I love this poem. It encapsulates the walls that we live within, walls that we in fact allowed to be built around us, without us realising. We didn’t hear the builders, we heard not a sound – and alas – we are now closed off from the outside world – enclosed within our own hopelessness.
Walls: they can be physical, emotional or spiritual. They are the ‘Walls’ we build in our quest for materialistic success, with our obsession with status and how we are seen in the eyes of others. Walls that see us drowning in selfies, designer handbags, vanity, snobbishness – walls that close you off to those who are not like you.
The walls we build can also be the societal, cultural and economic expectations of those around us. Get married, have children, live in a suburb, work for a wage slave that brings no fulfillment. Yes, all of these validate us, make us seem more mature, sophisticated and accepted, but do they make us happy? Are all of these institutions, all of these expectations, a reflection of your true self? Is there something else you would have rather done ‘outside’ that could have brought you fulfillment and true happiness?
This poem shows that we ourselves are the creators of our walls – the builders of our own prisons. Yet we try to justify these walls through various means: we deny the walls exist, we accept it as normal and what we want, we attempt to chip away at it through partying, alcohol, and keeping up the pretence that we are happy because we are like everybody else. That this corporate job that we have – with its nihilistic monotony – a job that sees you staring blankly at a computer screen at numbers, figures, names, abbreviations, statistics – is the perfect job. It pays a good wage, it means I can buy that brand-new car, go on that overseas trip, and live in that beautiful house which, in itself, becomes another prison – another wall.
And then there are those walls we build around us to emotionally shield us from hurt and pain.
How do we smash these walls? Indeed, can they be destroyed? Walls are thick, solid structures; they take hard work to put up – can they so easily be torn down? They suffocate us, drive us mad, in many ways spiritually destroy us – and deny us the freedom to be who we really are.
Breaking down the walls that existed long before we were born takes a leap of faith. It takes courage and daring. Only a few can break free from the stifling monotony that kills wisdom and beauty; that kills the spirit, that kills truth, that kills creativity. Only a few have the boldness to step into the outside world that symbolises life as it should be.
I have my own walls; do I have the courage to break them down completely?