Monday, December 8, 2014


When he was just a small child, his father showed him the tiny box. He was sat by the fire, drying after a swim in the lake, when his father produced it. The box was shaped like a coffin. His father told him that there was a piece of paper in the box and written on that piece of paper was the truest thing that a man had ever written and that a man could ever read. The man said to the boy, 'my father's father gave it to my father and my father gave it to me and now I am giving it to you. You can open it and read it any time you want. Today, tomorrow, years from now or not all. It is not an easy thing to know the truth but it is something you may someday need.'

The boy did not open the box that day or the next day or for weeks, months and years. As the boy grew to a man, he would just look at the box on the mantel. He felt a strange fear of it. Once, when he was drunk, he almost opened the box. But he didn't. He almost opened the box again on the day of his father's death. But he didn't. And he almost opened the box again when he returned from the war. But he didn't. And he almost opened it a fourth time when he became a father himself. But he didn't. Then, when his son had reached the age he was when his father presented the box to him he almost opened the box again, to read what was in it before bestowing it upon his son. But he didn't. And his son didn't either. And it sat there, a frightening thing, upon the mantel.

Finally the day came when he did open the box. It was the day his own son died. 'What could be worse than this?' he wondered and then he realised that he felt no fear of the box. The truth held nothing over him now but for the promise of some consolation. After all, his father had told him that despite not being an easy thing to know, the truth is something you may someday need. He never needed anything more than he needed something this day so he opened the box. He saw a slip of paper in the box and he took it out. He read what was written on the slip of paper. There were four words written on the paper. The first word was 'all'. The second word was 'men'. The third word was 'are' and the final word was 'liars'. He read those four words over and over and over again and then he placed the slip of paper back inside the coffin shaped box and closed it. Then he recalled how, just hours earlier, his son had mustered the courage to open the box and read what was in it before him. And he recalled how his son went out from the house and walked straight into the lake.

(Inspired by Louis MacNeice's The Truisms)

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