Today I was upset to discover a military bunker in my backyard, halfway between the azaleas and wisteria. Topped with sandbags and a machine gun nest, it was closely guarded by several grimfaced men in uniform.
Having just mowed my lawn the previous weekend, I was certain no armed outpost existed there before.
Cautious to avoid tearing my pants on the barbed wire loops spread throughout the rose bushes, I gingerly stepped towards the men.
-What are you doing here? - I demanded - This is my backyard!
One of them saluted before speaking. - Your private security force with orders to defend your home against all intruders, sir.
- Orders? What orders?
-Sir, we’re here to defend your life and property, your very identity, actually. That’s our orders.
He paused and looked at me somewhat strangely.
- Sir, we’ve been assigned here from the beginning.
- From the beginning?
- Sir, you’ll need to give any new directive to our commanding officer. We can’t make any change in the original order except through him.
The situation was becoming increasingly absurd. I went back inside. Once in my bedroom, I couldn’t sleep, puzzling over how these security guards managed to operate out of my backyard all these years unbeknownst to me.
Long after midnight I returned outside. By moonlight I could barely make out the commanding officer’s silhouette. As I approached, he saluted.
-Sir, one of my men reported you wished to speak with me. We seldom receive communications from a client; I hope our service has been to your satisfaction. What can I do for you?
- You say I’m your client for protective services? I asked.
-That’s right, - he replied - Our agreement took effect at the moment of your conception and is set to expire at the hour of your death, unless the order is countermanded. And to tell you the truth, rarely has anyone changed an order.
While he spoke, I observed the surrealistic panorama, a machine gun barrel gleaming in the moonlight poised against my internet-ordered ivy trellis.
-OK, I give up. - I exclaimed - If I demand you leave my premises right now, that I don’t require your services any longer, will you go?
-Well, ultimately you are in charge. But are you sure about what you’re asking? Do you understand the disastrous results of a radical, large-scale disruption of full perimeter security? The peace you’ve been enjoying is directly due to our continuous presence in your life.
-How can you say that?
-Because we’ve been here protecting you all along, as ordered. Just fulfilling the original contract.
-What on earth are you talking about? What contract?
I was at the end of my patience.
He reached into a battered leather satchel at his side and withdrew a sturdy folder, my name embossed in large letters on the front.
-For your review, sir.
I took it from him. As I began to look it over, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was dated nine months before my birth and signed by me, but not in any ordinary ink. What I beheld on the page was the signature of my fears, my need to stay protected, and a certainty that without this protection, I would die.
I hadn’t paid much attention to the clause, written in the tiniest print, stipulating the contract would remain in effect throughout the entirety of my life, regardless of my growth, my capacity to take care of myself, or my ability to develop skills for discerning between different levels of threat to my existence.
-I can see you might need some time to let it sink in, sir. Making any change to the original contract at this point would require a major redirection of assets. Remember that when you agreed to our protective services you wanted to ensure that you wouldn’t easily change your mind, which made termination unlikely.
I looked around at sentries posted throughout my yard, each one sworn to my protection.
The contract had clearly been in effect throughout all the seasons of my life, despite all and any breakthroughs in my awareness, despite my personal or spiritual growth, acting as an invisible restraint, an energetic fortress keeping me within a certain perimeter, allowing only a limited degree of free interaction with the outer world before activating interior security alarms, and lockdown gates as firm as any of reinforced steel.
-But keeping these soldiers occupied for all this time must have cost a fortune!
-Yes, it is quite costly. But sir, if you will remember in the original agreement, you accepted full responsibility for the maintenance fee. Our entire funding comes directly out of your personal energy budget. Of course, the sum doesn’t show up on your bank statement- it’s deducted as a direct deposit from your mental and physical energy.
A wave of weariness settled over me. I sat down by the tool shed, next to an artillery emplacement I hadn’t noticed before.
What if I decided to take his advice, at least for the moment? He spoke with such confidence and concern for my safety. Besides, if I were to change the agreement, how would I defend myself if there were an enemy attack on my backyard?
The officer continued.
-I highly recommend you go back to bed, sir. You can think about all this again in the morning. But for now, you can sleep peacefully, trusting you’re fully protected, with nothing to worry about. Leave the security to us, as you have from the time you came here.
A nightingale sang from amidst the moonlit trees. A murmured conversation between the guards gently rose and fell while the steady hum of cicadas provided a background soundtrack.
All of a sudden, like a bell ringing in the night sky, I knew what I had to do. I looked out over my backyard, ready to see it clean and free of soldiers, barbed wire, sandbags and artillery emplacements.
I turned to the commander and spoke.
-I hereby terminate our contract. You and your men will pack up their gear and depart before the first light of dawn. I now take responsibility for my life and for the protection of who I am.