Safe. Better than safe, safe and sound. What we all yearn for. To be totally secure against all injury, accident, illness, disease, misfortune of any kind. To recapture that moment when your mum closes the story book, tucks you up in bed and whispers, ‘Everything will be all right. You’ll see,’ and you believe her heart and soul for she is a goddess. She is all powerful.
Then you grow up.
The urge to be safe. For this we buy locks and bolts, security gates, security lights, put up barbed wire, fences, walls, hire henchmen, build fortresses, castles and moats, ramparts, air raid shelters, bunkers, take out insurance, have vaccinations against polio, TB and diphtheria, buy McAffee and Norton virus protection. To be safe. If only.
But it only takes a tiny germ, a poisonous bite, a falling tile, a careless turn of the steering wheel, just to mention the known unknowns. How many unknown unknowns lurk in the darkness ready, to trip, to trap, to ambush?
Oh, the dream to be secure, to be safe and sound. There was once a king, a very fearful man, always anxious about his wellbeing, always on the lookout for any danger that might befall him. A servant tasted his food. Nothing remarkable about that, many kings had the same provision. Seven burly bodyguards surrounded him day and night. The walls of his palace were armour plated and two feet thick. Anyone approaching the palace was searched and stripped of items that might be used as a weapon. Any surface he might touch had to be scrubbed and disinfected several times a day. A sneeze or a cough within his vicinity was punished by a year’s banishment. When on rare occasions he was obliged to leave the palace and enter the city, he was carried in a sedan chair with windows sealed against the coarse breath of the people.
As he grew older he became not less but even more self-protective, trusting fewer and fewer people. He no longer received ambassadors and emissaries in person. Each one was obliged to wait in an antechamber of the palace, pass a letter to a servant who, after it had been inspected for possible contamination, conveyed it to the King.
He withdrew into one room which he left less and less frequently. Eventually, not at all. But now he took some comfort in his isolation. ‘Now I am safe,’ he said to himself, ‘safer than I was before but not yet safe and sound. There are still so many dangers that beset me.’ He worried that someone might fire a bullet through the windows. He had the windows bricked up. This happened before the days of electric bulbs so the only light in the room was from a candle. But then he feared that the naked flame of the candle might spark a fire and burn him to death.
He sat in the dark of luxurious surroundings: velvet covered sofas, silver plate on a mahogany table, magnificent paintings and sculptures, a tiger rug on the floor, and he felt a little safer.
Until he saw a sliver of light above the one door to his room. He had the door sealed, sealed air tight.
Now no harm of any sort could enter to harm him. No human, no animal, no particle of poison could find any passage into his room and to his person.
Now he was safe. Not just safe but safe and sound.
(I came across the brief source material for the story of the King in a piece by a twelfth century Persian poet, Attar of Nishapur, included in The Way of the Sufi (1968) by Idries Shah)