the other side of the hedge

by john


i read a short story recently by e.m. forster. it is a beautiful story that is about humanity and the way we choose to live. you can read it here. i’ll share some of my favourite parts with you.

the story starts off like this: “My pedometer told me that I was twenty-five; and, though it is a shocking thing to stop walking, I was so tired that I sat down on a milestone to rest”

this story is about “walking” – about how we are always trying to go “forward”. right at the beginning of the story, the word “milestone” is used, indicating that some type of progress is being made and indeed, that progress is measurable. the word “milestone” in my mind is a corporate cliche. it resonates with me that it’s being used this way.

“And I had already dropped several things — indeed, the road behind was strewn with the things we had all dropped; and the white dust was settling down on them, so that already they looked no better than stones.”

the author makes no mention of what these things are. when i read this, my first thought was of our dreams, desires and passions that we neglect. those many things that you want to try or used to love but gave up because they got too heavy – how are you supposed to live your life carrying so many things when there is such a long way to go? a choice must be made between the things you love. how do you choose?

“The road sometimes doubles, to be sure, but that is a part of our discipline. Who can doubt that its general tendency is onwards? To what goal we know not – it may be to some mountain where we shall touch the sky, it may be over precipices into the sea. But that it goes forward—who can doubt that? It is the thought of that that makes us strive to excel, each in his own way, and gives us an impetus which is lacking with you.”

the main “character” who is actually you since the story is written in first person, meets a man. this man shares with him his surroundings and shows “you” the path that you have been walking on. the above passage is spoken by “you” – it is taken as common knowledge that we are walking “forward” – but are we really? we don’t know the goal or where we want to go, but we walk forwards nonetheless. there are milestones, but no destination. the main character then scolds the man for having no motivation to walk forward.

“This is where your road ends, and through this gate humanity—all that is left of it—will come into us.”