Fable: Leaning Tower

by Michael Yaworsky

          Humans. You gotta love ’em. Well actually, you don’t; there are a lot of reasons not to. But I think that mostly I do. But, why? With all our flaws, defects, and imperfections, why do we continue to have hope in our race, the human race? To answer that I propose a fable:    Imagine a race of intergalactic beings who have sent scouts ahead to observe Earth, analyze us humans, and report back to their superiors.…..

~                  ~                  ~

          “Well, Zborkq, what is your conclusion? Are these (wrinkles nose)… earthlings... worth sparing? Are they even worth our consideration at all?”

          “Well, Overlord Phustuurian, that’s a difficult one to answer. They’re a problematic species to be sure. Very… complicated. There are a host of perplexing considerations to take into account.”

          “But from your dispatches they seem to be more troublesome than they’re worth,” retorted the Overlord. “They’ve been given a planet of unspeakable bounty, beauty, and grandeur; they’ve been gifted with impressive physical properties and intelligence capable of mastering science, medicine, all manner of technology, and yet theirs is an unrelenting history of bickering, war, crime, despoliation of the environment, selfishness, misery, and on and on. Why – “why on earth” as I have heard them say – would anyone in the galaxy want them as neighbors?”

          “Well sir, the best way I can sum it up is with a story.” 

          “A story?”

          “Yes sir. If you will indulge me.”

          Overlord Phustuurian regarded Zborkq with a flinty stare. Zborkq judged he had only a few brief minutes to make his case, so he began.

          “Centuries ago,” he said, “in a sector of their planet called Italy, some people built a church with a clock tower. It was in a little town called Pisa. Well, before long, that tower began to lean.”

          “Its foundation was faulty. Or perhaps its design had not been properly translated into production.”

          “Evidently. The tower leaned further with each passing year. If left alone it would fall over entirely, and tumble into fragments.”

          “So, it was a failed project. A mistake.”

          “Uh… well, evidently yes, I guess it was.”

          “Why do you relate this tiresome story? I assume the humans dismantled it and repurposed the materials into something more useful.”

          “Er… not exactly.”

          “Not exactly? Get to the point, Zborkq. What other course could they possibly have taken?”

          “Well, sir, they… stabilized it.”

          After a moment the Overlord said, “I suppose that was an option. Provided they corrected the defect.”

          “Well that’s the thing, sir. They stabilized it…but with the tilt. These humans went, and continue to go, to great, you might even say heroic, lengths to preserve the tower… but only as long as it stays crooked.”

          Zborkq cast a glance at the Overlord, whose glowering countenance indicated that he was running out of patience. “You see,” Zborkq continued before he could be cut off, “tourists come from all over the world to see it. It’s become famous. It’s revered the world over. That’s the part I can’t really explain, sir. There’s something in the human constitution… they identify with the underdog, the rag-tag band of misfits. They have all sorts of terms for what we would consider undesirable traits, like quirky and maverick and lovable losers. They adopt the sorriest looking animals from the shelters. They even made the name of a hopelessly deluded dreamer into a laudatory adjective: quixotic. And they root for the Cubs and they love the Charlie Brown Christmas tree and they—”

          “The cubs? Cubs of what species? The what kind of tree? Who is Charles Brown?”

          “Examples, sir, when I get time I’ll tell you about them. The point is, sir, humans embrace imperfection.” He held up his hand to fend off an interruption from the Overlord. “I know, I know, to our race – and every other race in the universe – that’s irrational. It makes no sense.”

          “You tax my patience stating the obvious.”

          “But humans don’t shrink from it. That’s the strange thing! They even take some kind of weird solace in it. They seem to believe that it’s the quirks and imperfections that make them more human.”

          “More human? That’s preposterous. How can a human be any more or less human than it already is? It’s what they are. Stars are stars. Intergalactic travel is intergalactic travel. Humans are humans, right down to the sub-molecular level. Nothing can make a human more or less human. Only more stupid. Or closer to extermination. Why, these humans are insupportable!”

          “I know, sir, I know. And yet… and yet to live among their kind, to spend time with them, almost makes one feel the same way they do about things.”

          “Zborkq, have you gone soft?”

          “No. Yes; no— wait, I don’t know! And maybe that’s not the question. Maybe we should all be asking why we haven’t “gone soft.” Maybe “going soft,” or at least having the capacity to do so, is what makes a human human, or what makes a non-human able to understand and connect with them. Oh, I don’t know, sir, it’s all such a jumble. Here on our planet everything’s cut and dried. But on Earth it’s different. All I know is, I feel a very strong urge to preserve these Earthlings, even help them, despite all their faults. And believe me, they have one humdinger set of faults. Just listen to me, sir, and give them another chance. Please. I’ll be surprised if on further scrutiny and after giving it additional consideration, you don’t feel the same way.”

          Overlord Phustuurian considered this for a long moment while Zborkq stood by. Finally he said, “What is that you’re holding, Zborkq?”

          “This? Oh, this is called a “poster.” It’s—”

          “Yes, I am familiar with poster. You place it in your field of vision and it is intended to prompt a pleasant visceral stimulation or inspire an uplifting sensation. What does your poster depict?”

          “It’s… well, it’s the leaning tower, Overlord.” He paused, then offered tentatively, “Would you like to view it?”

          “Yes. Display it for me.”

          Zborkq did. Overlord Phustuurian examined it with some intensity. He was meditative for a long time. “Hmm…. hmm…. curious…. very curious….” This was followed by another long silence and more meditation. Then he emitted the closest thing his race could emit to a sigh.

          “Very well, Zborkq,” he said. “The Earthlings shall be spared. I will instruct my forces to spare that— that Pisa . . . tower… artifact… thing.”

          “Thank you sir.”

          He paused and seemed to ruminate further, then added, “I am putting you in charge of the detail, Zborkq. You are to see that the structure is not damaged.”

          “As you wish, Overlord.”

         After another pause and more rumination the Overlord said with emphasis, “By the cosmos, Zborkq, do not let any harm come to that tower! Do you understand?”

          “Yes, Overlord.” Zborkq smiled.

~                  ~                  ~

            The tower is still there. It still leans. Visit yourself and see. Be prepared for large crowds.            


Michael Yaworsky is a retired legal editor who lives in Rochester’s 19th Ward with his family.