Keepers

Sean MacKendrick

People like me, Keepers, Cleaners, Librarians, whatever label you want to use, we like to debate which of the Words is the most important. Is it any surprise we all think whichever word we maintain is the best? Thing is, a lot of people around here who don’t work on the letters at all, they have opinions, too. Opinions they sure don’t mind telling you.

 Most say “HELP” is the most important because that’s the real meat of the request. What is the whole point of the message, they’ll ask, if not to ask for help?

And, sure, no argument it’s an important word. But I say, if anyone does see any part of the message, if they see those three words etched miles long and wide across the ground, they’ll come. If they can read it, they’ll come, and talk to us about it. Then we can ask for help in person.

So if you ask me, “US” takes the lead in terms of importance. It demonstrates our unity even in these times of such desperate need. Who needs help? We do. Us. Our community. We’re neighbors, and families, and we’re together. We’re not a bunch of “ME”s, we’re an “US”. It matters.

Which just leaves “PLEASE,” and there are plenty who will advocate on its behalf. Not me. There’s no dignity in pleading, even when you’re dying. Like they would read our request for help and ignore it because we didn’t grovel properly without that last word? No thanks, that’s not the kind of help I want.

The U, the letter me and mine take care of, it’s forty-five total square miles of earth, reading twenty miles tall if viewed from above the clouds. And the S is just as big. People say, “PLEASE” is three times as many letters and is written in just than twice the space, it’s small and polite and therefore is dignified. I say, exactly, it’s tiny! If it was so important, we would have made the room. No, it’s “US” that takes the space and demands notice.

My family has kept the U straight and clean and standing out in sharp relief for seventy years now. And I dare say it’s the best maintained. The walls are straight, the floor always exactly two hundred feet below the surrounding land, clean and level. Black soot mixed with dirt covers every inch along the bottom, clean white chalk contrasting the edges.

Some people, not so many now, they say it’s a waste, and we should plant crops at the bottom where they would be protected. My grandmother says this whole part of the country was filled with corn and wheat fields way back when. So what? Carving words didn’t destroy the food. Whatever is killing the plants did that damage before we ever dug out a single letter.

Also, and not to keep piling on, but that same grandmother I mention? She tells me the third word was carved into the landscape years after the first two were already old. It’s not part of the sentiment so much as an afterthought.

You’ll hear plenty of thoughts on who it is we’re asking for help. God? Aliens? Some old batch of humans that fled to the moon and are developing the technology to come back and clean our air, revive our crops, reverse our plummeting birth rates? There’s faith, we just aren’t all sure who our faith is in.

Whoever they are, no one knows for sure if they’re ever really coming. Not truly. Not if they’re being honest with themselves. I sure don’t know, and I won’t pretend otherwise. But one thing I can tell you: If someone from way up high does read The Message? They’ll have no trouble making out the U. It’ll be sharp and clear.

November 3rd, 2023

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