We spend our whole lives building a walled city

Christopher McHale
5 min readNov 19, 2023
Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

Think a medieval city. Narrow streets, cobblestone, shuttered shops, twisty lanes, empty.

We walk through our city. It rains here quite a lot. There are some sunny days, but mostly it’s overcast. At night it can get very dark. That’s when the shadows leave their corners and deep alleys and walk.

You might wonder what’s on the other side of the walls you so laboriously built. You hear things from outside the walls. There’s life out there. You think sometimes to climb the steps and look, but you never do.

It’s much safer in your walled city, alone, walking, sad, happy, restless, weary, but safe. Safe is the most important thing.

This is how it feels to withdraw from the world. Not like some holy man living in a cave. That’s myth. No one lives their life like that. No. Living in private walled city is how many of us live, sometimes in the midst of busy lives. Sometimes as moms or dads.

It seems to me as we get older the walls get bigger, stronger, unassailable as we walk those empty streets.

Photo by Manson Yim on Unsplash

I love living in the cosmopolitan cities of the world. London. Paris. New York. Chicago. Tokyo. I love their density and humanity, but I see people walking down streets. Especially older people. Perhaps a cane in hand. A small bag of groceries. Slowly walking down the street. Eyes downcast. Ghostly. Behind walls of their personal city. Casting shadows even on a cloudy day.

I sometimes speak to them, greet them, make small talk, connect, but mostly they ignore me. Maybe a perfunctory smile. A glance. Pale eyes peeking out from behind the walls.

This is how it feels to withdraw from the world. Not like some holy man living in a cave. That’s myth.

I am in my city. It’s safe here. Leave me alone. Undisturbed. Surrounded by shadows. My shadows are not my friends, but at least they are familiar. They know me. They change shape and engage me in a dance. I know all the steps of the dance. I know the routine. The music plays. Slightly out of tune. The music plays and then we dance. The same dance, though I will say, I wish I understood better the things my shadows say as we dance. They whisper to me, you see, like a lover, intimate as we dance. I am fascinated as my shadows flirt with me, and dance again and again.

You see that is what it is like for us. Our wounds never heal. The dance never ends. We don’t want it too. All the therapies in the world, all the prayers and chants and magic crystals and voodoo, the psychologists and priests and life coaches, all of it serves our wounds but never heals. No one can ever breach the walls of our city. If they do, if they breakthrough, then they join the shadows. That is the best we can offer them. Join the shadows, but I am on my way. I need to patrol my walled city. I am busy in here.

So, you might say, how do we escape our walled city? How do we open the gate? How do we take a walk through the countryside? How do we get out of there?

There’s things I must say here. Things that are tough to read for some. Because truth is what it is. We spend our lives building our walled city. We built these walls. They are ours. We created the shadows that live there. The shadows are not alien creatures from outside the walls. They were forged and shaped by one set of hands. Ours. There is nothing in our city that we didn’t create. Not one stone. And there’s no escaping. It’s impossible. Not only impossible but we have no desire too. Why would we? We created this. Day by day. And if by luck you live long enough the city may not be beautiful or a thing you’re proud of but it is yours. All these twisty streets and shuttered shops and shadows are yours. You are the architect of your city.

So all I can offer you is to own these streets. Love these shadows. Oh, we haven’t mentioned love yet. It’s the answer. Not in a trite way. In more of an energetic frame. Love is not a magic thing. It won’t make the shadows go away. It won’t make the walls fall. What it does is much more powerful than that. Love will allow you to surrender to shadows. The shadows are, after all, yours. Love will allow you to step back and look at the walls and see the intention in every stone. You built them after all. Why? Love will show you why. After all.

Love is not a magic thing. It won’t make the shadows go away. It won’t make the walls fall. What it does is much more powerful than that.

What am I saying here? Don’t waste your time trying to escape the walls you so carefully built. You can easily get lost out there and then what? True alienation from yourself lays out there. It’s why I am so against many therapists and priests. Surrender to who you are. Eat your sins. That is the forgiveness you seek. This is your city. Built by your hand. Own it.

When you do the bridge over the most comes down. Someone might cross to touch your hand. A kiss is a possibility. And other transformations. The shadows can become gentle spirits. Laughter might ensue. It is all ridiculous after all. I mean the things you did and thought and were so sure of, the many things that built these walls. Your walls. Your streets. Your city.

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Christopher McHale

Writer | Composer | Producer | Human | Christopher writes about creativity, culture, technology, music, writing. www.christophermchale.com