The Parable of the Glass House

Once upon a time, at the corner of Pellucid Street and Chary Lane, there lived a man with a most interesting house. All the man’s neighbors were fascinated by the house, and I’m confident you would be too, for this house was built entirely of glass.

Every beam, bolt, and bolster of the three-story building was comprised of completely transparent material. As a result, the house appeared to sparkle in the sun and to glow softly under the light of a full moon. This aesthetic quality required a great deal of upkeep, however. The man spent every day polishing the great glass panes of the house to keep it clean and clear. (If you were to stand outside the northwest corner of the house and look down through walls and floorboards, you could see row upon row of Windex spray bottles – a lifetime supply stored in the basement!)

The man made a spectacle of cleaning his already-spectacular house. Passing cars slowed as curious drivers took in the sight. Children gathered in clumps outside to watch, giggling as he squeegeed the last drops from the walls with a flourish. The children’s parents clumped together, too, watching the man and whispering to each other as, every week, the man bowed to his audience, reentered through his glass front door, and locked it with a tink.

Even though his cleaning was done, many neighbors lingered in the man’s yard, pretending to talk to each other, but really watching the lone inhabitant of the glass house. (For all their interest in the house, none of them knew its owner’s name. With the street signs for Pellucid and Chary planted at his corner, they took to calling the man “P.C.”) They observed as P.C., after locking himself inside, sat on his glass couch to watch glass TV. Their eyes followed his path up glass stairs to his office, where he read glass books, careful to avoid glass-paper cuts. In the evening, if any neighbors lingered long enough, they might see the man prepare dinner on a glass stove and eat it with glass utensils. (The food, though stored in a glass pantry, was not made of glass.) A few hours later, he could be seen retiring to his bedroom, located at the highest point of the house. When the moon was bright, he looked like a small action figure, lying on a glass bed.

Each night, as he gazed out the window, P.C. prided himself on his house’s transparency.

“Who else is brave enough to let strangers peer into their own bedroom?” he asked himself. “Those opaque houses don’t take near as much work as I put into my house.” And then he waved eagerly, because someone on the street below had just looked up at the house. They didn’t wave back.

Weeks passed, and P.C. continued his daily ritual with Windex and squeegee. The glass house continued to glitter. Small crowds gathered to watch him, when they had time to spare. They murmured speculatively among themselves after every of the man’s cleaning performances. As he reentered the house and closed the door behind him, meandering about with as natural an air as he could put on, P.C. snuck glances to make sure his neighbors were still paying attention. He feigned watching TV so that he could count the people in his yard, and on the days when everyone had left before dinnertime, he grouched. On one such day, he was so upset that he retreated up to his bedroom early. When a young boy on the street threw a pebble at the bedroom window, P.C. hollered, “Leave me alone! What do I have to do to get some privacy?” The children scattered, and P.C. fell into a restless sleep.

The truth was, P.C. had been keeping track of how many people gathered outside his house every day, and his numbers had begun to dwindle. Try as he might, he could not bring attendance back up. He pulled elaborate stunts with pulleys and precariously balanced stepladders, hoisting himself to dangerous heights in an effort to further beautify his glass house and regain his audience. But you can only look at a glass house for so long before you start to see through it. His neighbors had lost interest in the spectacle.

After one particularly hot afternoon, dripping with sweat and Windex, P.C. turned away from his house to find that his audience consisted of only three: a mother, her daughter, and their dog. Of the three, only the canine seemed even vaguely interested in the glass house’s goings-on.

With that, the glass-home-owner resolved that he would win back the neighborhood’s attention once and for all.

P.C. rose early the next morning, before his glass alarm clock even began to chime. Preparations began immediately for his most elaborate cleaning yet. As the early morning crowd drove off to work, they wondered what P.C was up to now; he would stop to wave at them as they passed, then return to his work. He strategically set up glass stilts in the yard and anchored loops of glass rope over the eaves of the house until he was sure he could transparently traverse the entire perimeter without ever touching the ground. When he was done, it looked as if an ice storm had torn through the yard overnight and left dozens of icicles in its wake.

Preparations took the whole morning, and by the time he was ready, the sun was high in the sky (“Perfect for making the house shine,” he thought) and a crowd had gathered, bigger than P.C. or his house had seen in weeks! Rather than fill up the grassy yard, the neighbors spilled into the street on both Pellucid and Chary, creating such a mess of traffic that the local news channel sent a cameraman for research and documentation purposes.

Peeking out from behind glass curtains, through which everyone could plainly see him, P.C. took a deep breath.

“I knew they would come,” he said, once again sure of his spectacular glass house and, therefore, of himself.

P.C. threw open his glass door with a dramatic flair. He was dressed in a pale blue suit to match the translucent angles of the house, with his trusty squeegee and spray bottle holstered at his side. He bowed low towards the crowd and gave the camera, which was broadcasting live, a reverent nod. With great solemnity, he strode out to the middle of the yard, carrying a large circular object of intricate craftsmanship. Back and forth across the object’s glass structure was a latticework of fine glass threads. The crowd ooh-ed and aah-ed as this glass trampoline refracted light across the yard; P.C. set it carefully in the center of his icicle-like layout.

He stepped carefully onto the trampoline. The crowd held its collective breath. Glass wires creaked under his weight, but held firm. With one eye watching for the people’s reactions, P.C. began to spring up and down – slowly at first, but soon gaining height. Before very long at all, he was bouncing a full story, story-and-a-half, two stories in the air! Cleaning utensils in hand, with intense concentration, he leaned forward and launched himself from the trampoline to perch on a carefully-balanced glass-stilted platform.

Just as he landed – very pleased with himself for doing so, I must add – something extremely unfortunate happened down below. It occurred to an onlooking child that the man, with his beakish squeegee and his coattails flapping in the wind, looked an awful lot like a great blue heron coming in for landing, and she let out a shout of laughter. At the height of both his jump and his pride, this laugh distracted P.C., and he stumbled. The platform began to tilt out towards the street, sending terrified neighbors running in all directions. Trying to regain control, P.C. stepped forward – and the leaning platform toppled back, smashing into the front wall of his great glass house.

Where the platform collided with the house, it left a small divot. P.C. froze, still on the platform, several feet off the ground. As he watched, the divot grew to a fissure which grew to a crack. He leapt from the platform to the bushes below, and just in time. The entire front wall of his magnificent, transparent house shattered into millions of tiny shards. What few neighbors had endured the catastrophe this long now covered their heads and fled.

Dazed and humiliated, P.C. raised his head from the bushes and looked around his yard. No one remained except for the cameraman, who stayed to report on the wreckage.

P.C. sat up, brushing twigs and slivers of glass off himself. Tears welled up in his eyes, and he was surprised to realize that they had nothing to do with the myriad of shallow glass-cuts on his hands. As the breeze drifted through the now-open wall, he realized that the glass house he had once taken pride in was utterly empty, and always had been.

He stood staring at the house, seeing it clearly for the first time. After a few moments, he heard footsteps crunching through grass and glass behind him. P.C. turned and recognized his next-door neighbor, who often stood up front during his daily cleanings. His neighbor put a comforting arm around his shoulder.

“You know,” the neighbor said, “I’ve always wanted to ask you about your house… but you shut the door so fast after your show.” He paused, taking in the nonexistent front wall. “I don’t think that will be a problem today.”

Both men looked at each other, then burst out laughing. For the first time in all the years they’d been neighbors, they shook hands and exchanged their actual names. P.C. showed his neighbor around what remained of the glass house and, only moments after realizing the house’s emptiness, he discovered value in it as he shared it with his neighbor.

P.C. also discovered that his neighbor knew a thing or two about home renovation. Within a few days the two had thrown a temporary wall up in the front of the house – this one comprised of plywood and duct tape rather than glass. A couple days later, P.C.’s newfound friend introduced him to a few more friends, who showed up with lots of supplies: rugs to cover glass flooring, cushions to soften rigid glass furniture, and cans of paint to replace the basement’s supply of glass cleaner. These friends stayed in P.C.’s glass guest rooms and made preparations for a new project. Together, they coated the glass house with paint, inside and out, until all that remained transparent were the ceiling (as a skylight), the windows (as a necessity), and the front door (as a reminder).

The line between transparency and vulnerability is hard to walk. It’s like a glass house; just because everyone can see everything you’re doing inside doesn’t mean anyone’s actually living with you.”

A friend (and the inspiration for this little story)

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