Robert Alan Silverstein
was as if the door opened into another world. The chilly autumn
evening disappeared behind me as the door chimed closed. A
soft golden light, like a perfect summer morning, greeted
me as I found myself drifting silently inward. I felt dizzy
and distant somehow. A capsule of deep and beautiful silence
seemed to surround me, and caress me, and soft angelic music
drifted in and out of my senses.
My gaze sailed across the span of the room, which seemed so
much larger than it had appeared from the outside. Paintings
and photographs lined the walls, and books and CDs and more
pictures filled the rest of the room. At the back there were
tables and a coffee counter. PEACETOPIA, the sign
had said above the door. I had chuckled sarcastically before
I'd entered, but the tiny shop's name seemed so appropriate
I thought I felt voices calling out to me as I passed each
work of art. My body continued on, allowing me only a moment
to gaze at each picture. I walked ahead slowly in my daze,
until I realized I was standing still. I was looking up at
a painting -- or a photograph -- I honestly can't remember
which it was -- and I was completely captivated.
Was I staring into someone's perfect face, whose beautiful
eyes transfixed my own in a moment of absolute joy, drawing
me into her world of perfect clarity and peace? Or was I staring
into the crystal blue water of a vast wondrous ocean that
gently flowed on and on forever? Or was it a field of perfect
gold and violet flowers swaying in an endless splash of green?
I can't remember. I don't think I even knew then, but I knew
that I could not move, even if I had wanted to.
I stood there for I don't know how long. Time seemed to stop.
My thoughts ceased. A deep sense of joy filled my existence,
and I saw worlds and visions beyond imagining that disappeared
as fast as they came.
isn't it!" a distant voice finally whispered in my ear. I
blinked. The magic moment seemed to be shattering in slow
motion. Panic swept through me, but subsided, leaving me achingly
longing and slightly annoyed.
I expected to feel reality finish the damage that had been
done and come crashing down on me when I turned around. But
an old man was smiling at me, and there was something about
him that almost seemed to sustain the magic. I had seen him
when I came in, I thought. At the counter. He had long white
hair that fell around his shoulders, and a shiny bald spot
on top. His smile was warm and calming and genuine. His deep
brown eyes sparkled with something that reminded me of the
perfect moment I had tasted.
The old man turned away slowly, still smiling, and waved his
hand at the rest of the room. My eyes followed, and I saw
people browsing through CDs and gazing at paintings, or sitting
at tables sipping coffee as they leisurely leafed through
of them is traveling along the paths of their lives, searching,"
the old man began in a soft, soothing voice. "Some aren't
sure what it is they're searching for. Some think they know,
but need reassurance. Some think they have all the answers
and don't need to search. Most don't even realize they're
searching at all. But they're all here, anyway."
As he spoke, something touched me deep inside. But I must
admit, the rational part of me was a little uncomfortable.
I shifted my feet and tried to smile politely.
will find revelations here -- some just a moment's comfort,
or something new for their minds to puzzle over. But each
thing that they find is a key -- a key to their future, a
key to understanding their past, a key to their finding Truth."
He was silent for a moment, and I nodded, not really grasping
anything he was saying. Why was he telling me all this? I
listened to the music coming from a speaker somewhere to the
left. Very beautiful -- had I ever heard it before? It sounded
so familiar. I turned back to the old man, finally gathering
up the courage to excuse myself to look at some more paintings.
But he spoke before I could open my mouth.
been waiting for you, Robert," he said with a smile.
I should have felt scared, but I didn't. The gurgling feeling
inside me suddenly broke the dam of rational thought and temporarily
drowned my reasoning. "I've been waiting to find you, too!"
I found myself saying.
He put his arm around my shoulder and we walked together across
the room, like a father and the returning prodigal son. "It's
a great responsibility," he began. "PEACETOPIA is
a refuge, but only a temporary haven. No picture or story
or song found here in this shop is perfect, but to those who
are searching, there are glimpses of perfect worlds, visions
of absolute beauty to be found in each and every creation.
Some might try to use these books and paintings and songs
as an escape from a world they aren't sure how to be a part
of, or don't want to be a part of. We have to help them learn
to use PEACETOPA and all that they find within as
tools that help build strength. Havens of beauty that bring
comfort and insight, but which can only be indulged in for
moments at a time. We must never forget that we are alive,
and we must make the best of this world, with all the good
and the bad. PEACETOPIA can help them to cope with
the bad to get to the good."
My heart was pounding and all that he said made such perfect
only people wonder about life," he continued after a deep
sigh. "And only people need to find reasons for their existence,
and the meaning of life, the world, and the universe. There
are two keys that can help unlock our inner truths. The Love
that we share with one another, and Beauty in Art and Nature.
Love and Beauty are one in the same. And what is Truth? To
find love and beauty in all you see, and to try to bring it
where it is not found."
think I know what Love is. But what is Beauty?" I thought
as he paused. Before I could ask he was speaking again.
is not just a feeling or a need to be fulfilled. And Beauty
is not just a perfect thing, or a perfect sound, a perfect
feeling or a perfect place. They can be found in a smile of
joy, a feeling of warmth, hopes, dreams -- anything that brings
comfort to a living soul, even if just for an instant. For
in that instant of tasting love or beauty, our reality is
transformed. We transcend our ordinary existence and experience
a time and a place when our minds are filled with peace. A
timeless, spaceless place where peace really prevails on earth.
Where everything fits perfectly into the wondrously interconnected
web of life. And though it is only for an instant, that brief
glimpse of heaven on earth gives us hope and the strength
to try to do what we can to make this reality just a little
bit more like that shared wish for a better world."
He paused once again and his grip around my shoulder tightened.
"Are you ready for that responsibility, Robert?" he asked,
still smiling at me.
Yes!" I gasped. There were tears in my eyes.
go then," the old man beamed as we walked across the room
towards the door. "Go and bring back a work of beauty to share.
Something that will bring a smile, or a spark of insight to
somebody searching." He held the door open for me. "May Peace
Prevail on Earth," he whispered as I walked out the door and
was back in the real world.
The icy chill made me shiver and I pulled my coat together
around my body as I hustled over to my car. I got inside and
started it up. Looking back at the window beneath the simple
sign, I saw the soft glow coming from within, and I longed
to stop the car and run back inside PEACETOPIA. But
I knew I could not. Not until I brought back what the old
man had requested.
As I drove away my experience became more and more unreal,
and my mind was filled with confusion. What had just happened?
Was I crazy? I found myself recounting my life story -- to
reassure myself that I was a real person. My whole life seemed
so distant somehow.
I was 23 years old, two years out of college, traveling around
the country in my car for the last -- how long? 3 weeks...4
weeks? I had quit my job and sold everything, except for my
guitar, my camera, some clothes, a box of books, another box
of stories, poems, drawings and photographs, a box of pictures
I'd cut out of magazines and artbooks, and two milkcrates
filled with CDs. And that was about it. Oh, and $800 in traveler's
checks, left out of the $3000 I'd started out with. Not much
to show for 23 years of living.
After college I worked for a year as a salesman, spinning
hype and trying to sell people things they didn't want. Then
another year sitting at a desk, pushing a pencil over meaningless
numbers, and I had had it. Was I going to do this all my life?
There had to be more! So I went to find it. But I knew you
couldn't run away from your problems and expect to find all
the answers somewhere out on the road. But then I did, didn't
I! Or had I?
I thought as I drove away from the old man, "Where does it
all leave me now? I have $800 in my pocket, and no plans at
all!" I drove into the night, thinking about my life and PEACETOPIA.
Five years passed by before I set off back to see PEACETOPIA.
Meanwhile, I ended up going back to a regular old 9 to 5 job.
I found someone special, fell in love, got married. But all
the while, PEACETOPIA was in the back of my mind.
And though I went through so many dry spells in between, I
started to write stories again. Stories that I thought the
old man would be proud of. And I took photographs that I thought
might mean something to someone. And I longed for the day
when I could join the old man to help people to find themselves.
just need to go back there," I told my wife one day. I always
knew she never totally believed me about my mysterious encounter
at PEACETOPIA. But she loved me, and she didn't laugh
and say "I told you so" when we went back to that little town
and found there was no PEACETOPIA there. As a matter
of fact, the other shop owners assured me, there had never
been an art gallery, bookstore, coffeehouse or music store
in that tiny town, and certainly never any place called
I stood there numb and depressed, nearly letting the manuscript
in my hands fall to the ground. My wife patiently led me back
to the car. "Maybe it was another town," she suggested.
I remember this town as clear as day," I sighed, and threw
the manuscript I was once so proud of onto the back seat.
"It was right there," I said pointing at an empty lot, and
I felt the tears well up in my eyes as I climbed into the
my wife said softly after a while as we drove slowly away.
"If it means so much to you, why don't we open PEACETOPIA
I thought about that for a while, and felt comforted somehow.
I almost smiled as I watched the trees and fields drifting
slowly by. "But it takes a lot of money," I finally sighed.
"PEACETOPIA has to be big!"
she said cautiously, "you can start off with a small store
and take it from there." She reached back and pulled out the
manuscript. "You can get the money by trying with your book
again. It's good, you know. It's only a matter of time before
someone realizes it."
I looked fondly over at her. "I love you. Yeah, maybe this
time someone will publish it." We drove on and my heart was
filled with hope.
It took a while longer, but finally my book was published.
And though the advance didn't make me rich overnight, it was
enough to open PEACETOPIA.
You can find me there now, behind the counter, listening to
some new CDs I just got in, reverently absorbed in a book,
or sifting through piles of artwork, choosing those whose
beauty strikes me, and which I think might help someone, somehow.
I hope to have a bigger place someday. But for now PEACETOPIA
is a modest little shop. Not at all like that mysterious place
I can remember so clearly. But people come through the doors
every day; some just to browse, some to joke about my encounter
with the old man, to which I always just smile. And others
come hoping to find answers. Some don't find any, but some
do. And though they may not all discover revelations, I think
I've seen quite a few smiles.
1982, 2002 Robert Alan Silverstein