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Monday, September 30, 2002

From the Outside Looking In


By Alexa Llewellyn




Sir Percival Politician and the Quest for the Holy Grail

Or, Are You Listening?

Have you ever had a project that wouldn't let you go? You go to bed, thinking about it. You wake up in the middle of night, dreaming about it. It's the first thing that you think about in the morning. You are haunted by the project.

You forget to say hello to your loved ones. You forget to let people go ahead of you in line. You are so focused on your project that you forget that you live in a world with other people.

Percival must have felt that.

The stories of King Arthur's court and the Holy Grail always include the romantic figures – Lancelot, Guinevere, Arthur, and the Lady of the Lake. The story is centered on the knights' search for the Holy Grail – in their mind, the symbol of compassion and love. No one remembers if or how the Holy Grail was finally found.

Percival was not Arthur's smartest knight. In my mind, he would be played by John Goodman. Big, oafish, and didn't move very fast.

Early in his search for the Holy Grail, he heard that the Cup was in the Castle of the Sick Knight. He rammed the door and galloped up the stairs – but he didn't find it.

So he spend years searching for the Holy Grail. He went to foreign lands, fought in just wars, saved ladies in distress, and worked the circuit of a merchant knight. His companions fell away. Some joined households to fight for a lord. Others became tenant farmers or merchants. Still others died on the road. But Percival continued. Something in his heart wouldn't let him let go of the search for the Holy Grail.

As he continued his search and grew older, Percival slowed down. He made time to help people along the way. He took a moment to see the sunsets, talk with the other knights, giggle with the village children, and enjoy the journey.

Finally when he was tired and old, he went back to England. Still searching for the Grail, he again heard that it was at the Castle of the Sick Knight. He knocked on the door and before making another frantic search for the Holy Grail, he first enquired on the health of the Sick Knight. The myth of the Tale of the Round Table states that with those kind words, the Knight showed and gave Percival the Holy Grail.

Politicians tend to be young Percivals. They ram the doors, they shake the ground as they rumble through the countryside, and their voices echo down the chambers as they frantically search for solutions to hard questions.

But at times, they seem to forget that the purpose of being a legislator is to create a more generous, more compassionate, more progressive city for its citizens. This does not only translate into legislation for more comprehensive programs, better services for the disenfranchised, and more funds for the homeless. It also translates into listening to what the citizens have to say and using their words to create a more compassionate city. It means listening to colleagues, often hearing the same speech a thousand times (after all, the colleagues’ aides have heard that same speech ten thousand times) – because sometimes there is a morsel of new truth in the speech. There can be a glimmer of the Holy Grail in unsuspecting places – even the words of a homeless person at Public Comment.

And who knows – these caring politicians might eventually find the Holy Grail.