jimowenswrites

Reflections on Life, Leadership, Mindfulness, Change, and other Important Stuff

Tag: wisdom

The Miner: A Brief Existential Tale

With each hammering blow, flecks of stone and earth fled the miner’s violence, skittering across the ground around his feet.  He drove the shaft deeper and deeper into the darkness, resting only when the exhaustion overtook him, only when the strength was gone from his bleeding hands, when he could no longer endure the agony of his quivering arms and trembling shoulders. Only when the throbbing in his back was no longer a wolf wailing in the distance, but stood before him, head low, a ravenous, snarling beast, would he flee into restless sleep.

But even in his sleep the miner toiled.  He had become Sisyphus straining against the boulder’s weight.  Restless dreams of unconscious longing drove him as he pushed the cart upward toward the surface, the faint light above growing brighter with each step. The rhythms of his pounding heart and labored, disembodied breath paced him, until he would finally stagger into the white glare of the sun. Sometimes, in momentary blindness, he would stumble, catch himself, avoiding the untimely tipping of the overladen cart.  Other times, though, he would fall onto his already bruised knees, and once more find himself reloading the cart with the detritus of earth and rock.

Spread throughout the shaft, at seemingly random intervals, he would drive rough hewn timbers into the ground, bracing joists above them, reinforcing the ceiling suspended inches above his head.  The smoldering kerosene laden torches he hung throughout the shaft did little to cast off the darkness, spewing as much oily gray smoke as light.  The torches cast macabre shadows throughout the mine.  Occasionally, the miner would believe he had been joined by some wayward, fellow treasure-seeker, as he watched his own shadow dance before him. There were even times in the echoes of lengthening shaft, he would hear voices, someone calling to him from the surface, beckoning him to give up his labor, to abandon his quest.

But the miner would not—could not—heed their pleading.

“Just a few more feet,” he would mutter. “Just a few more.  Then I can rest.”

*****

The miner could not recall the exact moment his quest began.  There were times when he had pondered it, this longing for treasure.  Perhaps, if he had not found some success in his labors along the way, he would have given up long ago.  But he had found a few gems, some gold coins, and even a diamond or two over the years.  Never enough to make him wealthy, to be sure.  But enough to keep him going.  Enough to fuel his thirst, rather than to slake it.  Yes.  There were moments of clarity when he understood his madness.  But he had learned the skill of prevailing against the lurking sanity with which he wrestled.

He felt the earth trembling before he heard the sound of earth falling in the shaft far behind him. This had happened before.  It was nothing to concern himself with.  When the ground below him began to shake more vigorously he braced himself against the wall and waited.  A small fissure opened above him. The earth had righted itself once more, as it always had.  Realizing he had been holding his breath, he released it, eagerly sucked in another.   An eerie calm settled over the shaft as the final bits of debris fell from the precariously hanging ceiling.

The miner bent to retrieve his shovel and felt a single cool drop of water fall lightly onto the back of his neck.  He looked up at the fissure and saw more gathering at the its edges, moisture clinging to the rocks like a small child clings to his mother’s neck.  Another drop, this one larger, landed on his cheek, carving a path in the dirt and sweat of his face as it ran down to his jawline. Then the drops became a steady trickle.  He cupped his hands beneath it, letting it pool in his hands, then splashed his face and neck.  What good fortune, he thought.  From this fountain he could wash, drink, and renew himself more quickly for his work. Once again, he set about his task.

Lost in his effort, the miner had not noticed the water pooling at his feet until it had soaked through his well-worn boots.  His thin socks and worn leather boots were little match against the invading water. But he stayed focused, keeping at his work.  It wasn’t until the cart required another trip to the surface that he found himself concerned about the rising water.  This won’t do, he thought.  I will need to find some way to divert the water, or to seal the fissure when I return. But before he made his next pilgrimage above, he would need to set another torch.

In the small confines at the end of the mine, the torch illuminated the face of the walls better than he had hoped.  He gave his eyes time to adjust, taking a moment to survey his work.  That’s when he saw it—the walls of the mine twinkled like stars in a spring Montana sky.  He removed a dirt sodden kerchief from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his burning eyes.  Then the miner took his hammer and chiseled away at one of the glistening pieces of the wall, dislodging one of the glistening chunks of material.  He strained to focus is eyes upon it, to examine what now lay in his scarred and calloused palm.  His pulse quickened.  He would need the sun’s light to be sure, but he was almost certain.  Finally, after so many years, after so much back-breaking toil, he thought, this what he had been searching for.

*****

His trek to the top of the mine seemed interminable.  He had needed stop and clear several piles of debris from his path, remnants of the earth’s shudders several hours earlier, before he could continue.  Now seeing the daylight from above he quickened his pace. The light strengthened his resolve, fed him like a shoot of grain freshly emerged from a farmer’s field. He pushed forward, finally rising into the  late afternoon sun.  The miner pushed the cart a dozen yards or so from mouth of the shaft.  Not far enough to warrant tipping it, but far enough to justify reexamining the glistening piece of ore he had dislodged from the wall after months of labor.

The miner sat down on a bench he had crafted long ago.  One that he had moved from the mouth of shaft after shaft, the bench that had become an alter of disappointment again and again.  But this time, perhaps, it would become an alter of celebration. Gingerly, he removed the piece from his kerchief from his pocket into which he had folded his find. He wiped his hands on his pants leg as his eyes fully adjusted to the afternoon sun and unfolded the cloth.

His hands were trembling, his heart full of hope.  He fought to steady his breathing.  Then, as if pulling back the veil to this Holy of Holies, he pulled back the final fold of the cloth, revealing what he had hidden there.  The miner gasped.  He took it into his fingers, holding high into the light.  The stone glimmered with promise.  He rose, moving to the cache of supplies a few feet away, removing a small pane of glass.  The miner took the stone and scraped it across the glass, etching a deep, perfect cut across the glass.  Then he did again.   He returned the stone to the kerchief and returned it to his pocket.  Then he carefully examined then pane of glass.

Running his thick index finger across the etching, the miner, enraptured in the joy of his precious find, did not hear the rumbling in the distance—did not feel the movement of the earth below his feet. The only trembling he felt emanated from within him. He tried to still himself, tried to think what he must do next.  Long ago he had staked his claim.  Perhaps he should sell an interest in the mine—get some help with reinforcing the walls and ceiling and widening the shaft. He could buy some new tools.   His mind was racing—even as his body was weary. He staggered, shaking with from exhaustion and hunger.

Then the realization of what was happening spread through him. He struggled to remain standing as great waves of earth moved below him.  It was too much.  He fell.  Rose. Fell again.  Finally, he gained his footing and raced toward the mouth of the mine just in time to see the belching maw of dust and smoke, like a dying dragon of yore.  In abject horror, he saw the shaft collapsing into a tomb in which his treasure was now buried.

*****

Opening his eyes, the miner wasn’t sure if he had slept or fainted.  Wiping his face, crusted blood on his left temple he understood.  He pushed himself to his feet and found water he had stored with his cache of supplies and drained several helpings from a battered tin cup.  The miner patted his left pocket and felt the reassuring bulge of the only treasure he had rescued from several hundred feet below him.

He climbed a few dozen yards up the slope before him, saw the sun rising in the east, and surveyed the panoramic glory of the mountains surrounding him. Then, reluctantly, he let his gaze fall across the expanse of his claim, witnessing the destruction the quake brought.  One by one, he checked them.  The abandoned shafts dotting the mountainside into which he had dug had all been destroyed. A few, as if some kind of cruel deceit of the gods, teased him with varying sized apertures into which he might still squeeze.  But the one from which he had just emerged, the one which held the treasure he had sought for so long, was utterly impassable.

The miner stood in silent contemplation.  He heard the scree of a hawk in the distance—nature herself seemed to be mocking him.  In the distance, he saw storm clouds gathering. With time, the winds and rain would wash away every sign of his labor.  He heard a voice on the rising breeze.

Later, he would wonder about that voice.  Had it been nothing more than the hallucination of a mad man? Some atmospheric anomaly carrying a voice from miles away?  An apparition?  Whatever it was, he decided, didn’t matter.  In time, her words had brought him comfort.  She had revealed something deep inside of him.  Something buried like the treasure at the end of the final shaft he had dug.

*****

It had not been easy to come to grips with her revelation.

The overwhelming truth of what she had revealed made him sob for several days when he first heard her. But with time, even as his chest heaved in grief, he knew the comfort—the peace—would come.  The miner had long ago learned the difference between regret and grief, so he allowed himself the grief.  He let blade of truth pass through him again and again, each wound cutting away a bit of the not-so-benign tumor growing upon his heart.

The miner was clutching it when he died, that gem he had recovered the day the earth sealed the passageway to his dreams shut.  The gem had become a talisman to him—a thing to remind him of what he was and what he would become.  His death had been far easier than most of his life, but in the final moments before drawing his final breath, the miner was at peace.

While the gem might have secured a lavish tomb for him, he had never entertained such folly.  He was buried in a simple coffin.  Atop his grave was a simple granite headstone inscribed with an epitaph of his own choosing.

Here lies a simple miner who found his treasure. 

 

 

 

 

 

Epitaph

What creature these

All gathered here,

That lie and wait,

Near swaying trees?

 

Of deeds undone,

I hear them speak,

And wondering what

Must surely come;

 

From darkest tombs

They whisper still,

Of life’s remorse

Since mother’s womb;

 

They see now clear

In darkness’ light,

And wondering what

There was to fear;

 

And murmur still,

Each haunting voice

Such mournful tones,

I sense their chill;

 

No lesson half

That I must learn,

Each moment write

This epitaph;

 

“In this cold ground

There lies a man,

He took a chance,

He heard the sound;

 

Wandered astray

He roamed about,

And left the trail,

Some surely say;

 

Was there a choice

Or made for him

The urge to follow

His poet’s voice?”

 

Lessons from an Old Dog

When I throw the ball, he glances at it through cataract graying eyes, then stares up at me as if to say, Dummy. I’m good right here. You go get it.

He has trouble sitting down and standing up, but he’s moving better since the veterinarian prescribed some anti-inflammatory meds for his bad back and hip.

His hind quarters and hips are dotted with golf ball-sized lipomas (fatty benign tumors) that look painful but aren’t.   Still, I wince a little when I see them from certain angles.

When Bear gets excited—like when we go to the spa (the kennel where I board him from time to time) he has a tendency to forget the lobby is not the place for him to—how do I say this?— poop.  So yeah, I sometimes get stared at by the other pet owners there with their bright-eyed, well-mannered pups.  The place is nicer than a lot of hotels I stay in, so it’s awkward when this happens.  At least for me.

This morning when I went to his room—yes, you read that right, he has his own room that used to be my office—he didn’t move at first and I’ll admit I was afraid he’d died sometime in the night.  To my relief, he struggled to his feet and dutifully headed to the back door.  He knows when it’s time for breakfast.

Bear is thirteen-year-old yellow lab with a white face, a finicky, almost anorexic appetite, who let’s me have the privilege of caring for him.  In return, I get a limited amount of tail wagging, and his determination to trip me as he follows my every step around the yard and house.  Bear gives what he has to give, but truth is that isn’t much.

It didn’t cost me anything to adopt Bear.  I took him in when a friend posted a picture on Facebook and I learned he had been left pretty much alone since his owner had gone into a nursing home.  But since then, he’s cost me a lot of money.  Vet bills.  A new fence.  And, of course, a new vacuum cleaner that will suck the carpet off the floor—but somehow seems to leave more dog hair littering my hardwood floors than it should.  I’ve stopped counting how much I’ve spent because I’ve learned something really valuable in caring for Bear.

I’ve learned that caring for someone or something who really can’t give you anything in return is of immeasurable value.  Most of us willingly care for our kids, our spouses, and even our parents and other families if we need to.  Generally, we get something in return for that care.  It may only be the satisfaction of seeing our children do well, our spouses find happiness, or our parents living their final days in the warmth of our love. But we do get something in return.

As I write, I find Bear has given me something more than I could have expected from an old dog.  He’s helped me recognize the day may well come when I may need to be cared for and be unable to offer much in return.  Maybe, if I’m fortunate, I can offer a warm smile of gratitude, or speak the words that accompany it.  Maybe I will even be able to offer someone comfort, encouragement, and make them laugh.  But maybe I won’t.

In a few weeks, I will have the opportunity to emcee an event for an organization that offers help to the aged and homebound who can’t really give much in return for their help.  CASA, as it’s known, has been offering help in my community since 1979.  They build ramps, install grab bars in showers, deliver food, and a variety of other things for people who can’t do the things for themselves they once could.  The staff at CASA doesn’t do it for the money.  They don’t do it for praise or glory.  They do it because it needs to be done.  When I host the event, I will be asking the audience to offer their financial support to this organization so it can continue to do its work.  Somehow, Bear has made me want to do an even better job than I’d already hoped to do.

When I was sitting on the porch with Bear this evening it struck me that my relationship with him has somehow inspired me.  Maybe all this seems a bit strange—a dog inspiring me with more compassion for a human services organization.  But Bear keeps teaching me things I hadn’t expected to learn from him.  He’s helped me see my own frailty.  He’s helped me become more patient.  And he’s imbued me with an even greater sense of compassion for people in need.

Damn.  That’s some dog.

Popcorn Thoughts

These popcorn thoughts,

dancing on the sizzling skillet of his mind,

scattered kernels of corn, golden,

they crackle and pop, bursting into ideas, becoming words,

untold tales stopping by,

perhaps billowing into mounds of something worthwhile,

something that brings laughter,

something that teaches,

insight perhaps,

salted and buttered,

seasoned with a  bit of wisdom,

exploding from joy and sorrow,

gain and loss,

victory and even defeat.

Some confound and confuse;

some tease and amuse.

All scattered about;

some whisper, some shout.

Can there be some reason

for the thoughts that he seasons,

For these popcorn thoughts?

Fear of Flying: A brief fiction

 

The man sitting beside him made Mark uncomfortable.  Maybe it was the way the man was dressed—grey pants, grey button down, brown shoes.   Or it could have been the the length of his neck, the way it jutted out of his collar, almost like a turtle’s head poking out from its shell, just seemed unusual.  But whatever it was, Mark knew it was going to be awkwardly long flight—even if it was just thirty-five minutes from Huntsville to Atlanta.

  At least I have the aisle seat.
When the flight attendant made her final pass through the cabin, Mark was relieved to know their flight had been cleared for take-off.  As the Embraer’s engines slurped in oxygen and fuel, Mark took a deep breath.  The only part of flying he liked less than landing was taking off.  The rattle of luggage above him and the indeterminate sounds of metallic fatigue always unsettled him.  But he reassured himself that flying was the safest way to travel and that he had nothing to worry about.  Except maybe the man sitting next to him.  Guy looks like Ichabod Crane. 

 

As the plane relentlessly fought gravity and finally levelled off at cruising altitude, Mark’s heart jumped, just as it always did, when the roar of the engines faded.  He squirmed in his seat, his feet anxiously pushing against the floor as if to insure the plane didn’t lose altitude under reduced power.

 

“Nervous?” asked Ichabod.

 

Mark let out an anxious uh-uh, punctuating it with a nervous laugh and a “’course not.”

 

No matter how many times Mark flew, he could never quite seem to get over his fear.  Hell.  It wasn’t fear.  It was something closer to a controlled kind of panic.  With every bit of turbulence, every slight bit of yaw, and, God forbid, the unexpected crash of something in the galley, Mark beat back the dragons of terror.

 

“No.  Sure.  Of course not,” said Ichabod.  “Sometimes, for me, well, sometimes I’m a peaceful as a newborn lamb on a flight.  Other times, I feel like a hunted animal—heart pounding in my chest, breathing like it’s my last breath.  Good that you don’t have to deal with that.  Wouldn’t wish it on anyone.” 

Geez.  Now this guy is gonna talk my head off. 

Mark cursed silently, wishing he hadn’t forgotten his headphones.  Maybe, he could just close his eyes and the guy would get the message.  He leaned his head back on the vinyl, or whatever it was, cushion and found himself wondering who had last lain his or her head back in that seat.  He shuddered, visions of unwashed hair or worse racing through his mind and gently lifted his back up from the headrest.

 

“What takes you to Atlanta?  Going home or leaving?”

 

Short of being downright rude, Mark knew he was going to have to talk to Ichabod.

 

“Catching another flight.  On the way to LA.”

 

“Now that’s a long flight.”

 

“Yep.”  Mark wished he’d just lied and said he was going home.  But if the guy lived in Atlanta that might have lead to questions he couldn’t answer.

 

“Business or pleasure?” asked Ichabod.

 

Damn.

 

“Business.  Going to see a client.”

 

“Guess that kind of question is a little odd.”

 

Mark couldn’t tell if Ichabod exactly who the guy was talking to—it seemed more rhetorical than it seemed directed at him.

 

“Pardon?” Come on, Mark.  Leave it alone. 

 

“Oh, I just mean, it’s kind of an odd question.  You know, if you’re travelling for business or pleasure,” Ichabod offered.

 

Mark noticed the timbre of the man’s voice change.  Was it lower?  Or maybe it just sounded strange because of the pressure in his ears.

 

“You know,” Ichabod continued.  “Business or pleasure.  Seems kind like you shouldn’t have to pick.  Know what I mean?”

 

Mark was beginning to forget how uncomfortable the man had made him when they first sat down.  He noticed the man had impossibly long fingers and wondered if the man might suffer from Marfan’s syndrome—but even with noticing them, it didn’t strike him as odd as it might have earlier.

 

“I guess.  But work is—well, it’s work.  You have to make a living.”

 

“Oh, yeah.  Of course, you do, Mark.  But sometimes it seems like you have to mortgage yourself to buy little bits of pleasure.  Maybe they should be the same thing,” said Ichabod.  “I don’t know. I’m sorry.  I’m just rambling.  Forgive me.”

 

Mark thought about the fact he really didn’t enjoy his job.  It paid well.  Came with some nice perks.  It was respectable and occasionally satisfying.  But the truth was, he’d come to the place where he didn’t expect that much from it anymore.  Whenever he found himself depressed or discouraged about his job, he just pressed it down.  Kind of like how he pushed down the near panic of flying.

 

“Who do you work for?” asked Mark.

 

“Who?  Me?  Oh, I work for myself.”

 

“Doing what, Ich—?” Mark caught himself.

 

“Oh.  It’s nothing really.  Nothing important.  But I enjoy it.  Which is something, I suppose.”

 

Mark thought about the long flights.  The hotels.  The Monday morning sales meetings.  It was what he called excited misery.  The next deal.  The next client.  The next—everything.

 

“I don’t really like my job,” confessed Mark.  “I mean, it’s a good job.  Good benefits.  Pays the bills. Truth is, I wish I could just quit.”

 

Ichabod’s face flushed, as if he were embarrassed.

 

“Oh.  Don’t do that,” pleaded Ichabod.

 

Mark was confused.

 

“But I thought you said you didn’t think people should have to choose between business and pleasure.”

 

Ichabod apologized.  He tried to explain what he meant.  Or at least Mark thought that was what he was doing.  For a minute, all Mark heard was something that sounded like garbled voices when you were just close enough for two stations to occupy the same spot on the dial.  He cocked his head a little, like a dog hearing a high-pitched whistle.  That was better.

 

“…don’t have to, I think.  I mean it’s possible, you know.  To make it a different kind of choice.  It’s possible to find meaning in even the most mundane things,” said Ichabod.  “If you pay attention to the people around you—to how you make them feel, to the things you teach them, just by being present.  I think you can change the world that way.  But you have to pay attention.”

 

Mark nodded.  By now, he had forgotten his discomfort.  Ichabod’s confession that he struggled with fear sometimes, his attention to Mark’s anxiety, and his humility had been more than enough for Mark to let go of his irritation.  Ichabod made a certain amount of sense.  Anyway, it was something to think about.

 

Mark had barely noticed when the plane had begun its final descent onto the runway of Hartsfield International.  As the plane came to a stop and the cabin door had opened, Mark stood and looked at Ichabod.

 

“You getting off here?” he asked.

 

“No. Just a stopover.  This flight goes on to Philadelphia.  I get off there.”

 

“Well,” said Mark.  “It was nice to meet you.”

 

“Nice to meet you, Mark.”

 

“I’m Mark, by the way.  What’s your name?”

 

“I’m Sophos,” the man replied.

 

“That’s an interesting name.  Family name?”

 

“Well, yes.  I suppose.  It’s Greek.”

 

Mark could feel the push of hurriedly travelers behind him and said, “Guess I better get out of these people’s way, Sophos.  Have a nice trip.”

 

“You too, Mark.  Enjoy your journey.”

 

Mark fell in with the rest of the herd exiting the plane, robotically dragging his carry on behind him.  As he exited the jet-way into the terminal, he thought about the man’s name.  Sophos.  Unusual name.  Maybe he should look it up.  Mark thought his family had some Greek heritage, but he wasn’t sure.  He checked his ticket for the departure time of his connecting flight and noticed his name on the ticket.

 

Wait.  Did Sophos ever ask me my name?  How did he know my name?

 

He looked at his luggage.  Nope.  No tags.  His ticket had been in his pocket.  Did the flight attendant call him by name?  No.  He was sure of it. That’s just plain weird.  Mark thought about his encounter with Sophos the all the way to his next gate. When the Boeing 737 leveled off, Mark looked at the man sitting next to him. He could tell the other man was avoiding eye contact, trying to dissolve into his own private flight bubble.

 

“Hey.  My name’s Mark.  Long flight ahead of us.  Figure we might as well get to know one another.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If it had been a snake

it’s an uneasy thing to be taken by surprise, like this, when the clouds of confusion glide past the lurking sun and the bright light of awareness suddenly shines on my face and I realize the answer had been there all the time;

 

whenever my mother would help me find something that was lost or misplaced, like a book or my keys, or my wallet, she would say—actually, she still does—“If it had been a snake it would have bitten you,” when the thing was so right there in front of me that I just couldn’t see it;

 

it’s that same disoriented feeling of fear and excitement when you’re driving on some familiar piece of highway, lost in your thoughts, and you suddenly notice something and ask yourself, “has that always been there?” And for a minute you your heart beats a little faster and you get kind of afraid because you think maybe you’ve missed your turn, or worse, that you’re lost;

 

but then you realize you’re actually on the right path, and even though it seemed like it was taking longer to get there than you thought it would—than you thought it would—you’ve been on the right road all along;

 

it’s an uneasy thing—but a really wonderful, peaceful thing—to be taken by surprise like that, when you’ve been looking so hard for the answer and wanting to do the right thing and it has been there right in front of you all of the time and if it had been a snake it would have bitten you.

The Storyteller: A Brief Fiction

It was the first cold morning in months, as summer began to relieve its grip and autumn breathed its first true comforting breath of the season. The storyteller sat quietly—waiting.  In his right hand he held a cup of steaming tea from which wisps of fragrant orange and cinnamon rose to wrestle with his mothball fragranced sweater.  The storyteller’s simian fingers wrapped firmly around the cup with an incongruous delicateness, as though he was protecting some fine treasure.

 

“Are you ready to begin?” he asked.

 

The storyteller scanned the audience, taking note the small group who had gathered before him.  He thought he saw a familiar face or two.  But there had been so many that had come to hear him before, he could not be certain.

 

Taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly, he pressed his lips together a bit and nodded.  “Very well,” he said in a baritone voice that rasped from a tobacco withered throat.

 

“Once there was a man.”  He paused. “Forgive me—my memory is not what it once was.  It might have been a woman.  I cannot say for certain.  Yet, I do not think it matters very much.

 

“Once there was a man—he was a kind and gentle man—travelling along the path of a very long journey. He was not born to wealth or fame.  He was not brilliant.  Nor particularly attractive.  In fact, he was rather plain—a man with the kind of indistinct face that made others gaze at him, puzzling out vague inclinations of familiarity.  The man couldn’t count the number of times strangers had approached him, their voices a mixture of hope and curiosity, calling him by names that were not his.”

 

The storyteller paused once more, growling to clear his throat.  Then he took another sip of tea.

 

“What was this man’s name?” asked the smartly-dressed woman seated at near the edge of the semi-circle.

 

The storyteller licked the remnant of tea from his lips and wiped his unshaven chin with the back of his hand.

 

“His name?  His name?  Hmmm?  I cannot recall.  It will come to me, I think.  Forgive me.

 

“This man—or was it a woman?” he asked himself, forgetting his audience for a moment. “No matter.  The man followed the path before him, sometimes wandering through lush green foliage, other times he walked along barren dusty paths.  And yes, there were treacherous times.  Times when every foot of the path was filled with lethal jagged rocks that threatening him with each step.

 

“Occasionally, the man stumbled.  He would fall, leaving deep wounds on his knees.  His hands were marked with scars from the punctures and cuts inflicted upon him as he caught himself.  Once, he fell so hard and for so long he thought he would never stop tumbling.

 

“As he fell, the man realized his foot had slipped on some unseen obstacle. A rock, he thought.  Perhaps a root.  But whatever it had been, he fell endlessly down a steep slope, finally coming to rest among a patch of briars.

 

“His hands were bleeding.  His head throbbed.  He felt the the swollen wound on his temple and tenderly wiped away the blood. The man wished he hadn’t been so foolish and chided himself for not paying careful attention to his path.  He felt a sudden fear of death and a sickening bile rising in his throat.”

 

The storyteller paused once more, taking the final sip of tea from his cup.  Looking into the eyes of a young man sitting immediately before him, the storyteller offered a comforting glance.

 

“Did—did he—did the man die?” asked the young man.

 

The storyteller flexed his arthritic hands, then pressed a thumb into the palm of his opposite hand, trying to rub away the ache.

 

“Everyone dies,” said the storyteller.

 

“No.  I mean—I know that everyone dies.  But did he die from the fall—from his wounds?”

 

“I suppose we all die from our wounds—or at least with them. Eventually.  But no.  The man didn’t die—not immediately,” he said. “But he lay there for sometime.  Maybe an hour.  Maybe a day.  I’m not sure.

 

“When he woke, the man heard distant voices falling down the steep hill from the path far above.  He longed to call out for help.   He formed the words in his mind, but feared the embarrassment of others knowing of his foolishness and pain.  So he held his tongue.

 

“With some effort, and a few failed attempts, he managed to rise to his feet, just as he had done so many times, and climbed the treacherous slope back to the path.”

 

The small voice of an unnoticed old man rose from the back of the room.  Heads turned to see who had interrupted the storyteller.  Sitting there, in a tan pants and a wrinkled shirt that was neatly buttoned around a neck that no longer filled its collar, the man reticently offered, “I think I know this story.  I believe I’ve heard this before.”

 

The old man took comfort in the approving nods he received from others listening to the storyteller.  Through a tobacco stained smile, the storyteller offered his own nod of approval.

 

“Could be,” he said.  “Perhaps you’ve been here before.  This is the only story I tell.”

 

“Please, tell us the rest of the story,” pleaded the woman who had earlier inquired about the man’s name.  “What happened to the man?  Did he get back on the path? Did he reach his destination?”

 

The storyteller had seen this before.  Rapt attention undergirded with impatience.  People wanted to rush to the end of the story—to know the end—as if there were no difference between knowing about a thing and truly knowing it.  They, like he had before them, wanted to hurry the story, to hurry their own walk along the path.

 

Every day people would come.  They would come and listen.  Some of them came only once.  For a few, that would be enough.  Others would come, listen for a bit, and leave in dismay and frustration before he finished his tale.  Some would come over and over, trying to move from knowledge to understanding.  From knowing the difference between a good story and true lesson.  Those were the ones that kept the storyteller telling his story, though often felt his work was futile.

 

“Of course, I’ll tell you the rest of the story.  And, yes.  Yes.  The man found his way back to his path.  Battered and bruised as he was, he was tempted to stop, perhaps make a life for himself at the nearest safe place.  He sometimes thought about returning to where he had begun his journey.  But felt he had come too far.  So he trudged on.”

 

“Did his wounds heal?” asked the woman.

 

“Most of ‘em,” interrupted the old man from the back of the room.  All heads turned once more.

 

“That’s right.  Most of them healed.  Oh, they left their scars,” said the storyteller, shifting in his seat, trying to relieve the throbbing ache from deep within his hip.  Though he had learned to greet the pain like an old friend—a reminder of lessons learned—he admitted there were times when he wished the pain would depart and never return.

 

“His journey took him many places.  He would sometimes pass others along the way.  Sometimes, others would pass him.  Sometime along his journey, after his terrible fall, the man began to see the cuts and bruises on other travelers.  He would see the fatigue in their eyes.  Some of them looked lost—desperate—just as he had been on occasion.”

 

“Did he always travel alone?” asked the young man seated before the storyteller.

 

“He began his journey alone.  There were times when he felt he needed to travel in solitude.  To be left alone in his thoughts.  To work out his own path.  Other times, he would meet people—some of whom would travel many miles with him, until their paths diverged.  It hurt him to see them go. But he was grateful for their companionship.

 

“There were times on the journey he met people he would have enjoyed travelling with, to some of whom he offered comfort and direction.  Many of them resisted, just as he had at times.  No matter, he learned.  Comfort and advice often aren’t welcome unless it has been requested.”

 

The storyteller struggled against his fatigue. Sleep was harder to come by now.  He would often wake well before the sounds of dawn could be heard and later, as the sun rose, would find himself longing to return to the comfort of his warm bed.  But there would be people waiting for him.  Sometimes, there was only one who could come to listen.  Just one.  Why bother, the storyteller  would sometimes ask himself.  But he would go and sit with them, no matter how many, and tell them the story.

 

The storyteller looked across the room. The quiet old man in the back had already eased from the room.  He knew the old man would not return.  He returned a knowing look to the the young man seated before him. There was something in the man’s eyes that made the storyteller believe this man would be back.  Perhaps not for a while, but he would be back.  The remainder of his audience sat, waiting for him to punctuate his story with some profound lesson—like a moral from one of Aesop’s fables, perhaps.

 

They longed for something neat and tidy and clear.  Certainly, there were lessons to be learned from his tale.  Watch your step.  Keep walking.  It’s okay to fall. Those were just a few.  But the storyteller knew that every man, or woman, must find their own lessons from his tale.  There was wisdom in the tale that had to be ferretted out.  However simple, brief maxims would only masquerade as wisdom without each one doing the work—without their paying attention.

 

As his guests left him that morning, a few came and thanked him.  Some offered a hand of friendship.  A few fled the room, returning to their hurried journeys, as if they could make up for the time they perceived that had been lost there listening to the storyteller.  

When the last of his guests left the room, he welcomed the solitude.  Pushing himself from the chair, he debated making himself another cup of tea.  But as he decided he would indulge himself in returning to his bed, the storyteller heard a voice behind him.

 

“I’m sorry.  Excuse me.  I believe I’m lost,” said the woman with the golden curls and and wide hazel eyes.  “Can you help me?” asked the woman.

 

The storyteller nodded.

 

“Off course,” he said.  “Please sit down.  Make yourself comfortable.  Let me just make myself another cup of tea. Would you care for a cup?”

 

He hadn’t expected her to accept.  Most never did.  But when she nodded, “Yes, thank you,” he felt pleased.

 

“I have a story to tell you,” he said to the woman as he eased into his chair.  “Perhaps you have heard it before.”

Masquerade

Masquerading,

in the blue-orange hues of sunrise,

these hungry ghosts

of relentless longing,

of unceasing desire,

in the sudden silence

they call.

 

Haunting.

Pleading.

From across the waters,

they beckon,

“This is the way.”

 

“Come.”

 

From the chaos of the jagged,

shimmering rocks of

Comfort, and Wealth and Adulation,

these smiling Sirens of Deceit,

offer psalms of hollow peace.

 

Perched above the littered shoreline

listening to battered pilgrims

making final supplications,

exhaling despair,

breathing their final,

 

“Why?”

You can’t hurry the journey

You can’t hurry the journey,

To finding all that’s true.

You can’t hurry the journey,

On the path toward being you;

 

You can’t hurry the journey,

By chasing after peace.

You can’t hurry the journey

Let your mind be at ease;

 

You can’t hurry the journey,

Just settle down, be still.

You can’t hurry the journey

By force of all your will;

 

You can’t hurry the journey,

Just be where you are;

You can’t hurry the journey.

My friend, you’ve come so far.

 

You can’t hurry the journey,

Enjoy the bouncing ride;

You can’t hurry the journey,

By fighting against the tide.

 

You can’t hurry the journey,

I know this much is true.

You can’t hurry the journey,

There’s so little you can do.

 

You can’t hurry the journey,

Please listen to what I say.

You can’t hurry the journey,

There’s peace along the way.

 

You can’t hurry the journey,

To yourself always be kind.

You can’t hurry the journey,

All the wisdom you will find.

No Place To Be

It’s very plain, you see,

This abundant clarity;

 

Do not miss, or flee,

It’s quiet subtlety;

 

This kind peculiarity,

In having no place to be.