Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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One day a fool left his paradise and set out to find himself.
“The time has come,” he said “to find out just exactly who it is that I am.”
But, as the fool soon learned, looking for himself raised some rather complex metaphysical pimples on his brain; for although he fully expected to recognize himself once found, he really had no idea what he was looking for in the first place. “If I do find myself, then who will it turn out to be that had done the looking? And if I can’t find myself, then where am I?” Before long, he completely lost what little sense of direction he’d started out with. He had become hopelessly lost and needed to take drastic action. There was but one alternative — he’d have to listen to reason.
“Listen,” said his reason, “what you should do is to fall in love.”
Now, this may not seem like a reasonable action to an Analoguean, but remember, this was a fool. And this fool did not do anything half-heartedly. He fell in love, not once, or twice, or three times, but over and over and over again, every day for an entire year. At the end of the year, he was very tired but still had no idea who he was.
“I don’t understand,” he said to his 365th lover. “I have fallen in love every day for an entire year and still have no idea who I am.”
“Obviously you’re a fool,” said the lover. “What you need is to get a job.”
The fool wasn’t sure he saw the connection, but then he never did understand women. Since he knew he didn’t understand women, and the idea did represent a great challenge, he decided to try it. He got a job.
Soon, he was famous. People came from miles around to admire his work. He blew the best bubbles this side of paradise.
“Wwwwwwwhhhhhhhooooooo am I?” he asked, every time he blew a bubble. Wwwwwwwhhhhhhhooooooo am I?”
He always got the same answer: “You are the bubble blower.”
Finally, he got tired of being told he was the bubble blower. “I may be a fool,” he observed, “but I know that ‘bubble blower’ is what I am, not who I am.”
So he gave up bubble blowing and disguised himself as a tree. Perhaps, he thought, if I look like something I’m obviously not then it will become clear who I really am. He stood by a path in the woods, spread his arms, and waved in the breeze.
“Who am I?” he asked a passerby.
“You’re a fool who like a tree is being passed by,” said the passerby.
The fool was deflated. It was not the answer he had hoped for. His tone of voice behaved in an anti-social manner. “Well then,” he said, “you seem to know so much — who are you?”
“I am me,” answered the passerby.
Confident bastard, thought the fool. Probably took a sales course from IBM. “How do you know you’re you?” he persisted.
“The mountain told me, of course,” said the passerby.
It was not at all the answer that the fool had expected to hear. He was getting very interested. “Hmmmm, yes, of course. Uh, what mountain did you say that was?”
“My mountain, of course,” said the passerby.
“Hmmmm, yes, of course,” observed the fool. “Say, you don’t suppose that mountain of yours would tell me who I am?”
“Of course not,” said the passerby.
“Hmmmm, yes, of course not,” echoed the fool. “But why not?”
“Because it’s my mountain,” explained the passerby. “In order to find out who you are, you have to ask your mountain.”
So the fool wandered off to find his mountain. He was pretty good at the wandering off part but couldn’t for the life of him figure out how he was supposed to tell which mountain was his. He could just ask his question at all the mountains until he found one that answered, but that was too risky — he might be taken for a fool, which was far worse than being one. So the first time he came upon a mountain he simply sat at the base and waited. Surely someone would come along who knew more about this mountain business and he did. And sure enough, after six months of waiting, someone emerged out of the clouds, down the mountain and landed at his feet. He inquired of this person as to the ownership of the mountain. “Whose mountain is this?” he asked.
“Mine,” said the climber, beaming with success.
Too bad, thought the fool, and he wandered off to find another mountain. By now, he was far more experienced and knew better than to wait for someone to come down the mountain. This time he would talk to a climber before the climber went up. That way he’d save a lot of waiting time. Mountain climbing seemed to be very in of late so someone was sure to show up. No sooner had he arrived at the base of another mountain than a would-be climber appeared. “Are you going to climb that mountain?” asked the fool.
The would-be climber nodded.
“Whose mountain is it?” asked the fool.
The would-be climber shrugged.
“You don’t know?” The fool was astounded.
“But how can you find out?”
The would-be climber pointed at the top of the mountain then headed up.
The light dawned. “What a fool I’ve been! It can’t be my mountain until I’ve climbed it! The answer to my question can only be found at the top!” Now, at last, he knew what he had to do. He rushed on to the next mountain, determined to make the climb.
The mountain erupted from its massive base, smashing through the fragile sky and leaving the known world behind in an explosion of clouds. If nature was Lady Chatterley then this mountain was her lover and he, the fool, would be its conquerer. Here was a mountain no mere mortal could possibly have ever climbed before, one he would never have to share, one that would be his and his alone, where he could stand above the heights of earth itself and rearrange the stars like lightbulbs in the sky. If he was the world’s biggest fool then it would take the world’s tallest mountain to tell him who he was, and this was it.
He started out standing straight up, taking long evenly measured strides, but by the time he’d passed the tree line and reached the rocks, boulders to him but grainy pebbles to the mountain, he was still vertical but crawling, progressing as much with his hands as on his feet. Still, he threw himself against the rocks like a ship in a stormy sea seeking passage to the dry surface of a cliff-edged coast. Ever higher, always receding, his body battered against the stones. His muscles tore like ragged sails attached by wispy threads of blood thin veins to his splintering boney frame. His will was the hull that strained and creaked to keep him up and his heart the pump that kept his bilge blood from sinking him. Time and again he smashed against the rocks and time and again he fell back just a little higher than he’d started from. He measured progress in tiny steps that were to the mountain as evolution is to all of infinity’s time. Foot by foot, hand by hand, fingernail by fingernail he clawed and pushed and lifted and heaved his way toward the summit. He passed the frontiers of vegetation and gave up eating, passed into permafrost and gave up sleeping, dragged his screaming lungs into unbreathable air. He left pieces of himself discarded like the excess baggage along the way: his hair turned gray and dropped behind him like thin lines marked through the days, and weeks and months and years of a calendar; a frozen toe wedged into a crevice was left in place, snapped off like an icicle; pain remained to die with the toe and fear jumped off a ledge and plummeted miles down into the clouds. The forces of life trickled out behind him, a spring-fed stream flowing down to its level of being, away from his ever-rising body. Desperate heaving breaths bellowed the fading sparks into flame to fuel one more crawling inch at a time.
Seven years after he had begun climbing, he reached the peak. His hands arrived first with their exposed knuckles peering out like blood-shot eyes. What was left of his feet supported a standing position and he spread his arms through the sky and into outer space. A bone protruded aimlessly out from his left elbow. The wind blew a triumphant fanfare and it seemed as if all the tiny earth below could hear. The mountain’s frowning forehead drooped vertically from his feet.
The fool leaned over and addressed the mountain’s face: “You are now my mountain and you owe me an answer. You are the impossible but I have exceeded you.” His lungs sucked hard on the air and squeezed out all the strength they could, then exhaled his question with all their remaining power: “Wwwwwwwhhhhhhhoooooo aaaaammmmmm IIIIII!”
It was not the mountain but the wind that replied. “Jump!” said the wind.
The fool couldn’t believe his ears. “Jump?” he asked, dumbfounded.
“Jump,” repeated the wind, matter-of-factly.
“But this isn’t fair,” protested the fool. “I have climbed his unclimbable mountain just to find out who I am. The mountain is mine and it owes me an answer.”
“Jump and the mountain will answer,” said the wind.
“But I’ll be smashed to bits,” protested the fool.
“Have faith,” assured the wind, “if you know who you are, you’ll survive.”
This is something of a dilemma, thought the fool. If I know who I am I’ll be safe, but the mountain won’t tell me who I am until I jump.
He pondered the problem with gathering confidence. I have, after all, he thought, conquered the impossible. What’s a little faith after everything I’ve been through?
The fool made his decision. He poised himself on the edge of the summit, compressed his legs, expanded his arms, took a deep breath and sprung headfirst into the earth-void sky. For a brief moment, the wind carried his frail body upward like a soaring bubble. Then he dropped straight down and burst into tiny fragments on the rocks below.
The mountain gazed down at what was left of him, its wise old craggy features shaking sadly from side to side.
“Fool,” said the mountain.