A young man who just so happened to be wandering down some random road, angrily navigating through the dense sidewalk traffic to the tune of honking horns and squalling tires, stumbled across a certain old man who, in perfect solitude, was enjoying the company of a specific bench located on a particular street corner in a beautiful patch of sunlight, as he sang along with the birds in the tree behind him.
“How do Terd!”, the old man called out.
“Excuse me?’, replied the wandering youth.
“I said Hello Terd… How are ya?”, replied the old man.
What in the hell is wrong with this geezer, the young man thought as he slowed down to ask, “Why are you calling me terd?”
In a very matter of fact sort of tone the old man answered, “Well some people look like a Ben, others a Mary or David, but you my friend look like a terd!”
Somewhat taken back, but definitely amused with his eccentric demeanor, the young man informed the old man that his name was Adam.
“Well you certainly do not look like an Adam”, the old man buoyantly said.
Ready to retire from the conversation Adam went ahead and asked anyway, “What the hell does that mean?”
“I knew an Adam once and you are no Adam…. You’re all hunched over, starring aimlessly at the tops of your weird shoes, moping around like you are not suppose to be wherever it is that you are… Ha!!! You’re no Adam… No Adam at all…You have no doubt misplaced the Adam you speak of… Where is that Adam I wonder”, said the old man as he took a sip from his juice box.
Unsure as to why he continues to entertain this crazy old man, Adam hesitatingly said, “Yeah… Well….. Not exactly sure what in the world you’re talking about…” Then he asked in a rather condescending tone, “You alright grandpa?”
“Ha… Ha! Grandpa… Yeah, grandpa is just fine… Grandpa isn’t the one dragging his butt across the sidewalk… “Not sure”… Now that I believe…” the old man said as he leaned back into the bench, closed his eyes, and lost himself in what Adam thought was inappropriate laughter.
“What?” Adam asked.
“Huh…” sighed the old man.
Visibly aggravated Adam responded, “What is it you believe grandpa?”
“Oh… Oh… You said you weren’t sure… I agree… There is no confidence about you at all!”, exclaimed the old man. Then he continued to say, “You aren’t even sure if you want to continue this conversation… Don’t worry about it though… Your confusion is only the result of you failing to realize that you don’t have a choice…”
Thrown for a loop Adam began to rub his eyes and asked, “Don’t have a choice about what?”
“About what… About anything! The only thing that you get to freely choose is whether or not you will give your apple back… Everything else is riddled with holes… Like I said earlier you lost your apple… So you look like a terd floating around!” the old man said as he continued to sip his juice box.
Adam snapped back, “My apple… Are you out on pass or something?”
“Yes sir… We all are… We’re all out on pass…” The old man said as he smiled and stretched his arms out across the back of the bench. Then he continued, “Well that’s enough about me… What is it that you find so interesting about those hideous shoes terd?”
Adam shrugged his shoulders as if he did not follow.
“The shoes… Why do you stare at them as you walk around”, the old man asked.
Seemingly trying to dodge the question Adam answered, “Nothing incredibly interesting about the shoes.”
“So why are you starring at the ground your feet was meant to see”, asked the old man.
Overwhelmed with confusion as to why he felt compelled to continue this conversation he put his hands in his pockets and responded, “I guess I just had a lot on my mind.”
“Oh… Your head is heavy”, the old man murmured. Then he asked, “What is it that you are so possessed by.”
Running his hands across his face and through his hair, he tried one last time to wiggle his way out of the conversation by saying, “Man I don’t know… I mean I don’t want to sit here and dump all my crap on you.”
“Aww Hell… There is nothing I would rather do on my pass than look around for Adam”, exclaimed the old man.
Feeling that the old man’s apparent lunacy made him not only harmless, but the perfect candidate to hear his confession, Adam let out a big sigh and plopped down on the bench next to him, as if he had given up trying to avoid what at this point seemed like an unavoidable conversation. Then he said, “You know… Man I am just tired of asking myself the same old questions!”
“Are you tired of asking yourself the same old questions, or are you tired of giving yourself the same old answers”, asked the old man as he opened his eyes and leaned toward Adam.
Taken back by the clarity of the old man’s response Adam said, “Hell… I don’t know… I haven’t ever thought about it like that. Huh…”
“Guess not… If you had you would have probably been looking up instead of at your goofy sneakers.” The old man said with a smirk.
Adam continued, “At any rate I am tired of trying to figure out where I am in life.”
“-Um… No. You are tired of telling yourself where you should be”, the old man interjected.
Realizing that the old man was a bit sharper and more insightful than he had originally thought, Adam continued, “I thought when I graduated high school and headed off for college I would figure out who I was… You know get out from underneath my parents and whatnot, but that just raised more questions. Then I thought after college I would go out and find a career… I really thought that a career or some kind of direction in my life would answer a lot of these questions… But it only ended up adding to the confusion… Everything just got so fast… It seemed endless, you know. So I started to look for something to slow everything down a bit… Something to anchor me… Man, I am always looking for the right amount of this and the right amount of that. So, I wanted to find a wife… Something in my life that was consistent. Well, at first the relationship was sort of a stationary fixture in my life… You know something stable. Then it got more serious… It started to move just like everything else. It is like every time I grab something it works at first… You know, it is a sort of platform or central part of my life, but then it just starts to ask questions, and I am right back where I started. On top of all that… I just found out I am going to be a dad. I know I am supposed to be happy but…”
“There you go again answering questions you were not intended to answer”, the old man added.
Adam continued as he leaned forward placing his head face down in his hands, “Yeah… Maybe so… All this stuff scares the hell out of me, you know… It always has, but this time there will be a kid in the picture. I don’t know if I can… Or if I am able to be a dad… It’s terrifying: Someone who is looking to me for answers… So… Anyway that is what was on my mind.”
“Life is all the time asking you where you are at… “Adam, where are you? All the time”, the old man said as he looked around intently.
Adam then pulled his head up and turned toward the old man with a blank stare across his face.
The old man continued, “Well you said that you were trying to find yourself in all this stuff… I was just saying that it is a pretty natural question… You are misplaced, a refugee of sorts. Now what seems odd to me is that you look for yourself elsewhere… You know, you look all around you for an answer… It’s the this & that you spoke of earlier… It seems to me that you want some thing other than you to answer the question for you.”
“Well I understand that it sounds good or whatever to say we have to look inside ourselves…”, Adam begrudgingly whispered.
At this point the old man let out a loud cackle and said, “Doesn’t sound good to me… Sounds weird- Schizophrenic in fact.”
Joining in with a sort of psychotic laughter Adam added, “Exactly… What does that even mean, you know…”
“Doesn’t matter… What does matter though is what you mean… What do you mean when you say I am trying to find myself? What are you trying to find”, the old man asked.
Adam sat for a moment thinking about the question. Then he stood up and let out a roar of frustration as he turned towards the old man and said, “I don’t know… I guess some kind of personality… Some sort of enduring personality… Man I just don’t know. All I want is something I can grab a hold of… Some kind of reference point.”
“Terd, do you mind if I tell you a story”, asked the old man.
In a joking tone Adam asked, “Do I have a choice?”
Entertaining Adam’s jovial response the old man answered with a resounding, “Nope! You learn fast my friend. You will enjoy this story… Just listen.”
After the old man slurped up the last bit of juice through his straw he began to tell his story:
“Life is always calling to us. Wanting to move through us. It stands at the door and knocks, but few people hear this plea. Well it just so happened that one day a certain young man was walking along a path, and suddenly turned to answer the door. At that moment he remembered his original home- He saw the sunlight bursting through the roof of the forest just as it had done when was a child, the sound of the squirrels scurrying across the tree limbs was so sharp it was as if they were running through his mind, and the smell of the flowers blossoming around him was so crisp that it seemed the aroma was emerging from within him. From then on he felt at perfect peace and ease no matter where he found himself, he was a sage of sorts. This sage had no specific kind of work or vocation. He would more or less just roam the countryside enjoying the company of nature. The sage loved to listen to the songs the birds would sing, and often times would be moved into such an ecstatic state of mind by these songs that he would begin to sing back to the birds’ spontaneous melodies. One day he had discovered the most magnificent tree. He walked over to this tree and planted himself at the foot of it. Before long all the birds that called this tree home had enticed the sage to join them in song. The sage began to sing, and after a short while was moved into such a blissful state that he began to dance in the shadow of this great tree.
At this point a man, who made his living as a traveling preacher came passing by in a wagon. From a distance he had noticed the tree and thought it be a great place for him to take his lunch. However, as he approached the tree he noticed what appeared to be a mad man singing in no discernable tongue, and dancing around the base of the tree. As a result, he began to have second thoughts about taking his lunch there. It then occurred to him that his preaching maybe something that this “dancing madman” was in desperate need of, and furthermore maybe he was the landowner and could handsomely reward him for his services. As he got closer he realized this crazy person was relatively harmless, as he was an elderly man, which put the preachers mind at rest. When he arrived at the tree the sage did not even notice him, as he was completely lost in the rapture of his song and dance.
The preacher called out to him, “Hey stranger mind if I share this space with you for a short spell.”
Being somewhat startled the sage gathered himself and once again took a seat at the foot of the tree. He then looked over at the preacher, smiled, and said, “This space does not belong me… The shade welcomes you just as it does me”
After exchanging pleasantries the preacher looked over at the old sage who seemed to be starring off at nothing and asked, “What is it that you do old man?” The sage who was very enthralled with the activity of a leaf that had just been released from one of the upper branches in the tree did not hear him, or at least didn’t acknowledge his question. The preacher unnecessarily cleared his throat as a way of getting the sages attention, but there was still no response at first. Shortly thereafter the leaf reached its desired destination, a beetle that was sitting motionless in front of the sage at the base of the tree. The sage watched as this fallen leaf quickly became the waiting beetles next meal. Finally, he raised his head, looked at the preacher with a sense of amazement on his face, and said, “I listen.” This response seemed a bit odd to the preacher considering that he had to exert himself in order to get the sage’s attention just a few minutes before. The preacher who thought this man was either a bit slow or possibly senile then asked, “What is it that you listen to?” The sage slowly raised his head with his eyes wide open and softly said as he closed his, “To whatever speaks in silence.” Realizing that the man he was speaking with was no doubt one of the duller knives in the drawer the preacher returned to his lunch and stopped with the questions.
A few minutes later the sage opened his eyes and broke his silence asking, “And what is it that you do sir?”
The preacher began to hastily chew his food and struggled to swallow, but once he had, he enthusiastically responded to the sage’s question, “I am a preacher… I make more money traveling though so I move around from place to place teaching the word of God.”
The sage somewhat perplexed by his answer asked, “You do not make enough money in one place so you travel to many in order to make more money?”
Not sure whether the old man was really dumb or trying to insinuate that a man of God should not chase money around the country the preacher responded in a rather gruff tone of voice, “You of all people must know how difficult making a good living in these hard times can be… Surely you can understand that!”
The sage’s face grew even more puzzled and his tone of voice equally as confounded as he asked, “What is it that I should surely understand?”
“How difficult it is to earn a decent living”, the preacher harshly responded.
“Oh I haven’t any difficulty with earning a living… It seems as though someone has already earned a living for me” the sage said with great confidence.
Now thinking he was speaking to a naive imbecile he asked in a patronizing tone, “What do you mean by that?”
“Well when it is time to eat food is always to be found… For as long as I can remember every time I have been struck with fatigue there has been a place to lay my head… And when I have needed money it has always been in my pocket.” The sage answered with a degree of humility in his voice.
Feeling somewhat provoked by what he considered a false piety the preacher asked, “If money is so easy to come by what do you have to show for all your wealth?”
The sage just smiled and leaned back against the trunk of the tree.
“What do you have to show for all of this money that you have no trouble coming by old man”, the preacher continued, but the sage still gave no response.
Once more the preacher asked, “What do you do with all of this money you happen upon with such ease?”
The sage, in a humorous tone, answered, “I use it as it was intended…’
“And what is this intended use if you do not mind me asking”, the preacher asked as he removed his hat.
“It is money… So I spend it”, as if he did not understand the preacher’s confusion.
“Yeah… Yeah… Yeah, but on what do you spend it? Do you have a house? A family? Horses? Land?” the preacher asked.
“Oh no… Nothing like that… I really enjoy the company of others at the table… So I tend to buy food and drink for myself and others when I am afforded the opportunity”, the sage said as he ran his hand through his beard.
With a sense of arrogance the preacher raised the question, “Do you not think this a waste of money?”
Tapping his finger on his lips while his hand clasped his beard the sage thought for a minute. Finally he answered with great certainty, “Nope!”
“You haven’t anything to show for the money you have spent… It is waste”, exclaimed the preacher
Somewhat confused the sage asked, “Preacher you keep speaking of having something to show for my purchases… What do you mean by this?”
“I mean you do not have anything which lasts… Nothing that serves a purpose… What do you have to show for your life? You are just throwing all that money away”, the preacher said as he put his hat back on his head.
At this point in the conversation the sage stood up and shook the dust of his clothes. He gazed directly at the preacher for a moment with a confused look on his face. Then he began to walk away. As he passed the preacher, who was still sitting, the sage stopped placed his hand on the preachers shoulder, and said, “I enjoy the company of others at the table… But you say I need some enduring possessions… Something to show for my life… Something with a purpose… I walk around a lot so I have no need for a permanent home. I already have a fine set of clothes so any more would just be baggage. According to your criteria the best purchase I could make would be set of concrete cinderblocks… They are both enduring and portable… Plus I could use them to stand on and pretend that I am taller… You have given me a great deal to think about preacher, and I am grateful… In the meantime, would you like to stop pretending and accompany me to town for a round of drinks? My treat preacher…”
The preacher certain by now that the old man was harmless escorted the man into town. He did join him for a round of drinks, although he only had a sarsaparilla. The two men had the most magnificent time together and then went their distinct ways. As they parted the sage said, “Jacob, my friend, it was nice to have finally met you.” With a smile across his bright face the preacher replied, “Eli, all the pleasure was mine!”
Concluding his story the old man leaned back, closed his eyes, and stretched his arms across the back of the bench.
Feeling like he might have missed the boat Adam asked, “What did that story have to do with what I told you earlier?”
“Didn’t have anything to do with what you told me earlier”, replied the old man.
Still a bit baffled he said, “I am not sure I even grasped the underlying meaning of the story.”
The old man asked, “What underlying meaning?”
“If it wasn’t relevant to my situation, and there was no underlying meaning, what is the point of the story”, Adam asked.
“Did you hear the story?” the old man inquired.
Adam shook his head yes.
“And did you enjoy the story”, the old man asked.
Once again Adam shook his head yes.
The old man said as he opened his eyes and looked over at Adam, “The point of the story is the story itself… It isn’t some question that needs an answer… It is the answer… It is your story Adam!”
Curious Adam asked, “And where did you hear that story?”
“One day I was wandering down some road in some town starring at my shoes when an old man called out to me. I came over and sat down next to him on that bench… We talked for a bit about why I was starring at my shoes, and then out of nowhere he told me that story. It was my story… Look here, we are all lost in the same garden… This story belongs to everyone.”
“Hmmm”, Adam mumbled as his eyes opened widely. The light was brighter… The colors more brilliant… The smells more crisp…
The old man watched as Adam closed his eyes, took a deep breath in, and then smiled. Finally the old man said, “Adam it is nice to finally see you again… You are not some question that needs to be answered… You are the answer to life’s ongoing question- Where are you?”
Adam looked up and realized that he was a certain young man, sitting on a specific bench, at a particular point in time. He then turned to ask the old man his name, but only caught a glimpse of him from behind.