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August 9th, 2020
This parable is dedicated to Bruno who reached out on Twitter. You can connect with Bruno on Twitter with the handle @olivedrivin
Lucilius was paralyzed. His body was technically fine, he’d sustained no injury, no crippling virus nor bacteria had wiggled its way into his blood. No, this was a disease of a far deeper kind that imprisoned Lucilius. He now spent his days wrapped in terror, purely unable to wrench himself from the infinite swirl within which he was bound. His mind coursed through the same flow of thought, each time leading to nowhere new, but back to the beginning of the confusion that only perpetuated itself, over and over. He’d distanced himself from friends and had begun to recede from the whole world, now unable - totally at a loss for how he was supposed to interact with people and their huge noisy apparatus of life. No matter what he tried, no matter what angle of the issue he took, he couldn't find the bug that had wheedled its way into the waves of his mind.
The alarm sounded, and momentarily he was pulled from his dark reverie. He’d forgotten his appointment, and now knowing he had to get up and get going and go out into that obnoxious clanking world, he cursed his luck. But he’d already rescheduled several times. He pulled back the covers, and it was another 10 minutes before he was able to swing his legs down and sit on the edge of the bed.
Several slow hours later, he sat in the waiting room, his face shielded from that awful gaze of others with wide sunglasses. It was just his luck that he’d forgotten his headphones and couldn’t make for himself that artificial cocoon that claps off all the rest of the world: their jabber, their pestering sounds, the construction, the vacuums and weed-whackers. How was it that he could belong to this ridiculous species that had no respect for the domain of sound? Couldn’t we all just be quiet for one minute?
Of course not, he thought. There was no way to get along, not like this, not when such sadness can be invisible in front of everyone, no matter how flagrant, how genuine, no matter how loud these unending thoughts screamed into the echoing walls of his skull.
A finely dressed, clean cut man sitting next to Lucilius noticed the tear run itself out, streaking Lucilius’ face just a short distance below his sunglasses. The man notice Lucilius did not wipe it away, and surmised correctly that the young boy was worried that the movement of his hand to his face in such a way would draw more attention than the actual tear had. Few, if any had noticed that diamond turn on his face, and chances were, Lucilius figured in the choking smoke of his mind that no one had.
The man sitting next to Lucilius looked around at everyone else in the waiting room and realized that everyone had headphones on. He and this boy next to him might as well be alone, he figured. The workers at the desks they waited for were far enough off to be out of earshot. The man decided, what the hell..
Keeping his eyes to the perusal of his newspaper, the man said “I also shed a tear when I can’t stand how beautiful the moment is.”
Lucilius nearly choked on the single disgusted sneer that masqueraded angrily as the false start of a laugh.
The man smiled widely. “So interesting how anything can be funny with the right perspective. Even the suffering of others can be funny if you’ve grown bitter enough.”
The expression on Lucilius’ face grew quiet, suddenly aware and nervous of a proximity he hadn’t really considered.
“I remember once,” the man said, “I was stuck. Just stuck in life. Couldn’t figure out how to get out of some sort of mental morass that I seemed to be stuck in.”
The man let his words linger a few moments in the air, hoping to draw in the interest of this troubled young man next to him.
“Couldn’t remember really how I got there either. It was strange. I could remember being happy, but it was as though that were all in the past, and happiness had become a memory that can’t be visited, like someone whose died, who you can’t see or talk to anymore. There was something sick about the situation, as though happiness were haunting me.”
In his periphery, by the sliver afforded behind his own sunglasses, the man could see Lucilius’ head unconsciously turned a little, certain tensions now present in his posture. The man knew he had Lucilius’ attention. But he remained quiet a few moments, turning the page of his newspaper, scanning the head lines, picking out a line here and there, sampling the articles with a rapid set of hops, testing for tone and rhythm, quickly gathering whether they warranted a full read.
“What’d you do?” Lucilius asked.
“Oh,” said the man, “didn’t realize you were listening. Sometimes I just sort of talk to myself, or kind of imagine conversations with people. Sometimes those wires get crossed, and I just start talking to people. Always figured keeping company is like painting a portrait: the cheapest model is always yourself. Maybe that sounds a bit kooky.” The man smiled, purposely forgetting the question Lucilius had asked, wanting to test this boy’s attention and interest. The short silence stretched out fast, and with it, spinning attention to a point until the machinery of the moment clicked into place.
“So?” Lucilius asked again.
“Oh.” The man smiled and chuckled. “Sorry, I go off on tangents. What were we talking about?”
“You said you were haunted by happiness.” Lucilius looked at the man fully, his clean cut appearance, the health and vibrancy that seemed to radiate from him. “certainly.. seems like maybe things are different now.”
The man lowered the newspaper into a folded heap. “Yea, they are.”
“So what happened?”
“Well,” the man said. “I realized I was trying to answer a bad question.”
“What do you mean?”
“See, now that right there is a good question. Do you know why?”
Lucilius shook his head.
“Because it has an answer, a definitive one that can be figured out. By asking it, you prompt me to explain what I mean, and regardless of how good the answer is, whether you like it or not, whether it’s convincing or not, it’s still a definitive answer. And from there we can move on to another question. But a bad question doesn’t lend itself to that sort of answer, and that’s why you can get stuck. When you try to answer a bad question, there’s nothing to really grab on to, there’s nothing to really tell you if you’re on the right track, if your answer is helpful or productive. The question doesn’t resolve, it just quietly remains, like that cruel memory of happiness, it offers you no help nor response. And most importantly, a bad question prevents you from moving on to a better question.”
The man feigned a need to take out a notebook and reference something, as though a pressing thought had just jumped to mind. He fished a pen from his pocket, unscrewed the cap and jotted something down in the notebook. But it was all an act to give this young man next to him a moment of time, to take in what he’d said, to give his perspective a moment to breathe, to digest.
“What was the question you were struck on?” Lucilius asked.
The man looked up, squinting. “Oh, I don’t remember anymore. It was one of these awfully dumb questions that people get hung up on: what’s the meaning of life? or… Who am I? Something like that. They’re all the same, they’re just quagmires for your mind.”
“How do you get out of that question?”
“Oh simple, you leave it to itself and get busy answering a better question.”
“Like what?” Lucilius asked.
The buzzer in the waiting room rang and the man looked at his ticket number. It matched the one flashing on the buzzer screen. He had to go.
“Like, what can I do with the rest of today that might set up tomorrow to be better?”
Lucilius contemplated it. “I need to remember that one,” he muttered.
The man ripped out a page from his notebook and handed the sheet to Lucilius along with his pen.
“Here, write it down, look at it in the mornings and see what happens.”
The man paused, watching Lucilius write the question, then he got up to go to his appointment.
“You pen!” Lucilius called as the man walked away. He turned.
“Keep it. Writing is another good way to fumigate thoughts when the mind gets a bit too stagnant,” he said, smiling as he tapped his head. “Plus, he said, it’s always good to carry a pen, you never know who you’ll come across that might need it more than you.”
The man turned and left Lucilius on his own, wondering how many times that pen had moved between his own hands.
donating = loving
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