4 hours ago
Thursday, November 15, 2012
A Conversation About Stories
The monk had a small saucer filled with what he said was honey, and he asked me to put a finger into the saucer and taste the honey, an offer that may have been harmless but which I nonetheless declined.
I am fine with strangers when I encounter them out in the world, but I am wary of them when they knock on my door. Without question, a stranger in the humble robe of a monk is an unusual sight in my neighborhood. I mean, this wasn't a domestic monk, no Jesuit or Dominican or whatever other types of monks might be somewhat historically entrenched in the U.S.
No, this was a man who looked like he was from someplace far away, perhaps Tibet. He had a sort of Dalai Lama look.
The monk asked me if I believed an ape could fly an airplane.
An ape? I asked.
Yes, he said. A gorilla.
I asked the monk where he was going with this line of questioning and he smiled at me as if I were a simpleton.
A gorilla, he said. Might it be possible for a gorilla to pilot an aircraft?
I told the monk I was not much interested in speculating on such a notion. With my right hand I indicated my mailbox, which was stuffed with at least a week's worth of medical bills and worthless advertisements.
The monk gave me that smile again.
In the home of one of your neighbors a young boy showed me a storybook he was reading, he said. A number of the pictures in this book depicted a gorilla at the controls of an aircraft. Perhaps the pilot was a chimpanzee. At any rate, should I necessarily conclude that this story, which clearly gave the young boy so much pleasure, was untrue?
I said that I did not much care what he concluded about the story.
But, the monk said, does not our happiness in this world depend to a great extent on determining which stories we choose to to regard as embracing the truth, if not necessarily reality?
I admitted that I saw very little distinction between truth and reality.
The monk told me that I would be lost until I recognized this distinction. He said, Your life and future happiness could very well depend on whether you are willing to believe that an ape could fly an airplane.
I excused myself at that point and shut the door, but I will confess that I have been troubled by this conversation all evening.