Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Conversation About Stories

A monk came to my door this afternoon and tried to talk me into being different. Actually, what he wanted was to offer me an opportunity for "radical change." He seemed like a fellow who would habitually use the word "enlightenment," but if he did I don't recall it.

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.

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