Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Corpse in the Garden (A Parable)

"The Death of Socrates" by David (click for source)
There once was man who was confused.

He saw that everyone around him was in agreement about something; they all agreed that they should "live life to the fullest". The people were unanimously pleased with this idea. It made them feel good. It gave them a purpose. Now they knew what to do: live life to the fullest. Simple. If they did this, they would be happy. So everyone in the world set out to comply and to find happiness.

But, as I said, our hero was confused. He tried to follow this enticing popular wisdom, but realized he had no idea how to achieve such a miraculous, life-validating thing. This made him sad, because everyone else seemed to have run right out and done it without so much as a thought.

So he watched others who were living their lives to the fullest. In his neighborhood, there was a fellow who spent all day hunched over in prayer. There was a woman who studied books from breakfast to bed-time. There was another chap who played with his children constantly. Three houses down, there was a woman and a man who had joyful, clamorous intercourse on their dewy front lawn every day at seven a.m.

These things were not for him.

Since there were no answers in his neighborhood, he wandered off into the world.

On his way, he found a woman jumping off of a chasm bridge with a stretchy cord tied to her feet.

This was not for him.

By the sea, there sat a man, chin in his hands, pondering from morning to night as he watched a woman surfing the waves. Nearby, there was a boy injecting chemicals into his veins in the shadows below the pier.

These things were not for him.

In a big city, he saw men and women scrambling through the streets with ashen faces; jumping in and out of cars and waving their arms around at other people while sitting at big tables; yelling and "making deals". Later, he saw them jumping up and down to loud music and spilling their drinks on each other.

This was not for him.

Eventually, he found an old woman on her hands and knees near a small cottage. She had long hair the color of his grandmother's antique sterling tea set. The old woman was planting seeds and, when she stood, she tended the tall, rocking flowers that she had nurtured to life.

This was definitely for him.

He learned all that the woman could teach and then he went home, happily tipping his hat in greeting to the fornicating neighbors, the praying man, the reading woman and the playing father and then he went straight into his back yard and plowed up the lawn. He created a beautiful garden and he tended and admired his plants as they shone in the sun, drops of water on their skins shining like the tears of angels. He ate the vegetables that he grew. He shared their bounty with his friends. In the day, he gardened. At night, he laughed with those friends over delicious, steaming dishes and bowls. For years this went on, because -- and this pleased the man -- he was finally living life to the fullest.

Then, one day, he awakened and realized he didn't want to go into the garden. He lay in bed that day. He thought this ennui would pass. But the next day and the day after that and the one after that were just the same. He was not motivated.

Eventually, realizing he couldn't be happy with that thing that he had discovered as the only source of his joy, he poisoned himself and died, falling in among his tomato plants.

At the moment he swallowed the poison, a gentleman across the street stepped out of the house and into the morning air with a cup of coffee and a mandolin. He sipped the coffee, put it on the step next to him and sat and played a shimmering tremolo song . . .

As the notes fluttered their way across the street in to the garden, our hero lay dead on his topsoil, hidden among the stems and leaves. Which was a shame. Because the mandolin -- had he just had a second more in which to hear its notes -- that would have been for him.


  1. Always continue to learn and grow by following your passions, what ever they are and when ever they arise.

  2. THIS is just what I needed to read right now. After 5 years of being happy as a stay-at-home mom and feeling like I was fortunate to be able to do so, I started to feel...unfulfilled. I was afraid to tell my family for fear that I would be viewed as self-centered. So, I've been claiming that finances are the main reason why I should get back out there. The truth is I just need to get back out there. I love being "mommy", but does that mean that I can't also search for my mandolin?

    Thanks Chris!

  3. Anonymous,
    I totally understand. I kept working part time even after I had my kids because we needed the extra income. Job aside, I still struggle with enhancing the other facets of "me" now that my kids are getting older.

    But I can't exactly dive into a new career at this point in my life. That's why I started my blog, am working on my photography, plan to study another language and get scuba certified so I can volunteer at the aquarium. These are things I've been passionate about for a while, so I'm trying to seize the day and all that start making them more prominent parts of daily life.

    So, if you want the extra $$, then go for the job. But don't forget to just do things you love just because. Because you will grow as a human and not always for practical reasons. And don't feel guilty because you want to focus on you now, in addition to your kids.

  4. Anonymous, I'm glad this one meant something to you. We all need to be ourselves and do things for ourselves in order to be true to those we love, I think. In the end, the kids will appreciate their mom for who she is, not just how she cleans, cooks, hugs, loves and teaches(which are all very important!.Maybe that is how we move from parents to parents/friends with our kids when they grow up.

  5. By the way, anonymous -- great closing sentence! (Sorry -- the writing teacher in me comes out sometimes.)