Archive for June, 2017

Why Bother?

Posted: June 26, 2017 in Unmaskd Tales
Tags: , , ,
Why Bother?

“It took me a while to find you, sage,” said a man who emerged one bright morning from the deep forest that surrounded the house of Puram Bam. The man’s voice was void of emotion. He was simply stating the fact.
Puram Bam was observing a white marble statue that stood in the tall grass next to his house. He glanced at his visitor and turned back, without saying a word.
“And now that I have found you, it is too late,” the man said, as if agreeing that they needed no greetings or introductions.
This time Puram Bam spoke, “Why don’t you go back then?’
The man shook his head. “What’s the point? On my way here I lost whatever little I had left.”
“Maybe you didn’t have much to begin with,” said Puram Bam, his eyes studying the face of the statue.
“Oh, no,” the man replied, and his voice carried a shadow of what could have been indignation. “I had what others could only dream of.”
He went quiet. Puram Bam stood up and walked around the statue. It was a sculpture of a young woman. She was standing in a relaxed pose, looking at something, her face full of wonder and anticipation.
“You don’t care about anything I have to say,” the man observed, his voice empty again.
“Do you?” Puram Bam asked.
The man chuckled dryly. “They were right. You are not like others.”
“None of us are,” Puram Bam agreed.
“Well,” the man said, “since I have come all that way to find you, I may as well tell you what brought me here.”
“Do you know?” Puram Bam asked.
“My mind wasn’t among the things I lost,” the man replied, a shadow of anger creeping into his voice. “Of course, I know the question that sent me on this quest. I just no longer care about the answer.”
“Then you won’t mind if I go back to my house,” Puram Bam said, and started for the door.
“Wait,” the man said. “Please. I’ll tell you. I may as well. I was an artist. A painter. A famous painter. Famous and rich. The best galleries were seeking my paintings, and the Emperor himself commissioned me his portrait. I was spending my days doing what I loved and as good as I was, I was only getting better at my craft. People said that when they looked at some of my portraits they felt as if they were peeking inside the souls of those who I had painted. I had women of stunning beauty, was friends with the most prominent people of the empire, and my dog lived in a better house than this shack of yours. I had everything a man can wish for. Everything. Sometimes, when painting, I even felt more than a mere man. I felt godlike. In moments like this it felt like there was nothing I couldn’t bring to life with my brush.
“Then one day, I received a new commission from the Emperor Moktut. He decided to dedicate a room in his legendary gallery to the best artists who ever lived. Of all the living artists, I was the only one, whose portrait he wanted in that room. And so he asked me to paint a self-portrait. For there was no one else who could do it better.
“Believe it or not, this was a new enterprise for me. Unlike many other artists, I had always had little interest in painting myself and found faces of others more interesting than whatever my face had to offer. But this was the Emperor’s commission, and so I had a large mirror delivered to my studio, and started painting.
“This was the first time I looked at myself as a portraitist, and I liked what I saw. The mirror showed me the face of a man who had conquered life and who had every reason to be proud of his work and himself. As I was working on the painting, I felt like I was discovering myself. Among other things I discovered a few gray hair. I smiled at that silver sign of maturity and wisdom, and went on with painting. Then, I had to interrupt my work for several urgent commissions and it took me almost half a year to return to that self-portrait. And then it happened. I spotted more gray hair. Not much more, but enough to notice.
“I remember that moment more clearly than any other moment in my life. There it was — my grand delusion exposed in daylight. Those hairs turning from black to white, they were sand in the hourglass that I had been ignoring foolishly for years. But I now saw it in full clarity. It seemed that I had only looked away for a second — and more particles fell down, never to come back. Godlike? I was a pitiful creature, a miserable sack of flesh, too blinded by his hollow pride to see the truth. The truth that I was but a walking corpse about to start rotting in a blink of an eye. What was the point of doing anything in face of that fate?”
“I didn’t even think of finishing that self-portrait. It didn’t matter anymore. Nothing did. I spent days sitting in a chair, thinking of how pointless everything I had ever done had been. Of how laughable my pride was. And of how blind I had been not to realize sooner that my life had no meaning.
“Then I overheard a story that one of my servants was telling another. About a man who told the Emperor himself to his face that the Emperor was afraid of dying. And about the Emperor’s reaction to his words. The name of that man, they whispered, was Puram Bam. I thought that someone who talked that way to the Emperor Moktut — and lived — was either insane or as wise as they said he was. And so I am here, though finding you wasn’t easy. But it’s been a long road and by now everything has lost meaning. Even the very question that brought me here”.
“You never asked that question,” said Puram Bam.
“Why bother?” the answer came.
“Why not?” Puram Bam replied.
The man smiled with disappointment.
“Is this all you have to say, sage? Is this what all your famous wisdom amounts to? You are not that different from others after all.”
“None of us are,” said Puram Bam.
“So you are not going to try and convince me that my life has meaning?” the man asked.
“It doesn’t,” Puram Bam replied.
“I should have known,” the man said. “That’s why they call you a sage. Because you tell people what they already know but are too afraid to say. Thank you. This is strange help, but still help.”
“Can you help me too?” Puram Ban asked.
The man shrugged. “I guess.”
“This statue. What do you think of it? Does it amount to more than my wisdom?”
The man walked up to the sculpture and went quiet. A minute passed. Then another.
“Yes,” the man said, finally. For the first time there was more than a shadow of emotion in his voice. “Yes, it does. It amounts to more than anyone’s wisdom. This is a work of a true master. That pose, that face, the hair… you can almost feel the wind. And her eyes… Was it you who made it?”
“No,” Puram Bam replied. “I’m not a sculptor. Words are my marble. A good friend made it and had it delivered to me. We talked one evening about my vision of a statue like this – and now it’s here, more real than anything I could’ve imagined.”
“I never thought I’d say this about anyone,” the man said slowly, “but your friend’s portrait deserves to be in that room more than mine.”
“Now,” said Puram Bam. “That’s where I need your help. Do you see that sledgehammer over there?”
“Yes,” the man replied.
“Take it and smash her.”
“Have you gone mad?” the man asked, stunned. “Or is this some sick joke?”
“I’m as sane as you are and I mean every word,” Puram Bam replied. “I’m asking you to take the sledgehammer and keep smashing this statue until it’s nothing but a pile of crushed marble.”
“Why in the world would I do that?” the man cried. “And even I were to, why would you want to destroy it?”
“Because it’s a lie,” Puram Bam said. “Perfection like this does not exist in the world. Just look at it — it’s a slap in the face of every walking sack of flash. Leaving it intact means making that lie stronger.”
“Maybe for you,” the man said, angrily. “This is not what this statue means for me. Or for anyone who understands art.”
“And what does it mean for you?” Puram Bam asked. “Don’t you see the same sculpture that I do?”
“You see a woman who makes you feel inferior. I see a thought expressed in marble, a mirror that shows the best in me. That’s what true art does.”
“So now this sculpture means too much for you to destroy it?” Puram Bam asked, touching the statue. “How is it possible? You hadn’t seen it until today.”
The man shrugged.
“Do you always spend years to to understand value of things?”
“No,” Puram Ban replied. “But I’m not the one complaining that nothing matters.”
“Who said–” the man began. Then he went silent. “Well played, sage,” he said a moment later. “Well played. You have driven me into a corner.”
“No,” Puram Bam said. “This not my achievement to claim. But what do you think I have done?”
“You made me see that some things still have value.”
“Like an object you hadn’t seen until an hour ago? Do you really think it was I who made you value it?”
“It wasn’t you,” the man said, his eyes are still on the face of the marble woman. “It was the sculptor. But you made me understand it.”
“You are doing it again,” Puram Bam said. “You are still in that corner. And you choose to face the wall.”
“What do you mean?” the man asked.
“Didn’t you say just a moment ago that we both look at the same sculpture — and see different things? So did the sculptor give it two meanings? Of may be many more? Who knows what others see when they look at it.”
“It wasn’t the sculptor,” the man said. His voice was quiet now. “It was me.”
“Yes, it was you. And I’m surprised you didn’t ask for my help.”
“I don’t need anyone’s help to see the value of art.”
“Then why do you need help to see the value of your soul? Of that thing inside you that gives meaning to everything else, including that statue. What makes you worship the creation yet damn the creator?”
The man closed his eyes. When he opened them a moments later they were full of pain.
“Because the creator is already damned,” he said, the same pain oozing from his voice. “You knew it sage. You knew why I came here better than I did myself. And now you made me face the truth in more clarity than I ever had. Only now it’s so much harder to bear. Everything they say about you is true. The only thing they don’t say is how cruel you can be in making someone facing the truth.”
“That truth,” Puram Bam asked, “what is it?”
“The truth is that I’m afraid. I’m frightened like a animal, which is what I am. I think I have always known the value of that thing inside me that made everything else matter. That’s why I felt godlike in those moments. Because it’s the domain of gods to give meaning and create something that meaning can be given to. And that’s why it is so unbearable to think that that thing inside me will be gone, with all the meaning it can give to the world and everything it can bring into it. This is what I realized at that moment in my studio. But now you made see the full value of what I’m going to lose. And I don’t know how one can live a full life once he sees the truth the way I see it now. They must…”
Then the man looked at Puram Bam.
“Wait,” he said. “How… You understand this truth as well as I do. Better than I do because you made me see it without any veil. You must have known it for a while. How do you live with it? Where do you find strength to go on every day, knowing that your life will be over soon?”
“Look at that sculpture again,” Puram Bam said. “It already gave you the answer. What made it so valuable for you?”
“Her expression?” the man said with uncertainty. “That look? I’ve already told you all this. It’s a beautiful sculpture.”
Puram Bam shook his head.
“It’s a large piece of marble.”
“It was. Until the sculptor touched it.”
“It still is. The sculptor only changed one thing about it.”
“You mean its shape.”
“Yes. But what is a shape?”
“It is …” the man stepped back from the statue. “It is its form.”
“Form is just another word. What is the essence of a shape? Any shape? The rock that this piece came from had its shape too and was much bigger. Yet this statue means more to you than any rock. So what did the sculptor do to turn a piece of rock into a beautiful sculpture? What did he define?”
“Its boundaries.”
“Yes. Its boundaries. Its…”
“…limits,” the man said.
“Yes. Now think of your soul. Does it have any boundaries? Can’t your imagination take you anywhere? Can’t you be anyone in your mind? Can’t you create something that would not have existed without you — and even make it real? You can dive as deep as no one has ever gone and travel as far as no one has ever ventured. You can even bring back the wonders you discover on your journey, just like my friend did with that statue. Can’t you do all that?”
“All of that and more,” the man said, his voice hoarse.
“Our souls have no limits,” Puram Bam said. “Except one.”
“Time,” the man said.
“Time,” Puram Bam repeated after him. “Without it you would never give your soul any meaning. No one can value complete infinity.”
The man sat down on the log that lay near the statue.
“I don’t know what to make of it,” he said after a long silence. “I don’t see any flaw in your logic. But my entire being wants to scream in protest. I know you are right. Yet I want you to be wrong. I know I was the one who drove myself into that corner, and I’m out of it now. But I don’t know where to go from here. I don’t know even where to start.”
“It’s a long road,” said Puram Bam. “And no one can walk it for you. Maybe you can start by giving your life something you’ve tried to take away from it.”
A hint of a smile touched the man’s face.
“You’re talking about its meaning.”
“Of course,” Puram Bam agreed. “Although I don’t know why you’d bother to do that.”
“Why not?” the man said.