- Emergency Exit Asile
- Running from the Law
- The Thin Young Ruler
He couldn’t believe it. Africa! His dream was coming true. He looked out the window of the plane and marvelled at the vast expanse of ocean.
He had finally hit upon his life’s calling. A year ago, he had heard of a charity that supplied sports equipment to children in developing countries, and this had struck him as a wonderful idea. But then he started thinking, what about the countless kids that this charity would never be able to reach? What about the kids who would never have access to sports equipment?
Pretty quickly he saw what he needed to do. He would develop games that didn’t require any special equipment—no balls, no gloves, no nets. Within a very short period of time he had devised rules for a number of games that any child could play, regardless of life circumstances: “poor man’s soccer,” “poor man’s baseball,” and “poor man’s tennis.”
And now, almost two years later, he was off to Africa, and he was going to change lives!
“Could I please have your attention for just a few minutes? As you are seated in the emergency exit aisle, federal transport regulations require me to familiarize you with the evacuation procedures for this aircraft.
“In the unlikely event that we have to make an emergency exit, first look out the window and make sure that there is no fire or anything else that would make it unsafe to exit the aircraft. If the outside is clear, unlock the door by pulling down on the red handle, then pull the door towards you and throw it out through the opening.
“If we do have to make an emergency exit, I would ask that you please take your responsibility very seriously. The most important thing is to get everyone out as safely and as quickly as possible, without any joking or silliness. No horseplay or goofing around. Just pull the red handle and throw the door out through the opening.”
The guru was pleased. Things were going well. People’s hearts were being touched, and the movement was growing.
At noon, he began walking up the mountain, as was his custom, and hundreds of people followed behind. He smiled. Today, he would select his disciples. If the movement was going to continue to grow, he would need a small group of followers who were able to carry the deeper wisdom.
He reached the level plain. He walked slowly through the low grasses, and when he came to the stone shaped like a bench, he turned and sat down.
What the hell? Where was everybody? Was this a joke? He looked around at the empty field, dismayed and a bit hurt. Didn’t anyone want to be a disciple?
But hang on—how could anyone have known that today was selection day? He hadn’t mentioned that today was the day. Or had he?
They had found the basket on their doorstep exactly a year ago. Right from the start, there had been no question that they wanted to keep the baby and raise her on their own.
Parenthood brought many rewards, but it was also far more challenging than they had anticipated. The diapers were killing them. On average, they changed about fifty diapers a day. Some days, it was only twenty or thirty, but it wasn’t that unusual for them to be changing over a hundred soiled diapers in a twenty-four hour period.
Was this normal? They really didn’t know, but they didn’t want to ask anyone. They didn’t want people to think that they were resentful, or that they weren’t up to the demands of parenting.
Hands shot up around the room. The philosopher smiled and motioned to a man to speak.
“Does free will exist?”
The philosopher bowed his head, still smiling, and then looked up and told them the answer. A young man of about twenty was next.
“When I’m old, will I still be the same person that I am today?”
The philosopher answered his question, and then raised his hand to select another interlocutor. But the youth wasn’t finished: “What is the best life is that a person can live?”
The philosopher wagged his finger at the youth in mock reproach—it was someone else’s turn to ask a question!—but no one seemed to mind, so he went on and told them what the best life is.
There, he was done. Over three hundred questions—a much longer questionnaire than he had anticipated. The employment counsellor picked up his answer sheets and fed them, one at a time, through the electronic reader on her desk. Once they had all been run through, her computer made a sound like a bell.
The counsellor looked puzzled. She typed a few things into the computer, but her expression didn’t change. She swivelled in her chair.
“Do you know what a ‘yardler’ is?”
He had absolutely no idea, and said as much. The counsellor frowned.
“Well, I’m sorry, but I can’t help you. The only thing you’re suited for is a job as a yardler—but I’ll be damned if I know what that is.”
He was so tired of running. He had been running from the law for almost twenty years. He would stay with friends, or with strangers, or in motels, or under bridges, but eventually the law would pick up his trail and it would be time to move on.
Sometimes he imagined himself as a character in a Kafka story: pursued by the law, but not knowing why he was being pursued. But this wasn’t a story—it was his bloody life. And he knew damn well why they were after him. It was because he had stolen that pie.
When he was eight, an old man had told him that he was a special boy, unlike other children. He had a superpower, albeit a limited one. He had the power to do anything he wanted—but only once. Once exercised, his power would be gone forever.
Whenever something untoward happens in his life, he wonders: Is this the time to use my power? Until now, he’s held off using it, trusting that he’ll know for certain when the time is right. When the mugger took his wallet, he decided to wait. When the horned creature flew off with his mother, he thought, this is bad, but there’s probably worse still to come.
The following passage comes from a recently discovered copy of the book of Luke. In all other extant copies, this passage (Luke 18:18-27) records a conversation between Jesus and a rich young ruler. Scholars jokingly refer to this newly unearthed manuscript as the Burger King James Version, and when disagreements over its interpretation arise one of them will invariably quip, “Have it Yahweh.”
A certain young ruler asked him, “Healthy Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me healthy? No one is healthy but God alone. You know the recommendations: ‘You shouldn’t adulterate your foods with sauces; meat is murder; you shouldn’t bear false witness to yourself, saying, ‘I’ll just have one more,’ or, ‘I’ll burn it off later’; eat what your father and mother put before you.”
He replied, “I have kept all of these since I began to worry about my youthful figure.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell your gym membership and become overweight, and you will have thinness in heaven; then come, and follow me.” But when the ruler heard this, he became sad; for he was very thin.
Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those with sculpted abs to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a chubby camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone with a personal trainer to enter the kingdom of God.”
Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” He replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”
(Originally published in the May/June 2004 issue of The Door Magazine.)
It was incredible what he could do. He was an absolute magician. He could “throw” his farts like a ventriloquist, making it sound as though someone else in the room had broken wind when, in fact, it was always him. A teacher would be writing the day’s lesson on the board, and then—frap! Total pandemonium! I’ve never experienced anything like the elation I felt during those heady days, and I don’t expect to again, not ever.
I was the only person who knew about his gift. He pulled me aside one lunch hour and swore me to secrecy, and then he told me. Of course I didn’t believe him at first, but then he did a demonstration, sotto voce, and totally blew my mind.
Our teachers went crazy trying to figure it out. There were letters to parents and threats of detentions. It was rumoured that the principal had installed tiny cameras in our classrooms, with microphones. But he was never caught.
I was a little sad when he entered the world of investment banking. I guess I had always hoped that he’d go public one day and make a name for himself. But for the most part I’m happy that the world doesn’t know. Those were magical times, and they were our times.