In High School, a man came to speak to our class. This happened now and then; various so-called inspirational and motivational types came in and told us not to do drugs or to try our best or whatever else. (Kevin Butler from the Bears also came and spoke but that was his community service.) But I remember this man. Most speakers spoke in the auditorium or the gymnasium but this guy had to speak to our Study Hall, which was a room about the width of a classroom but three or four times deeper. He had to shout to be heard and the farther back you sat the less chance you had to see him. I couldn’t see him at all. But I did give him an A for effort; he certainly was trying. I have no memory at all about anything he said except his closing. I think I remember it because:
a) it involved monks (which I always thought were cool–especially the sort that could beat ass with their bare hands and use psionics) and
b) because he made a point of saying he was cutting some part or another of his talk because he had to save time for this story. In a very simplistic paraphrasing, the story went something like this:
In order to pass the last of a series of intense trials, the young, aspiring monks at the monastery were required to enter a room full of horrors. This room contained such awful sights and sounds, they were both too terrible to behold and at the same time impossible to ignore. In fact, the room was filled with monks who had entered and never left, but stood, dull, gray ghosts enchanted by the room’s contents.
One of the aspirants asked, “But how then can anyone get through it?”
The older, wise monk leader said, “As long as you keep moving forward, it can’t hurt you. It’s only when you stop to look that you will never emerge.”
Now, picture a boiling classroom of a hundred or so snoozing students and you can imagine with how little enthusiasm the man’s story was greeted. I thought about it a lot though. I liked it and I wanted it to be significant but really couldn’t figure out how it could be. How did the analogy work exactly? Were the awful sights drugs? Or drinking? What did “moving forward” mean? Doing your homework each night?
But lately it resonates. The awful sights are the ones we all know about plus the deep ones that we don’t talk about. The moving forward–for me at least–is writing. Word by word, word by word, word by word…