Fourth Parable and Lessons: Job Owned, but He Was Not Owned

One cannot, of course, improve upon the Book of Job; how Job’s wealth was vast and plentiful; where he was surrounded by his wife, seven sons and three daughters; the company of his friends, a reputation as a man who was blameless and upright; and in an instant, everything was lost.  Yet, when his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity?  Curse God and die!”

But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks.  Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?”  In all this Job did not sin with his lips.  Job 2:9-10.

It was Job who had great wealth, vast possessions; but upon losing his material wealth, he remained steadfast in his faith and joy.  For Job owned, but was not owned.  We mistake sometimes, and think that by not owning, we show virtue; but virtue is the ability to remain faithful upon a test; if the test is forever avoided, one may never know whether your virtue was real, or merely the butterfly’s dream.

Lessons from these four parables:

We must always be able to discern between the real and the absurd; to see beyond words; for words must match deeds; words must not merely be a playground of conceptual potentialities, though such conceptual frameworks sometimes have their value and place in the world of humanity.  Yes, a mud puddle could potentially drown a child, but the reality of such an event is remote, and must be viewed as such.  The test of a man may one day come; one must always be prepared for such a test.  And so the sword of a samurai must be ready to be unsheathed; but ever remaining in its sheath, if never used; yet, ready to be used, when called upon.  And virtue cannot be true where no test is ever encountered; un-ness is not a virtue when it is embraced; the virtue of un-ness is in the having, not in the vanity of viewing the Koishu Gardens, and thinking that by not owning, you have grasped the serenity of life.

Second Parable: The Dream of a Butterfly

In life, the rarity of humanity arises once, if at all, in the lifetime of a life.  And so it was that Taburo walked his customary walk along a green and lush riverbank.  It had rained for many days before, and the swift and dangerous roar of the rising floodwaters dumping into the Kozuichi River reverberated with an echo of serenity, as the life of a river mirrors the calm and turbulence of a soul.  Taburo walked in meditation as he did each morning.

Morning was the calm of one’s soul; walking was the exercise of the mind; the world around was the dream of a butterfly; the silence of his body the wakefulness of the moment. And the whimper was heard; had Taburo not paused to reach with a finger to stroke the side of a common green river lizard which had momentarily frozen upon its way up a birch tree, he might not have heard the whimper, and perhaps his life would not have given rise to that rarity of humanity, and the test of life in the humanity of his very own life.

Taburo heard the whimper, and looked down.  There, down below, clinging to an overhanging tree branch, was a boy of nine, perhaps ten, his feet partly submerged as the riverwaters were rising; wet through and through, whimpering, too weak to do much more.  Thought was a robber of time when action was required, and Taburo did not think.  He did.  He was a strong swimmer.  The river was rising rapidly.  Time was not on the side of thought. He ran swiftly, as the samurai ancestor’s blood had trained him, tearing off his robe and shedding his sandals, and in a graceful singularity of movement, as an acrobat from a trapeze swing, he dove and cut through the waters.

The undercurrents were overpowering, but Taburo was a mighty warrior; his arms slashed through the currents, and within moments he was with the boy.  The branch which provided the lifeline for the young lad snapped just as he reached the shivering body, and as the rushing waters were about to sweep the lad under, Taburo grabbed him by the scruff of his shirt and pulled him tightly towards his chest, wrapping a powerful arm from behind, around the boy’s chest, under each arm.  With his free arm, he slashed through the battling rapids.

Taburo was the son of a warrior, the grandson of the Ishido Clan, known for the ferocity of their skill in swordsmanship, and with this same triumvirate of virtues:  fearlessness, courage, and kindness, he slashed at the enemy.  Yes, as he swam and as he neared the riverbank, the serenity of exhaustion and fatigue was slowly, imperceptibly overtaking him; and he knew that the river was no enemy.  It was not a warrior to be feared; not an opponent to have courage against; not a worthy adversary to feel kindness towards.  It was, instead, the dream of a butterfly.

These thoughts flashed quickly in his mind, like the silent fluttering of the butterfly, and Taburo laughed in silence.   The rocky banks passed swiftly by; in his doing, he knew that he would have only one chance, as his strength was waning.  He timed it well; for a warrior and a master swordsman, the three elements of a battle ensured victory:  swiftness, accuracy, and timing.  Such virtues, of course, were merely for the physical battle; missing was the fourth virtue, that of wisdom; but in this battle where the opponent was merely the dream of the butterfly, wisdom was not called for; only the agility of the first three virtues.  Of the three, the latter was the most important.

He used the current to his advantage, and positioned himself; as it carried him towards the rocky embankment, he knew that he would hit a jutting boulder or tree root.   At the precise moment, he  slashed both feet towards the embankment, pointing like waiting spears…and as his toes touched surface, he felt the moment, and with the force and agility gained through years of swordsmanship, he pushed fiercely upward, lifting himself momentarily into the air, as he would with a sword about to slash his opponent; but this was a different battle, a different opponent, and in one movement, suspended above the roaring riverwaters, he threw the young lad high into the air.

Taburo slashed back into the dirty waters; at the same time, the lad landed on all fours onto an overhanging boulder several feet above, in the safety and calm of dry land.  The eyes of the lad met the eyes of Taburo.  With the serenity of a butterfly’s dream, Taburo became submerged, and disappeared into the timelessness of nature.

First Parable: The Lady, the Girl and the Stranger

Once upon a time, there was a child with her mother, walking along a dirt road.  It had just rained, and the mist in the air brushed delicately upon the mother and daughter as they trekked through the countryside.  Their journey passed by some mud puddles freshly created by the rain.  As they walked, they came upon a stranger standing by the side of the road, on the adjacent grassy knoll.  The mother and daughter cast their eyes downward; the stranger smiled, revealing a cavernous vacuity for his front teeth.  He stared intently at the mother and daughter, both of whom could feel the piercing look upon them from the uninvited stranger.

Suddenly, without warning, the stranger rushed to the young girl, scooped her up into his arms, and carried her off of the dirt road onto the grassy area, where he just as swiftly, but gently, placed her upon the wet grass.  Too startled to cry, the little girl was lying prone, staring straight up at the bright blue sky.  She remained quiet, too frightened to move, too paralyzed to scream.  The mother, too, had been overtaken with such surprise at the suddenness of the short-distance kidnapping, that it was not until her daughter had been gently placed upon the grass that she let out a shriek of fear, anger, and tremulous indignation with such force of relief, that it caused the stranger to stumble backward, almost tripping over the little girl.  In the course of profane invectives spewing ferociously from the mother’s mouth, the stranger declared, “But madam, I saved your child’s life!  She could have tripped and fallen face flat into one of the muddle puddles, and drowned!  You should thank me for saving her life!”

In a Small Town, Part IV: Questions (You may want to read Parts I, II & III before you read this)

What is a life worth living? What life is worthwhile? What life is one which is well-lived? What is a well-lived life? What is a life of value? A cursory inquiry into such questions may result in an immediate dismissal of such questions as being redundant; insufficiently dissimilar to provoke claims of conceptual differentiation between each; or merely useless philosophical exercises with pretensions of profundities. How do we make such judgments and value-laden conclusions, without a defined criteria by which to apply? Can one make a preliminary determination, or can the question only be answered in the twilight of one’s life?

So, one must consider the Judys of this world; are there saints; is she a saint; is the concept of ‘goodness’ at all meaningful within a world where God no longer maintains a relevant presence? What does it mean to be “good” anymore? And, even if there is a consensus that a person is “good”, is such a characterization meaningful? Without a Platonic Form, or a transcendent conceptualization of the “Good”, it becomes mere trite; to be “good” is a relative term of meaninglessness without a contextual absolute to render it some meaning. Is Judy a faithful servant, such that at the end of her life, one would say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” or is she a failure by society’s standards?

Colleen loved her sister. It was an uncomplicated love; there are human beings placed into the world for specific reasons; or, perhaps one may generalize and say that all human beings are placed into the world for a reason; but the problem with this latter statement is that it trivializes the teleological uniqueness of the specificity of reasons, by applying to all, thereby diminishing the special sense of the individual.

From a very early age, Colleen was subjected to a battery of psychological tests. Her worth and humanity were questioned, evaluated, interpreted, and ultimately condemned by esoteric assignations of medical terms which pigeonholed her for life. She would never reach a level of intellectual functionality greater than the first grade – 2nd grade, at best. Her worth in society thereby determined, she nonetheless remained happy, oblivious to the professional condemnation which she had received; sentenced to a label which minimized her humanity; she was forever “less than”, “she won’t be able to”, “she is capable of only that which…”, rather than the natural focus which should have been upon her limitless potentiality; for that is what we do: God forms man with inherent talents which make up the essence of man; man in the modern age designates labels; and so Colleen’s mother and father, who brought her into this world with dreams and hopes and projections of limitless potentiality, were resigned to accept the dehumanization of their first-born; to give up their greatest joy: of dreaming. For who were they but simple people in the face of such credentialed and learned labels? How could they not accept the condemnatory sentences by such eminent scholars of this school called ‘psychology’?

Joy is a peculiar human emotion. One would think that there would be a proportional correlation between quantitative accumulation of wealth – of knowledge, of money, of fame, of __ (the Reader may fill in the blank with multiple and divergent nouns), and qualitative state of joy. But of course the human experience we encounter daily defies such a correlation; but Colleen was truly a person of joy. Now, let us not be condescending about Colleen by trying to argue and state that she, being intellectually disabled, was “pure joy to be around”. No – she could be difficult, and to try and attempt to paint a picture that Colleen was an angel would be a disservice.

Colleen, frozen at an intellectual level of a 6 year old, could also act as a 6 year old; throwing tantrums; crying with great emotional instability; stubbornly refusing to listen by placing her hands over her ears and shaking her head, screaming, “No! No! No!” Nevertheless, joy was the defining qualitative essence of her character. She smiled more often than not (how many people does the Reader know, who we can describe in that manner?) And, perhaps because she was looked upon as the big sister to Judy, and Judy had a memory of a kind, loving, and protective big sister prior to being labeled as somehow deficient, that for Judy, Colleen was the sister who, on summer nights when the crickets played their violins in concert with the brief relief of the morning dew, a giggle would suddenly befall the quiet dark, and would gain momentum, and infect the room with such overwhelming joy that the first gurgles of involuntary giggles would scratch the back of Judy’s throat, until within minutes, the room would explode with a string of giggles; and suddenly the violin of crickets would stop; for they knew that they could not compete with the bonded sisters in this time of love. Yes, Judy and Colleen were sisters who cared for each other; they were brought into the world as sisters; they were brought into the world in succession, the older in years followed by the younger; then the older to become younger than the little sister, as the latter quickly surpassed her in intellect, but never in progression of their linear historicity.

Judy was to Colleen the world of consistency, security, and familiarity – all qualities of boundaries and constraint which provided for her joy of life. It was not that Judy was never mean or short with Colleen, for of course she could be; but Colleen never remembered anything about her sister, but that she was always there; always there to take care of her; to provide for her; to tell her that she loved her. The younger sister, who became the older sister, who lived – according to the labeled assignation of professionals who are supposed to know such things – with limited and restrictive human apparatus to survive in this Darwinian world; would remember only that her sister Judy was there, in her presence, in her memory, in her limited intellect; Judy would always be there for Colleen. For to Colleen, in the universe of her humanity, the very essence and structure of her world were constituted by the presence of her sister Judy. Her joy and happiness; her very self-identity, was created and maintained by being with Judy. When Judy was gone to work at the ‘pancake place’, Colleen waited patiently, following the strict routine and rules set down by her sister. If Colleen wandered from that routine – and Judy always seemed to find out and admonish her with an alarm in her voice – an alarm which said to Colleen, My sister is unhappy with me; but always with love, with that human emotion of love; no, it is not merely human; it is of God. And when Judy returned, Oh,
but with what bubbling joy would overwhelm Colleen; for it meant that her universe had the consistency of the one presence which provided the structure of her limited universe. And that structure was her sister Judy. For Judy was her world; she was her universe; she was her joy.

Judy would give up all of her dreams. Early on, her teachers described her as “exceptionally talented”; she would go far; she possessed “vast, limitless potential”; and then the assignation of labels was performed; now, to be fair, mother and father never expected Judy to give up her dreams. For, would that not be a crime? The humanity of one sister was minimized; would the humanity of the other also be diminished by the burden of one sister upon another? Would that not be unfair? Better to allow for that vast, limitless potential to succeed, to have the opportunities to have actualized, than to burden it with the care of one who would never reach the heights of worth which society determined. Yet, it was Judy who determined to take care of Colleen; to embrace the unspoken “family obligation”; to take the “burden of her sister”; to “bear the cross” that life had given to her. And when mom and dad suddenly died, it was not as if the burden became heavier; as contrary to what one might think, it was as if the burden became lighter; but of course Judy was greatly saddened by their deaths; she was crushed beyond understanding. For Colleen, there was sadness, too; but that sadness was interdependent with and upon Judy’s sadness; for as the Reader has already seen, the universe of Colleen was intimately connected with the humanity of Judy; and if Judy was sad, then Colleen was sad. But sadness, though it may consume some, must be set aside in deliberative fashion when necessity dictates such will to survive; and for Judy, the threat upon Colleen’s universe required that she dismantle the structure of her present sadness, and focus upon re-structuring and securing the joy of her sister’s life: Colleen was not a burden; Colleen was the purpose for which to sacrifice one’s life, in order to gain another. Her life was not in any way diminished. Yes, others would shake their heads and say, “Isn’t it sad that…” or “The two of ’em wouldn’t have amounted to much, nohow.”

So Judy gave up her dreams; she gave up her potential careers; she gave up the quantitative worth of her humanity.

But what of the qualitative worth?

And so we shall endeavor to answer each of the questions posed at the beginning of this story:

What is a life worth living? It is a life measured by the vastness of a sacrifice.

What life is worthwhile? It is a life defined by the essence of love.

What life is one which is well-lived? It is a life which is lived without fame, but which impacts the world, whether the concept of ‘world’ be limited by the cognitive world of a single individual, or of the greater world of vast populations.

What is a well-lived life? It is a life which brings joy to another.

What is a life of value? A life of value is a life of sacrifice.

For, is that not the life as lived by Jesus Christ?