Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Ten Blind Men, The Elephant, and The Man With a Wooden Leg Named Smith

I once knew a Man With a Wooden Leg Named Smith. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know. However, we were friends for a time, and in the course of things, he mentioned that he was once the king of a ficticious country. This struck me as a particular distinction, because there are many kings of actual countries, but this was the first person I'd ever known who was king of a ficticious country. Of course, he was no longer king of this ficticious country, as he no longer resided there, but he was happy to regale me with tales of his experiences there.

The name of this country was Deagolia, and it came by its name honestly. In the land of Deagolia, everyone was blind, except for one person, a wanderer who had come to Deagolia from unknown parts, known only as The Man With a Wooden Leg Named Smith. The blindness of the people was congenital; that is, everyone born in Deagolia was blind from birth. In fact, had it not been for the Man With a Wooden Leg Named Smith, the Deagolians would never have known that such a thing as Sight existed, for they had never experienced it, nor had they ever known anyone who had.

It was inevitable that The Man With a Wooden Leg Named Smith would become king, as he was the only sighted person in the country, and as Desiderus Erasmus once coined, "In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." Actually, The Man With a Wooden Leg Named Smith had both of his eyes, but that only meant that he had one to spare, in case anything should happen to the other one, as was the case with his legs.

In any case, before he was made king, it was quickly discovered that he had a perceptual ability that nobody else in Deagolia had, or had even been aware of, and he was often sought for advice concerning matters which were best resolved by a sighted person. For example, he was often asked to determine whether a person's t-shirt was on backwards. Oddly enough, it had never occurred to the people of Deagolia that a t-shirt could be worn backwards until The Man With A Wooden Leg Named Smith pointed out the fact to a few of them. They were also amazed to discover that there were images and text on some of these t-shirts, and that the text could be interpreted by The Man With a Wooden Leg Named Smith. Thus were the people of Deagolia introduced to a great number of new jokes and consumer products.

The story of how The Man With a Wooden Leg Named Smith became king begins when an elephant somehow wandered into the land of Deagolia, a land which had heretofore never seen an elephant, or even heard of one. In a land of blind men and women, you can imagine what a stir such an event might raise, as well as the inherent danger involved in having an elephant in the midst of a country full of blind people.

It was inevitable that someone would encounter the elephant, and sure enough, a group of 10 Deagolians who were walking down the Damascus highway were startled when the first man in the group walked straight into the elephant and fell flat on his back. Blind they were, but not deaf by a long shot. Being blind had made their remaining senses sharp and sensitive, and they all heard the muffled thud, and the sound of the poor fellow falling backwards into the dust.

"Good heavens!" the first man exclaimed, "Someone's built a house in the middle of the highway!" He slowly picked himself up and tentatively reached out in front of him. "Doesn't feel quite like anything I've ever heard of a wall being made of, but it's a wall, alright." His hands spread slowly and cautiously over the elephant's side. "Feels like some kind of hard leather. Must do a great job of keeping out the rain."

Another man walked slowly up to the elephant, and came across the trunk. "I don't know what you're talking about. This is no wall; it's more like a tree."

By this point, the other eight men were more curious than startled, and they all began to edge towards different parts of the elephant. As one of them approached it from behind, the elephant flicked its' tail. "Too thin for a tree, and not a wall either. It might be some kind of snake, maybe. I think it may have tried to bite me!" This remark frightened several of them, who drew back warily. The first one, still feeling the elephant's side, shook his head. "You all must be crazy. It's much bigger than a snake, a vine, or even a tree. And it's solid, but not entirely hard. I'm telling you, it's a wall. Some kind of building."

A fourth man ventured forth and felt the tip of a tusk. "Ouch! It's got some kind of giant thorns on it!"

Within a few minutes, they were embroiled in a spirited argument about the nature of their discovery. Most of them didn't want to approach the elephant, but one or two of them kept exploring the small areas that they had discovered, and reported with confidence their theories about the nature of the thing, ridiculing one another for their ignorance and lack of discernment.

It was at about this time that The Man With a Wooden Leg Named Smith walked up on the group. Now, The Man With a Wooden Leg Named Smith had never seen an elephant before, but he could certainly see, and although the Deagolians had no idea what sight was, they knew that The Man With a Wooden Leg Named Smith had a special sense which enabled him to perceive in some detail things that could not be felt, smelled, heard, or tasted, and at some great distance. They heard him coming, and recognized him immediately, due to the sound of his footsteps.

Rushing up to him, they immediately began to clamor for an explanation of what he saw. "We have encountered something strange, and possibly dangerous! What is it?" The Man With a Wooden Leg Named Smith looked at the animal, for he could immediately see that it was an animal, although he had never seen one quite so large in all his lifetime. "I do not know what it is," he replied, and began to walk slowly around the creature at a distance, wary of what such a large animal might be capable of if he were to get too close. The crowd of ten men followed behind him.

Finally, he spoke. Being a man who cared deeply about being completely truthful, he avoided making any guesses about the elephant, and told them as much as he thought they would understand, enough to ensure their safety. "I can tell you this much: It is alive. It is huge. And I would not want to get in its' way, or make it angry."

With these remarks, the group of men were somewhat relieved, as they had found someone in their midst who could see the creature and tell them something about it. They ran hastily back to their village and reported all of these events to the rest of the people. Each reported his own experience of the encounter, and what he had perceived. There was much confusion amongst the people when they heard the variety of perceptions that were related to them. However, there was complete agreement regarding the words of The Man With a Wooden Leg Named Smith, whom they had all come to know as a man who had an ability to perceive much more than they, and a man who cared deeply about being completely truthful.

That night, they had a meeting, and unanimously decided to appoint The Man With a Wooden Leg Named Smith king of Deagolia. And from that day forth, The Man With a Wooden Leg Named Smith ruled the land, which changed nothing really, in terms of his relationship with the people, as he was not inclined to wealth, or to exert control over people. But, to him, "king" was as good a title as any, and he was happy to be of service in any way that he could. He continued to provide whatever information his experience and perception afforded him when he was asked, and was called upon from time to time to resolve disputes among the people.

The elephant remained in Deagolia for many years, perhaps because there was an abundance of food which elephants like to eat there, and wandered from place to place, mostly without incident. The Man With a Wooden Leg Named Smith did his best to study the elephant when he could find it, being careful not to get in its' way, or do anything to make it angry. The people of Deagolia for the most part avoided the elephant in their fear of it, but its' constant presence in their land would not allow them to forget about it or ignore it completely. In fact, as time went by, some interesting social phenomena arose among them, regarding the elephant. But that is the beginning of another story. Perhaps one day I shall tell it.

1 comment:

James Davis said...

I don't as yet know anything about you or your blog or even what it is about, but I do know a fantastically conceived and written tale when I read one, so I just have to know-did you write this?