This is a continuation of an allegorical tale begun in The Gate is Small (Pt. 1) and continuing through The Gate is Small (Pt. 2) and The Gate is Small (Pt. 3). I suggest reading the full story in order, but of course, that’s only my opinion.
“YES!” The word exploded from my mouth. My grip was getting looser and looser on the ledge.
The huge man with the English accent quickly knelt down and grabbed both my wrists. His hands were so large, they seemed to wrap around my wrist twice as he lifted me straight up over the ledge, and stood me up on the grass. He peered down with a mixed look of intrigue, glee, and distress.
“How did you get yourself into such a situation?” he asked steadily.
“I – well – I…”
“You were lured away by desire,” he finished eloquently.
“I suppose so. I feel so foolish. It didn’t seem as though I had done anything wrong, at least not until it was too late,” I said sheepishly.
“It rarely does,” he said, walking back up the hill toward my pack. Another, larger pack sat next to it; I surmised it was his. The style was much older than mine, made of thick green canvas with a flap and drawstring over the top, with a bulky metal frame for its shoulder straps. He had obviously left it there when coming to help me. He leant over and easily swung the massive backpack over his shoulder and did up the waist belts. I followed suit, after putting my hiking boots back on.
Everything about the man was simply bigger than me, his hands, his head, his chest, and of course his feet. He must have been wearing size sixteen shoes! I sheepishly asked, “So how far up this trail have you been?”
“Oh, I’ve summited this peak before. I volunteer with the rangers now to help those in need on the hike and tend to the brush on the trail. You’re definitely not the first one I’ve hoisted over that cliff-ledge,” he said simply.
“And what do you get in return?” I asked.
“The joy of this beautiful place. Need there be more?” he asked gesturing to the spectacular view I had been unsatisfied with.
“What is your name sir?” I asked.
“Jack,” he said simply. “At least that’s what my friends call me, so you might as well as well!” He smiled slyly at his own word play.
“A pleasure to meet you Jack. Would you be interested in joining me for a bit? I could use a skilled guide, and a friend to keep me on the path,” I said.
“Few things would delight me more,” said Jack. With that, we began the hike again, strolling along the path as it wound its way up the mountainside. As we walked, we talked. Jack was fascinating on many levels, and everything he said had a thick and pasty layer of thought underneath it. We discussed philosophy together and I was telling him how seeing Magpie had made me feel.
“I was saddened by her blind dependence on so much that was unnecessary,” I finished.
“That is fair and understandable, but don’t allow your own viewpoint to alter what you call true.”
“What do you mean, Jack?”
“Well, take me and you for example. If a man were to look at my pack and then to look at yours he would say the same thing about you that you said about Mag. Looking at my pack, much older and more rugged, without any fancy light-weight water bottles electronic compasses, GPS, or nylon straps attached, he might surmise that you are holding too tightly to your worldly possessions and appealing to your privileged position to afford such amenities. He might think it proper for you to come down to my level, so to speak, and use the ‘simpler’ hiking tools.”
“I don’t think the two are truly comparable. A compass is much different than a banjo.”
“Fair’s fair, and true’s true. You are right that there are degrees to be taken into account. Sensibilities to be considered. But you must also take a good look at your own perspective and see if it’s not just a bit reformed by your own circumstances. I do not mean to say that you can’t have a clear picture, or that all views are therefore equally valid. Some views must be closer to the truth than others. After all, your own amenities have not prevented you from getting further along the path than Mag has. However, you should recognize the privileged position you hold.”
“But I can’t help that, can I? I suppose I could get rid of my water filter and my electronic compass and GPS and a few other things that ‘privilege’ me, if you want to call it that, but what good would it do anyone for me to relinquish those?” I said.
“Again, you’re exactly right. You can’t be expected to apologize for the things you have, but you can be expected not to assume that others have them. With your privileges come responsibilities, about which you have no say. You must deal with the hand you’re dealt. Perspective you see. It would be foolish to get rid of your amenities simply because others don’t have them. It’s much better to use your own blessings to bless others, as you did with Mag. But always recognize them as the blessings they are. You mustn’t take them for granted or assume your privileges are plenary.”
“Point well-made and point taken,” I said thoughtfully.
“It’s like that with many hikers on this mountain. One’s own circumstances might deceive the onlooker as to the true status of the hiker. One hiker who seems to be quite grubby and struggling along the hike, with torn clothes and has a habit of slurping his water up while he walks, might seem to be almost beaten by the hike or handling it very poorly, or not improving very much, when compared to a second man with toned muscles, a nice nylon pack, and is very good at conserving his water. But where have the two come from? The first man might have spent the majority of his life crawling on all fours and begging like a dog and never once been told that slurping his water is improper, because he’d never even tasted water before this hike. The second man on the other hand has been hiking since he was a child and hasn’t learned anything new about the mountain or improved on his hiking skills since he first started. Which one is further along? Which one has made more progress? When compared to each other, obviously the second is superior. When compared to their past selves, the first has much more experience hiking.”
“Isn’t that dangerous and prideful? To make comparisons like that I mean?”
“Indeed it is. You’ve gotten ahead of me. That’s the reason why you never compare yourself to anyone else. You’ll be deceived. Compare your hiking only to the professionals, the rangers themselves, and to your own past hikes. Never compare yourself to other hikers. Once the element of competition has gone out of it, the pride has gone too.”
Jack’s words were definitely thought provoking, and I didn’t know how much I agreed with him. Even in his analogy, the second hiker was better at hiking, the first one had just learned a larger amount in a shorter time. As I pondered, Jack continued.
“It’s not likely the same with this Mag, though. She might be more like the second hiker than the first. She might have started with all of her amenities and not given any up at all. She might be seeking comfort instead of truth, which is folly. In which case she needs to be chastised; corrected! If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth. But then again, if she has sacrificed quite a lot already, she is in process and is making progress and merely has much further still to progress. In that case, more encouragement and less chastisement would be best.”
Again, I was lost in thought. I could tell that this was not the first time Jack had organized these thoughts. He spoke them so eloquently. We shared a short silence and then my curiosity burst forth.
“When did you start hiking this trail? When did you reach the summit?”
“Years and years ago I began, but mind you, I was the second type of hiker in our analogy. I grew up pounding the trailheads and didn’t see any need in improving my hiking skills by trying out a path as tough as this one. I didn’t go through that rusty little gate until I had tried every other path on the mountain, but none of them gave me the satisfying view we have here,” he said, gesturing again to the spectacular scene visible from the trail. “I summited on November 22, 1963. When I first hiked this trail, I left behind little clues and markers of my presence. I tried to help out other hikers along the way. A mile or two ahead we’ll reach a water pump I installed. We can refill our canteens there. Taking care of the trail and the hikers is my pleasure now, and basking in the beauty of course.”
Jack was rambling now, but I didn’t mind. He had the sort of voice you could easily get lost in. Warm and inviting. We strolled along and Jack kept talking; I listened contentedly. We went on that way for about a half an hour. The sun still high in the sky, with a breeze blowing by, and not a single mosquito in sight, I let out a big sigh.
But when I opened my eyes I froze in my tracks. We had just rounded a huge curve on the side of the mountain and a massive brown bear was barreling down the path toward us.
Jack still hadn’t seen it.
This story is continued in The Gate is Small (Pt. 5)!