The Path

He had set out to understand the meaning of life and his connectedness with the entire universe, but the demands of daily living kept getting in the way. There were dishes to wash, homework to do, grass to cut, snow to shovel, newspapers to deliv-er, sports to play, radio programs to listen to, TV to watch. The list was endless, and new demands were added every day.

Because he lacked the time, experience, and mental training, early on Bernie allowed others to do his thinking for him. His mother’s religion claimed to have all the answers; all that was required of Bernie was that he accept their ideas. And, since he was condemned to burn in eternal hell fire if he didn’t, it seemed like the right and proper thing to do. He gave it his best shot. In the beginning it gave Bernie a sense of pride, knowing for certain that he, his family, and his friends were all destined for eternal bliss. That is, of course, if they didn’t do any of those bad things like, committing adultery, or coveting thy neighbors wife, or missing church on Sunday, or eating meat on Friday, or taking the Lord’s name in vain. That list seemed endless also.

Now, it was a lot easier to say that only those who belonged to his religion were going to heaven when he only met and knew people from his own religion. Doubts about the veracity of this wonderful, all-knowing, dogmatic body of knowledge began to creep in once Bernie started to bump into people who believed in other religions and philosophies. He was then faced with the dilemma of what would happen to all of these non-believers who seemed to be very kind, honest, and hard-working sorts. And, what about all those other billions of non-believers in the Middle East, India, and China?

Reality was once again intruding into Bernie’s quest for the ultimate answers to his questions about the meaning of life. He had studied his own religion and theology, extensively, and he had mastered the intricacies of philosophy and logic, as practiced by followers of his religion. He tried desperately to cling to the religious teachings of his youth, but it was no use. Even the ever-present threat of burning in eternal hell fires was no longer enough of a deterrent to prevent him from opening his mind to the ideas of these infidels and non-believers.

Bernie was finally free to explore and to find the ultimate truth. Psychology was no longer off-limits, and it was okay to read about the other major religions and philosophies of the world. But, it was all very confusing. It seemed that everything new that he read held the answer to his questions until he read the next, and the next, and the next set of writings. And, then, there was the ever-expanding reservoir of his personal life experiences that tended to muddy the waters.

“Wise men come, ever promising the riddle of life to know,” goes the lyric from the musical, Kismet. Bernie was struck by the poetic insight of these lines and the ones that followed, “All that there is to know, lovers know. Only lovers know.”

He had his answer, but it was not the one he had sought. It took a great leap of faith in the goodness of the universe and a great deal of intellectual humility to accept the reality that he could not know the answer to everything. He would have to learn how to live with not knowing.

And, so, Bernie became a “Born-Again Agnostic”. The phrase appealed to Bernie’s unique sense of humor. A lot of other people didn’t get it, but it always made Bernie smile every time he said it.

“We all start out not knowing”, he would try to explain, somewhat impatiently. “Then most of us buy into some set of religious beliefs. In my case, it didn’t stick. I’m back where I started from, not knowing again.”

Invariably, his listeners would shake their heads and begin talking about something else. His friends accepted his weird way of thinking, his children just rolled their eyes. Bernah, his spouse and life-partner, was more concerned about how Bernie acted than about what he said he believed in.

‘The more he freed himself from the straight jacket of his earlier narrow belief system, the more Bernie came to realize that one of his biggest gifts was his ability to interweave ideas from differing points of view into an integrated whole. He learned how to look for the kernels of truth and wisdom in the midst of various philo-sophers’ or psychologists’ or scientists’ dogmatic pronouncements. The cynical side of him understood that there had to be a bit of a used car salesman in everyone who sought to popularize any new theory. There had to be a lot of over-selling just to get people’s attention. Later, they could admit the limitations of their points of view.

Accepting the unknowable did not mean that Bernie knew nothing. On the contrary, he knew a great deal. Between his studies and his life experiences he had an enormous treasure trove of knowledge, and more importantly, an ever-growing storehouse of wisdom. And, one of the most useful pieces of wisdom was his understanding that he could only walk on the path that was in front of him. It was often not the path that he wanted, but, rather, the one that the universe had chosen for him. That can sound an awful lot like accepting the will of a personal god, but that was not Bernie’s sense of it. To him it was a deep, reverent bow to the Unknowable.

Being free of any one set of beliefs allowed Bernie to use parts of them all. For example: when he and Bernah were faced with a major life crisis, they were able to draw on the ancient Chinese teachings that taught them to look for the opportunity in the crisis that their current misfortunate afforded them. This did not minimize their need to overcome the danger, but it gave them a direction to move in once the danger was controlled. And, when friends or family chided either of them for not following the “true religion”, they were comforted by the Hindu imagery of many paths leading to the top of the mountain. They allowed the others to continue on their chosen paths and insisted on their own rights to follow theirs.

These days, as Bernie looks back on his life, he is struck by the peculiarity of a certain gift that he had received all too often. It was the gift of failure. Yes, he had successes, and they were important for building his self-confidence. But, it was failure that had made him struggle and learn and grow. And, it was failure that kept his ego in check and reminded him of the many things that he did not know.

The Path

FRANK LOSIK

Salinas, United States

  • Artist
    Notes

Artist's Description

Exerpted from my book “The Game of Life”, a collections of postcards, poems, and short stories designed to appeal to the mature palate. Log on to my website at www.franklosik.com/books to learn more about it.

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