(I wrote this in 1997 and it appeared in the Nyack College Journal of Literature and Art)
He had lost his taste for religion following his parent’s divorce, but not his desire for the knowledge of the truth. Because of this and the many confusing and disturbing things that seemed to occur in the lives of average men, our young man, after he had grown a little older, undertook to discover the ultimate purpose of life. There could be any number of reasons why he wanted to accomplish such a task, but I don’t think it was merely because he had a difficult upbringing or a hard time relating to his parents. Anyway, couldn’t that be said of most young men of his generation? Back then society and culture were changing radically and even the national institutions were in danger of collapse, and though there seemed to be great progress being made in the sciences and the arts, more questions were arising than were being answered. Many young people began looking for new ways to understand the complexities of life. And there were plenty of options: LSD and other mind-bending drugs were being taken by many hoping to experience alternate realities, and all sorts of gurus and cults were springing up claiming to hold the secrets of life. Some of these things interested our young man (he indulged in much experimentation), but he thought that if he could simply exercise the power of his brain in some minimalistic way, he could discover a truth that would appeal to everyone, but more selfishly himself. If he could somehow reduce his thought processes to a rudimentary state, he was sure he could get at the complete objective truth. Because he believed that no one up to then had made the elusive discovery, he was a bit overwhelmed with the journey he was about to embark. His first order of business, he reasoned, was to debunk all the new age gurus, pluralists, and so-called mystics. He didn’t intend to do this because he was positive they were all wrong, but, because he heard the Truth say, “Beloved, don’t put any stock in all these phonies, but test their spirits to see whether they are true because many false prophets are coming into the world.”
Not long after he decided to attempt to understand the holistic truth of life, he enrolled in a local college to study the great minds of old. Shortly thereafter he found himself surrounded by many intellectual types, or more likely, individuals who promoted themselves as intellectuals. Unlike those days when only a few people went to college, now a multitude considered themselves members of the intelligentsia. This new group considered all those who stayed away from higher education (read: blue-collar, poor, or disenfranchised) to be inferior and incapable of comprehending the finer aspects of life or its meaning. But soon the young man realized that even the professors were just an assemblage of affected misfits who were only seeking to be praised for their clever ability to spew scholarly clichés rather than come up with any great insights of their own. He then deduced that many of the people outside the hallowed halls of the university were probably naturally wiser than the pseudo-intellectuals. Later on, he decided it would probably be best not to study under these merely mortal men, but return to his original hypotheses of conceiving a whole new philosophy based on some primordial knowledge. Once again he pondered how dangerous this would be, because if he used just his mind (and nothing else) to conceive the truth and then attempted to express himself publicly or publish his opinions on the subjects of epistemology, cosmology, metaphysics and the like, wouldn’t he most likely be accused of plagiarism or, even worse, cerebral naiveté? He knew he would be reinventing the wheel to some degree as it applied to truths that had already been discovered. But, again, it wasn’t his a priori discernment or some empirical investigation which taught him this. It was the Truth, who, in a still, small voice said to him: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new for you to unearth.”
Unfortunately, this young man was like so many other young men of that generation. They believed that philosophy alone held the keys to human existence. He often times asked of his co-sojourners: “What is life worth living if there’s no readily understandable purpose to that life?” That question just about plowed him under with its burden. Yet, once more, the Truth whispered in his ear: “… Let me give you some advice: Don’t talk to these men anymore! Because if they think they are going to find the Truth simply with their minds, they are surely going to fail.”
Since he had decided not to completely remove himself from societies influences, averting other philosophers and thinkers would prove to be quite the impossible task. After a short time, while on his journey of truth, he found himself, much to his chagrin, firmly entrenched within his own small group of illuminati. Due to his almost casual refutations of the great philosophers, he became highly regarded amongst his pretentious circle of sophists. He quickly received an enviable reputation amid his peers as a unique mind who was seeking after all the truths which life might offer. He really didn’t say much at all though, but it was on those rare occasions when he did speak that he came by his prominence. Or maybe it was his pained misunderstandings, and not at all any great profession of knowledge that won him such notoriety. Nevertheless, he portrayed himself as pitiable, because he knew he was still light years away from the Truth which he desperately wished to acquire.
Indeed he was pitiable. He soon took again to drinking heavily and indulging in mind-altering drugs, but this time not to satisfy the curiosity of its para-philosophical possibilities, but simply to escape the brutal experience of his own lostness and his utter aloneness. He surrounded himself with other cynical savants who drowned their sense of inadequacy in a bottle or a pill. They all knew that their behavior would be their undoing, but they dared not speak about it. They were weak, spineless creatures, but their false pride kept them from taking their own lives. Their shame was that they claimed life was ultimately meaningless, but they were too afraid to support their views with an appropriate action. Yet isn’t it the same as suicide to treat your body with such contempt, that surely death comes quicker to your door than to others? Still, the Truth continued to speak to him saying, “… pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”
And our young man’s excesses would finally catch up to him on one particular night of debauchery and luxuriance. Dejected and unsatisfied again, he stumbled into his apartment and promptly fell flat on his face. That night he had a dream, and soon he was the dream, and the dream became reality. Then he seemed to awake in complete darkness. It was so dark he couldn’t see his own hand in front of his eyes. If he had ever felt alone before, now he knew what being alone truly was like. He sensed himself completely separated from existence itself. This must be hell, he presumed. He tried to run, but his fear made him trip over his feet. Then he remembered something he read in a book as a child, “The way of the lost is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.” Now, with surprising abruptness, the Truth spoke in a clear voice as if He was right there with him: “… I will go back to my secret place until you admit your wrongs. And then you will seek My face; in your misery, you will really seek Me.”
In utter fear and without knowledge of whom he spoke our young man cried out, “Forgive me, Sir! I had heard about You, but I wanted to be like You. Save me from my transgressions; do not embarrass me in front of my foolish friends.” There was no immediate answer from the Truth, but all at once the young man was lifted up and brought into a cave, and still, there was no light at all. “Glaucon,” the Truth spoke to him, “remember the teachings of your dear old friend and mentor”:
Behold! Can you see people living in an underground cave, which has an opening toward the light, which reaches into the length of the cave; they have been here since they were children, and their legs and necks have been chained so that they cannot move, and they can only see in front of themselves, because the chains prevent them from turning their heads around. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and if you look carefully you will also see a low wall built along the way, like the screen which puppeteers have in front of them, over which they manipulate the puppets.
I see, replied Glaucon, who is our young man, talking to his long lost mentor.
And can you see, he asked, men, walking back and forth in front of the wall carrying all sorts of artifacts, statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and other materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others don’t speak at all.
You have shown me a strange sight, and they are bizarre prisoners, Glaucon answered.
One of them is you Glaucon, his friend replied; and you can only see your own shadow, or the shadows of the other prisoners, which the fire projects on the opposite wall of the cave. The Truth again whispered into Glaucon’s ear in the cave: “He is revealing the deep things of darkness and he brings deep shadows into the light.”
How could I see anything but the shadows if I can’t move my head? Glaucon protested, tears streaming down his cheeks.
Without answering him, his friend asked another question, And what if you were able to talk with your fellow prisoners, wouldn’t you try to make sense of what you saw in the shadows?
I suppose we would, Glaucon said, wondering if he was answering correctly. After each time his old friend spoke, Glaucon waited a while for the Truth’s voice.
And now try to imagine if the prison had an echo which came from the outside, wouldn’t you think that when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which you heard came from a moving shadow?
No question, Glaucon replied.
To you, I say, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.
Absolutely, Glaucon answered, now feeling his wits being restored. And when his intellectual pride returned so did the Truth saying, “These are only a shadow of the things that are to come…”
And now take another look, and imagine what would happen if you were released and disabused of your wrong thinking. At first, when you were liberated and compelled suddenly to get up and turn your head around, then walk and look toward the light, you would suffer sharp pains all throughout your body; the light would distress you, and you wouldn’t be able to see the truths of which in your previous reality you had only seen shadows; and then you would hear someone say to you, what you experienced before was just an illusion, but now that you are coming nearer to the light and your eyes are tuned into the real existence, you will have a clearer vision. What would you say to this person?
“Though I was living in darkness, I have seen a great light; I was living in the land of the shadow of death, but a new light has dawned,” Glaucon replied, not recognizing his own words!
To that his friend said, You have seen the Truth, and not mere reflections of Him in the water, but you see Him in His proper place; and now you will contemplate Him as He is.
Certainly, Glaucon exuberantly replied.
Will you not now argue that this is the One who gives the season and the years, and is the Guardian of all that is in the visible and invisible world, and in all ways the cause of all things? his mentor asked.
Clearly, Glaucon answered, I would first see the Truth and then reason about Him.
And just then the Truth, satisfied that our young man understood this teaching, appeared in all His Glory and spoke to Glaucon’s heart saying, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. While I am in the world I am the light of the world. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become a son of light.”
Glaucon’s friend returned, spoke again asking, When you remember your old way of life, and the wisdom of your fellow prisoners, will you not be thankful for your new knowledge and pity them? Will you not also say with Homer, “It is better to be the poor servant of a poor master,” and endure anything, rather than think as they do and live like they do?
To this Glaucon related, Yes, surely I would rather suffer anything than believe what I used to believe and live the life I used to live.
Imagine, his friend queried, that you are suddenly no longer in the presence of the Light and you are sent back to the cave, wouldn’t you certainly have your eyes filled with darkness again?
Shuttering at the thought of his friend’s question, Glaucon cried out, “For the sake of Your name, O Lord, forgive my trespasses, though they be many.” Our young man, now trembling on his knees, looked up at the Truth and pleaded, “I have been a slave in this cave my entire life! What must I do to be free of the darkness that has overtaken me?”
Then, just before Glaucon physically awoke, the Truth spoke to him and proclaimed, “If you do as my teachings say, then you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.”
Glaucon leaped out of his bed, got dressed, and ran towards the bar where he had spent the previous night and loudly announced to all of his friends, “Listen to me, I want to tell you about a man who told me everything I ever did. I am sure that this man is the Truth we have been searching for?” His drinking buddies stared blankly at the young man not really knowing if he was the same person that they were with just the night before. Then one of the professors from the college asked, “My dear boy, have you seen a ghost? You are glowing like a candle.”
So he started to teach the men in the bar: “Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness does not understand it. I am speaking to you as a witness, testifying concerning that light, so that hopefully through me you might believe. I myself am not the light; I’m only here as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man has already come into the world.”
The men proceeded to ask our young man many questions about the Truth, but it was a little boy, eating dinner with his parents at a nearby table, who had overheard the talk of this wonderful man, and asked quite innocently, “So what was the Truth’s name? Did He have a name!?” “His name is Jesus,” our young man emphatically replied. Then the little boy filled with the knowledge of the Truth looked up to the heavens and exclaimed, “Praise the Name of the Truth! Praise the Name of Jesus! The Name that is above every Name!” And soon after our young man spread the good news of his visions, many believed and came to know the Truth as well.
(c) Paul Dordal, 1997