Questions are good even if we don’t have an answer. At least we’re asking and trying to see things freshly with our own eyes and minds. Not to say it’s easy and not to say we’ll find an answer. But the struggle, when it’s honest and open, is what makes us human and keeps us learning even if it may also keep us up nights. But please bare with me (oops, I wasn’t looking for any naked truth) but rather ‘bear with me.’
SO we have this big coin, waist-high, with a giant question mark on both sides: ?/?. On one side is the eastern koan, a riddle that can’t be solved intellectually – you can’t reason it out. On the other side is the western conundrum, a difficult problem or worse yet, a paradox.
I’m guessing after a tour in combat, in recent conflicts where there’s so little support or buy-in by so many civilians, life can seem like that coin ?/?- ?/?-?/? spinning too damn fast. I want to help (now where have you heard that before?). To take your mind off things I’m going to give you three conundrums to contemplate. (I was born in Brooklyn – which may be East Coast but not east enough for a koan.)
Time: A serpent wraps back on itself and starts to swallow its tail having decided it was unhappy with how it got to where it was. It thought, “I’ll start here and eat my way back to the beginning so I can start all over again. The tail disengaged and wrapped itself around the head saying, “I’ve already seen the end and don’t want to sit through the movie again from the beginning.” The belly, sitting quietly in the middle of the conflict, laughed, content to eat what was served. (Published by microfictionmondaymagazine.com, 3/1/2021.)
Mirror: The face fussed in front of the mirror for an hour: the hair had to fall just so, the eyebrows and lashes needed improvement, shadows had to be added and removed, and the cheeks and chin just so. Finally, the face backed off and wondered if the rest of the body was paying attention.
The Pass: A whirlwind played with a small 2 x 4 card which promised to take the holder to the promised land. The whirlwind whispered, “You can’t get there by yourself, you know. Someone has to hold you. You’re more than a ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card and more than Dumbo’s magic feather that helped him fly.” An arm, ladened with golden bangles and fingers choked with sparkling stones, reached into the whirlwind snatching the card. “I need this for my daughter, she needs to get into the best college.” Another arm pushes her aside. “It’s mine. My son needs a fast-track career.” The whirlwind blew it away and dropped it at your feet. You look down, smile, and walk away.
Hmm. Did I ever tell you, in my wise guy days I told the draft board to shove it and they wrote back asking what I did for a living? I replied. “I teach people to question.” They sent back my draft card – 1 A!
Here’s a flash – the conundrums are all the same.
There are times I can laugh at such conundrums and brush them away. I’m learning to live without having all the answers. I’m OK as long as I remember to breathe, smile, and commit random acts of kindness.
Perhaps kindness exists outside of time. And people are always saying, “Here’s smiling back at you.” And The Pass?? Why spoil all the fun. I bet riding in a troop transport was as much fun as a public bus – NOT!
Life’s full of puzzles. You follow a spinning coin too closely you’re liable to strain your eyes. Sometimes scratching your chin and moving into the next moment is the right thing to do. Got a chance, watch one of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films especially those with Toshiro Mifune. Sorry, you’ll have to bring your own popcorn. Many final scenes show him shrugging his shoulders and continuing to walk down the road of life.
TAKEAWAY: Keep breathing, smile, and commit random acts of kindness. It’s not hard. Next time you’re out walking and come across a piece of litter, pick it up and dispose of it properly. Come that way again – guess what? There’ll be less trash to curse and you may make some new friends.
I wrote a story along those lines you can read online: “Act of Kindness,” Fall 2019, October Hill Magazine, p.1. It takes place in Brooklyn, New York.
Ken was a Professor of Mathematics, a ceramicist, a welder, and an IBMer until downsized in 2000. He taught yoga until COVID-19 decided otherwise. He continues writing, living with his wife and beagle in Shorewood, Wisconsin. He enjoys chamber music and mysteries. He’s a homebrewer and runs whitewater rivers. Ken is a writer and his literary works can be found at https://www.kmkbooks.com/ He welcomes feedback on his articles and can be reached at email@example.com.