A dialogue in the Park

Gray was sitting at a table at the far corner of the large bright room. Many people were buzzing around jubilant in the festivities when the Master entered with a big smile and everybody rushed to receive him. As Gray was watching the crowds and the noise, some memories began to creep into his mind of the time when that same “master” used to be his student and spent a lot of time asking him about the direction of his life. As the years went by, at a later point in the past, their paths crossed again. His celebrity student asked him, “what should I say when I have to introduce you to others?”

Although the condescending question shocked him, he answered after a brief hesitation, “tell them, we used to be together in the institution.” And that answer satisfied the dignity of the big shot.. and left a gaping wound in the heart of the teacher, who was sitting alone now sipping his coffee and smiling to himself with a bland look on his face…

A short while later, one of the ladies organizing the event, came and asked,

               “sir, why are you sitting alone? I know that you are friends with the master.. please come and sit next to him..”

               “I thought I should give way to the many fans of the holy man.” Gray answered.

               “but we know he is friends with you for many years, please come and sit next to him” she insisted.

He did go.. And the cold contrived welcome of the master was an additional slap.. but he smiled again and pretended not to notice .. until the conversation reached a point where he was forced to mildly correct a statement made by the master for the benefit of the crowd. It was received with an air of indignation and summarily waived as “controversial” with an unspoken objection glowing in the eyes of the big man… “do not dare correct me.”

Needless to say such encounters should be expected. Every “teacher” must have experienced several similar situations of varying degrees of malignancy. It is not pleasant but it is as natural as it is human.

On the other hand, that same day, when a student sent him the picture of her son who has just graduated with honors, letting him know that she appreciated his immense contribution to her success and her son’s achievement.. it filled his heart with an immeasurable sense of gratitude and happiness.

The following Saturday, Gray was alone sitting down on the bench facing the lake in the park, and started to mumble to himself..

When you look back, what do you see?

When you look ahead, what do you anticipate?

When you look at the mirror, what do you find?

Few people are willing to answer these questions, fewer people yet, can answer these questions with a steady confident resolve ..

Everyone has experienced ups and downs. The past sometimes looks nostalgic and appealing as in the usual “good old days” even when in reality there were no such thing as the good old days. Other times reality is overpowering and the past only rears its ugly head in the most inopportune times in the form of some painful disappointments and persons you strive to forget. Then you say, well, this was the past.. it had ended at last .. yet you look around and .. Oh, what is old is what is new !!

New faces, and new places but the lies and let-downs are the same and though the people are different, the pushing and shoving is not. Do you ever learn..?

They ask you to do what is right, and when you do, they blame you for doing things contrary to what they perceive to be right !!

Problem is .. right is a subjective perception, even though everyone likes to think that it is a standard concept agreed upon by all ..!! Pretty soon, you become convinced, there is no reprieve in today.. yet, if you do not do what you believe to be right, how can you do what you believe to be wrong just because others are convinced it is the thing to do ? the only escape of this conundrum is to do your thing .. and continue to do your thing .. the way you believe it should be done, regardless what others may say.. just like the wise man said, never stop a good deed for fear of people’s reaction.. they may knock you down, deny your efforts or even claim your achievement as their own.. never mind, keep going .. do the best you can, for as long as you can.. Look for the future.. maybe things change .. for the better..

        I was standing at a distance near the lake .. and noticed his grimace and the faint movement of his lips.. so I couldn’t help but approach.. sat next to him on the bench and said very softly without looking at him,

               “I too feel like talking to myself sometimes… But it sure feels better if I can find someone to talk to ?” I was fixing my gaze on the water of the lake lapping against the sandy shore.. and I felt the weight of his look at me.. he stopped mumbling and smiled sarcastically and did not answer.

After a long silence, I turned to look at him saying,

               “My name is Bob. I usually come to this park on Saturdays.. I don’t remember seeing you before.”

He scrutinized me again for a few moments before he answered,

               “I am Gray.. I just moved to this neighborhood recently.”

               “Welcome Gray. I am a writer and this place kind of inspires me. You seem to be a poet or a writer too?” I asked

               “No,” He chuckled, “No, I am a retired teacher.”

               “Retired? You don’t look a day over fifty … something?” I said genuinely astonished.

He laughed lightly saying, “most people seem to be fooled by appearances .. I am seventy-two.. and have quite a few aliments to go with it.”

               “this is amazing.” I insisted, “you really appear to be much younger and.. healthier. You must have a secret recipe for this vitality.”

               “recipe.. maybe.. secret, no” he shook his head, “it is a recipe everyone knows, but few people care to use.”

               “and what is that, if I may ask?” I wondered with wide open eyes.

               “There is a person who has extreme life threatening pain, yet strives to appear always smiling at peace and never complains, and there is another who suffers a superficial scratch and goes off crying in search of sympathy.. can you tell the difference.. ?”

I did not answer .. and when he saw my eyes appeal for an explanation.. he smiled saying,

               “complainers age fast, and are not very good company.. don’t you agree?”

               “you are a teacher indeed.. and it seems to me you have not retired .. yet.” I said.

               “some of my students will disagree with you… I am afraid.” He turned to look at the lake with a sad face and eventually closed his eyes. After a short silence Gray went on to give me some examples of his students. He told me about the “master” and the grateful lady and several other stories and insights .. when he finally opened his wet eyes and looked at me smiling sadly, I found myself compelled to say something,

               “You know Gray.. when I was in college, I had some teachers who were dedicated awesome educators.. while some others were .. forgive my saying so, were.. were a disgrace both to teaching and to the profession of accounting which I was studying.” I said watching him closely.

He did not respond and went back to watch some birds flying over the lake .. so I continued,

               “some students appreciate the good, firm and dedicated teacher and others prefer the teacher who will not pressure them into getting serious about the learning process.”

A long silence followed.. then he finally turned to me asking,

               “you studied math.. didn’t you?”

               “Yeah.. ” I said sheepishly..

               “do you remember those times when you encountered an equation that seemed impossible to solve.. absolutely frustrating..?” he asked innocently.

I had to laugh loudly, and reluctantly answered,

               “more often than I like to admit.” I answered still laughing like a child caught cheating.

               “now do you remember how the teacher explained the solution to you ?.. it might even have taken a long time for you to grab what he was saying.. and finally when you get it.. I mean finally .. when you see the explanation.. you realize it was there staring you in the face all the time .. but somebody.. had to show you.. somebody had to reveal it to you and then you see how simple the whole thing was.”

I thought about it for a while before I slowly answered,

“yeah.. that is true.. ” I admitted.

He turned to look at the lake again, but this time he continued to speak,

               “That.. is life.. that is the most important lesson in life.. it is not just about mathematical equations.. it is about every facet of life.. however.. and mind you this is the most important principle.. there is such kind of people who will not see the answer no matter how many times you explain it to them.. it is almost impossible for them to comprehend the explanation… you know why?”

I thought for a moment .. I was going to say something about ..stupidity .. but he answered his own question before I utter the “stupid” assumption.

               “Usually it is not because they are stupid.. it is because they have already presupposed that it is impossible for this particular problem to be solved… they have already predetermined the outcome and nothing will shake their postulation… the more you try to explain, the more they become ensconced into their attitude. Sometimes it is a matter of dignity.. other times it becomes more like a personal disdain to the teacher..”

Many pictures suddenly ran through my mind of people I knew who fit this description. It was shocking .. I felt a little shiver go through my body when I realized that I myself sometimes fit into this category of people… and I murmured to myself,

               “but sometimes it may be justified !.. sometimes it ____”

He heard me .. and replied softly..

               “Yes .. yes.. you are right.. sometimes you cannot see it, unless God reveals it to you.. no matter how someone else tries to explain it to you… that, is true insight… that is true.. “

I looked at him in complete bewilderment .. he continued,

               “that is the dilemma of the teacher.. the parent .. the philosopher and everyone else trying to instruct others.. some will accept the instructions right away.. some others will take a long time and effort before they understand, yet there are those who shall reject the offered solutions, and will never be able to get themselves to comprehend the value of the instructions… in a few instances, mind you, life itself or even divine intervention will somehow in due time help those specific persons to see what they could not accept before. It would be more like a eureka moment .. a revelation to them.. and it does not happen for just everyone..” he was talking as if he was talking to himself.

I could not speak right away as I was trying to memorize his words.. eventually I said,

               “You know Gray.. sometimes this affects the life of people and companies .. and organizations ..and even nations.. in ways that are so huge, nonetheless, I believe very few ever consider it.. “

A big smile lighted up his face and he turned to me saying,

               “You seem to have seen it firsthand.”

               “I.. think so.. yes, I saw this.. a few years ago.. I was working on a project and gradually the company had to expand.. they got a manager who was supposed to handle that project after me.. and you know, all the efforts made to explain the process to this man were just a waste of time.. the head of the company himself spent time with him over the phone, and video conference ..  and face to face.. one on one.. it was impossible for this person to see what was being explained to him on the computer screen.”

               “so what happened” Gray was curious.

               “the company made a fatal mistake.. after he assured them that he completely understood the process, they sent him out to teach the clients the new technology..” I said in puzzlement.

Gray burst laughing.. then he said pulling his head away from me,

               “Waite.. don’t tell me.. this company must have collapsed or .. maybe have been sold cheap to some competition .. ?”

               “why would you say that?” I was surprised.

               “the decision-making process, betrays a great flaw in the management.” He answered shrugging his shoulders.

               “sadly, yes.. almost all competitors left that company bite the dust, and it was walloped by another large conglomerate which relegated the technology to a third tier of their services.” I said with the tinge of pain still clutching my heart, “recently I had a chance to see the work of one of those clients taught by that manager.. I almost cried..and when I tried to explain the error.. they shrugged it off and told me they had been doing it like that all the time.. so I asked about the results..”

I stopped talking suddenly, running the images in my mind,

               “why did you stop? What was the answer?” he prodded me.

               “they did not know.. so I checked the stats myself.. they had a fifty percent failure .. it was all guess-work.. the simple offerings had a chance at success, but the more complicated ones, had a higher probability of failure.”

               “some people learn too late, some others never learn.” Gray said sighing sadly.

Every Saturday I go as usual to walk by the lake, but I never saw Gray again..