The world is full of achievement. Most people spend their lives seeking to attain success, wealth, and fame. These are all great things to be sure but they are not the highest achievement.
Almost everyone lives their life alone though they are surrounded by the mass of humanity. Almost everyone has a secret they never share; they spend their life hoping no one guesses what it is. By living in pretense they deny themselves the truth of their achievement.
The truth is that all their wealth and success are built upon a foundation of folly and futility. It may comfort them to hold these things dear but when death comes a-calling they will be willing to pay any price to have just one more day of life, nay, another hour, even a minute more. All those high and mighty achievements pale beside that one little thing that sneaks in through the back door when no one is looking.
I never tell anyone that I know their secret. They think I don’t see how weak they are and how confused. I let them pretend they are big and strong; I let them imagine I am soft and feeble. If they think I am as mixed up as they are then they will leave me alone. If I smile just right they believe I am as unhappy as they are.
One summer many years ago while crossing from Tennessee into Arkansas over the wide Mississippi in a place which had no bridge I marveled at the expertise of the ferryman. I asked him if such a skill could be learned. It can, he replied. Good swimmers learn quickly but a diver who has never seen a boat manages it at once. I thought perhaps he had misunderstood my question as he hadn’t answered me directly so I asked him what he meant.
He said good swimmers since they forget the water and its dangers acquire the skill of sailing the boat quickly. As to those who are able to dive and having never seen a boat, they manage it at once. They look at the watery gulf as a hillside and the ups and downs of the boat as a ride in the country. Such happenings have occurred to them a multitude of times so they do not affect their minds. Wherever they go they feel at ease.
I’ve been told I was a troublemaker as a child. My parents would send me to church so that I might there find salvation but instead of turning left at the fork in the road and achieving my goal I would somehow end up turning right to spend my Sunday mornings smoking cigarettes I bought with the money I’d been given for the collection plate while playing pool with the other miscreants at the pool hall.
Of course word trickled back to my folks from my uncle the priest who missed my shining face sitting in the familiar pew. The following Sunday I would be driven by my scowling father and my mournful mother in the family automobile to the church steps with stern words of warning from my folks. But again, instead of turning left into the church I somehow got sidetracked into turning right invariably finding my way back to that smoky old pool room.
My uncle came to our house one dire Saturday. He sat me down to talk to me, words of doom and how disaster would follow me the rest of my days lest I repent. He always said I would go to hell for my sins. But I figured when I got there my sins would no longer matter. I wanted to explain that to him but I knew he would never listen. So instead of learning to speak I learned not-speaking.
I talk very little even when spoken to. I learned from my uncle that those who talk much know little. He always spoke of what he knew. Of what I know I cannot speak.
By taking the world of troubles on his shoulders my uncle could never rest easy. The great problems of humanity weighted him down with baggage he couldn’t seem to shed. By masking my knowledge I simplify my problems.
I once observed a contest of skill between several groups of pool players. In the first contest the prize was but a shiny ribbon worth very little. I noticed how the players were able to put forth all their skill. The second contest was for a large trophy with the winner’s name emblazoned upon it for all to see. I witnessed how the players shot timorously. The final contest was for a golden medal. I noted how the players shot as if they were blind.
So I shield my senses from bright objects of desire and temper the need to possess them. I am at one with the choking dust, with the swirling water, with the temptation of fire, with the high hard sky, and with the wind that speaks my name. This is called original union.
I am unconcerned with friends and with enemies. Though I walk alone I am surrounded with virtue. I am unconcerned with good and harm, with honor and disgrace. Though I am full of dishonor and hold my disgrace as a natural part of myself I am as innocent as a newly born baby.
This is called the highest achievement.