The Sage and the Hatchet
Updated: Aug 10
A man seeking answers for life’s purpose set sail across the sea to find the old sage known to sit beneath a tree rooted atop the mountain of a lone island. Very few people had sought answers from this sage, because, as the story goes, those who have made the journey are never seen again. Feeling as though he had exhausted all other possibilities to attain a meaningful life, our hero made the voyage, nonetheless, with uncertainty about ever returning. Following many days at sea, he came upon the sage’s island where his boat splintered on the rock. He clamored onto the shore, ascended the tall mountain, and, as luck would have it, found an old man underneath an ancient tree.
Said the man: “I’ve traveled far to find you. I come seeking answers.”
Said the sage: “My time here is brief. I’m afraid I have no time, save for but one question.”
Said the man: “What is my purpose?”
Said the sage: “I was once a fool before I came to sit under this tree. I too was without purpose, so I went seeking the sage that was said to sit in my place on this very mountaintop. I crossed the sea, splintered my boat upon the rocks, and climbed the mountain. There I found my predecessor, a sage sitting under a tree—same tree as mine, only younger. I asked him the same question you asked of me. I asked him, ‘What is my purpose?’ And do you know what he said?”
Said the man: “Go on.”
Said the sage: “He said he was once a fool before he came to sit under this tree. He too was without purpose, so he went seeking the sage that was said to sit on this very mountaintop. He crossed the sea, splintered his boat upon the rocks, and climbed the mountain. There he found his predecessor, a sage sitting under a tree. He asked the sage the same question you asked of me. He asked…,” the sage took a moment to scratch his beard. “Well, you should know the question by now.”
Said the man: “I see what is happening. But is it so? My purpose is to sit under this tree, waiting for my successor until I am gray and dying like you?”
Said the sage: “It would be quite something! An endless lineage of useless island dwellers hasn’t crossed my mind. But alas, no. All things that begin must also end. You know, the first to sit atop this peak was a shipwrecked fellow, whose only salvage was a seed in his pocket and a hatchet from the wreckage.”
Said the man: “Well, that’s all very well, but I have come all this way for an answer to my question.”
Said the sage: “Yes, we have come to that part of the story. You are young and that tree is finally old,” the sage looked up at his ancient shade. “Lots of good wood. Do you want purpose? Cut down this tree and make boats so that you and the other fools who venture here can get off this blasted island.”
The sage drew one last breath, handed the man a hatchet, and keeled over.