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  • Writer's pictureNathan

The Sage and the Hatchet

Updated: Jan 7

There is a legend that tells of an ageless sage who dwells on a lone island. He sits beneath a tree rooted atop a mountain overlooking the sea. The story goes that this sage merely waits for seekers who will bring their questions to him, that he knows the truth of every inquiry. Yet, very few have braved a visit for his answers, because those who have made the journey, are never seen again.

One man was once desperate enough to appear before the sage. For long he had sought answers to life’s purpose and failed to attain a meaningful life. He was so resolute to make the journey, that he sold his house and his belongings—never mind the uncertainty about ever returning. With the funds, he purchased a boat and provisions to fill it. The rest of his wealth, he left with his mother so she may retire comfortably.

The voyage was long. Many days at sea did blend into one. With sun-scorched skin—darkened and cracked—and gaunt features suffered by scanty suppers, he came upon the sage’s island. The approach was dangerous. His boat splintered on the rocks that encircled the shore. He abandoned his sinking vessel and surfaced to fight the waves before clamoring onto the beach. At last, he ascended the tall mountain, and, to his surprise, found an old man sat below a tree.

With his goal in sight, in his final steps, whether by relief or exhaustion, he fell to the ground before the statue-like sage. Heavy and quivering, the man lay there as time rendered by draws of the breath. The sage did not move, did not speak, and his eyes held the distance. Only the wind moved there atop the mountain, to shake the tree and to whisper the tales of the sea.

Once he gathered his strength, the man sat up to wipe his face on his sleeve. “I’ve come a long way to see you. I just can’t believe…you’re real. I have so many questions.”

The sage became animated by the man’s voice. “Here you are at last! I don’t have much time, so you’ll get one question,” said the sage, quickly raising a withered hand to show a finger.

“Oh,” the man sulked, unaware of how disheartened he let on. “Well, then, if just one question—“ The man scanned the ground as he thought of the right one. “What is my purpose?”

“Ah! I was once a fool before I came to sit under this tree. I too was without purpose. I sailed to seek 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 this mountain. Here I found my predecessor, a sage sitting under this tree. I asked him the same question you asked of me. I asked him, ‘What is my purpose?’ And do you know what he said?”

“Go on.”

“He also said he was once a fool without purpose. He sailed to seek the sage, crossed the sea, splintered his boat upon the rocks, climbed this mountain, and found him sitting under this tree. He asked 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.”

The man was stricken by what he discerned to be his destiny. There was defiance in his voice. “I see what is happening here. My purpose is to sit under this tree, waiting for the next guy until I am gray and dying like you.”

That sent the old sage jeering and snorting. “Now that would be quite something! A perpetual lineage of useless island geezers….” More laughter from the sage. The man became impatient.

The sage cleared his throat. “But alas, no. All things that begin must also end.” The sage looked to the sea as if searching for a distant memory. ”You know, the first man to sit atop this peak was a shipwrecked fellow, whose only salvage was a seed in his pocket and a hatchet from the wreckage.”

The man stood. “Well, that’s all very well. But, you see, I have come all this way, and I would appreciate an answer to my question.” He started to question why he had first stepped onto that boat in the first place.

“Yes, we have come to that part of the story. You are young and that tree is finally just right,” the sage looked up at his ancient shade. “Lots of good wood.” He pounded the tree. “Ow!” And shook his hand. “So you want purpose? Cut down this tree and make boats so that you and the other clowns who venture here can get off this blasted island.”

The sage drew one last breath, handed the man a hatchet, and keeled over.

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