On my way home I pass a man.
He stands on the roadside with a sign.
“The smartest man in the world.”
White hair, standing there,
he looks harmless enough.
I’m curious. I stop,
roll down the window,
and feel the cold.
“Where you headed?” I say.
“I’m headed to the world’s end.
Looks like I found it.”
“I don’t think so. This is the middle of Pennsylvania.
It’s not the end of anything, much less the world.”
“Well, if you let me go along with you for a while, I’ll show you.
I’ll get out then.”
“I have about 30 miles to where I’m going.
I’m not going out of my way.”
“No problem,” he says.
He gets in, shoves the sign in the back seat.
We drive on.
“Your sign says you’re the smartest man in the world. Is that so?”
“Ok. What’s it all about, then?”
“It’s the middle of winter. That means we are all dead. And we won’t wake up until spring,” he says. “We die all the time but we don’t notice it because we all die at the same time.”
“Do we all wake up at the same time then, too?”
“In a way we do. But that’s just a figure of speech.”
I’m thinking my passenger is clever but not quite the smartest man in the world.
“That’s it.” he says. “Don’t think another thought. I’m getting out right here.”
I bring my car to a stop. There’s nothing on either side but an old cornfield. He gets out and walks up a slight rise through snow and corn stubs. As he reaches the crest and descends, he seems to disappear.
Just before that he drops a small piece of paper.
I have some time.
I pull over, park, and follow his frozen footsteps.
At the top of the hill I find a folded note.
He is gone.
Back home now.
I bury his sign
and read the note:
I am old and I will die one day
It is time to come clean.
I woke up at an early age.
I lived a normal life.
I have things to say.
It is not comforting to know
Hearing this will not set you free.
Freedom is not for us in this life.
We cannot be other than we are.
We pass our time with useless things
As if we live forever.
It is our bodies doing this.
Our minds know very well we die.
But our bodies refuse to hear of it.
Our bodies desire the useless things.
We go about our days in service to these dumb limbs
Serving them endless amounts of what they desire
But does not sustain them
Making them as comfortable as possible, as they demand it
Because they refuse to accept they will die.
Our brilliant minds are filled with petty annoyance.
That’s our lazy bodies talking
Constantly forcing us to confront ourselves in mirrors
So we can see the damage we’re doing.
And while we know love is the answer,
We are faced with the hard fact
We can only be loved to the degree we love ourselves.
And we do not love ourselves.
We are our bodies.
And because they are such stupid brutes
They are utterly unlovable.
I am good looking enough to know looks are worth nothing
And wealthy enough to have figured out it has no value.
I am intelligent and know I can never be smart enough.
I see far enough to see an end.
Enlightenment is like these things.
Once it is yours you see right through it.
And you know
Like everything else
It is nothing at all.
The secret of life is life.
We all possess it for a while.
I am old and I will die.
It’s time to say the things I’ve said.
I am old and I will die.
You’ll know it then.
I was already dead.
Words and image, Tullio Francesco DeSantis, 2009