THE YOUNG MAN
BY: FRED PRUITT
MARCH 30, 2002
Once, many years ago, there was a land nobody remembers anymore. It was a land much like ours now, except there were no cars or microwaves or televisions. People walked everywhere they went, cooked their food with fire, and to pass the time in the evenings they told stories and sang songs to one another. It wasn’t really too bad a land to live in.
There were many, many people in the land. Like in any other land, some of the people thought only of themselves, and some of them did not.
One time a young man went walking out into the vast forest that bordered the land, where not many people went. (People didn’t go there very often because it was rumored there were great dangers lurking there, so most of the wise of the land advised against venturing too far into the forest.) But he was looking for something; he just didn’t really know what he was looking for. For some reason he was feeling restless. He thought maybe if he went deep into the forest where no one else was, he might figure out what it was he was looking for. He was a very strong young man, and he would be careful, and though he was a little afraid of whatever unknown dangers might be in the forest, he decided to risk it.
He walked for a long time, days and days and days. He found berries and other fruit to eat, and there was water here and there, but he got more and more tired, hungry and thirsty the farther he went. And after many, many days, he still didn’t have a clue about what he was looking for. And he was starting to feel pretty down.
Then he began to get glimpses through the forest, after all these days, of a great body of water in the distance. He’d heard from some others about a great body of water, and sometimes storytellers around the fire at night mentioned it, but no one he knew had ever seen it and no one really knew if it actually existed. Seeing this wondrous thing began to stimulate him, give him a little extra energy, and he thought, “Maybe if I can get to that great body of water, I will have a clue what I’m looking for.”
So, even though he was almost famished from hunger and his long journey, he quickened his pace. He quit being as careful of the danger as he had been, and started to run as fast as he could through the woods toward the water.
Suddenly he broke through the trees into a clear place, and right in front of him was the most beautiful sight he’d ever seen. Water, clear, blue, calm, and oh so peaceful, stretched out from the edge of the land reaching deep into the horizon. It seemed to go on endlessly. “Oh, I don’t know what it means,” he thought to himself, “but this surely is the greatest wonder in all the world.” A great peace settled on him as he ran toward the water.
And then it happened. The solid ground he’d been walking on all these days in one running step became a miasma. Just a few feet before the edge of the water, his feet suddenly stuck into the ground and he started to sink. He couldn’t move, except downward.
Now, this was a strange land, in that even though they had no cars or electric ranges or televisions, they did have cell phones. And, luckily, he had his with him. Realizing he was in a real pickle, stuck in quicksand, he blamed himself, and sorrowed that he hadn’t listened to the advice of the wise men that had warned him and everybody else about venturing too far into the forest. But, he thought, not to worry, because he knew the numbers of a couple of the wise men. He wasn’t sinking that fast, and he thought maybe somebody could help him.
So he called the wise men and told them what had happened. After they upbraided him for not following their advice, they told him they would try to help him. And pretty soon a big group of wise men appeared in the clearing by the water at the edge of the quicksand.
“Oh, thank you,” the young man exclaimed when he saw them, “I am so glad you came. Can you help me get out of this quicksand?”
And then he added, “How did you get here so fast?”
One of the wise men answered him and said, “Oh, we have always known about this, and we have known a short-cut through the forest to get here. But we just don’t like people coming here, so we don’t tell anybody about it.”
“Well,” the young man said, “I guess you must be right. After all, you’re the wise men. And you were certainly right; there are great dangers here. Can you get me out of this quicksand?”
“Certainly,” all the wise men said at once. And then they started to confer with one another. Apparently, much to the young man’s consternation, there was more than one bunch of wise men there, and after conferring among themselves it seems they couldn’t decide on the right course of action.
So they decided to hold a conference. Meanwhile the young man was sinking deeper.
One group of the wise men was quite certain that if the young man would hold his breath for at least two minutes, it would create enough bouyancy in his body to counteract the effect of the quicksand, and he would begin to rise. None of them had ever been in quicksand before, but they had read books about it, and it seemed to them that this would certainly work.
Another group said that if he would raise his hands and shout, that would do the trick. Of course they had never gotten out of quicksand before, either. And also, like all the others, they’d never been to the water.
There were several other groups of wise men there, and they were all coming up with different solutions while the young man was sinking deeper and deeper.
Finally, one of them, the strongest of the wise men, who like al the others had never actually gotten out of the quicksand himself nor had he ever been to the water, said, “Let’s write a book about how to get out of the quicksand. Then, once we’ve done that, we can throw it out there to him. He can read the book, learn the correct methods of quicksand self-extraction, and that surely will do the trick.”
This really excited all the wise men, and they all agreed that was what must be done. So they told the young man to hang on and he’d be out shortly. These were the only wise men he’d ever known, and even though he was sinking deeper by the moment, he decided he could hang on a little longer until they got their book written.
Well, as you might imagine, with so many wise men and so many ideas, it was going to take quite a long time to come up with anything. They argued with each other, told each other their ideas were wrong, sent out for pizza, took dinner breaks, argued some more, split into different groups, some favoring the holding your breath method, others the raising the hands and shouting method, and other variations as well.
Since they couldn’t really come to a consensus, each group decided the best thing to do was to give their individual proposals to the poor young man who was up to his chest by this time.
They sent out for markers and white-boards and copy-machines (to give each other copies of their ideas), and then one by one came and stood at the edge of the quicksand to present their ideas. Some of them even had brought along singers and karaoke machines to enhance their wonderful talks.
And each of them gave really tremendous, passionate talks, too. It was quite a day.
But meanwhile, the young man was sinking deeper, and was just about up to his chin in quicksand.
Holding his breath didn’t do anything, and by this time he was too deep to raise his hands and shout. He figured he was finished.
Then, in the distance on the water, a speck appeared. It got closer and closer and finally everybody could tell it was a man in a boat. Finally he got to the shore and got out of the boat.
“What seems to be the problem here?” the man asked.
“I was trying to get to the water and I got stuck in this quicksand,” the young man said weakly. “These people are telling me how to get out.”
“Oh, I see,” said the man. “You seem to be just about to go under. Why aren’t you out yet?”
“None of these wise men has been able to help me out,” the young man sadly replied.
“Hmmm,” said the stranger. “Wait a minute, maybe I can help.”
He went back to his boat and got out a big coil of rope. He threw one end of the rope across the quicksand to the group of people on the other side and said, “One of you men tie the end of this rope around one of those trees.”
Now, most of the wise men thought this man was crazy, since they already knew the right procedure for getting out of quicksand, and had written treatises and manifestos and given lectures on it. But one of them thought, “Oh what the hell” and he picked up the rope the stranger had thrown and tied it around the closest tree.
Then the stranger pulled the rope taut and tied the other end to himself and walked out into the quicksand toward the sinking young man, who by this time was just about up to his nostrils. The stranger started sinking too, and most of the wise men got very smug looks on their faces, thinking, “We knew that would happen.”
But they didn’t know how strong this stranger was. They’d never met him before, since he was from a faraway land across the water, which of course they’d never been to before, either. By the time the stranger got to the young man, he and the young man disappeared into the quicksand. At that most of the wise men looked knowingly at each other. Several minutes went by. And then somehow, they couldn’t tell why, they saw the stranger’s hands pulling on the rope, and pretty soon his head and the young man’s head emerged from the muck. He started pulling not just himself, but the young man, too, out of the quicksand, a little at a time. The stranger pulled and pulled on the rope tied to the tree and inch-by-inch hoisted himself and the young man toward solid ground.
Finally, they were both on the shore. The young man was beside himself, he was so happy. And the stranger was smiling, too, even though his clothes were covered in muck and slime.
Then the stranger said, “Would you like to ride with me in my boat on the water?”
“Oh, sir!” exclaimed the young man, “Now I know that’s what I went into the forest for. I’d love it more than anything!”
So, the young man and the stranger, who walked around the quicksand on a path that no one else could see, got into the boat and sailed away into the water.
The wise men, who had seen all this, immediately started arguing over what kind of rope the stranger used, how long it was, what it was made of, how strong it was, and so on. And they are still there, to this day.
But meanwhile the young man sailed off with the stranger to exotic lands and saw great sights with his own eyes.
YOUNG MAN [Fred Pruitt] 3-30-02 1