Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Old Man and the Scorpion

One Spring day there was an old man who was walking along the banks of the Ganges River. The river waters were running fast and high. The old man noticed some tree branches and roots floating along in the swift current and saw that one bunch of roots had been hooked by a low-hanging branch of a tree next to the river. As the floating roots bobbed up and down and swayed in the water the old man saw a scorpion entangled in the roots and trying to free itself. It seemed only a matter of minutes before the tree root would be pulled into the river again ensuring the scorpion’s doom. The old man reached out for the tree root and held it as best he could in place. He then reached out to rescue the scorpion. As soon as his hand was within reach the scorpion lashed its tale and stung the old man. He drew back his hand, shook it and reached out again. Again the scorpion stung him. Again and again he reached out and again and again the scorpion stung. The old man’s hand was swollen and purple when a traveller wandered by and, watching this strange sight, shouted, "Hey, you old fool, can’t you see that that worthless creature will kill you before it lets itself be saved. Why not let it be?” The old man looked back at the traveller and said, "Ah, my friend, just because it is the nature of the scorpion to sting, why should I give up my own nature to save?”

I was reminded of this story while listening to the CBC Sunday Edition special on Viktor Frankl, author of Man's Search for Meaning. Frankl has always amazed me and my amazement has only grown over the years. I remember first reading Frankl's most famous book when i was 17 in CEGEP in Montreal. Free of the limits of highschool reading i took up residence in the library at Selby campus and fund remarkable treasures. I was captivated by readings in psychology, psychotherapy, and memory. I'm fairly sure i was not really aware what it was i was looking for. But i must have had some feeling that such work would help me understand my world and the anguish and torment that i had felt for all my teen years to that point. Highschool had been unrelenting misery and i consider myself lucky that in Quebec at that time i only had to bear it for four years. CEGEP felt like freedom. And with that freedom i binged on learning reading Freud, Jung, Reich, Rank, Adler and, of course, Frankl. I learned a little bit from each author, but while most of the ideas i learned of fascinated me and stretched my mind, it was only Frankl's work that touched my heart and truly bewildered me. I was deeply moved by his account of surviving the Holocaust but it would be many years before i would understand what he was describing. Nonetheless, his message about the power of the "last freedom" one has even in the most dire circumstances to choose one's disposition towards things allowed me to reframe my entire life to that point. It was perhaps in that moment of encountering Frankl's work that i chose to take hold of my life and consciously take responsibility for educating myself further. Until that moment i had felt very much the victim of circumstances, helpless to do anything but endure the misery through which i had waded for many years. But Frankl's words and example inspired me to begin to imagine something more than mere endurance. Perhaps it was in that moment that i began truly to live.

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