The Ascent of a Philosopher: A Parable

Copyright Islamica Magazine Summer 2004

I WAS born somewhere outside corridors concerned with important matters; that sort of out of the way place I should have stayed out of the way of. Unfortunately, I had no choice in making that choice. So, when I finally accepted that I resolved to make the best of things. From far away, in that lonely place wherein I lived, I would learn all about the places I could not go, the people I would not meet, and the things I could not see. I would take what the television taught me and teach it back: I would become the most educated, intelligent and bookish man in the world, such that people would look at me and think: He is, in fact our town’s library.

But to be a library, one must – among other things – have books. So I would have to acquire books, dozens and then hundreds of books, culled in from every corner of the country, written by authors dead or alive, famous, infamous or practically unknown. Then I selected the perfect spot: The porch right outside my house. Every day, I would step outside, with a jacket on, and in the sun of approaching spring, I would read. There were only whispers of summer still, but I would keep going, undeterred by the environment around me. For 1 had my intention: to be the most studious. Not only the greatest lover of knowledge, but eventually, the greatest provider of it.

By the first weeks of spring, I knew everything. When, every other week or so, a visitor would come by, I would astonish them with my astonishing knowledge. WTiether one wanted to know of the Caspian Basin, the difference between liquid propulsion and multi-stage rockets, the history of the Qaramite Rebellion, why Edo became Tokyo or how the Magyars ended up as the Hungarians, I was rightly recognized as the expert Admittedly, nobody actually needed to know all this information – because nobody in our hamlet was in any position to do anything about it. Still, it helped to know that if ever the opportunity presented itself, I would have the facts at my fingertips. Facts about fingertips, too.

Thus I slipped into a nightmare of ceaseless gathering: I was a hunter and a gatherer, who slayed beasts and then stocked their carcasses in his home, eyeing them happily, but only eyeing. How could anyone eat that much? I, an individual, had fooled myself into thinking myself important, and that importance meant relevance, and that relevance was supposed to make a difference. When it did not come, I did not immediately despair. I thought instead, I would wait for the summer. Though the summer’s sun was hotter than the spring sun, its more lasting light would let me learn longer into the day, so that by summer’s passing, I’d know even more than the smartest men knew, once again preparing myself for greater tasks, which in all likelihood would never come.

And that was when unthinkable disaster visited me. Last night after the sun set, I followed my tried and true routine, but it did not avail me: 1 prayed, three units as is required; I ate a meal of modest proportions; I went to my room and shut the windows – because often the night winds chill – and then, after a little exercise, I climbed into bed. I woke up feeling refreshed, as I often do after hours of sleep, but on opening my eyes, it was clear that something was wrong. The moon remained, a pitched white globe, frozen into the sky as if some invisible force had pinned it against curtains of unrelenting black relieved only by pinpricks of little white lights, which my books told me were stars unimaginably far. The sun hadn’t risen.

But it should have. I couldn’t have awoken so spirited without having slept through the better part of the night if not all of it I went downstairs and turned on the kitchen light to see that it was in fact ten o’clock. Barring the unlikely possibility that I had slept nearly twenty-fours, it seemed the sun had refused to rise. With the help of artificial incandescence, I had a hasty bowl of cereal for breakfast; maybe to make believe it was daytime. During that brief meal, I couldn’t concentrate on a single spoonful, slicing my tongue with my teeth on more than one occasion.

Where had the light gone? My longing for the sun was as sudden as it was desperate, and my heart told me, within seconds, that there was a lonely path before me: I must race outdoors and beg the sun to rise again. So I drank two good cups of water to steel myself for the long run to that place from where, each day, the sun had so faithfully emerged. But it was too’ dark outside and, having gone only a few meters, I tripped and fell onto the grass in my front yard. It was soft and ticklish too, just as I remembered it’d always been. But I couldn’t tell if it was green.

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    A piece previously published in the print issue of Islamica Magazine between 2003-2009. The following has been an effort to digitize and archive as a free service. Author citations can be found at as we continue to work on improving the digital archives here.

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