-Source: Original ||
Reaching up as high as he could with one hand, the exhausted traveler sunk his fingers into a crack in the rock and heaved himself up - one more step, ever closer. He clenched his teeth with the effort and raised his other hand yet higher than the first, found a foothold, and raised himself up yet again. So close! His muscles ached so much that he could hardly tell by now, as if he had felt so much pain that he wondered what it really meant anymore. The heat of the sun, the merciless edges of the rock, the thirst and the hunger… it was as if they were all far below him now, back on the ground, too distant to matter anymore. He was drunk and driven by the nearness of his goal.
A final thrust, a final foothold, and the traveler crawled forward over the edge and almost kissed it as he came to rest, on his hands and knees, at the top of the cliff. He breathed heavily, clutched his chest, and waited for the vertigo to leave him.
A shadow came over him. He looked up to see a little man - standing there, smiling, looking at him. Behind the man was an entrance to a cave. The traveler was too exhausted to read the expression on the man’s face. Looking mostly at his little feet and ankles, the traveler asked in a hoarse voice: “Are you the Master?”
“No,” the little man said kindly. “I am just a gatekeeper.”
“Oh,” the traveler said, embarrassed at his quick assumption that obviously gave away how little he knew. “Sorry.” He paused. “Can I see the Master?”
“What do you wish to ask of him?” the little man inquired.
The traveler, embarrassed again at having to expose himself before this common gatekeeper, realized that he obviously had no choice. “I cannot talk to my lover. I want to ask the Master’s advice.”
The gatekeeper waited, as if considering this. Finally he answered, “You may see him if you wish. But not like this. First you have to lay down your arms.”
Embarrassed a third time, the traveler cursed himself and removed his knife, sheath, and belt. He lay them at the little man’s feet. The gatekeeper bent down quietly, raised these items in his hands, looked at them a moment, and then threw them off the cliff.
The traveler gasped. “NO! How could you do that? How will I protect myself?”
“You cannot receive wisdom if you are armed,” the little man said matter-of-factly. The traveler lowered his eyes, still wondering if this was a good idea after-all.
“Now your medal,” said the gatekeeper.
“You, you can’t. I can’t let that go! People see me and respect me because of this. How can I stand to lose it?”
“It’s your choice,” said the gatekeeper.
The traveler raised the metal disk that hung around his neck and looked at it. He had earned it through his own blood, sweat, and tears. It was his right. Why did he have to let it go? He stayed kneeling for a long time, considering.
He tried to imagine a life without his medal… Then he tried to imagine a life without his love. Finally, slowly, he lifted it off his head, and handed it to this little man, feeling so debased, reduced to nothing… He bit his lips and closed his eyes, leaving it only to his ears to hear the metal flung so carelessly over his head, not even expecting to hear it hit the ground - which was so far below them that it could have belonged to a different world.
He took a deep breath. Now? Can I see the Master now?
“Your clothes,” said the gatekeeper.
The traveler looked up, incredulously. “Are you kidding? Are you just trying to humiliate me?!”
The little man looked at him directly, with eyes that were not harsh but patient, even warm. “It’s not about humiliation, sir. It’s about completely letting go of who you think you are.”
The traveler thought about this. At least it made some sense. And here, with no-one else around, what would he really be losing? He thought of his love… and slowly began to peel off his layers. Finally, naked, shocked at what was happening, he thought only of his lover. He felt his lover’s presence permeate his soul, and all else was lost - as distant as the earth below him.
“I understand,” said the traveler.
“What’s that?” the little man asked.
“I understand… how to talk to my lover.”
The little man stood silently. “You have no wish to see the Master, sir?”
The traveler searched himself, then shook his head. “It won’t be necessary.” Then he bowed his head, and said, “Thank you, sir.”
“You are very welcome,” said the little man.
The traveler turned, and began to climb back down.
The little man turned, and walked back into his cave.