The sun glistened on the sweat, which was beading up on his brow.
As the stream ran down his wrinkled, flustered face, his expression seemed to change, but it was only the twitching of his facial muscles trying in vain to keep the salty taste of his exhaustion out of his mouth.
The towering pile of wood that stood in front of him seemed to proudly gesture defiance toward that face, as if to say:
You will never conquer me, you mere mortal of a man, you weak and fragile product of a nature, which will in time, correct its mistakes and remove you from my presence.
He could almost hear the laughing voices of each log in the pile mocking his grunts and sighs as he heaved his ax again and again and again, chopping an eternity of blows as the sun touched the horizon with a heat that made the trees around it wavy with distortion. He stopped for a moment, standing his ax on its head and leaning on it, finally wiping his forehead dry with his glove and looking up at the sky with a stare as if to ask:
Where is this all leading me? What is my destination in this life, if not to simply toil away the days and years of my time here only to watch it all fade from my vision as I pass away on my way to God knows where? I wish I knew that my life had worth and that something meaningful comes from labor and sweat poured out in the pursuit of the creature comforts that come therein.
He looked at the sun, just an orange sliver now, and picked up his ax to strike a few more blows before dark, but before he raised it above his head,he sighed a long, slow breath, turned toward the house and began to feel once again the presence of something that he could not quite explain.
It was a chill that shook him to the bone as he started his walk toward the back door at a surprisingly quick pace. He had been feeling unusually drawn toward the house all day without knowing why. No reason in particular…just a feeling.
The house seemed to be calling him to come and see something; it seemed to beckon to him suggestively, almost waving its arms and calling his name. Now that his mind had released the woodpile, he felt compelled to answer and walked briskly past the clothesline and up the steps through the screen door into the kitchen with his ax still in his hands, just standing there as if the house were going to speak, and perhaps tell him why he had been summoned.
Such a simple existence with no real thought of things to come or the consequences of actions taken in haste.
He concluded that beauty is mostly a visual thing and walked slowly back into the house. The armchair called affectionately, but he knew he had more work to do before resting.
He looked around at the sparse furnishings and realized that he had very little to show for his many years of hard work. Material possessions are merely an expression of vanity and a manifestation of greed and ambition, he reasoned, and besides, we are only here for a very short time on this earth and time is too valuable to waste on collecting decorations.
He washed his hands and made a mental list of things he needed to do tomorrow, then sat down at the kitchen table to rest his feet for a minute. His back was feeling the day-long swing of an ax, and his feet seemed to pound and bulge within his boots. The day had been long, but he felt a real sense of accomplishment, not because of the chores he had done, but because this day had been one of reflection, of introspection and deep philosophical thought.
He had done a lot of serious thinking today about life and death, about his purpose for being, and had mused long over the thoughts of his surroundings. Tomorrow he would decide what he thought about it all, but for now he was just too tired.
It had gotten completely dark now, but he was still just sitting in the kitchen blackness daydreaming about his youth. There was a time when he was on top of the world and it seemed as though it would last forever. He was simply a child at play, nothing more.
Life becomes complicated when it ages. The things he laughed at then are the things that come the closest to making him cry now.
He remembers how silly the grown-ups all seemed, scurrying about their jobs with such a serious air as though their very existence depended upon the pursuit of cash money. They frowned eternally and scowled when crossed, as if they were venting their frustrations at every opportunity. They preferred to be somewhere else, anywhere else, doing something they enjoyed, something of their own choosing, a hobby of their own design. They spent all their best hours toiling away their energies for the sake of someone else’s profits, harvesting a mere pittance which would disappear as soon as they got it home.
He played in the streets they crossed. He slurped sodas as they told their stories across the drug counter. He laughed at the comics in the rack as they commented over their newspaper headlines about how the world was falling apart. His life was so simple then, and problems belonged to other people; people who sometimes seemed to chase after problems until they had a firm grasp on them. It seemed sad somehow.
Tossing his boots into the corner, he walked down the hallway toward the living room. The air was warmer in there. He stood in the middle of the room looking at it as if for the first time. It seemed foreign to him in light of his revelations about the material world. It was filled with objects and utensils, nothing more. Something was missing. There was a definite void, a lack of something important. He wondered what it was.
He felt suddenly very hungry and realized he had not eaten since breakfast. Thinking of the dinner possibilities, he dismissed each one and finally decided to eat later. The emptiness he felt was not in his stomach. It was in his heart and soul that he longed for nourishment. He knew why his mind had been so full of the world these past few days.
It was because the world was not enough. There was more to life than work and money and things bought and packaged. He was feeling strong now, like a bright light had just come on, like the great eternal answer was about to be revealed.
A peaceful smile came to his lips as he sank slowly into the over-padded armchair and closed his eyes. This feels good, he thought to himself, and then his eyes opened.
That was the answer. Feeling good, being comfortable, liking your life and who you are. Knowing that no matter what happens, you can find comfort in your own goodness. Happiness is all you need, and happiness is as easy as finding what pleases you and hanging on to it for dear life.
The secret to happiness is being easy to please.
He could feel the armchair wrap around him now and his mind turned to the past again. He tried to think of the times when he had been the happiest. It was when he had been in love. His eyes opened again, blinked a few times, then closed for good. As his mind drifted, his thoughts blurring, he felt a warmth come over him as he remembered all the love he had felt in his life, and he knew he had his answer.
The smile of happiness was on his face.
Editor: Seychelles Pitton
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