“Once, a man was running through the jungle in the middle of the night. He was running as hard and fast as he could; tripping over logs and crashing into trees. He knew he couldn’t stop running, for there was a tiger chasing him.
In the panic of the moment and the dark of night, his fortune turned from bad to worse: he ran off a cliff.
By some miracle he managed to grab onto a tree branch on the way down. He looked up and saw the tiger prowling menacingly above him, waiting. He looked down and saw nothing but darkness beneath his feet. So he did the only thing he could: he hung there.
He dangled precariously in the dark for what seemed like an eternity. As he clung for dear life to this branch, the adrenaline began to drain out of his system, and the gravity of his situation began to sink in. His lungs burned for oxygen, and his heart was racing. He had cuts, abrasions, and contusions about his arms and face where the thicket had torn at his flesh. His legs seemed impossibly heavy. His hands ached and his fingers were tired; his grip was tenuous at best. He just wasn’t sure how much longer he could hold on. Despair began to set in.
Looking to establish a foothold, he examined the crag from which the branch extended, and what did he see in the pale moonlight, but a fresh, wild, strawberry, growing out of the side of the mountain. Carefully, he reached over and plucked it, and brought it to his lips. And as he ate this fresh, wild strawberry, he thought to himself, ‘Wow. That was delicious.’”
I told this story to Rachel as she lay next to me, basking in the afterglow of our escapade. Like so many before her, she’d flown halfway across the world to New York City to chase her dreams. The length of her stay had been predetermined by her tourist visa, and she’d gotten distracted from her dreams in the way that New York City tends to do. Now her time here was almost up, her money was all but spent, and her dreams were no closer to reality. She found comfort in my arms and passion in my bed.
Even in the dark her honey-bronze skin boasted the gentle kiss of the mediterranean sun. She’d been a dancer until adolescence made her voluptuous in a way that made even the simplest pirouette… indecent. She had full lips like ripe figs and she tasted like fine olive oil.
She asked me what was going to happen next, as if I could actually tell her. As the harvest moon set over the city skyline, illuminating my bedroom, I recited this ancient taoist koan.
“Life,” I continued, “is short, and often painful. You can’t predict the future and you can’t change the past. But you can’t allow past pain or future uncertainty to prevent you from enjoying the present. Your life is now. When strawberries present themselves, pick them.”
This didn’t sit right with Rachel at all. She was a planner, an organizer; life had predictable patterns and meaning. She didn’t end up twelve thousand miles from home by accident, and she was unwilling or unable to accept that I didn’t–couldn’t–know what was next for her; for us. I spoke from my heart.
“Earlier tonight we ran like children through Greenwich Village. We spun the cube at Astor Place and I told you to make a wish, and you wished for a kiss. Whatever djinn was listening granted your hearts desire, and brought you to my bed. For this I have no regret. As humans we create the illusion that we have time because the truth is more unpalatable than any of us care to admit. There are trees, turtles and rocks utterly devoid of ambition who were here long before us and will remain long after we’re gone. Time flies, whether you’re having fun or not, and tomorrow isn’t promised.
“You have to say the things and do the things that really matter to you today without hesitation, because you don’t know if you’re going to get another chance. Sometimes, tomorrow never comes. At the same time, you have to live with the awareness that every stone thrown into a pond sends ripples across the surface, and every choice you make today reverberates into your future. If you don’t want to deal with the repercussions of your actions tomorrow, you should consider the consequences of your decisions today carefully.”
“But why can’t it always be like this?” she asked. “How can anyone make a life for themselves if they only live for the moment? What if I pick a strawberry and then I want another, and another, and another? I just can’t hang from some branch on the side of a cliff, pretending a strawberry makes my predicament any better than it is.”
I caressed her lips with mine. “Then just let go” I said.
“There’s an epilog to the story,” I told her. “After eating that delicious strawberry, the man had renewed desire to live; he did not want that to be the last strawberry he ever tasted. So tenaciously he hung in there, clinging to the branch for dear life. Eventually, dawn broke over the side of the mountain, and as the sun rose and bathed the valley with bright gold beams, he looked down to see his feet, hovering six inches off the ground. He let go, dropped down to safety and walked away.”
“Clinging blindly in the dark doesn’t save anyone” I told Rachel. “Salvation is always closer than you think. He could have let go at any point during the night and he would have been okay. Sometimes, you just have to take a leap of faith. But know the difference between a leap of faith and a jump of stupidity.”
Rachel traced the crease of my abs from my navel up to my chest. “You certainly have a way with words, Mister Summers. Do you have anything else poignant to say tonight…?”
“Just one thing” I growled. ”Roll over…”
© Jackie Summers 2011
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