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Everything You Ask for is Present
An ancient story. A man yearns for adventure, for glory, for courage and transformation; he yearns to become a man of virtue and service.
To the hilltop shrine he goes, crawling on hands and knees. Nettles sting his arms and stones tear at his knees, but in fervent prayer he crawls until arriving at the shrine. Beneath a statue of the nameless god who guards the shores, he fasts for 3 days and 3 nights, asking to be given guidance, to be given mission, to be led on a path of virtue and service and exploration.
At dusk on the third day, he collapses into sleep. He is visited in a dream by the nameless god who guards the shores. The god appears as a sea snake, its long body tied in a series of intricate knots.
Wordlessly, the man repeats his prayer within the dream—the drive and force of his plea. Guidance. Mission. Virtue & service & exploration.
The snake moves its body, rearranging the knots into the shape of a sacred binding, a knot his people say was gifted by the gods to the first men. As this shape becomes clear, the snake speaks without words: everything you ask for is present now.
After speaking with the local priest, the man decides on his course of action. Everything he asked of the god is present. It is only by living his normal life in a virtuous way that he will be of service. This itself is an adventure. He returns to his home, to his plow, to his land, and works it well for the rest of his life.
On his deathbed, the man is filled with confusion and regret. He tried to be virtuous, but it left him feeling numb. He tried to be of service, but it always ended up more complicated than he could know. His life was not an adventure. It was a folly of good intentions and middling results.
He closes his eyes for the last time, fixing in his mind the image of the knotted snake. He will ask his questions and say his piece before he leaves this world.
Soon, the image of the snake he holds in his mind changes. It is suddenly no longer an image, but the presence of the nameless god who guards the shores.
“You lied,” the man says, “you lied to me. Why?”
The snake sighs, un-knotting itself and settling into a coil. “I didn’t lie. I told you everything you needed was present, and then you proceeded to ignore almost all of it.”
The man’s mouth is parched, his heart sluggish. “I ignored nothing—I even asked the priest, and he agreed tha—”
Space and time flex with the snake’s frustration, “I said nothing about asking some book-buried halfwit,” he spits. The scene around them shifts, time rolls back. They are now watching the man’s younger self as he crawls into the temple. Somehow, more dimensions of the scene are visible now—the man can see his own thoughts, his feelings, the currents that churned within him back then.
The snake continues, “All of this was present. Your yearning, your drive for adventure, your pull towards virtue. You carried an intuition that you should go to sea, a fear of taking such risks, an urge to learn more about the seaworthiness of different vessels. You carried a guilt that you were unable to help your mother when you were young, a shame you felt every time someone needed help that you couldn’t offer. All of this and a dozen other things were with you, pushing and pulling you, shaping you, guiding you. Even this snake’s body I took on was present—you knew that snakes hold strangeful knowledge and shed old skins, your sense of my image was alive in you. And yet, when I said everything you needed was present, you decided I meant a plow and some rainfall.”
The scene around them falls dark. The man feels no more parched mouth, no more sluggish heart. His body has been left behind. Realizing clearly that his life has ended, the man senses that his body is no longer present—those eyes, those pains, those hungers and thirsts, they all fade away leaving only a faint afterimage.
And for the first time, in the fading, he notices everything that is still present. He sees it clearly, and he laughs.