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After a minute or two, as the man was just putting another particularly delicious morsel into his mouth, the diner sitting across from him caught his eye and said, "You eat too fast."
"Yes," said a woman nearby. "It's not healthy to gobble your food like that."
"In fact," added a third diner, "if you keep gulping your food down that way, you'll get indigestion--or worse."
"Well, I'm sorry," said the man, somewhat bewildered, "but I have always eaten like this."
"Well, then, you'd better learn to change," said the woman, "because if you don't slow down, you'll choke."
Now, whether the man was prematurely crotchety or just naturally perverse I cannot say, but it so happened that he decided to find an alternative set of dining companions rather than to adjust his lifelong eating habits. So he excused himself under the simple pretext of needing to search for a missing condiment, and, getting up, he went across the room to another table. After the usual civilities, he once again sat down and continued his meal.
It wasn't more than a few minutes, however, before the diner sitting next to him remarked, "You know, you're the slowest eater I've ever seen."
"Yeah," said a man across the table. "You eat so slowly your food will be cold before you're half done."
"Didn't your mother ever teach you not to dawdle over your food like that?" asked the woman to his left, somewhat severely.
"I'm sorry," said the man, in a slightly apologetic tone. "This is just the way I eat."
"If you can't learn to eat any faster than that, you'll be here all day," said one of the diners.
Once again the man decided that the better part of valor would be simply to move to another table rather than to change his natural eating rhythms. Unfortunately, this particular table was already freighted with every condiment known to the virtuosos of culinary excess, so that the man was forced to invent an imaginary condiment before he could declare his need to go in search of it. (And here we see that a search for the nonexistent is not always ineffective.) And so, after an appropriate statement of intent, he rose and crossed the room and joined the diners at yet a third table.
After a only a very small collection of minutes, the diner sitting across the table from the man smiled and said, "I'm glad to see you're eating so reasonably. Everybody else in here is eating either too slow or too fast."
"Yes," agreed another diner at the table. "Just look around. Some are chewing like cows on their cud, as if they've got all day, while others are eating like nervous chipmunks."
"And they're all so egocentric," added a third, "measuring others only by themselves."
"These are the only sane people in the room," the man concluded, continuing his meal happily.
"Here are two goblets," said the king, "one of pure gold and the other of common clay. If you could choose to receive one, which would it be?"
"The gold one," said the fool.
"The gold one," said the wise man.
"It seems," said the king with some amusement, "that there is no difference between the wise man and the fool."
"Perhaps you should ask another question," said the wise man.
"Very well," replied the king. "Which of these two goblets is the better?"
"The gold one," said the fool.
"The question is ambiguous," said the wise man. "Better for whom? And in what way?"
"The cunning of the so-called wise amuses me," said the king. "But here is one last question: Which of these goblets would you rather drink from in your own home?"
"The gold one," said the fool.
"The clay one," said the wise man.
"Aha!" said the king. "The fool is more consistent than the wise man. For just now you said that you, O wise one, like the fool, would choose the golden goblet."
"With all deference, Sire," said the wise man, "your final question was not which would I accept from your hand, but which I would drink from in my home."
"All right," said the king, none too amused. "Unravel your subtlety."
"In my home," answered the wise man, "the clay goblet would deter me from an attachment to material things. As a gift to me, the gold one could be exchanged for a hundred of clay. For," he explained, "I have many disciples who have given up much for the sake of wisdom. Their pursuit of truth would not be circumvented by the acquisition of a clay drinking goblet. Those who thirst for knowledge also thirst for water."
The king was, of course, aggravated that he had failed to humiliate the wise man, so he sent both men from his presence. However, after a sleepless night thinking about his own possessions, he soothed his conscience by sending to the wise man the golden goblet, filled with rubies.
"We can't let you out," said those in charge of his burial, "because you're dead."
"I'm not dead," protested the man. "I'm alive. Look at me." The attendants peeked into the coffin.
"You look like a corpse to us," they said.
"Then let me out and I'll walk around for you," said the man.
"We can't have a dead man walking around here," they protested. "It would hurt our business and possibly get us fired."
"Then get me a lawyer," said the man.
Soon there was a trial. The first to testify was the funeral master. "This man is trying to make a mockery of the dying process," he said, "and of the funeral business and of my long-respected house for the dead. He came here quite dead, and his burial is already scheduled. I have another burial this afternoon and cannot possibly delay this one or reschedule it. I humbly ask the court not to hamper the business of the living for the sake of the dead."
The next to testify was the doctor who had pronounced him dead. He stood up confidently before the court, barely allowing a passing scoff toward the recently dead man, and declared, "My medical degree comes from the best respected medical school in the country. I have more than 25 years of successful medical practice, to many famous and wealthy patients. I have given presentations to medical societies and received numerous honors and awards. No patient of mine who has died in my care has ever changed his mind before. Not once. It has not happened before, is not happening now, and will not happen in the future."
The coroner then took the witness stand. "I am shocked," he announced testily, "that even for a moment anyone could even consider taking the word of a mere layman over that of a well-known expert. If for some completely unexplainable reason the court is able to overlook the tremendous reputation of the medical facility that employs me, willing to overlook--however recklessly--the fact that I was elected by a huge margin, if the court is willing to go to these extremes to indulge some upstart corpse devoid of any sense of duty in death, then I would simply say that I have examined 3,462 bodies in my career and that all were dead and all remained dead. No one has dared to challenge my authority like this."
Thinking that the evidence was perhaps too one-sided against the man, the judge ordered the man's relatives to testify. But they agreed with the previous witnesses that the man must be dead, citing as evidence that they had already moved into his house and begun to spend his money. The address changes had already been processed at the post office, and his newspaper already cancelled.
"I found him dead," said his widow, "and I grieved for him and said good-bye." She cited as proof an engagement ring from a new lover.
More than eleven other witnesses testified that they had all been told that the man was dead. "What do you have to say to this testimony?" the judge finally asked the man.
"Believe the evidence of your eyes and ears," said the man.
"That evidence is light when weighed against the evidence of tradition and reputation," said the judge. "It runs against what we all know. For when a man dies, who has seen him live again?"
And so the lid was nailed back onto the coffin and the man was taken to the cemetery, where, at length, the evidence of the court and evidence in the coffin were reconciled.
"Here is a piece of rope, shorter than you are tall," the king said. "Hear my promise: If, by this time tomorrow, you can push this rope up this small hill in a straight line, you will be free to go, loaded with gold and jewels, with silks and spices, and with a hundred servants carrying delicacies of your own choosing. If you cannot do this task, you must die."
The sky was beginning to cloud and the wind to rise, so the man prayed, "God, give me bright sunshine and a warm day in which to work." And the clouds dispersed and the wind grew calm.
The man struggled all day long to line up the rope and push on it. But however he pushed, the rope would bend to the right or to the left. When he pulled on the rope to straighten it, no matter how careful he was, the rope moved down the hill a little. The king, who looked from his window occasionally to see how the man fared, was roundly amused. When darkness had fallen, the man realized that he had lost more than three feet.
The man sat there, despondent in the dark, while the king stood at his window, smirking. "Why don't you pray again to your God?" he asked, punctuating his question with laughter. So the man thought he would.
"Oh God, help me to do this task," he said. "Only you can know how," he added, shaking his head slowly and sighing.
Not long after he prayed, the clouds began to return and the wind rose again. Soon a cold rain was falling and the man was quickly soaked to the skin. As the rain turned to snow, the man forgot his task and wrapped himself in his cloak as well as he could and waited for morning. The last thing he heard in that shivering night was the king's taunt, "My dear prisoner, your God certainly answers your prayers in a very odd way."
When morning came, the man awoke, almost surprised to find himself still alive in the icy silence. His clothes were frozen stiff. Looking with purposeless weariness over at the rope, he noticed that it, too, appeared to be frozen stiff. His eyebrows rose as he realized that the rope might be just stiff enough to push in a straight line. And it was.
Someone wanted to study philosophy under Diogenes. Diogenes gave him a dead fish to carry and told him to follow him. But the man for shame threw the fish away and departed. Later, when he saw the man again, Diogenes said, "The friendship between you and me was broken by a dead fish." --Diogenes LaertiusNot so long ago in quite a modern town, a young man came to a wise man, sat down, and asked to be his disciple.
"Before you can become my disciple," the wise man said, "you must answer one question: A man found himself in a forest on a moonless night. His own nose was nowhere to be seen. Off in the distance he heard a child crying out to be rescued from a bear. Should the man rush toward the child, with no certainty of rescuing him, certain only that he himself will be injured by running into many trees and swampy bogs, or should he wait until the revealing light of morning, when he can see to run straight to the child without hindrance or mishap?" The young man thought deeply about this question.
"I understand," he said at last. "The night is ignorance, and the morning is the light of understanding, when one can see clearly to act well and teach truly. My mind sees this, and I honor the path to enlightenment. At the same time, the thought of a child in distress and immediate danger so moves my heart that I would be compelled to suffer the unseen trees and bogs in an effort to rescue him. I'm sorry." And he got up to leave.
"You may be my disciple," the wise man said.
One day when Mrs. Miniver came home from the store, Mr. Miniver put down his screwdriver and looked out the attic window. "Did we get something good for dinner when Mrs. Busy comes to visit?" he asked.
"I got something good for the dinner," answered Mrs. Miniver. "I'm the one who went shopping."
A little while later, a thought came to Mr. Miniver as he paid some bills in the upstairs study. "Emmie, dear," he said, "did we mail that invitation to Mrs. Busy yesterday?"
"I mailed the invitation," if that's what you mean," replied Mrs. Miniver.
It wasn't long before Mrs. Busy arrived for dinner. "Welcome, welcome," said Mr. Miniver, as he opened the door. "It's been so long since we drove out to see you."
"We drove indeed," said Mrs. Miniver. "If you recall, I did the driving."
Dinner proceeded and the three talked and ate and talked and talked. Mr. Miniver even managed to get in a whole sentence. Mrs. Busy had just remarked on what a lovely place the house was, so Mr. Miniver commented, "We wanted it to look nice for you."
"And that's why I did all the cleaning," said Mrs. Miniver. "Honestly, Mr. M is the messiest painter on the face of the earth."
The next day when Mrs. Miniver got home from the store, Mr. Miniver was in the basement. But he had no question for his wife.
Soon they came upon a stream, fed by a natural spring bubbling up into a clear pool. The boy looked with wonder and interest as the water rose up through the sand and spilled out of the pool and down the stream bed. He watched carefully for awhile, as if he expected the wonder to cease. Finally, he asked, "Grandpa, how long will the water keep flowing?"
"This spring flows all year round," said the grandfather. "Through heat and cold, rain and drought, this spring is a faithful and dependable source of water."
"Where does the water come from?" asked the lad.
"A spring like this starts from high up there," the grandfather replied, pointing toward a mountain in the distance. "It begins with the rain and snow and the dew on the leaves of many plants, far up on the mountains. But that is only the beginning. These waters join together deep inside the earth, in the inner secret places, where they form a single, pure flow. The water must pass with great travail and great patience over long distances through sand and rock until finally, in the fullness of time, it rises forth from the earth here before us." The boy stood awestruck at this story until the grandfather broke the reverie by adding, "You know, my boy, there is a great truth here: the greater the struggle, the purer the spring." The grandfather contemplated his own wisdom until it was the boy's time to break the meditation.
"Where does the water go, Grandpa?" he asked, looking down the stream. "I can't see it after it reaches that old log."
"There's another great truth," said the grandfather. "The only way to find where a stream will lead is to follow it."
So the boy and his grandfather followed the stream along its course down the hillside. They rambled at an easy pace, enjoying the song of the waters tumbling over the rocks in the stream bed and watching an occasional leaf or twig rush down the rapids of a particularly turbulent spot. They paused often to examine a curious vine or a rotting log or to touch the bark of a nearby tree or merely to look around them to see the forest at peace.
Eventually they came to the base of the hill where the stream stretched out along the plain. After walking awhile, they saw a place where, within the space of a few yards, the stream disappeared into the ground. "The stream ends here," said the boy. The old man said nothing but continued to stroll with the boy down the now dry stream bed, their feet crunching on the gravel in a most satisfying way. After many steps, the old man turned to the boy and said, "Why don't you dig a hole right there." The boy looked surprised for a moment, but soon began to dig in the bed. When he had dug down a foot or so, water seeped into the hole.
"There is water here!" the boy exclaimed, watching the level rise to a few inches.
"It's the stream," the old man said. "It has continued from where we last saw it, only now the gravel is on top."
"You mean the stream has been with us all along?" asked the boy.
"That's right," said the old man, "and that's another truth you should remember: If you ever lose sight of a stream, and believe it has been lost, just look under the gravel and you will find it again."
"Very well," said the girl.
"However," the woman continued after a pause, "you don't want just any young man, but a man of discernment, one who can see beyond his eyes. You must therefore wear this cloak and this cowl and not show your face to anyone until he is curious enough to ask."
So the girl rose early in the morning, covered herself in the cloak and the cowl, and walked the distance to the crossroads, where she sat down by the well. The well was a busy place, with many people, young and old, men and women, coming to drink or draw water, but they all ignored the girl. The girl was naturally cheerful and open-hearted, so she offered to draw water for old and young alike, and even for many women. For this the other girls mocked her. Whenever a nice young man did come, she offered to draw water for him, and he would often allow her, but he would not seem interested in her and would soon turn his attention to one of the other girls around the well, girls who knew just how to smile and giggle in the way that so transfixes young men.
As dusk began to turn into genuine night, the girl walked wearily home to her mother. "Many nice young men are less thirsty tonight on my account," she said, "but none spoke of romance, for they all looked with longing on the other girls, the ones they could easily see."
"Patience, my child," said the woman.
So the next day, and the next, and many following days, the young girl again rose very early and walked the long walk to the well at the crossroads, always wearing her cloak and cowl. And again she offered to draw for everyone who came to the well, whether for a deep and satisfying personal drink or a for large jar to take home to a thirsty family. But every day, while the young men gladly drank her water, and occasionally held her hand in theirs as they tilted the ladle to their lips, none were curious enough to look under her cowl, for they all assumed that the girl had hidden herself because of her homeliness. So they offered their smiles to the less beautiful and less helpful but more visible girls around the well.
One evening after she entered her mother's house in the near darkness, she sat heavily in a chair and put her head down on the table in weary despondency. "Truly mother," the girl said, sighing deeply, "I think there is not in all the kingdom a man who can see beyond his eyes."
"Patience, my child," said her mother.
Many more days began and ended with long walks, with many pulls on the well rope, with the teasing laughter of the other girls in her ears; the girl's only comfort, which itself was punctuated here and there by a sigh, was the thought that she was being useful and the hope that she was learning patience.
Finally, in the heat of an ordinary afternoon, a dusty young man, who had arrived while the girl was busy helping someone else, threw himself down exhaustedly near the well and begged the girl for a drink. As was her custom, she drew him a full bucket of water and set it down next to him. She then took the ladle and helped him to drink. As with the other young men from countless days past, the young man attended closely to the water, and scarcely looked at her while he drank greedily.
When he had refreshed himself to such an extent that the girl had found it needful to draw a second bucket from the well, the young man turned to the girl and spoke. "Your servant's heart is greatly appreciated, for I owe you much, having been thirsty almost unto death."
"It is my pleasure to draw for you," said the girl simply. With that, the young man thanked her, took her hand, bowed, and--wished her well. (I know you're disappointed here, but I am trying to preserve some sense of reality, and besides, be patient and maybe eventually things will get better.) The walk home that night seemed particularly long and cold, and the girl was more downcast than usual, for she had liked the very thirsty young man.
When she arrived home and collapsed into a hard little chair, the girl announced to her mother, "I don't think I'm going to find a young man at the well--or anywhere."
"Patience, my child," said her mother. The girl was becoming impatient with these admonitions about patience, but before she could respond with irritation or disrespect, she fell asleep.
Several more days passed routinely and unremarkably, except for the debacle of the dog and the chickens, and that little incident about the big oaf who turned over the peddler's cart, but the girl scarcely noticed these. Even when a line formed on one especially hot day, where six or seven young men stood waiting to drink from her bucket, she was inattentive. She did notice the bucket becoming empty, though, and was about to let it down into the well again when a hand grabbed hers and prevented her.
"Here," a young man said. "Let me draw a bucket of water for you." She turned to him with surprise--for no one had ever before offered to draw for her--and immediately she recognized the dusty young man from a few days earlier, though he was not at all dusty now. As is usual with girls in situations like this, some feeling or other caused water to appear in her eyes, blurring her vision for a minute or two before it became copious enough to escape down her cheeks.
She thought she said, "Thank you," but she wasn't sure, but it didn't matter because the bucket was down, filled, and raised in a jiffy, and the next thing she knew after that she was drinking, for, almost to her surprise, she discovered that she had been quite thirsty herself. The next thing she knew, or imagined, was that her mind was telling her that the words, "Will you marry me?" had appeared in her ears, quite unannounced. Her eyes opened (for she was one of those who drinks with her eyes closed) to confirm what she thought she had heard. There before her she saw the young man, on his knees, holding his hat over his heart.
"Are you willing to marry me, even though you haven't seen me?" her head made her ask, in spite of her heart yelling at her to say "Yes!" loudly.
"But I have seen you," the young man said. "I've been watching you for several days. I've gotten quite a look at you, and your beauty has captivated me." Before the girl could reply, the young man continued: "Now then, let me see what face belongs to such beauty."
And with that, he pushed back the girl's cowl and freed her tresses from her collar. I won't be coy about it--the young man was quite joyful to find that the girl he loved, whose true beauty he so admired, had such a handsome and likable face. In fact, the afternoon sun made her face shine with such warmth and her hair glow with such radiance that the young man was forced--he couldn't help it, I tell you--to push his hands, fingers spread, through her hair and to pull her lips to his, for at least an ample and generous minute. It is unfortunate that the girl was not wearing knee-high socks that day, for if she had been, the young man's kiss would have rolled them down all the way to her ankles for her, making it that much easier to take them off when she got home.
The girl's head and heart had another brief tiff, with the result that she said, "I will marry you, but you must also ask my mother." The young man promised to drop by on the morrow to talk to mom.
Now, if this were really a fairy tale, the young man would turn out to be a prince, arriving at dawn in a carriage drawn by twelve horses and accompanied by dancers and musicians. However, as you have certainly noticed, this story is a careful, historical account, and I must continue to record only the actual truth, without exaggeration or ornament. The young man, in fact, was not a prince; he arrived the next day about ten o'clock, in a carriage drawn by four horses, and was accompanied by only a single servant. True, he did own a decent castle, but with only a few hundred acres of land surrounding it. Even so, the girl's mother blessed the match anyway, and the two lovebirds were soon married.
Whether these two lived happily ever after or not, my sources do not inform me. (There's always a page missing when you want it most, isn't there?) The only clue we have about their married life is an obscure rhyme that at that time entered the lore of the neighboring villages and was sung by children at play for many generations afterwards:
Two buckets up, two buckets down.
Old thirst a dust, new never drown.
The man, who could barely even stay in the saddle, felt his clothing being ripped to shreds and his flesh scratched and punctured by the rough, hostile weeds. Finally he was thrown off onto a patch of rocky dirt, where he lay dazed and bleeding. As he looked up, the dirt sticking to his bloody face, he saw the owner of the stable standing over him.
"That will be ten thousand gold pieces," the owner said.
"What?" asked the man, confused by the shock of the fall, and half blinded by the sun. "That can't be true. Look what happened to me."
"When you chose your horse," the owner replied, "you didn't ask about the cost, so now you can't object to the bill."
"But I didn't think--"
"That's clear enough," interrupted the owner, "but you still must pay for the ride."
When the man returned, the boss asked, “What of importance did you learn?”
“Nothing,” said the vice president.
“Okay, great,” said the boss. “Thanks.”
After the vice president left, the boss’ administrative assistant could not contain her irritation any longer. “You just spent thousands of dollars to send your vice president to a conference, and when he comes back and tells you he learned nothing, you say that’s just great?”
“Certainly,” said the boss. “Our world is an information ocean where the worthy and the useless equally demand attention. Half the success of life is knowing what to ignore. In this case, the word ‘nothing’ summed up five days of inessential data smog. I certainly got my money’s worth. Now go make me a cup of coffee.”
But the pen was purchased by a young mother who gave it to her child. He grabbed the pen and started to scribble on a piece of cheap construction paper. The ink bled, the lines grew thin and skipped, and finally the pen clogged and stopped writing completely.
“What a low quality pen,” the mother said as she threw it into the trash can with disgust. “I was cheated.”
The wrong guide and the wrong purpose make even the best to fail.
Not long ago, several professors sat down in the overstuffed chairs of the faculty lounge, and began to discuss the inability of words to communicate meaning.
Suddenly a young man burst into the room, and in a frenzied rush and with a terrified look, he shouted, “Run! Hide! There’s an evil monster outside!”
“Nonsense,” said the professor of semantics. “Evil is only a verbal construct without a concrete referent. Repetition and usage have convinced you that something unreal has existence. A common mistake for those whose lives are controlled by words.” The young man stared at the professor with a look of astonishment.
“Allow me to demonstrate that I am not afraid of words.” At this, the professor arose and walked out the door. A moment later the group inside the room heard a short scream followed by a crunching and slurping sound.
“You see?” said the hysterical young man, looking around at the others. “The evil monster got him.”
“No, no, no, no, no,” said the professor of sociology, somewhat patronizingly. “Evil is merely a social construct designed by the oppressor class—the bourgeoisie—to control the behavior of the proletariat and keep them down. And I refuse to be controlled.” Upon which the professor got up and walked outside. Soon there was another short scream, followed by more crunching and slurping.
“Can’t you see?” screamed the young man.
“You poor dupe,” said the professor of postmodern literary studies. “You have been victimized by false consciousness. The concept of evil is an artifact of the late capitalist hegemony, imposing a totalizing narrative of absolutist moral bifurcation, designed to constrain your thinking to Western neocolonial categories. Everyone today knows the criticality of decentering such abhorrent truth claims through a deconstructive analysis of obtruded linguistic frameworks. And besides, whatever is out there would not be considered evil in many cultures, nor would it—or him or her—be smeared by the hyperjudgmental expletive, ‘monster.’”
After this remark, the professor, clearly in a snit, walked to the exit, left the room, and slammed the door behind him. There was a brief cry of surprise, followed by more crunching and slurping.
“Evil! Evil I tell you!” was all the young man could say.
“Listen here, you judgmental and intolerant person,” said the professor of ethics. “The concept of evil has long ago been denied ontological status in many thoughtful monographs. But you must know that even words without extant referents can harm others. A word like ‘evil’ can scar someone for life. We must accept a variety of behavioral lifestyles and not be judgmental. We don’t tell others what they can and cannot do. That’s what tolerance is all about. After all, not everyone is just like us, but everyone needs acceptance. So, I’m going to go outside and give that person a big hug.” And the professor of ethics did just that.
Those still in the lounge heard a brief but emphatic, “No, don’t” followed by crunching and slurping, a bit slower, concluded by a burp.
“I’ve had enough of this charade,” sneered the Women’s Studies professor. “I’m going out to see what’s really happening.”
“Please, lady, don’t go outside,” pleaded the young man.
“You think you’re clever, don’t you?” said the professor. “But I can tell that this is just one more sick example of patriarchal oppression through linguistic enslavement. Men call things evil as a ploy to control women and keep them at home. ‘Don’t go outside,’ they command. You want us all barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, don’t you? Food and sex, that’s all we’re good for, isn’t it?” Before the young man could close his gaping mouth to begin a reply, the Women’s Studies professor stomped out and slammed the door behind her.
Immediately there was the sound of a slap and a scream, followed by crunching and spitting.
“This amuses me,” said the professor of multiculturalism. “The problem with you Westerners is that you do not realize that evil is maya, an illusion, a self deception. Your minds are still bound down to the remnants of the Judeo-Christian idea that evil is real. But evil simply does not exist for those with enlightenment.”
“Okay, okay,” said the young man in exasperation. “There’s no evil monster outside.”
“Yes,” replied the professor of multiculturalism. “Now your cup begins to empty so that truth may enter.”
“But there is a nice, man-eating creature outside. It will devour you if you leave the room.”
“I imagine not,” said the professor, who sauntered out the door.
The young man heard one or two crunching sounds, followed by a burp and a moan.
The faculty lounge was now nearly empty, and the young man, conscious of the failure of his warnings, sat down to think. But just then the door to the lounge blasted off its hinges and flew into the room. In the doorway stood a large, scale-covered green beast with a tremendously distended abdomen. The animal attempted a terrifying roar, but couldn’t get it out. It did not look well. Then it groaned and fell over dead. The contents of its stomach, which consisted of the professors it had just eaten, emptied out onto the floor.
Looking at the disgorgement, the young man shook his head and said, “What an evil mess.” Then he stepped over the corpse and went on his way, no longer afraid.