The Distance Between
“The distance between one’s eyes and the object of their obsession cannot be measured, nor quantified.”
I thought that a bizarre statement, but held my tongue.
“Master,” said one of the bald-headed devotees. They sought to immerse themselves in their master’s teachings both mentally and physically and curry his favour. I, however, did not.
“Yes,” said the old man.
“That is because obsession does not exist. Obsession is another form of narrative for infatuation and we do not allow ourselves to become infatuated.”
The old man sighed at that, the willows in the garden sucking in then out to his breathing. He fingered his long, white beard and took a sip of water from his saucer.
“You and your brothers are exemplary.” The boy beamed. “You have taken my teachings to heart, allowed my words to flow through your very beings. What is more, I could not be more proud of you.”
I must have shuffled at that because he looked to me then with eyes that might have swallowed my soul.
“Johns-son,” he said — he never could get his lips around my westerner’s name. “Do you agree?”
The old man always picked on me, he, who at least in my opinion, had given up the most to come to him. I tried to shrink away, but my back was already against the bamboo wall.
“Johns-son?” he asked again.
“No, Master, I do not agree.”
A gasp went up from the twenty or so other students, the candles flickering off their bald pates.
I licked my lips, then said, “Obsession cannot be measured by distance.” A sigh of relief that I had acquiesced to the others beliefs rippled through the small room. “But…” a fresh breath by all “…it can be quantified.”
“Go on,” he growled.
“I feel it in my heart when I count down the hours to seeing my family again. It is my own personal obsession, master, though I realise it is not everyones.”
“So, you contradict me and your fellow pupils?”
“No, master, it is just what I feel.”
“You trust your feelings?”
The old man smiled at that, stood, as did we, and tottered from the room. I never saw him again because my teachings were over. I had nothing left to learn.