Years ago my young nephews and I would watch the water bugs on the pond, skitter-darting around in that jerky way—”chootzing,” my nephews called it—and colliding like insect bumper cars.
Mostly we chootz, as if we were bugs in the middle of some great river, lost in our little drama of zigs and zags, bumps and lost legs. This seems to us like the whole show, because it’s the only movement we know.
But all the while the river moves to the sea. Whatever we do, it moves. One rarely gets the chance to know that. It is a great solace to look up from the bumpy soap opera and to sense oneself borne along.
Now and then someone sees even more. The young carpenter from Nazareth knew that we are the river.
Why was he called “the man of sorrows”? Not because he was sorry. He didn’t feel his own sorrows much, as long as he remembered he was the river. Sorrows only hedged him in when he forgot and thought that he was still just a water bug. But maybe he never forgot, maybe he was beyond all that.
He hardly noticed his own chootzing anymore. One day somebody was massaging his feet with priceless ointment, and another day somebody was hammering spikes into them. And it hardly mattered to him which happened, because he was the river, he was so much larger than just that.
He was the man of sorrows because his heart sheltered everything. It didn’t leave anything out. Mostly our hearts are small because they’re filled with our sorrows. His was large because it flowed wider than his sorrows. His heart became the river.
He was big enough to bear up all the water bugs with all their chootzing sorrows. Probably he didn’t set out to be this. Maybe he had only wanted to build good chairs so people could rest, and good tables so they could eat their bread. But something just happened to him. He just found that he didn’t belong to himself anymore, and that he carried easily—like his sack of tools and the wood he worked—all the sorrows from everywhere, and that it was okay.
The little God-struck beggar from Assisi knew it, too.
They told him that he and his brothers needed a rule. Every order of monks needs a rule. “No,” he said. “The Lord told me that he wanted me to be a new fool in the world, and that he did not want to lead us by any other way.”
The fool went to see the pope. The legend says he looked so dirty and unkempt he outraged that important man. Go and say what you have to say to the pigs, he was told. That sounded just right to him, so he did. After that the pope listened.
Mostly people couldn’t listen, because the fool was too simple to understand. Mostly they chootzed away without looking up. They couldn’t notice the mountains resting in his eyes, or the abundant fields that flowed from his hands, or the wide flowing of his heart. Often they laughed and mocked. That was okay; it didn’t matter. He just flowed out to fill the banks. It happened easily and naturally, like eagles catching updrafts, or pigs looking up, their jaws moving, or swifts gliding in to rest in a beggar’s hand.
The wounds on the fool’s hands and feet and the wound at his side kept oozing. They never closed. But that was all right, they were the river, too. His sorrows had become like some distant dream remembered long after, as if dreamed by someone else in another life.
Without trying he received the others and their sorrows. A hidden comfort, quietly, like water bearing water life, he carried them along. There was nothing else he could do. It was easy and natural because he knew that they were all the river, too. Secretly the river flowed into the river, hidden but everywhere, and moved it all along. All would be well. It could not be otherwise because it flows, and in time it all comes down to the sea.
Today is deep winter. There is a thin sun and new snow. The day has reached its peak of warmth and light, so it is time now to put down this pen and to ski through the woods.
You read these words at another time and in some other place, but even so I feel you breathing here. The wind is clean today, and the snow is white and pure. For miles there will be the sounds of jays and chickadees, and the hissing sound of the moving skis, and the clear wind blowing, and the panting of this body as it warms.
One of these days this body will die. That is all right, you know. Because whether I move or stop—to watch the hemlocks bowed with snow maybe, or the bare birches against the sky—still I will feel the immense onward movement as it flows. Do you feel it, too? The new snow here is for you. Just now I think we are all new fools.