Mother Willow stood on the river bank dangling her fingers in the crystal clear water. Suddenly she heard the moaning groaning sound of someone in terrible pain. She knew immediately it was a man. He was the only living species capable of self-inflicted suffering. She inspected this particular specimen, which had plopped down next to her, trying to discern the cause of his distress. There were no signs of blood sucker bites. He hadn’t been blown over by a gust of wind, nor burned by a blistering sun. No, it was as she had expected, he was fine.
The man sat staring at his reflection in the river and then abruptly hid his face in his hands, whimpering.
‘What’s the matter, little man,’ asked Mother Willow. ‘Why are you crying ? Why are you sad ?’
‘I’m not sad,’ he seethed at this unwelcome intrusion into this thoughts. ‘These are tears of rage,’ he said all red and blotchy in the face.
‘Really?’ said Mother Willow, a bit surprised by the vehemence with which he spit his words into her sanctuary. ‘What can the matter be ?’
She knew, of course, that nothing was wrong. Life is never right or wrong. It is, that’s all. But she also knew that this particular form of life had a tendency to grade and rate, compare and judge each and every life circumstance. Man’s mind was like a measuring stick which he used to formulate all his opinions of good and bad.
‘I hate myself. I’m disgusted with who I am,’ he said bitterly.
She watched as he once again stared at his reflection in the water. Mother Willow let him talk. She recognized this typically human trait, the need to talk on and on even if it’s just to say the same thing over and over again.
‘I hate how I look. The only thing I ever liked about myself was my hair and now it is gone.’ Mother Willow then noticed that the man’s head was hairless. It kind of reminded her of a hatchling, forlorn and featherless, just like little man.
‘Could you please tell me what you really look like ?’ she wondered.
‘Just have to open your eyes, lady,’ he said sarcastically. ‘I’m sitting right here.’
‘No, right here is something you call yourself. I want to know what you, the you who speaks, looks like.’
‘I’m me!’ he yelled frustrated, confused.
‘Little man, you talk as if you are two, you and the hairless one. You cannot stand in judgment of yourself without being separate from it. Which is why I’m curious to know what you, the voice inside, looks like.’
‘Well, a lot better than that, obviously,’ he said at his watery reflection. Before adding under his breath, ‘I can’t stand being like this.’
‘Why don’t you just split up and go your separate ways?’
‘Ah, maybe because it’s not possible,’ he smirked, shaking his head at her incredulous stupidity.
‘Actually, it is. It’s called divorce. Each entity stays exactly as he is, but they are no longer tied together.’
‘To be finally free of this loser,’ he muttered, skeptical.
He looked up, intrigued. ‘Does it hurt ?’
‘Not a bit.’
‘Is it expensive ?’
‘Doesn’t cost a penny.’
‘What do I have to do ?’
‘Just close your eyes.’
‘Am I supposed to pray or meditate or do any of that nonsense ? It’s all hogwash to me.’
‘No. I’m not asking you to be anything other than who you truly are… and to close your eyes.’
‘Are you going to hypnotize me ?’
‘No. I’m just going to wake you up.’
‘But, I’m already awake !’ he said in a suddenly shrill voice as his anger rose like a flash flood.
‘Well, she said soothingly, another reason not to worry.’
‘Okay,’ man said, grudgingly giving in, exhausted from his own inner turmoil. He closed his eyes. There was a scowl on his face and deep lines hardened all around his mouth.
‘It’s time to wake up,’ Mother Willow whispered like a warm summer breeze. ‘Wake up, little man,’ she said stroking his hairless head tenderly.
Little man blinked, then rubbed his eyes. He stretched his arms high and wide. Suddenly she heard the oohing aahing sound of someone in a state of bliss. She knew immediately it was a man. He was the only living species capable of self-awareness. She looked at him carefully. There were no exterior signs of change. He was still bald. And he hadn’t received any presents, any money, any recognition. No, it was as she had expected, he was in awe.
‘Hello, little man, how do you feel ?’
‘Grateful,’ he cooed like a dove. ‘Where am I?’ he asked, enchanted by his surroundings.
‘In the present moment. It’s where life lives.’
‘Where was I before ?’
‘Lost in a dream.’
‘I love being here now,’ he said, his eyes all a sparkle. ‘I love being!’ he jubilated, watching as he wiggled his fingers and toes.
‘Welcome back,’ she greeted him with a rustle of her leaves.
He stood up joyfully, ready to go, when he caught sight his reflection. He stopped and stared.
‘What do you see?’ she asked.
‘I see you and me and the river. I see that we are one.’ And off he went, whistling.
Mother Willow waved farewell with her long floating arms, whispering, ‘Welcome back, little man. Welcome home.’
Epilogue: Worm popped his head out of the ground.
‘Mother Willow, he asked, what happened to the other guy?’
‘That horrible man.’
‘Oh, that wasn’t a man, it was a figment of man’s imagination.’
‘Well, where did it go?’
‘No where, silly. How can something that doesn’t exist go anywhere?’
‘Wow, it really had me fooled. I thought he was for real.’
‘So did little man… once upon a time.’