In the 1980s, when I still had money to waste on a bookshop, I met a young Englishman.
John – he was not Jewish – had left his home in the north of England, hitch-hiked, worked, gone overseas, and had somehow washed up on the shores of Israel. He was now keeping himself alive by cleaning up in a nightclub and sleeping with the other cleaners and the fleas in an attic above the nightclub. I sat behind my table (as usual there was no business), and asked him questions.
Once he started moving, John had lost all contact with his home and his mother (he had harsh words for his father). She didn’t know where he was or even whether he was still alive.
I pushed the telephone on the table over to him. “Here, phone your mother.”
He looked at me in wonder, as if I had just said something impossible (remember, this was pre-mobile telephone days). Then he dialled the number, and for the next five minutes I tried my best not to listen to what was a most moving conversation.
Over the next few weeks he was a fairly frequent visitor. One day, in a thoughtful mood, he said to me: “Mike, what’s it all about?”
I never saw him again, but his question remained with me for the next 10-15 years. Whatever I had answered him, I felt it was not sufficient.
I kept on picking up new answers, and discarding them. All of them were right and all of them were wrong.
Eventually I reached a situation where I realized that the answer I really wanted was the one that would suit me – one I could live with. So, being a simple man (if Pablo Casals could say this, then why shouldn’t I) I chose to take the simplest answers – the things I could see.
Does anything exist? For that one I looked around me. I saw life in all its forms – walking, flying, swimming, growing.. I saw mountains, water, clouds, sky, stars – in fact, I saw creation. And creation presupposes a Creator, or if you will (as Bernard Shaw has it), a creative force.
Was I part of what I saw around me? Of course. Had I ordered this existence of mine? Obviously it had nothing whatever to do with me – I had been given a gift.
Which brings us to the next stage. What does one do with a gift? Whatever you like, of course. It’s yours. We have been given the same elements (more or less), and we have the mind to choose from amongst them.
Which is why I find it hard to understand why a person, who has a mind, should behave like an ape or a donkey or some inferior animal, when he has the ability to rise above this.
All this brings us back to this planet and the things our fellow-men do for and/or against us, and why. That’s another difficult question, and maybe I’ve got another 10-15 years to think it out.
In the meantime I’m happy with my answer, and I only wish I could tell John how wonderfully he has repaid me for that telephone call.
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