Once, there were two men who were the best of friends. They were inseparable, always at one another’s side, which was quite a miracle (given the differences between their personalities) and yet entirely to be expected (given the perfect complementarity of those differences).
One was a small, wiry, talkative fellow, always commenting on the state of things, never at a loss for words, always adjusting his gold-rimmed spectacles, without which he was quite blind. He was extremely quick-witted, a very savvy and intelligent man, who could win any argument with a single well-placed sentence, and whose conversation was always studded with gems of practical knowledge. This quick wit was bolstered mightily by his uncanny eye: he was a sharp observer, keenly aware of the smallest details of his surroundings. His powers of observation and deduction would have put Sherlock Holmes to shame, while his meticulous planning and attention to detail would have made him a military commander rivaling the likes of Napoleon or Alexander, had he any inclination towards such things. He was neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but rather styled himself a “realist,” concerned more with hard numbers and reliable data than some preconceived notion of the world; to his way of thinking, it was all well and good to hold out hope for something unlikely, but the fact remained that it was unlikely, and one should not reasonably expect the odds to defeat themselves. He had a manner of fidgeting and tinkering and dissecting and experimenting that manifested itself in a rather prolific spread of inventions, a veritable army of mechanical thingamabobs and chemical whatchamacallits that left no room in the cellar for storing potatoes or his wife’s extra chest-of-drawers.
His partner, however, was a different breed altogether. A great mountain of a man, of the proverbial “strong, silent type,” he would rarely speak, but when he did, his manner was demure and humble, never raising his voice. He moved like a planet, slowly but deliberately, as if to say the world could wait until he had finished stirring his coffee. Upon meeting him at parties or other gatherings, it would often be whispered among the guests that this must be a man with some sort of disability or impairment, that his lack of speech must indicate a lack of comprehension, and that the most polite thing to do would probably be to carry on talking about hats and the weather and let him be content to listen. Of course, as is the case with most quiet men, nothing could be further from the truth, but it is just as well – those who judge superficially, think superficially, and it is nearly impossible for such people to appreciate real thought when it is presented to them. And “real thought” is exactly that in which this man would immerse himself; his “quietesse,” as his partner liked to term it, was the result of a mind in constant reflection. Not a word or phrase escaped his notice or comprehension, which is precisely the reason he rarely spoke – in his mind, every word and every phrase was mulled over and hammered out and pursued to its logical end, and he would not speak a single word that he had not fully determined to be true. It is rather telling that while the adult guests at parties would ignore him, their children loved him, for while the adults saw his caricature, the children saw his character, and it is children, as we all know, who are best at seeing things for what they really are. He would wrap the children up in his great arms and carry them outside to set them on the swing set, and he would spend the rest of the party out in the yard enjoying their company immensely while the adults sat inside pretending unsuccessfully to enjoy one another’s company. But on the rare occasions when the adults’ conversation merited the weight of his thought, he would speak quietly, a sentence or two at most, but such a definitive and unassailably simple statement that it would stop the conversation entirely, until one of the ladies would break the silence by complimenting another on her hat, and the chatter and gossip would begin again.
It was precisely one of these rare interjections that had initially drawn the bespectacled inventor to the great bear. The conversation had begun with the weather, moved on to hats, took a rabbit-trail through politics, stumbled backwards through economics, and finally turned down a somewhat philosophical path, prompted by an elderly professor with bits of pipe tobacco stuck in his beard, who had brought up the perennial question: “If there is a God, why does He allow poor people to be so poor? Why does He allow those whom He loves to suffer so greatly?”
Answers came and went. Some of the guests had clearly never thought about it before, offering something to the effect of “the Bible says ‘blessed are the poor’,” which is, of course, not an answer but rather a consolation. Some remained silent. Others threw out haphazard thoughts that made sense in their heads, but that quickly shriveled when brought before that great destroyer of weak arguments which is Articulation; the echoes of their own half-wittedness rang in their ears without any need for a counterargument. The Inventor, for his part, offered something a good deal more substantial: “Perhaps it is not really God’s will, but rather the fault of man that his brother should be poor.”
Tobacco-Beard chuckled. “Well, that’s the best so far, I think, but it hardly makes God a caring individual, eh? You pray to God that a poor man might find relief, and yet God doesn’t give him anything, so you have to do it yourself? Sounds like that prayer does nothing to me. Sounds like the more simple way to understand it is to cut God out of the equation entirely. Ockham’s Razor, you know. God’s not real.” He puffed on his pipe, as if daring anyone to assail his intellectual mastery of the subject. Casting his eyes around at the guests, he saw the Bear’s furrowed brow, his lips pursed and eyes on the floor, lost in thought. “And what about you? Why do you think God lets poor people suffer?”
The Bear waited a moment, then lifted his gaze to the professor. He spoke quietly and humbly, but with all the gravity of the moon on the tides. “Because He loves them. And sometimes that’s the best thing for them.”
Tobacco-Beard paused, thinking. After a moment, he looked up, straight into the Bear’s eyes, squinting at him, trying to get some kind of measure of him, trying to find a trace of confusion or prideful opposition to fuel a retort. But in the Bear’s deep eyes, he saw no guile, no anger, no intellectual posturing or uncertainty. Instead, he saw something that arrested his tongue and held him captive for the briefest of moments. He saw a mirror. And in that mirror, in his own reflection, in his own eyes, he saw that very dilemma, that very intellectual pride propped up by a shaky frame of uncertainty, which he could not find anywhere in the Bear. He was stymied, not by the Bear’s answer, but by the Bear himself.
The professor put out his pipe, picked up his hat, and excused himself from the party.
Everyone else in the circle sat awkwardly for a moment. Then one of the ladies complimented her friend on her hat, and the conversation started again. The Bear went outside to play with the children. The Inventor sat quietly and pondered what he had just seen.
From that day on, the Inventor began inviting the Bear over for dinner, and the Bear, who lived alone, was glad for the company.
More to come later, I hope…