The Man Who Was Not Himself
“I'm leaving,” I said to my wife upon arising from bed.
“I don’t understand!” she cried. “You are willing to give up your family, your life, everything that you own, just to go on this pilgrimage?”
“But, why?” she pleaded. “What could possibly be the purpose of this madness?”
“I had a dream. And in the dream, I came to realize that I am not content. These things,” I said, motioning to my surroundings, “they are not me. They do not define my life. There must be something more.”
She fell to her knees before me, wailing. “But what of me? I’m your loving wife. Don’t I mean anything to you at all? What will I do without you?”
“Everything I have worked my entire life for is now yours. It will suffice.”
She clutched at my legs, refusing to let me go. “Please, tell me, is it something I have done?”
“No, woman. You have been a good wife.” I smiled kindly to her. “But all that is done now. I hear a voice within me, a spirit, telling me it is not enough.”
“But what will you do? Where will you go?”
“I will travel alone with nothing but the clothes on my back. I will go where my steps lead me. If God wills it, I will survive.”
And with that, I pushed her from me and walked away. My wife, my family, my home, they were all things of the past. I was taking the first step toward enlightenment--a whole new beginning. The thought of it made my entire body . . . smile.
I realized then, that by relinquishing all my worldly possessions, a great burden had been lifted from me. I was a different man. For the first time in my life, I felt truly happy.
The next few months were like a dream. People looked upon me and saw joy on my face. They considered me to be a holy man and fed me like a king wherever I traveled. I did not want for anything. I had no cares--no worries.
And then one day, while journeying deep into the jungle, I came upon an empty house.
The building was very old, a wall had collapsed on one side, and the jungle had entered and grew thick all around it. I made my way inside, climbing over ancient rubble and fallen trees. In a corner of the largest room, I made a feeble bed of dried underbrush and moss. I said my evening prayers, and then went to sleep.
At about midnight, a demon brought in a corpse and dropped it on the floor.
I screamed, unable to contain my fright.
Upon hearing me, the hideous monster turned its mangled form in my direction and looked at me for a time. Its head was that of a man that had been severely burned; its body, was of a wolf, and covered in thick black hair. As it studied me, a smile crossed its blistered lips as if it had thought of something very funny.
Then it left.
Cautiously, once I overcame my fear, I approached the dead man. I did not recognize him, but I felt sympathy for his plight. How he came into the company of a demon I could not tell. Perhaps he had been dug up. His body was puffy and discolored. It was obvious that he had been dead for some time.
It did not feel right to sleep next to a corpse, yet it was too dark to leave the house and venture into the jungle. So, I moved my bed as far away as I could and once again attempted to sleep.
I was startled awake by a terrible growling and opened my eyes to face the hideousness of yet another demon. Its face was that of a deformed dragon and, as it bent over me, it dripped decayed flesh and spittle upon my head.
I cowered in the corner, unable to believe my eyes or my misfortune. The fiend hovered over me like a loathsome cloak from hell; its breath smelling of mold and rot. Behind him, he dragged the corpse of the man around by one leg.
“Aiiee!” I cried. “Please, don’t eat me!”
At that moment, the first demon returned looking for the body he had left earlier. Seeing the second demon with his corpse, the two began to quarrel furiously.
Each devil had a leg of the dead man and pulled at it like a wishbone. The corpse jerked and dangled in the air like a broken doll.
“Enough!” cried the first demon. “It is useless to argue about this any further. My advice is that we get a third party or judge to decide who the true owner really is.”
“Agreed!” said the other demon. “But who?”
They both turned toward me. I groveled in the corner as they approached and asked me to be the judge.
“Puny human, answer truthfully now or it will fare badly for you. Who does this corpse belong to?”
I was terribly frightened for I knew that which ever demon I awarded the corpse to, the loser would surely be angry and eat me. But I was a new man, a different man, a good man, and I decided that my only course of action was to tell the truth.
“Not more than an hour ago, this demon,” I said, pointing to the first, “brought in the corpse and laid it upon the floor.”
As expected, the second demon became very angry. He roughly grabbed one of my arms and tore it off.
I screamed with pain.
The first demon seeing this, quickly replaced my arm with one from the corpse and the bleeding magically stopped.
As if they were children fighting over a toy, the angry demon tore away my other arm, but the first demon immediately replaced it with the other arm of the corpse.
This went on through the night until both my arms, legs, head and body had been successively torn away and replaced with the corresponding parts of the corpse.
Then they stopped.
They looked wickedly upon the parts of my body that were scattered about on the floor. Then hungrily, they picked them up and devoured them.
I could do nothing but watch in horror as my body was eaten piece by piece right before my very eyes.
When they were through, they went away chuckling without even a look in my direction.
“I can’t believe it,” said the first.
“I know,” laughed the other. “It works everytime!”
And then they were gone.
I stood there in shock, their laughter still echoing from outside and falling upon my dead ears. I didn’t know what to do. My mind reeled and I felt faint.
Who was I?
The parts I was born with were gone and I now inhabited the body of a dead man. I was someone different. Myself, yet, not myself.
I wailed and moaned for days. Anyone who saw me ran away in fright.
Finally, I returned home.
My wife and family were outside working in the garden. I approached them with a smile upon my face.
“I'm home,” I announced.
“Who are you,” said my wife with a start, gathering my children behind her, “and why are you on my property?”
“It's me, your husband,” I said joyfully. “I have returned from my pilgrimage.”
“We do not know you, you filthy beggar,” she said, threatening me with a hoe. “Leave at once, or I shall have you arrested.”
I sadly turned and walked away. My life, as I had known it before was truly gone for good.
I wandered about the countryside lamenting my ill-fortune. Eventually, I came upon several monks who eagerly listened to my story.
“It is the true meaning of selflessness,” said one.
“But I was seeking contentment,” I proffered, “not selflessness. I left everything I had worked so hard to attain: my home and lands, my beautiful wife, my two loving children.”
“Were you content?” asked another.
“Yes,” I said. “For a time, I believe I was.”
“Contentment comes with a price,” their leader said. “True contentment can only be found after one has become entirely selfless. The demons, seeing you for who you really are, helped you to accomplish that in the most literal way.”
“What do you mean, saw me for who I am?”
“You were a man who had everything: love, family, happiness. You threw it all away because you were too ignorant to see it for what it really was. So it was easy to give these things up. Only a man with no conscience could do what you have done.”
“But . . . but it wasn’t my fault. I had a dream that told me I was not content--that I must wander through the wilderness to become a truly different man.”
The monk shook his head. “Your weak mind was easily deceived by the demons that have trapped you and damned you for all time.”
“No, it can't be. It was'nt my fault. I was tricked!”
“There is one consolation,” the leader said looking into my eyes. “You are a man, who is not himself.”
"But how does that help?"
"You don't have to look upon the face of a fool."
Pitifully, I thanked him, and continued on my way--forever changed.
Now, I must steal to eat; I am forced to sleep in places that others avoid; scourged in towns that once embraced me. I am ridiculed by little children and pelted with stones. I am a wretch, a miscreant, a miserable creature that is scorned by all that see me.
I have nothing. I am no one.