Neighbors
Victor Endersby

The man from the city, restless with the nameless unease of those without roots in the soil, bought land in a secluded valley, pondering the terms of the purchase with much reflection.

“This,” he said finally, “is good. The man, unlettered and old, burdened moreover with the heritage of soil impoverished by ancestral ignorance and greed, let a life dark, poor, imprisoned and hopeless. I have paid him well, so that he may now end his days in comfort. Not depending wholly for livelihood on this soil, I have no need of driving it as it has been done hithertoo. With modern knowledge it shall soon become enriched as in the days before our marauding fore-fathers. It will be for me a place of healthful toil in the long evenings and on days of no commerce. It will be a refuge in my old age from the miasma of the city, and for future generations will produce the fit food so long absent from the nutrition of men in the Kali Yuga.”

One day there drifted down to him from the glen above, the grizzled and whiskered elder who dwelt therein. This one, with a grunted greeting, seated himself upon a stump and drew upon a pipe which made itself known far and wide. At last he said:

“You have a strong hand on that shovel; moreover, you seem to be a fine man. But there is a thing for which I do not like you.”

The city man looked up, troubled. It was far from his mind to be a bad neighbor.

“And what is that thing?”

“That you have displaced my neighbor who dwelt here.”

The city man’s shovel clattered on the ground.

“But - but -!”

“Yes, I know we did not get along,” said the aged one. “Still I miss him and am unhappy.”

The newcomer pondered over this. When he came to that place, the man in the valley had told him that the man in the glen was an uncivil neighbor, surly in the lending and borrowing of tools, whose cattle made inroads on the land of others, and who lagged in the mending of roads and fences held in common. And the man in the glen had told him that the man in the valley was an uncivil neighbor, surly in the lending and borrowing of tools, whose cattle made inroads on the lands of others, and who lagged in the mending of roads and fences held in common.

The city man had thought that perhaps both were right; or again, that both were warped by the narrowness and poverty of their lives. Now there came to him a new view.

“Since he had a like opinion of you,” he said slowly, “it is possible that there was a misunderstanding and mutual aggravation, making both appear that which neither was in truth. It is moreover possible that in the nature of things, you were put together in this place from old times in order to set the matter right.”

“That thought,” said the old man, “has also occurred to me. Had it occurred sooner, I would have done differently. But it is now too late, for he is far gone, carrying his ill-will.”

So saying, he wiped his eyes with his sleeve, knocked the ashes from his pipe, and wound his way sadly up the hill. The man from the city watched his slow gait and bowed shoulders.

“This thing,” he reflected, “is perhaps the reason why these oldsters spent their whole lives in this mountain, like two stubborn children kept after school for the reconciliation of a foolish quarrel. It must have been somewhat of importance to involve the whole karma of two lives for these many years. Now the opportunity is ended by my intervention, albeit unwittingly; who knows in what age it may return?”

Suddenly he put on his coat and hastened toward the city; it had occurred to him that there was a matter in his own life that would bear looking into, lest there be another belated awakening.

For this marks the man who has truly entered the Path, by however short a distance: all men are his teachers without regard to condition, and all places are schools without distinction of location.

Last Update : January 2009
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