In the Country of Begonia

As a traveller I once had to cross the country of Begonia. They really have a very strange custom there.

That is to say, on the streets and pathways of the country they don’t have any signs which could help you to find your way from village to village or from one town to the next. But at every crossroad there are flowers which you can ask in order to get directions from them. According to the way in which they give directions, one differentiates between point-around guides, point-away guides and point-toward guides.

The point-toward guides are especially pleasant for all those travellers who simply want to get to their destination as fast and as comfortably as possible. They tell you kindly where you should go.

The point-away guides are often crude and blunt in their speech. They can sound very spiteful. Nonetheless, they can also be very useful. They tell you where you should definitely not go, so that you will keep misfortune and trouble at bay.

Last, but by no means least, are the point-around guides who speak to you in a peculiar way. They speak in riddles. They start to advise you to go one way and then continue with the other direction. They tell you about the destination, but not how you reach it. They ask you questions rather than give you answers. They tell you things, the sense of which you will not understand until later. Some travellers see what the point-around guides say as useless stuff. Yet others only find their destination through these guides.

Treasure Hunting

“In a land deep in your heart, there once lived a people which was as happy or unhappy as any people, and as rich or poor as any people, and as satisfied or longing as any people, and among them lived a boy who had a dream which many boys have: He wanted to search for a hidden treasure. Now this may not seem so peculiar, but this boy was lucky enough – or would you not call this lucky? – not only to have the dream of such a treasure but in fact to have found, in a secret hiding place in the garden, a key to just such a treasure. He had the key, the treasure belonged to him! But how should he find the treasure now, since he did not know where it was hidden? The boy sat down pondering.”

The Storyteller

Many years ago, there lived an old man in our country who knew how to tell so many tales that the people said about him: This man is an inexhaustible source. Yet more notably he had the gift of telling each tale in such a way that it became the story of the listener. Often the storyteller had many listeners, and sometimes, after one of his tales, he could hear them having a dispute, for each person felt deeply that the words had been chosen exclusively for him, while someone else claimed the same for himself.

People came to the storyteller with multifarious concerns. There was a mother who accused her son of being dull and inactive. And her son replied that, since she was always wandering restlessly about, he could not work. There was a woman who complained that she constantly had to admonish her husband not to drink so much. And her husband said, only when he was drinking could he bear her habit of complaining. There were children who ate too much or too little, there were the sick who wished to recover, and those who were suffering and hoped to be freed from pain. There were couples, who wanted to come together, and others who wished to separate, and many other people who addressed him with their needs. He was able to help all of them in one way or another.

One day a young man stepped up towards him saying: “I want to learn this art of yours.” The old man looked in his eyes. Those eyes told him about the desire of this young man, to be able to tell stories to free people from their sufferings. They also spoke of the young man’s fear that his wish could be denied, and that he would never have the opportunity to learn this art from its master. The old man nodded. “You can live with me as long as you are learning, and you can pay later if you are content with what you have learned. The young man was happy to hear this reply, and thus began his apprenticeship.

“First you need to learn to pay reverence to the stories”, the old man said to him. “Only he who can tremble from the power of a story can receive it with its full effect. You need to find within yourself the yearning for the word of release, for the word that frees, for the word which opens the doors and sends your listeners on a voyage. And you need to learn to be silent. The moment when your tale has its greatest force is the moment when it moves your listener and yourself with the greatest speed. This is when it must end, so you gain momentum and are flung on the path that it shows. – This is not true of all the stories”, he added wisely after a pause.

“You need to learn to feel the power of the words” he stated on another occasion. “One sentence does not have the same power as another. For mostly it is like this: Any word that is too much is taking away some of the story’s power. The contrary may be true for people who talk a lot without saying much: Their speech robs their listeners’ strength.”

“There are different powers within words” he once said. “Threatening and strengthening powers, and power that guides you on your search. All three are good. But you must know, which of the powers is contained in the story that you are telling.” All this the young man heard with curiosity and wonder. Yet he felt grieved to find that the old man did not tell him any stories. It even seemed as if his master hid his tales from him, and only told them when he was absent. At first he did not dare ask the old man about this. But with every day that passed by, his disappointment grew, and finally he decided to address this question. He had not yet opened his mouth when his master began to speak: