Perhaps: A parable for our times.

One morning, a man arose early, ate a fine breakfast, and set out to climb a mountain. He had confidence in his knowledge of the route, his climbing skills, and his equipment (the best on the market). That sunny morning, he felt exceptionally charmed, even invincible.

Arriving at the trailhead, the Mountain Climber met a man clad in shabby clothes and without shoes, his only possession a frayed hempen rope. The Mountain Climber proclaimed, “You can’t possibly climb a mountain equipped like that!”

The man, an unassuming monk, responded simply: “Perhaps.”

The Mountain Climber invited the monk to join him on his journey. The monk warned that the mountain was known for many hazards, from sudden landslides to hidden crevasses. The Mountain Climber scoffed at the warnings, whispering, "I know a secret route to the top of the mountain that is free of risk. Only the wisest men know this path."

The monk shrugged and said, "Perhaps."

As the pair began their ascent, the Mountain Climber regaled the monk with stories of great accomplishments, extravagant possessions and grand ambitions. In a short while, the trail grew steeper and rose above the frost line, opening a panoramic view of the valley below. The Mountain Climber turned to his companion and said with a smirk, “The people working on the farms and in the towns below could be on this mountain too--if only they were smarter and willing to work harder!”

The monk replied, “Perhaps.”

Soon the two came to a spot where the trail had been swept away. To continue their journey, they would have to cross a steep slope scattered with small stones and boulders. Because the Mountain Climber was impatient, he ignored his companion’s suggestion that they secure a safety line before proceeding. “If we are ever going to reach the top, we must be unfettered.”

The monk nodded and said, “Perhaps."

The Mountain Climber began to cross first, the loose ground shifting with each deliberate step. He did not heed the warning sound of clattering gravel as it tumbled down the hill. With one badly placed footfall, the man slipped and fell to his knees. He scrambled quickly to his feet and hailed the monk, demanding, “Throw me your rope and we’ll both get across safely.”

“Perhaps,” the monk said as he tied one end around his own waist and threw the rope to the Mountain Climber.

With the rope in hand, the Mountain Climber proceeded with greater confidence, but commensurately less care. When he was halfway across the slope, the friction holding the rocks suddenly yielded to the greater force of gravity. He found himself on his back, plummeting at an accelerating rate. Though surprised at this turn of events, he trusted that his companion would arrest the fall. Barring that, he was sure that he could stop the descent by firmly planting his heels in the scree.

Everytime his fall was momentarily halted, the ground would give way again, starting his slide down the mountainside anew. His panic rose with each failed attempt to stop. He became angry at the monk for not helping him soon enough, and blamed him for choosing this path to the summit.

As the bottom of the slope loomed, the Mountain Climber could see that he was reaching a precipice. The muffled sound of a rushing river far below told him that it was going to be a long drop. As he rushed toward the edge, he spied one last chance for rescue: A tree in his path, gnarled but sturdy. By grabbing its branches, he was sure to stop his plunge and forestall disaster.

In desperation, the Mountain Climber lunged for the tree and grabbed it with hands scraped raw by the rocks. He came to an abrupt stop mere inches from the rim of a deep canyon. When he finally opened his eyes, he saw the monk on the other side of the tree. The men were still tethered together by the tangled rope. The Mountain Climber exclaimed, “Hurrah! I've saved us both with my quick, decisive leadership!”

The monk smiled and answered, “Perhaps.”

Just then, the tree's shallow roots ripped from the ground and the men careened over the edge. Miraculously, their fall was again halted when the rope snagged on a rock, leaving them dangling helplessly in the air. Before they could start to think about an escape from this new predicament, a small mouse crept out of a hole in the cliff wall and began to gnaw on the rope. The rope was old and the mouse made quick work of it.

Before the few remaining strands of hemp could snap, the monk spotted an exquisite wild strawberry growing from the side of the cliff. He plucked it and savored its sweetness.

The Mountain Climber was aghast and yelled, “Are you mad? This is not the time to be enjoying a strawberry.”

At the very moment the rope snapped, the monk replied, “Perhaps.”

(Liberally adapted by MT Cannon from a Zen Buddhist sutra).

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