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By Terry Burns

“Good morning, sir,” Sister Carmella broadcasted to the man lying on the grass in an effort to get his attention. “Fine morning isn’t it?” she said as she reached the shade of the tree in the park. 

“Every morning is fine. Just look at those clouds. I’ll bet they’re at about 25,000 feet. Seem to be moving to the east, I’d guess they’re going fifty, maybe sixty miles an hour.”  Henry replied, barely opening his eyes. The man had his fingers intertwined, hands behind his head, and feet crossed at the ankles. With eyes closed, he presented at the moment, the picture of total and perfect comfort. 

“I’m sorry I woke you. I hope you can forgive me,”  Sister Carmella said in her precise English. 

“You didn’t wake me; I’ve been up for hours. Had breakfast, read the paper, showered and all that. Say, did you know today is the Pope’s birthday?  Do you do anything special today?” 

“I did know today is the Pope’s birthday, have you been drinking?” 

“Yes ma’am. Water. Oh, and a glass of orange juice for breakfast.” 

“You know I mean alcohol. Why are you avoiding the question?” 

“Why do you answer a question with a question?  And no, I don’t touch the stuff.” 

“Is it drugs then?” 

“Is it drugs then?  Then what?  Could you be asking if drugs are the answer to the riddle of life?  I suspect not. But if you want me to help you, you are going to have to be more precise in you questions.” 

Sister Carmella’s sigh would have spelled out e-x-a-s-p-e-r-a-t-i-o-n if one could have read it. “Are you lying in this park because of a drug problem?"

At this, Henry shifted his eyes to get a better view of his interrogator. “No I am not here because of a drug problem. I am lying here because if I were to lie in the street I would surely be run over.” 

“You don’t appear to have mental problems, if I might be so forward. Why are you leading your life like a common homeless person?” 

“Oh, that’s what you are trying to ask. You must work on how you deliver questions. W. Edwards Deming found that few people are good questioners. Most of us ask questions beside the point and hope the answer comes back near the subject. I could help you with that if you like.” 

“Are you avoiding my question again?” 

“No, I changed the subject and didn’t change it back. The answer to the, and I like the way you stated it, ‘why are you leading your life like a common homeless person’ is things.” 

“Things?” 

Things.” 

“You must explain yourself more completely. What on earth do things have to do with it?” 

“You still need to work on your question asking abilities. Things are my downfall. You are lucky if you took a vow of poverty and truly live by it. When I was younger, I was like everyone else. My goal in life was to accumulate. Accumulate fame, accumulate recognition, and above all, accumulate things. I did well at it. Better than most. I had a car. Then one car wasn’t enough, I had two. I needed a boat. If you have a boat you must have something to pull it. I got that too. I never used the boat, don’t like water. I could only drive one vehicle at a time, but I had to have them. The big house on the hill?  That was mine, or at least one of them. Then one day it ended. My office was in the Tradewinds tower, I fell thirty-eight floors when the stock market dropped three hundred points about a year ago.” 

“You jumped, and you survived?” 

“No, I took the elevator down. But when I got to the ground floor, I didn’t have a job.” 

“A broken man; you poor dear.” 

“I wasn’t a broken man; that’s the point. I was much wiser. After the fall, it took a while to recover. I had been to the top, or nearly so. From my exalted vantage point I could see all there was to see. There wasn’t anything to see. Nowhere to go to satisfy my wants and desires. Several months after I became unemployed, I had an appointment for a job interview and drove by the park here. I saw a man sitting on one of the park benches. He looked so content. I parked the car and walked over to where he was sitting. When I got within a few feet of him, I saw why he looked so content. A bottle securely wrapped in a brown paper bag sat next to him. This bothered me so I went to a nearby bench and sat down. I concluded the man on the other bench was onto something but just hadn’t gotten there. I sat on my bench well past the appointed time of my interview; until the sun set, thinking and wondering. Free of stress and pressure, time to admire the beauty in the world I rationalized, is at least a partial answer to the meaning of life. All one had to do was figure out how to obtain it. Over the next few months, with the help of three financial advisors, I succeeded in developing a plan. I could support a no frills life by selling all of my things, which I had come to realize were my biggest impediment to happiness. Not long after, I moved here to the park.” 

 “So that’s how you live your life?” 

“Yes. My only task when I get up in the morning is to enjoy life, nothing more.” 

“Well you seem quite content in your own way. Let me give you this blanket, it gets cold during the night.” 

“And where would I keep it?  I don’t have anything to carry belongings.” 

“You could get a shopping cart like the rest of them do. I know it isn’t right, but the grocery stores can afford it.” 

“So then I would have a shopping cart and a blanket. Things - the ruin of my salvation. Are you a pusher?”

 

About the Author

Terry Burns writes short stories in fantasy, mystery and adventure thriller genres for the enjoyment it brings and balancing a career in telecommunications, includ-ing being active in IEEE Standards.

Terry has contributed to several published standards and has written papers published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

The Burns family resides in the western portion of the Valley of the Sun. Terry is currently working on a novel that will be released within the coming year.

 

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