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VxPoem ID: 32760
Posted: April 26th. 2008 7:50:56 AM
Stories of Old Joe
by B. T. Newberg
Age Group: Adult
Three teachers--a priest, a rabbi, and Old Joe--were having an interfaith dialogue. The priest said, "Surely there must be something we all have in common."
"Yes, " said the rabbi. "Perhaps if we state the essence of our teachings?"
The priest said, "Great! I'll start. When asked what is the highest commandment, Jesus said: Love your God, and love your neighbor as yourself. All other commandments are manifestations of these two."
The rabbi said, "When asked to distill the essence of the Torah, Rabbi Eleazar said, 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'"
The priest slapped his knee and said, "There! Surely that is something we have in common! What do you say, Old Joe?"
Old Joe, who had been watching a squirrel outside the window, said, "I'm sorry, what are we talking about?"
"We're summarizing the essences of our teachings, " repeated the priest. "What is the essence of your teaching?"
Old Joe replied, "We are human."
Some of Old Joe's friends were arguing about his name. One said, "They call him Old Joe because he is wise, like an old sage." Another said, "No, it is because he listens to old gods and goddesses." And a third said, "You are both wrong. It is because he is an elder in the community."
They could not agree, so they went to their friend. They found him tending his garden and asked: "Why do people call you Old Joe?"
Old Joe laughed. "Ever since I was a little boy, my hair was white as my grandpa's. So, they started calling me Old Joe."
Some people noticed Old Joe sitting in the park. They whispered, "They say he speaks to the wind and the trees!"
Then one of them walked up and asked him, "What does the wind say? What do the trees say?"
Old Joe replied, "The wind says 'Oooooh!' The trees say 'Shhhhh!'"
Old Joe used to say, "If sincerity rings in my words, it is so by the grace of accident. Who knows my deepest thoughts? Not me."
A priest said, "Christ died to redeem this world."
A monk said, "Life is full of suffering, but there is a way out."
Old Joe said, "My lover is here! My lover is here!"
A philosopher and Old Joe went on a camping trip in the woods. The philosopher breathed in the fresh air and said, "Isn't it beautiful? Ah!--nature is so innocent, and humanity so wicked. Do you think it's our sense of self that separates us from nature and causes our fall?"
Old Joe shrugged and said, "Trees grow leaves, we grow selves. But when winter comes, it's time to let them go."
Some psychologists were listening to Old Joe talk about his views on the spirit. At length one interrupted him, saying, "You must understand how difficult it is for scientists like ourselves to grant credit to such mystical talk."
So Old Joe told them a story:
"Once upon a time, Panda invited Koala to a picnic in the style of a potluck. When they shared their food, Koala said to Panda, 'Have you no eucalyptus leaves?' But Panda had only brought what he could eat, bamboo. 'I cannot digest bamboo!' said Koala, quite incensed. Then Panda said, 'What have you to offer? Only eucalyptus leaves?'--which was, of course, all that Koala brought. 'I cannot digest eucalyptus leaves, ' said Panda. So, the two went their separate ways in disappointment."
The psychologists knitted their brows. "What was the point of that story?"
Old Joe replied, 'Thus was spoiled what would otherwise have been a delightful picnic.'
A business man invited Old Joe to give a talk at a conference. After the talk, he said to Old Joe, "A fine speech! A fine speech! But as for myself, I say all religions are pretty much the same. How can you go wrong, so long as you follow the golden rule? Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you!" Then he shook Old Joe's hand, and said, "I know you refused payment, but here, take this." And he presented him with a gold watch.
Old Joe ran his finger over the crafted gold plating. He appeared lost in thought for a moment. Then he told a story:
"Once upon a time, two lovers met at midnight: one was a sadist, and the other a masochist. Both were committed to the Golden Rule. So the masochist beat the sadist, the sadist let him do it, and neither had any fun."
Old Joe added, "Here's your watch back."
A philosopher asked Old Joe, "What do you think free will is?"
Old Joe replied, "When a rock is struck, it makes a sound. When its support fails, the rock falls. When the wind blows upon it, it gradually wears away."
The philosopher objected, "Ah!--but a rock has no choice but to do so! We have choice!"
Old Joe replied, "Is that your choice?"
An environmentalist picked up Old Joe from the airport for his talk at a retreat center outside the city. Driving through the city, the environmentalist said, "So much asphalt, so many high-rises. All this construction! Where is nature?"
Old Joe replied, "Beaver dams and bird nests."
When they finally got outside the city, the student said, "Ah! Green grass, and tall trees. And look there: beaver dams and bird nests!"
But Old Joe shook his head and said, "Nope, no nature here."
A student asked Old Joe, "What?s the essence of your path?"
Old Joe replied, "To know who I am."
"So?" said the student. "Who are you?"
Someone who had questioned Old Joe for some time asked, "Can't your answers be more clear? They always confuse me."
Old Joe replied, "If you are confused and know it, what could be more clear?"
After Old Joe gave a talk at a self-help conference, he opened the floor to questions.
One person raised a hand. "How can I avoid being proud?"
Old Joe said, "Be proud of being proud."
Another person asked, "How can I avoid being sad?"
"Try to be sad."
"But being sad is so easy!" the person protested.
Old Joe replied, "Put some muscle into it!"
"It seems, " a student finally remarked, "that the answers you give to our questions are only meant to silence us."
Old Joe remained silent.
The student said, "Then why do we ask questions?"
"You tell me."
When Old Joe had fallen ill and appeared to have not long to live, some of his most devoted students came to sit at his bedside.
Old Joe beckoned for one of them to come near. He whispered something in that student's ear, then Old Joe breathed his last.
"What did he say?" cried the others.
"All he said was, 'I'm going to tell you the secret of the universe. But there's a catch: You can't take it seriously.'"
When Old Joe had passed on, his closest friends and relatives gathered to hear the reading of his will. As they waited, some of them started to argue about what the point of Joe's teachings had been. They all seemed to have different ideas.
Then the lawyer read the will, and at the end there was a little poem that Joe had requested for his tombstone:
"When life's arrow launches toward a sighted mark,
Beauty lies not in the target, but in the arc."
Author's Notes: c 2008 (incorporating material from 2003)
As a Naturalistic Pagan, I believe in evidence. There is no evidence that deities and magic are "real" in the most literal sense, but they may yet be moving and powerful. These poems are a tribute to the inspiration of Pagan ways.
For more information on naturalism, see HumanisticPaganism.com.
Author's Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
More Poems: B. T. Newberg has posted 73 additional poems- View them?
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