A Parable from a Dream

Persian vase

I walked for many miles before coming upon a mountain on the outskirts of the desert. At its base, sitting very still, was a man with a long white beard. As I stared at the setting sun he asked if I had heard of a king named Miravan. I told him I was a foreigner and knew little about his country’s history. He smiled and lifted his eyebrows to show his surprise. Nothing could stir the Sufi, who remained serenely situated in the face of the winds chasing away the scorching heat and heralding the approach of another freezing night.

“Centuries ago there was a king named Miravan. He was a peerless scholar who translated the great tomes of the day into all the languages spoken by his subjects. His court brimmed with doctors, astronomers, poets, craftsmen, mathematicians, philosophers, soldiers and artists from the four corners of the earth. From them he learned the wisdom of many peoples. With the spoils of war he built vast highways and adorned them with modest monuments to his bravery in battle. Women would sigh and place roses around these statues. Husbands asked their wives to avert their gazes when the king passed by in his chariot, lest they also fall in love with him.

Yet he suffered too, for in this world there is no such thing as a charmed life. In his youth he indulged heavily in wine, women, and song. Like so many before him, he found no lasting joy in these things. He lost trusted friends to war and the plague. His first wife perished giving birth to his second son. Like any child he endured illnesses and, still more painful, he endured the illnesses of his children. He worried himself to tears wondering if they would live through the night. He reigned for nearly one hundred years before passing quietly with his thirty six beautiful children and seven lovely wives. They looked tenderly at his still handsome face and stroked his silvered hair. They whispered pleasantries and prayers into his ears as they held his hands.”

“I do not understand, sir. What is the lesson?”

“There was no Miravan. He never lived.”

“Then why did you tell this story?”

“Perhaps he did, but you are here now. He is not.”

The Sufi fixed his gaze on the moon. Though he would not be unkind, I knew it would be improper to interrupt him. I knew there was nothing left to say. I began my ascent to the mountain’s peak.

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