The slight seven-year-old child, Yamiji, ran with an exploding fire in his thighs through fields of rice, not out of fear or anger or even boredom. He ran for the pleasure that accompanied exhaustion, that white-zone where heart and mind meld seamlessly together. Step after step was, for this child on the brink of destiny, a divine communion between man and nature his father had taught him to respect. And so Yamiji would run to experience the searing of his lungs from honest exertion, taking the earth’s divine winds into his chest to give him an experience that in turn acknowledges – with a glint in his perfect, almost supernatural cobalt blue eyes – the beauty of the world around him.

One day Yamiji heard of another young runner, a boy who ran the length of Japan from the southernmost tip to the northern shore along the famed cherry blossom trail without so much as stopping even once. It was a legend, surely, Yamiji thought. But what if it was not? Could he do it? Yamiji felt that he could, knew he could, and to do so would be a tremendous feat in honor of the world that had given him so much, the beating of his very own heart. The quest would be a celebration of life itself.

Yamiji’s father reacted to his son’s aspiration first with laughter then with a bit of unhappiness. “If you know that you can do this, why bother?” his father questioned. “Is it not enough to know? Unless you fear that it is impossible. If you harbor even the slightest fear, you will not, you cannot.” Yamiji’s father would go on to question his son’s motives. “Is this in honor of the Tao, Yamiji, or is it in honor of your own ability? Remember that your ability is of the Tao. Do not take it for granted.”

Despite the fact that these were dangerous times, both for his family at home for whom invaders were always a possibility, and for himself as the cherry blossom trail had become a home to fearsome ronin and other rogues, Yamiji was determined to conquer the impossible. He would do this, and his determination to conjoin his body with the world would hopefully inspire millions. “This is not about man versus nature,” the boy would announce. “It is about being one with nature, which is our true nature, and not separating ourselves from or trying to conquer nature. My journey will be a celebration of the Tao and all that is good.” Although worried about the quest, Yamiji’s father was proud of his young son’s wisdom. Hopefully the boy’s knowledge of the Tao would be enough to carry him through.

On the fourth day of the run, Yamiji’s throat scratched with an unquenchable thirst. His skin became parchment despite sips of water from well-wishers along the tree-lined path. As a large hill emerged before him, Yamiji’s spirit faded for the briefest second. He stumbled a bit, one foot nearly caught the other and wobbled him to the side of the road. But there was no stopping, not now, not ever, not until the northern sea. Yamiji righted himself. The resolute child lowered his head and plowed headlong to the top of the hill.

Having reached the crest of the hill with the last ounce of sweat flying from his body, Yamiji caught view of a broad swath of land with nothing but cherry blossoms and tall grass in sight. A singular path cut through the trees and grass while some mountains rose a hundred miles off in the distance. At least the next leg will be flat, it occurred to the boy. He allowed gravity to pull him down off the hill without thinking how much longer this journey might take him. It didn’t matter. He would rather die than stop. Nature wouldn’t let him stop anyway; nature goes on forever if you let it. So much did Yamiji know.

A hundred yards into the field with that slightest doubt now far behind him, Yamiji rehydrated himself with determination. A smile spread across the lad’s face as an occasional cherry blossom flower curled around his head on the air and kissed him with its white petals. Boy shook hands with the world, as it should be. So what struck Yamiji to the ground with a force so hard a scar was put in the earth, the boy didn’t know. Though not unconscious, the child was gravely injured. Every bone in his body screamed out for Heaven, first from the attack, second from the passing of his vision. The pain welled eternal.

It was almost nightfall before Yamiji attempted to rise to his feet. He hovered somewhere between the real world and the dream world while trying to find his footing like a newborn calf. As he swayed back and forth and tried to maintain his balance, Yamiji saw someone, no, some thing step up beside him. He could not turn his head to see (though his vision was blurred anyhow), but understood something. Whatever it was, was not of any world the child had ever known. The thing was demonic. It was Yamiji’s opposite. It despised Yamiji’s quest and had come to make the child suffer for his gratuitous affection for the world.

“With all of that running Yamiji, you have seen so much of your country. You have met so many people and you remember all of their faces, all of their kind words and their gifts to you. Your mind’s eye, it records everything; it has recorded every cherry blossom you have run past since you started. Every rock. Every bird that has graced the sky above you. But here it is just us.” Yamiji felt a cold energy, a hand, move towards him with every chilling, low ruffled word. “No one is watching you right now. This is the only moment I may strike.”

Yamiji was contorted into a ball of unspeakable agony. His leg bones snapped like twigs. Blood was pulled to the surface of his skin. The boy’s head throbbed like a balloon dying to explode until blood poured out of his eyes. Yamiji writhed on the ground like an epileptic as the nerves in his body exploded. Blood stained the dirt with every frantic twist of the youngster’s body. He clawed at his own face, slipping his fingertips into the empty wells where his eyes once had been. Finally, once the pain had reached infinity, Yamiji passed out and did not wake for what would be six years.

Upon wakening, the boy had grown. He found himself underneath a fruitless cherry blossom tree. The cool air wasn’t uncomfortable, it was warming with the rising sun; perhaps it was spring and the blossoms hadn’t yet begun. Making note of the immediate world, a blind Yamiji uttered no words nor grunted in pain. He unflinchingly brought his mangled bones around until he was on his hands and knees and began to crawl the hundreds of grueling miles back over the path he had run to return home. Yamiji crawled over rocks, under trees, through the rain, night and day. He encountered many people who had aided him on his journey but they didn’t recognize Yamiji now. Instead they turned away, away from all of nature by treating the mutilated teenager as something else, something they didn’t want to know or be a part of although they already were.

When Yamiji finally he reached home late in the afternoon one autumn day, he slid the door open as he stood on shredded knees. His father was there beside his mother at the lip of a black cauldron. They looked at their deformed visitor first with horror, then with confusion, then with joy.

“Father?” Yamiji’s feeble voice asked.

“My son, you are alive! Alive, alive, alive!” The teenager’s father jumped up and crossed the floor with unnatural speed to clutch his one child. He crushed his son against his chest then held him at arm’s length. “You are alive but, but what has happened to you? I should have insisted you not go. I knew it would be dangerous.”

“You could not have stopped me, father,” the son spoke in fragmented words.

“What happened? Tell me what happened,” the patriarch insisted.

“The inevitable, father,” the son spoke as he turned over his palms to reveal gnarled, calloused flesh. “I had much time to think on my journey home. I was naïve; my knowledge of the Tao incomplete. I thought I could commune with nature in rapturous delight without there being something else to maintain the balance of the Tao. Remember the Taijitu symbolizes this; there can be no yin without yang and no yang without yin. There is even yin within yang and yang within yin. All of these things flow from the Tao. I forgot this.

“I was not surprised afterwards when I realized I had struck down by an envious, invisible force at precisely the mid-point of my journey. It had to happen if the world was to remain in balance. People often think there needs to be more good in the world but they forget there can be no good without evil and no evil without good. Despite how we may want to think about it, the Tao – the true Tao – has no opinion of good and evil; these things simply are. And so I cannot be upset. I have fulfilled my role in the quest such as the Tao has manifested it.”

“But, my son, you look like you will never run again. How can you not rise to anger?” Yamiji’s father asked as he observed his child’s twisted limbs.

The teen raised his face to imagine what his father might look like with vacant, hallowed eyes. “My quest will never be completed, but I have taken away a lesson far more valuable. Only now do I truly understand that all things are One. To not understand this is to invite a balancing force into your life. For me, I became too determined. Thus, I invited upon myself a discouraging force. Such is the folly of youth.”

Yamiji’s father lifted the broken body of his son and carried him towards the warmth of the fire. The child’s mother moved to the garden to gather some medicinal herbs. In time, Yamiji would heal. He would walk again but not be too determined to do so in the meantime. He had learned to respect the Oneness of the Tao and that joy and sorrow and life and death are all equal. He would not be bitter then to return to the Tao when the time came.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) October 2016 John J Vinacci

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