Once upon some unspecified temporal coordinates, in a land of ever shifting geopolitical boundaries many, solar rotations from where ever you are; there was a young man (are you surprised) who lived in a village that sat in the shadow of a great mountain. He was a good young man, a strong young man, a handsome young man, a smart young man, but he was not a happy young man. There were many reasons he was not a happy young man, the most obvious reason was that his father had died when he was only a well grown boy and since that time it had fallen on him to provide for his kind but sickly mother.
That was the reason his neighbors would have given anyway but really the boy was unhappy because he was smart enough to see that though his looks had earned him many admirers there was no way for him to enough money in his little village to support himself a wife and his sickly mother, and he worried about what would happen to them both when his strength started to fade, but he was too good to leave her, even to go find better work. It was the puzzlement of his life and led him often to wonder aloud. “Why? Why is my life this way?”
One day a young monk of about his own age happened to over hear him make this very exclamation as the bottom of his basket split, spilling its contents into the muddy street. As he bent to help the young man he explained in a gentle voice. “We are taught in my order that there are infinite realities playing out in infinite dimensions where the consequence of every possible decision plays out, and that this is but one possibility.” Without saying any more the initiate monk smiled warmly and was on his way.
So busy was our young man with absorbing what he had been told that it was not till the monk was far out of earshot that he regained his wits enough to say “But I still don’t understand. Why?
Now it was the custom in this village when a person would lament against the fickleness of fate for them to receive an answer of, “Only the man in the mountain knows, go ask him.” This is just what the butcher stopped laughing long enough to say. It was a phrase the people of the village had stopped using with any meaning like we would you ‘bless you,’ or ‘good bye’, but when the butcher reflexively pointed over his shoulder to the temple that sat atop the mountain the young man suddenly recalled that the man in the mountain was more than just a quaint colloquialism used by the villages, but referred to a real Master Monk living within sight of his very home and he started to wonder things he had never wondered before.
Later that night he asked. “Mother, why dose no one ever go and ask the man in the mountain?”
“Oh my son,” his mother answered somberly, “there are many dangers on the way to the temple on the mountain, raging rivers, long stretches where there is no water at all, steep escarpments were a single misstep can send boulders crashing on your head, berries that appear edible but are poisonous, hunting beasts, and worst of all the higher you go the colder it gets till simply continuing the journey could kill a strong man. What question could possibly need answering that badly?”
The young man did not answer but only looked at his mother thoughtfully until the frail woman becoming afraid put both hands on either side of her son’s face and begged, “You must not go my son. You would not survive. Promise me you will never go.”
In the face of his mothers heartfelt supplication what would the young man do but comply. “I promise you Mother.” he agreed earnestly “I will not go.” And at the time he meant it.
“Good.” His mother breathed in relief, “After all what would I do without you.”
For some while the young man kept his promise with little trouble, but as summer turned to fall and fall became winter, the work needed to keep them alive seemed to grow in direct proportion the shortening of the days the young man became more and more preoccupied with what the possible answer to his question might be.
So much so in fact that when his mother was unexpectedly invited to spend a moon cycle at her sister’s house in a neighboring village the young man decided that promise or no promise, dangers or no dangers he simply could not pass up what might be his only chance to get the answer he craved. The very next thing he did after waving his mother off was to start gathering supplies, portable food, his mothers best knife and pot, all the bottles, skins or flasks he could find, rope and most importantly warm clothes. Once his pack was filled he settled it on his back and without a thought for the time of day set off into the gathering darkness determined to get his answer.
It took many times longer than the one moon cycle his mother was to be away, and he had lost, broken or eaten all his supplies but finally one morning as the sun came up behind the temple the young man crested the mountain, foot sore bedraggled and covered in a filthy half cured bearskin and could hardly believe his eyes. Sitting serenely in what appeared to be the center of the rising sun was virile looking man of mid years with legs and hands folded, greeting the new day.
The young man stumbled forward eager to ask his question and unreasonably afraid he might miss his chance if he did not act quickly. “Master.” He cried, “Master, may I ask you my question.
“Of course my son. What is it you have journeyed all this way to ask me?”
“Master I have been told that there are an infinite number of realities where every conceivable out come for my life has come to pass.”
“Yes my son.”
“Then master my question is, why am I stuck in this one?”
The Master of the temple leaned back, smiled broadly and answered, “That my son depends greatly on what your definition of I is.”