! ! How To Quarrel - Poem by Michael Shepherd
There were two monks who
shared a cell in perfect amity.
Yet they, concerned to perfect their compassion
for all humankind, wished to know all
Mankind, said the one,
seems always to be quarrelling –
always too ready to pick some fight -
how can this be?
It seems, said the other, that in order to
assert their selfhood and to be ‘somebody’,
they must then invent an enemy,
who seeks to take something from them
that they deserve to have…
so then, they can allot
a ‘mine’ and ‘thine’, and pick
a violent quarrel to prove
their right to be themselves…
they’ll find anything so to label –
‘my tribe, your tribe’—even though
to anyone else, they seem the same –
my religion, your religion – though God is unaware
of any such division or allegiance; or when they’re
really desperate for something to fight about,
‘my postcode public territory,
your postcode public territory’…
Oh dear Lord, said the other monk,
how can we have compassion
for these suffering souls? We’ve never had
Then we must invent one, said
the first monk: suppose I draw a line
in chalk along the floor of our cell..
and then we’ll call one side, my space,
the other yours…
And this he did. Now, he said,
we can have a quarrel: look,
I’m standing in your half of the room…
No you’re not, said the other,
it’s not my half…yes it is, we’ve agreed,
said the one…
Oh very well then, take it … you win!
said the other.. But there’s
nothing to take! said the first…
The two monks sat and sighed.
They would never know how
human kind could ever own
anything worth the quarrel over.
How difficult a holy life can be.
Have compassion, then, for the plight
of those two monks…
[Based on a story from the
early days of the Desert Fathers]
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