Be kind to the old man

I walked out of my office building into the courtyard of the sterile office park. The company was in its first year and I was working nearly constantly. I needed to clear my head.

A woman nearby was admiring berries on a decorative tree. “That’s nice,” I thought. She plucked a few berries and tossed them into her mouth. “That’s crazy,” I thought.

As a sophisticate, one thing I knew was that food came from the grocery store. Everything else was poisonous. Hadn’t we all learned this in childhood? I needed to remind her.

The conversation was short. The berries were delicious. Sort of like blueberries. Maybe better. Imagine that! We were surrounded by dozens of these trees, thousands of edible berries and no one knew! People walking by cast nervous glances. I was plucking and popping berries with both hands. “You can eat them!” I shot back with muffled mouthful.[1]

The woman left and I sat alone musing beneath the tree. My mind was clear. More than clear, it was alive — more alive than it had been before. Something inside me had woken up when I tugged that first berry, become wide-eyed as the branch shook, gasped with expectation as the berry entered my mouth, surged with satisfaction as tooth pierced fleshy sphere.

I was perplexed. I was already leading an exciting life — a young man in my mid twenties starting a company. Why should I get such exhilaration from eating a few berries from a tree?

Long before the grocery store and the drive-through we sustained ourselves by roving through nature for hours each day, gnawing on roots, nibbling on bark, breaking leaves off of plants on the ground.

It turns out that ten-thousand year-old man[2] still lives inside me and wonders: Why do my toes never sink into the dirt? Why does rain rarely touch my skin? And why do I pass so many berries and leaves without ever stopping to eat?

I suspect this part of me, elated as he was with our sudden berry forage, is usually disoriented and dissatisfied. He once lived exclusively outdoors while I spend most days inside where even the best attempts at decor lack the rich patterns of nature he once continually parsed. It isn’t likely that he shares my penchant for staring into a glowing rectangle all day.

I’ve made an effort since then to do more of what he might find familiar, and I definitely feel more whole when he is awake. Besides, now that I know the old man is in there shouldn’t I be kind to him?


[1] They were Juneberry trees.
[2] Jung’s phrase, not mine.