Living literary phenom Paulo Coehlo post to his blog recently a short story written by the deceased writer of equal magnitude, Kahlil Gibran. In this "thirty-second read," we encounter a man in an insane asylum who appears neither deranged nor demented. The narrator asks the man why he's in the asylum, and the man replies that he entered of his own will. "At least here I can be myself," he says.
English director Erik Till defined this "sanity" that Kahlil's character rejects and refuses as "the insanity most call normality, put forth by society."
"Show me a sane man and I will cure him," is Carl Jung's opinion on the matter.
All sorts of geniuses seem to agree, sanity is to be avoided.
Following this advice, and borrowing the narrative backbone provided by Gibran, I've written the story below. Please enjoy, and thank you for being here.
Image: Woods Walker by Alyssa Hinton
Through wild green gardens of sun-drenched forest, I walked in wandering reverie. Til suddenly, center within this faultless wilderness, appeared an iron gate. It was modest in size, though ornate in design; roses of all colors poked their heads between its bars, and, tied into the filigree, gauzy, white ribbons suspended a cut of wood. Engraved beautifully with calligraphy it read, "INSANE ASYLUM:" Below it, in plain print: "Enter at your own risk."
My head pried to the side when I realized that there was neither fence nor wall to accompany this gate. Ribboned and rose-dripping, the gate stood alone; the forest appeared the same on either side. Yet I felt compelled to make my passage through it. I turned the heavy knob and the weight of the gate swung open. I stepped to the other side. Things felt the same, disappointingly so. But as I closed the gate it clanged shut, and with that clang I felt the presence of eyes upon me.
Looking up, I saw a young woman reclined in perfect ease atop the remains of an enormous fallen tree. The tree had been carved into a wide hollow - bowl-like for just such lounging - with intricate carvings of flowers and vines decorating its exterior. In the woman's drooping hand, a book of philosophy.
Though her fair and pleasant face was smiling, I hesitated. "Would I be suspicious of this woman," I wondered, "were it not for the sign on the gate?" Still, I moved towards her, which felt only natural, and as I did so she adjusted her posture to make room for me. My hand slid effortlessly along leather-soft branches as I lowered myself to sit down beside her.
At first we did not speak. I was thankful for the birdsong. I looked to the golden light streaking through the treetops towering overhead, until finally I looked to her. She didn't look dangerous at all.
"What are you doing here?" I asked.
Her face expressed a subtle surprise, but seeing that I was only curious, she replied: "It’s very simple. I live here." Then she added, "Thank you for visiting me."
"Where are the other inmates?" I asked.
"It's just me here," she answered.
"Are there doctors? Nurses?"
"Also me," she smiled. "Sure, other people come and go, and we take our turns playing the different parts. But I'm the only one who stays, which I must, because I'm the only one who lives here."
"You live here? In the forest?"
She winked at me.
As she seemed amused, I continued my questioning. "What of the gate and the sign, then?"
She looked towards them. "Yes, I put those there. Just to help me remember where I am." She laughed, and little pink petals drifted down on us. "It's true, you don't have to take the gate to find yourself on the other side of it. But by that route you'll never get in!"
"In-sane?" I flirted.
"Into the asylum!"
I couldn't help but smile back at this strange and beautiful woman. Although she was an absolute riddle, she seemed the paragon of good health.
"An asylum is a place of refuge," she continued. "Asylum is shelter, it is protection. And my insanity is my asylum. My insanity is the reality I know to be true but can never prove. I've tried - well not to prove but to explain, to share - but it's always the same, the world is so quick to say, 'No, no, reality is not like that it's like this. It's not the truth you feel with your soul, it's this noise we make with our mouths! These are the rules and you are not exempt!'" She shrugged. "But in my reality, they're wrong. So that's why I put the gate. I literally shut out that noisy world." She smiled into the sunlight. "All I have to do is call myself insane for it, and they leave me in peace."
I enjoyed her cleverness. "Well that explains 'Enter at your own risk.'"
The woman laughed again, sounds like soft music and explosions. "Yep, it's good to scare away the fearful. Fear--whether your own or someone else's--drains you of your courage. And courage, you know, comes from the Latin word for heart. Fear drains the blood from your heart. Fear takes your life away." She looked off in a moment of reflection I did not dare interrupt. Then she looked back to me and added, "Everyone feels the pulse of insanity in solitude and silence. But to move into it, that is an act of courage. And courage is far less common."
Though intensely bewildered, I felt unequivocally at peace beside the madwoman. And so I just sat there a while, thinking and not thinking. Finally, just to talk I asked, "So did you make this tree-couch yourself?"
"Yes, I did!" She said proudly. "It is important with insanity to still remain grounded, you see." She rubbed the smooth wood around her with affection, "And now I would like to return to my reading, if you don't mind?"
"Oh!" I was being dismissed. "Well, it was really very nice to meet you." I extended my hand as I stood, but she ignored it, instead rising herself as well, the skirt of her soft white dress tumbling out of her lap to touch the grass, and she embraced me. I closed my eyes and for just a moment I felt an invisible shimmer in the darkness behind them. I pulled myself back, half-expecting this beauty to vaporize to mist, but she simply kissed my cheek and said, "Have fun out there!"
"Thank you," I said. I turned and began walking instinctively back towards the rosy gate, though it would have been more sensible to return to the path directly. As I realized this, however, I noticed another sign hung on this side of it as well, and curious to know what it might say, I continued on.
"INSANE ASYLYM: Enter at your own risk."
I paused and chuckled quietly to myself. I stole one last look back at the languid enchantress. She was still there, absorbed in her book now. I looked back at the sign. I walked through the gate.
Image: Divinus by Greg Spalenka