Simon Sarris

Incense

There is a tale,

Once an old monk lived in a simple hillside temple, the kind frequented by weary travelers. When the nights were clear his chanting resounded in the village below, and all who heard it were struck with awe.

One night a spirit flew above the temple and heard the old monk’s chanting. The spirit descended to a porch and in a thin, reedy voice, asked the monk if he may enter. Though it was getting dark, and the monk had not lit a candle, he found the voice familiar and without turning his head permitted the visitor to enter. The spirit opened the door and with mossy footsteps made his way to sit beside the monk. The monk, still concentrating on the voice of the spirit, asked where he was from.

The spirit spoke of a village not far away, in fact the monk knew it well, because his childhood rested there. As the night thickened so did the spirit’s voice, and they spoke and discovered old matters found familiar between them: places, rulers, teachers, famines, all the things that turn with the leaves.

They talked deep into the night, until the spirit felt it was time to leave. But sitting in the presence of the monk for so long, the spirit was now burdened with the weight of the mortal world. “Please,” said the spirit, “would you move the incense closer?”

The monk, who could scarcely see his visitor, pushed the incense toward him. After a few calm exhales, the spirit mounted the incense smoke and sailed into the night. Just before leaving through the window, the spirit whispered a thanks.

Upon hearing the thanks the old monk at last recollected the voice of his former disciple. The monk wept with emotion that he might have spoken with him one last time.

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