D3 Crossroads

January 28, 2008

We were at this work event

January 28, 2008

What is the What?

January 28, 2008
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Today, a Sudanese fable:

Ebok and his wife had fallen on hard times. Drought set in after a season of poor-selling, meager crops. Their children, now school aged, had no shoes to carry them to school. They were beginning to go hungry. Every night Ebok prayed to God for a miracle. He prayed for God to send something to save his family.

One night – after many, many nights of praying – God appeared.

He appeared with a cow the size of three cows combined. A cow, Ebok knew, that would save his family and secure their future.

“I’ve heard your prayers, and have come with a gift,” God said to Ebok, “So this cow can be yours from this moment on, unless, of course, you’d rather have the What.”

Ebok replied like anyone would reply. “Well, what is the What?”

And God said what any God would say, “The What, my son, cannot be described.”

Ebok was distraught. Clearly God would not mention this What if it wasn’t worth wanting. He would not come and offer a gift that could not save him and his family, just as the cow would. But what was the What?

After a few moments God pressed Ebok to make his decision. Ebok looked to his hut where his wife and children slept, then back to the very fat cow standing before him. And in that moment he knew exactly which he had to choose.

The story is from the book I’m reading – Dave Eggers newest novel titled, appropriately, What is the What. I can’t decide which Ebok chose. Did his faith in God lead him to take a leap and choose the What? Or did his love for his family, and immediate needs, make him sacrifice adventure for security?

And which would I choose? The unknown or the certain? The security or the thrill? The cow or the What?

I’d like to think I’d choose the What. I’d like to think I’ve chosen it already. But does choosing the cow mean I can be satisfied with basic needs? That I can sacrifice adventure for what’s truly important? That I can focus on care for my family?

Is the What for fools or for dreamers? I’m not sure it matters. I’m fairly certain I couldn’t live my life knowing I had a chance at having the What – and passed it up for a cow.

Which would you choose?

1 comment

  1. Let’s put it this way. Does it matter what the What is anyway? I’d choose the cow.

    Say, for the sake of argument, that the What is everything Ebok and his family could desire. It is wealth– gold and treasures of all kinds; it is health– his children will grow strong, his wife will live to take care of him and his family; it is prosperity– his crops will grow and sell in the market as a result of their high quality. The What is happiness and fulfillment. Best case scenario, right, and a pretty damn good one at that. Still, if that’s what the What is, then God’s taken away Ebok’s free will. He has divined all that Ebok will be. Remnants of a Greek sense of destiny?

    Every day we live we exercise our free will. We do so in the face of an unkown future, and, quite frankly, we make mistakes. For Ebok, he is given one choice. If his What turns out to be everything he’s wanted, what does he have left to choose? This isn’t hitting the lottery. It’s not a cash winfall that the winner must then decide what to do with. God would have, hypothetically, taken away all the struggle from Ebok’s life. Whether he wants to change his mind later on in life is no longer his choice, if God’s What turns out to be something so spectacular– best case scenario, right?

    Solomon asked for wisdom, not the elimination of all his suffering. That left every choice he made beyond that God-given gift still within his control. What does it matter what the What is when the family can prosper if a Now need is fulfilled; then, they can live another day to figure out their own what. I say the real adventure is in the cow. There’s nothing beyond the choice, no guarantees beyond saying yes to that cow. The What may be a question, but it is not an adventure. It could be anything from worst to best. There’s a difference between taking chances, surrounding oneself in adventure, and betting one’s life away.

    Ebok prayed for something to save his family. He knows what he wants, so why should he even be tempted by the What? Because it could be something so great, so amazing and unbelieveable, like, an exponential miracle? The deliverance of the cow is the miracle. Ebok will have his family, time to figure out how to help his crops, and another day to live to choose, to exercise his free will. Even Jesus denied the Kingdom when the Devil promised it to him.

    People will disagree. They’ll say the cow is the safe choice. But just because he knows what it is ,does it make it so safe? Unless the What is wisdom, which Ebok does not necessarily have the luxury to choose if his family is starving, then I would take the cow.

    What’s the What is only a question in so far as we want to quell our curiosities. Wouldn’t be so lucky to know what we need, to know what we want and then have it gift wrapped for us, as Ebok’s cow has been?

    I could only ask for such clarity. My question is, instead of what’s the What, what’s my cow?

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