Steve’s wisdom was sometimes challenged by rival teachers and wise men. I record here one of the most interesting of these cases, when Steve’s authority was said to have been superseded by a man who had lived forever. Let us begin:
One day when Steve was deep in thought, some of the peasants from the village came to visit, bringing with them a very old man. The man was small and wizened and old, and he shuffled forwards slowly using a gnarled and knotted walking stick. Ever helpful, Steve’s favorite disciple hurried forward to aid the old man to his seat. We recognized him instantly: the village people had been talking about nothing but this wondrous newcomer for the last three days. According to village rumor, he was the oldest man who had ever lived – in fact, it was said he had lived forever!
The peasants of the village brought the old man before Steve as a challenge; to test him and to see what he would say. Wisdom, after all, is known to come with age – so a man who had lived forever must be very wise indeed! The old man himself clearly thought this to be true, for he had been spreading his own teaching and wisdom throughout the town since he had arrived. He had been trying to replace Steve.
Noticing the gathering of people before him, Steve roused himself from his meditation and turned his ponderous attention to his visitors. One of the foremost men of the village stepped forward to put their case before him. “Erm. Righ’. So Steve, this fella ‘ere’s come t’ teach the village ‘n’ all. He’s real old ‘n’ tha’ means he’s wiser ‘an you, righ’? So you can go ‘n’ take an ‘oliday or wh’ever ’cause we won’t be needin’ you ‘ere no more.” The man scratched his beard, looking rather surprised that he had managed to produce such a thoughtful and well structured speech. Then, displaying a look of mildly confused bovine contentment, he returned to his seat, smiling vaguely.
Steve paused to consider this problem for a moment, then nodded sagely to himself. “So you mean to say that this man is as old as the universe itself? Why, surely -“
Suddenly – unthinkably! – the old man interrupted Steve! His voice was thin and whiny and easy to dislike. “Oh don’t be so foolish, dear Steve. I am older even than the universe itself! I am infinitely old and infinitely wise! Go bother another village with your ramblings; I am the wise man here now and you are little more than a used-up relic.” A tense silence descended on everyone in the room. Steve paused for a second to stare at the old man, then, with great dignity, he rose from his seat and stood proudly before us. Straightening his robes with determined efficiency, Steve haughtily replied, “Well. We shall see about that!” And then he began to teach us.
“Can we all agree that time moves at a steady pace? It takes time a second to move a second; an hour to move an hour; a day to move a day. It is clear to all, therefore, that time is constant.” The village folk frowned thoughtfully and hesitantly nodded in agreement.
“Although we are talking here about a man moving in time, let us use travel as an analogy so that we may more clearly understand what it is that is being said. Now, just as time moves at a steady pace let us assume that a man will walk at a steady pace also, for the roads in our land are even and straight. We shall say that this pace is one mile per hour, for simplicity’s sake, noting that this old man uses a walking stick and will thus move quite slowly.”
“As we are using this analogy, this man’s claim that he has journeyed from infinitely far in the past may be likened to your journey from the village to my temple here today.”
“Let me explain: your journey from the village to this temple was one mile long. As you walked at one mile per hour, it took you one hour to cover this distance.” The village folk nodded and agreed that it had been so.
“Now, if you were walking from our neighbouring village, which is five miles away, it would have taken you five hours to cover this distance, correct?” The villagers paused for a few minutes to think this through, adding distances and calculating times on their fingers, and pacing the room to test their results. Finally, they returned to their seats, satisfied, and said they agreed with Steve.
Steve smiled wisely to himself. “Truly I tell you, the same rules apply to time as well. For example, if you wait for a year then it will take you a year to wait that amount of time. If you wait five years it will take you five. This is something we all know. As this is the case, we can see that it took us one year to travel from one year ago to now.” The peasants understood this more clearly, and nodded eagerly for Steve to continue.
“But this man claims to be infinitely old, and therefore infinitely wise. I say to you that this is not true. For if he was this old then we would not be here today!”
“Because just as we have shown that it took one year to travel from one year ago to now, it would take an infinite amount of years to travel from an infinity ago to now! It would be like trying to get to this temple from a village that was infinitely far away: you would never get here, for you would always have further to walk.” When Steve said this the villagers were amazed and began whispering excitedly amongst themselves, for they could clearly see that you could never reach a village that was infinitely far away if you did not run infinitely fast!
“But we can see that we are indeed here today, and we know that time does not move infinitely fast. Therefore, this man could not be infinitely old as he so claims. He has lied to you and mislead you; he has only lived for a normal man’s span of years.” The villagers began to mutter angrily that the old man had tricked them, and they turned to stare at him balefully. When the old man saw the people turn against him he climbed up from his seat and stalked out of the room, shouting insults at Steve and the villagers, and swinging his walking stick wildly at any who tried to help him. It seemed that his earlier frailty had only been an act. He returned to the village by himself, and did not bother anyone with his teaching from that day on.
We later heard that the man’s grandson came from the neighboring village the following day, searching for his poor old grandfather who had mysteriously disappeared soon after celebrating his 60th birthday. The villagers, now thoroughly disgruntled with the man’s devious ways, gladly pointed him in the right direction. The old man was eager to leave our village after his fall from grace, and the villagers said they could hear him cursing Steve even as he vanished over the horizon.
Later that week, when we were all seated for evening meditation, Steve’s youngest disciple piped up and innocently asked him, “Steve, I’ve been wondering since the villagers’ visit earlier this week: what age are you?!” Although Steve did not look very old, he must surely have been so to have learned so much wisdom. Steve did not reply to the youngsters question, but began to teach us of other things. But every time he looked at the youngster we could see a little twinkle of laughter appear in his eyes.
I guess we will never know.
Thus ends the tale of Steve and the Man who had Lived Forever. Great is his wisdom! Now it is known.