When I was very young, I thought about wisdom the way other children think about prince charming or castles in the air. As if it were something glistening and perfect and true. Shining, the way Excalibur shone when young King Arthur pulled the sword out of the stone. Glowing from the inside, like a fortune teller’s crystal ball.
I knew where wisdom lived, too.
In a little house tucked somewhere between the big old houses on my block, probably hidden behind a clump of trees, because I could never actually see it from the street. I remember how small the house was, though. One room, with a wooden door, a red shuttered window, and a window box overflowing with nasturtium. It looked like Red Riding Hood’s grandmother’s house, or the house where Goldilocks met the three bears.
The owner of the house was a salesman, and he had an unlimited supply of his product, which was wisdom. He went all over the country, knocking on people’s doors like a vacuum cleaner salesman, offering it to potential customers. I can’t exactly describe him, but I do know that he was clean-shaven, wore casual clothes and sturdy shoes, and that in many ways he resembled Johnny Appleseed.
The dictionary’s definition of wisdom is: “The quality or state of being wise; knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity, discernment, or insight.”
Although that definition captures the substance of the concept, it leaves out all of the magic. As if wisdom came in a plain brown bag, instead of tucked into a blue velvet-lined box wrapped in shimmering paper and studded with stars.
After I realized that the man who possessed wisdom lived down the street, dozens of disconcerting possibilities leapt into my head.
WHAT IF there was a strike on the loading dock at the wisdom warehouse, and he could not replenish his supply?
WHAT IF the truck carrying his delivery of wisdom was hijacked?
WHAT IF his house was robbed, and all of his wisdom was stolen?
WHAT IF on a sales trip to Afghanistan or Iraq, he stepped on a roadside bomb, and all of his wisdom was blown away?
WHAT IF none of those terrible things happened, the world’s supply of wisdom is safe, and the only question I should be asking is … are there enough people out there who want it?
From those long ago days when I was a dreamy young optimist, I look into the mirror today and I see a woman who is quite grown up, sometimes cynical, occasionally dreamy, and still very much an optimist.
Cockeyed optimist? No.
I do not believe that things always work out for the best. I do believe that sometimes wonderful, awe-inspiring, exquisite things come along to shatter the dull equanimity of our day-to-day.
Because people still dream. Because people still create. Because some people care very much about justice. And because I am not the only person in the world who knows and cares about a door-to-door salesman who keeps a very special product in a star-studded box.
I no longer live in a big house on the tree-lined block where I grew up. But I am absolutely certain that somewhere on that street, invisible from the road, there is still a little house with a wooden door and a window box overflowing with nasturtium; that the owner of the house is a man who, in some ways resembles Johnny Appleseed; that when he isn’t wandering all over the country peddling his product, he is inside his little house, reorganizing his inventory of wisdom.
And that if you knock on his door and ask nicely, he will be very happy to give some of it away.
Shelly Reuben’s novels have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. She is an author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com.
Copyright © 2011, Shelly Reuben