Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Bit by Bit - Chapter 5, Part 7

Trey Smith


Duke Ai of Lu said to Confucius, "In Wei there was an ugly man named Ai T'ai-t'o. But when men were around him, they thought only of him and couldn't break away, and when women saw him, they ran begging to their fathers and mothers, saying, `I'd rather be this gentleman's concubine than another man's wife!' - there were more than ten such cases and it hasn't stopped yet. No one ever heard him take the lead - he always just chimed in with other people. He wasn't in the position of a ruler where he could save men's lives, and he had no store of provisions to fill men's bellies. On top of that, he was ugly enough to astound the whole world, chimed in but never led, and knew no more than what went on right around him. And yet men and women flocked to him.

He certainly must be different from other men, I thought, and I summoned him so I could have a look. Just as they said - he was ugly enough to astound the world. But he hadn't been with me more than a month or so when I began to realize what kind of man he was, and before the year was out, I really trusted him. There was no one in the state to act as chief minister, and I wanted to hand the government over to him. He was vague about giving an answer, evasive, as though he hoped to be let off, and I was embarrassed, but in the end I turned the state over to him. Then, before I knew it, he left me and went away. I felt completely crushed, as though I'd suffered a loss and didn't have anyone left to enjoy my state with. What kind of man is he anyway?"
~ Burton Watson translation ~
If we are fortunate enough, we know a person like Ai T'ai-t'o. It is someone who doesn't measure up to our cultural standards, yet there is something about them -- something we often can't put our finger on -- that compels us to want to share their company. When we are with them, we feel good about ourselves and the world around us. When they take their leave, we are sad to see them go.

To view the Index page for this series, go here.

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