Forgotten Art: Jasper – Seth 1


Greetings and salutations, Seth Morrigan.

I heard your words when I read your profile on the Pen Pal Project.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
… full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. (Shakespeare, Macbeth V.v)

It’s not that the tale signifies nothing. It’s that the tale signifies Nothing.


This walking shadow points its finger, where? Towards Nothing.

Don’t mistake the finger that points to the moon for the Moon.


When I was a child, I had a rat for a friend and companion–I refuse to use the word “pet,” for if anything, I was the rat’s pet.

We developed a way of communicating, not through words but through thought-images and feeling.


I would be playing in my room, and an image would come into my mind. A full water bottle. A corner of my flannel shirt. My new round super ball.

I would look towards my rat, and I would find him studying me with his soft brown eyes. So I would fill the water bottler, cut off the corner of my shirt and place it in his cage, give him my super ball.

And the feeling of happiness would infuse me.


When I wanted to take Johnson (that was the rat’s name) out of the cage and play with him in the cardboard box city I built for him, I would imagine the cage door opening, holding him in my hands, and setting him down amongst the cardboard skyscrapers. He would look at me with his brown eyes, and then scamper onto my hands when I opened the cage door.

One day, he told me in this fashion that he no longer wanted to live in a cage. We opened the door, set up his water bottle on the outside of it, placed his flannel shirt blanket beneath the Empire State Building, and he moved into New Cardboard City. We were very happy.


You ask, “Do you know what it’s like when no one hears you? When you can’t say anything that anyone else would understand even if they were listening?”

I was a college professor of American literature. Yes. I know what it’s like when no one hears me. I know what it’s like to speak for 52 minutes on the significance of a thawing ice flow and the revelations of creation that Thoreau found there and how this relates to our own burning questions of how to proceed in a millennium when the thawing of an ice flow threatens our own survival, and to look out to see that of the classroom of twenty-five students, the two who were listening have no idea what I was talking about.


I stopped talking.

I asked my students to move their desks out of the rows and into circles. I wrote a question on the board. And I walked among the circles, and I listened.


That was when my students said they began to learn.

When my wife was alive, she loved to talk. She talked about her cares. For the first twenty years of our life together, I thought it was my job, as her husband, to remove her cares. And so I did, one by one. Each one that I removed was replaced by another, more difficult and more problematic to resolve. And then one day, when we were young only in heart, I realized that she loved her cares. I was not doing her a favor by removing them: I was making life more difficult for her. I let her have her cares. We became happy. She would fret over her easel. I would ponder behind my texts. In the evening, after supper, we would stroll through meadows or sit in a golden corner by the lamp-side, and we would talk. But our words signified nothing.


It was only in the last months of her life, when, together, we faced the approaching visage of Nothing that we came to find that wordless form of perfect communication that I had when I was ten with my friend, the rat, Johnson.


I don’t know that I understand, Seth. Understanding is a long process–sometimes arduous. Sometimes easy. Sometimes, it happens as quickly as a silver shadow!


But I don’t think that understanding is everything. Mystery–mystery is Everything. Curiosity is Everything. But Understanding? Understanding is Nothing.

And I am all for gazing into the face of Nothing with another.


With wishes of silver shade and moonlight,

Jasper McCumber

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