The desert was a vast expanse of mountains, Spanish Daggers, and cacti. My lips were charred dry and I had run out of all my provisions shortly after losing my way. Days I spent wandering in the desert alone, over mountains and through shrub-ridden valleys, until my vision was blurry and my mind unstable. On a day I will not soon forget, I came by a Wiseman.
“Do you have any water?” I asked.
“None that I can spare.”
“Who are you? And why do you wander here?”
“I was put here in your way.”
“Put here in my way? By whom?”
“Whom do you think boy… Just as you were put here in mine. As for your second question, I wander here because it is where the path has taken me.” I contemplated his words, but it was too difficult to think on an empty stomach.
“Do you have anything to eat?”
The Wiseman shook his head to my disappointment. My feet had been bloodied and blistered from walking many miles, and so, working up the courage, I asked him if he had an extra pair of boots. His response was the same.
“Then what are you out here for you old fool? Put in my way? We will both end up as rotting flesh, pecked away by the vultures.” And with that I bent my step away towards the great stone mountains of death to the east. Maybe I would find a place high above to die. Or maybe I would die on the way. I was burnt and peeling. Sweat was no more than salt upon my face. I undoubtedly would have appeared as a wild beast to any outsider who might look upon me.
“I am here to remind you of something. Something you have forgotten in your time of great trial.” I slowed my step and turned towards him.
“And what is that?”
“Look around this place? What do you see?” It didn’t take me long to reply, for I had come to know this lonely land intimately.
“I see death. I see the lone yucca trees, harshly placed with their bayonet-shaped leaves. I see the great mountains that mock as I attempt to pass them. The Sun, whose rays slowly beat me down till I have not the energy to continue forward in this place with no roads,” My frustration was unbridled. This Wiseman. Who is wise? And who was he to mock me in this forsaken place.
The Wiseman laughed, fueling my anger into a distorted rage.
“And you sit here and jeer at me? You and I will both die here. You are old. And I am beaten.”
“I do not jeer at you. I only wish to fix your malady of sight. For it is not death that rules this wilderness, but life. Look again. The trees you see are the toughest of trees you may ever gaze upon. They can live hundreds of years in the harshest conditions. Their roots expand wide and deep. They grow strong from the ground and thrive in this cruel land.”
“I am no tree. I did not ask to be here. I was just passing through. I do not want to be here!”
“Abraham was called out from the desert. Moses challenged a king before wandering years in a barren land. Even the Son of God faced great trial in the wilderness. God has a way of testing those he has plans for. And he has plans for you. You are meant for greatness. A greatness that comes from a tested spirit. You are alone. This is truth. But it is only alone that you can discover your purpose. No one else can do it for you. It is the great stone mountains that will try your fortitude. It is your hunger that will test your spirit. It is the blazing sun that will refine you. This wilderness will make you the Man you are supposed to be.”
“But my life before was one of great enjoyment. I was a son in my father’s house. An heir to fortune. Now I am Icarus, failed unto death. I have lost my way in this place, and I am doomed to suffer for it.”
“Boy, you have lost your way. Of that I am sure. But only because you’ve lost your sight. Many years ago, I met a king who was born into great wealth. He had statues built in his name and had many beautiful wives. But his haughty spirit did not match his weak constitution. And after many trials, his will broke. All of his riches were lost and his deeds were never remembered save the weathered inscription on his tomb. His name forgotten in the winds of time. Ozymandius.”
“But you know his name.”
“One should always heed the mistakes of others. While your life before this great trial was one of pleasure, your life after will be one of purpose. The King’s glory was shattered by trial. His name became nothing but weathered stone. But I tell you now that your name will garner the praise and affection of great men, should you leave this place. With that, I must be going.”
“But I do not know the way.”
“Nor can I tell you it.” Without hesitance, the Wiseman continued his walk until he passed behind a rocky plateau that rose above the horizon. I never saw him again.
I sat on a granite stone under the shade of a desert tree. It wasn’t long before the sun had positioned itself around the plant, showering my dried face with rays of scorching heat. My muscles ached from exhaustion. Sand seemed to fill my desiccated throat and lungs with every breath. I didn’t have the energy to move. Tears welled from my eyes. I will die next to this tree and my life will be wasted.
I looked to where the Wiseman left my view. I should have called out to him. I should have begged him for water. My eyes traced backwards from where he disappeared to where he stood before me only moments earlier; and it was then that I saw it. The desert shrubs parted in a perfect line to reveal the gravel and sand below. He had been walking it the whole time. How did I not see it before?
It was just in front of me, almost within reach. I had to raise myself. I could do this. If I didn’t, I would die here. I pushed through the exhaustion, using a strong tree limb to lift me. My vision was no longer as blurry as it had once been. My mind felt sound again. Ounces of vigor returned to my bones. I would not make it if I contemplated the whole journey. I could focus only on one step at a time. And so, one step at a time I walked the path. Through the desert.