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Vessels

A short story in small instalments: PART XX

Caspertina Passala was looking around the yard in some bemusement. “What are all those little mud walls for?” she said.

“Oh, that? They’re a maze my grandchildren and I built for beetles and pill bugs.”

“How charming! Can they get all the way through to the end?”

“The bugs are very unwilling.”

Caspertina Passala chuckled. “Are you teaching your grandchildren engineering?”

“Engineering? I don’t know anything about that.”

“What are you teaching them, then?”

“Teaching?”

“Well, everything teaches something, doesn’t it?”

“I suppose so. Well, I guess, I was trying to teach them . . .” He cast about for a way to explain the imponderable experience he was having in those faraway days—was it only a few weeks go?—but he could find no words. Instead, with a heavy breath, he said, “What I really want to teach is philosophy.”

“Philosophy! There’s philosophy for children?”

“The word philosophy means love of wisdom. I think you can teach that to anyone. Even really small children, in one way or another.”

Caspertina Passala smiled at this idea. “I’ve never thought of that.”

“I wanted to study philosophy, but my father didn’t approve. He said it was no profession, nothing useful.”

“It’s useful to teach people to be wise.”

“To know how to find out what’s wise,” said Olivero Russo. “People have to find it themselves, no one else can do it for them.”

“Yes.”

They sat in silence for a while. Lydia returned, packed the pots in the box and took them to the little car. “I’ll get these settled first and then come get you, Granny,” she said.

Caspertina Passala turned to Olivero Russo. “Well, Philosopher, you’ve got me thinking. I guess that’s what philosophers are supposed to do. How have you found out your own wisdom?”

Tears pooled in Olivero Russo’s eyes, for he had no answer. He, who had wanted to study philosophy, had never worked out his own wisdom for life! How could he have been so negligent? How could he have just skated along, unthinking? He, who was supposed to be good at thinking? He did all the things one was supposed to do in life, oh yes: getting married, raising children, doing his respectable bureaucratic job. He covered his face with his hands. He felt the woman’s eyes on him; and the parrot’s.

Lydia was calling, making her way back towards the porch.

“I’m very sorry,” said Caspertina Passala, “I didn’t mean to pry.”

“No, no . . .”

She hesitated, then said, “My wisdom—such as it is—what I’ve learned, if you’ll allow an old woman some parting advice . . ?”

Olivero Russo nodded.

“Whatever it is, son, it’s not too late. It’s never too late.”

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