THE BENCH

It is three o’clock in the morning. The time of the night owl. Zara is still up, holding a picture in her hands, a picture of a bench, but not just any old bench. She smiles, half biting her lip. “My bench, my very special bench… seems like only yesterday.”
Thoughts, memories all unfold and once again Zara is back in her early teens at the Wang family courtyard in Beijing. “Master Wang, what’s this pile of wood for?”
“It’s for you, Zara. You’re going to make yourself a bench.”
“A bench? But I thought you was going to start teaching me some Wushu?”
Master Wang shakes his head, “Our way begins with building a bench. There’s a certain way the mind is combined with the will—only then is true progress made in this combat discipline of ours.” He begins marking out the wood, “Remember, you should never do too little, and never do too much. Here, help me with this wood.” She helps Master Wang as he patiently shows her the ins and outs of woodworking. “Zara, take the saw, cut along the pencil line.”
“Like this?” She begins by carefully starting the saw, glancing at Wang who nods back.
“Yes, now you can saw proper.” Zara smiles, having sawn the wood in two. “Good, now this one.” Master Wang hands her another piece of wood. She saws, but halfway through the blade unexpectedly gets stuck. “Let the saw do the work.”
“I am! It’s stuck!”
“Ahh, you’ve hit a knot. Pass me that candle in my toolbox.” He takes the candle, wiping it along the blade. “Here, try again… remember, let the saw do the work.”
Zara does just that and beams a satisfied smile on having sawed past the knot.
“I did it!”
“Yes, you did. See how much easier it is when you let the saw do the work. Zara, think of the saw as a story and the bench as your life—shaped by the story.”
“My life shaped by a story?”
“Yes, a story… always let the story do the work. Let it unfold. Remember this, you have no control over the story. It is all and everything. It’s in there,” Wang points to her head, “but there’s no in there.” He points to the sky, “It’s out there, but there’s no out there. Beyond the beyond lies a further beyond. And even there the source of the story cannot be found.”
“Stop it! You’re confusing me.”
“You can’t defeat or outwit the story.”
Zara frowns, “So, I must let the story win?”
“If you want to be free.”
“Free? Free from what?”
“The story,” replies Master Wang, chuckling. He breathes in deeply and closes his eyes, “I would like to have a word with the author of the Universe.” After several seconds he adds, “A new chapter in your story begins tomorrow—we start learning martial arts.”
As the memory fades, Zara lets out a big smile and settles down to sleep.