Jesus A Story of Enlightenment Chapter One The Stranger in the Snow "A horse!" the temple lad cried as he ran in panting for breath. "Quick, come and see." "Why?" I asked without looking up. I was in the middle of writing, which I did every morning. My scribbles never reached anyone outside this dim, falling-down hut, but that's of no matter. "Because he's huge. Hurry, or somebody might steal him." "Before you do, you mean?" The boy was so excited that he kept sloshing his bucket of hot water on the floor. He was permitted to barge into the hut to fill my bath just after dawn. I frowned at him. "What about detachment?" "What?" he asked. "I thought the priest was teaching you not to get so excited." "That was before the horse." If you were born high in these mountains, a stray horse is an event. Where would this one be from? The Western empire probably, where huge black stallions are bred. The locals knew animals by the compass. Elephants come from the south, where the jungle begins, and camels from the eastern desert. In all my travels, I had seen only one of these gray monsters, who are like walking walls. From the north, over the passes, came small, furry ponies, and these were very common--traders used ponies to reach the villages with their goods: hemp, silk, incense, salt, dried meat, and flour. The bare necessities plus the silk to adorn a bride in joy or wrap a corpse in sorrow. I set the ink-laden brush back on its stand and rubbed the black from my fingers. "You'd better put that bucket down before you drown us both," I said. "Then fetch my cloak." Outside, a storm had swooped down off the high peaks overnight, batting at the stretched animal skins over my windows and leaving another foot of fresh snow. I emerged from the hut and looked around. More than a horse is here, I thought. The temple lad couldn't stand to wait for me and rushed down the trail. "Find the stranger," I shouted. The boy whirled around. I was calling with the wind, and at these altitudes my voice could be heard at a long distance. "What stranger?" the boy called back. "The one who fell off the horse. Search for him. Search hard, and don't dawdle." The temple lad hesitated. He much preferred gawking at a fine huge horse, but finding a body in the snow had its own appeal. He nodded and turned the corner out of sight. The boulders on either side of the trail were large enough for a grown man to disappear into, much less a scrawny boy. I proceeded slowly after him, but not because of age. I don't know how old I am. The matter lost its interest long ago. But I can still move without creaking. I had foreseen the mysterious stranger two days earlier, but not the overnight storm. The snow wouldn't kill him, but the blast of frigid air that howled off the peaks most likely would. Nobody from the world below anticipates that kind of cold. I've helped the villagers rescue the stranded travelers who were fortunate. Only their noses and toes were blackened. They were numb at first after being dragged to shelter, but started screaming with pain as soon as the rescuers warmed them up. Everyone in my valley has enormous respect for the high peaks and their dangers. But they also revere the mountains, which remind them of how close Heaven is. I don't need the comfort of Heaven. The villagers didn't call on me for rescue work anymore. It disturbed them that an old ascetic who looked like a crooked teak carving could trek in his bare feet when theirs were bound in layers of goatskin and rags. Huddling on long winter nights, they discussed this, and they decided that I had made a pact with a demon. Since there were thousands of local demons, a few could be spared to look after my feet. I walked down the trail until I heard a faint distant sound in the wind, more like a rodent squeak than a boy's voice. But I understood its meaning. I veered left where the sound came from and hurried my steps. I had a personal interest in finding the stranger alive. What I found when I came over the next ridge was a mound in the snow. The temple lad was staring at the mound, which didn't move. "I waited for you before kicking it," he said. His face held that mixture of dread and relish that comes over -people when they think they've discovered a corpse. "Listen to me. Don't wish him dead. It doesn't help," I warned. Instead of kicking at the mound, the lad knelt and began to sweep it furiously with his hands. The stranger had managed to bury himself under a foot-thick layer of snow, but that wasn't as surprising as something else. When I finally saw his outlined body, the man was crouched on his knees with clasped hands folded under his chin. The boy had never seen anyone in that posture before. "Did he seize up like that?" he asked. I didn't reply. As I gazed at the body, it impressed me that someone could remain praying to the point of death. The position also told me that this was a Jew, because as you travel east, holy men sit cross-legged when they pray; they don't kneel. I told the boy to run down to the village for a sledge, and he obeyed without question. In truth the two of us could have carried the body out on our own. But I needed to be alone. As soon as the temple lad had disappeared, I brought my mouth close to the stranger's ear, which was still bright pink although covered with frost. "Stir yourself," I whispered. "I know who you are." For a moment nothing happened. To all appearances the stranger remained frozen, but I didn't embrace him to give him warmth from my own body. If this was the visitor I was expecting, it wasn't necessary. But I granted one small concession. I called the stranger by name. Jesus A Story of Enlightenment . Copyright © by Deepak Chopra. 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