The QUARRY of SUFFERING
Now the merchant sat down, lit a pipe, and thought, for he had no need to earn his living as a merchant any longer. For years he’d heard of a fabled place called “The Quarry of Suffering,“ which dug itself, leaving gems strewn across its floor. He decided he’d been so good with riddles, he’d get to the bottom of this one, too. He wandered from market to market for many months asking about this miraculous quarry. One day, a camel driver said: “Anxious to air-out your bones, brother? We leave several fools there every trip and we’ve never picked one up.”
Several weeks later the caravan left the merchant and three other adventurers at the path to the Quarry of Suffering. They walked apart from one another and reached the quarry’s edge at dusk. A vast emptiness spread out to the horizon and vultures soared below. The sky was grey-blue and blackness buried the bottom.
Each took his own place along the precipice. As they lit their fires to wait for morning, an orange crescent moon began to rise above the horizon. It became larger and larger, seeming to come towards them. One of the adventurers became afraid and began to run away. As he did, the ground gave way, and his screams were lost in the thunder of a landslide; and whether he was crushed in the darkness, no one could say – for no one heard the rocks reach bottom.
The orange moon was a globe of silk as large as the dome of a mosque. It floated in the air above the quarry. Beneath it was a large basket with torches and a man in an orange caftan. He stopped the glowing moon at the precipice where the adventurers stood, and addressed them:
“You are invited by The Perfect
to the Quarry of Suffering.
Whenever a living thing is made to suffer,
emptiness consumes a bit of this quarry.
The earth and clay that was someone’s footing is no longer there.
But a bit of gold dust,
a gem or a nugget remains
to pay for the suffering.
You have come for these jewels
– but you shall find only one –
The Jewel of Perfect Justice.
You must bring it to The Perfect
to adorn its throne.
If you fail this test, you will simply
end your life of suffering.”
The merchant spoke up: “I did not come to find precious stones, for I have enough of them. I came to solve the riddle of the quarry, which you have now explained. So tell me – if I find this jewel for your master, what do I gain by it?”
“Pure and Perfect Justice, of course,” replied the orange caftan with a sly wink. “Whoever wishes to take on this quest, must come along now.”
And so the merchant and one other adventurer joined the orange caftan to float to the giant castle of The Perfect. Casting off, they heard the roar of a landslide and a stifled yell from where they had stood, and knew that the one who stayed behind had ended his suffering.
They were shown to their quarters in the castle, in a beautiful hall of rooms filled with scores of The Perfect’s servants. From them, merchant learned about their host. It seems the castle was actually part of the quarry itself, built from suffering, beautified and enlarged whenever someone was made to suffer for the sake of perfection. The Perfect was a wizard who first discovered the castle and invented the dome of hot air to get there and supply it with necessities.
The Perfect appeared no more than thirty years old. The servants called it “The Perfect” because it was everything anyone could ask for in human beauty – and when they beheld it, they could only want to look at it more, filling their blood with a warm excitement, feeding their hearts with energies and longing. “I remember my family,” one servant cried. “I was a mother of four. But now I want nothing more than to be near The Perfect ! Even the wise-men and witches who come here have lost interest in their studies when they discover how very smart The Perfect already is.”
In any case, the merchant was not worried, for over the months he had committed the sorcerer’s spells to memory, and could turn himself into a bird and fly away. But he was intrigued by the nature of the quest and decided to stay. He took to flying through the castle, inspecting most everything. He believed that looking at The Perfect could do no harm if he remained a bird. However, when a person sees a beautiful orchid, or a wonderful horse, they can become entranced. To behold a gorgeous sunset can be captivating. To watch a rippling brook with the scent of water hyacinths is the same. And so, it was for the bird, who took to sitting on The Perfect’s window, becoming filled with song from morning to night.
After many weeks, the merchant became curious and wished to see The Perfect as a man would see it . He flew to the porch at The Perfect’s window and changed to a man. The Perfect noticed the bird’s song had stopped, and came to the porch window.
“You would do well changing back to a bird, young man, But I am afraid you won’t want to see me again as a bird sees me. I should have to change you to a bird myself, for I enjoyed your singing.”
Indeed, with The Perfect looking down at him as a man, the merchant was filled with an incredible warmth and longing, and understood everything the servants had spoken of. His greatest wish was to give The Perfect what it desired, to fulfill its every wish and whim. “Have mercy on me, Master,” he addressed it, “Let me find you The Jewel of Perfect Justice! If I cannot, I will die for you !!”
Thus it was that the merchant set out into the Quarry of Suffering. Walking over thousands of precious stones he quickly became bleary-eyed. Worse, with each step he could only think of The Perfect. “Oh my,” he thought, “what has become of me? I may not have the wits for this task anymore.”
When he picked up a giant ruby at his foot, he beheld a vision: children hidden in a church, set ablaze by their town’s enemies who slaughtered all who fled. In a garnet he saw a city tortured by the Plague. In an opal he beheld a crew of men huddled on a frozen boat; in a gold nugget he saw a leper colony and all its suffering. In the tiniest diamond he saw a crazed man pulling his hair and fingernails out. A ruby shimmered at his feet. He picked it up and in it were innocent convicts chained to their oars, being whipped under a blazing sun. He thought if this much made a ruby or a diamond, what would a simple crystal of salt show me? He got down on his knees and dug through all the larger jewels to the soft crystals of sand below. He drew up a handful and looked deeply into one small crystal, and beheld a dog by his dead master. He looked at another, and saw a fawn standing by its lifeless mother.
The merchant cried out: “Ah, but I’ve found my spirit again!
“There’s no suffering that can be paid for, nor can there ever be one single Gem of Pure Justice to adorn the throne of The Perfect. The quest it has put to us is pure childishness!”
And in that instant he had a plan.
“In every quarry,” he reasoned, “one comes upon seashells that laid at the bottom of forgotten seas. They too will remember suffering.”
Turning himself into an eagle, he flew high over the quarry floor until he spied a giant conch. He flew down to it and became a man, who looked into it and saw fish flapping on a dried-up lake, with animals dying beyond, their tongues out.
“This will do well,” the merchant mused. Flying back with it to the castle, he carved it into a beautiful cameo with an image of The Perfect on its face. When it was done, he sent it to the Perfect, saying he had found The Jewel of Perfect Justice.
The Perfect beheld the suffering in the cameo. It saw its own image, too, and understood. Indeed, when we look for justice ourselves, or try to fashion justice, it is only in our own image.
The Perfect sent for the merchant: “You have answered my question nobly.