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Stories in a Nutshell

The Boatman

A Sufi Story from The Middle East

A scholar asked a boatman to row him across the river. The journey was long and slow. The scholar was bored. ‘Boatman,’ he called out, ‘Let’s have a conversation.’ Suggesting a topic of special interest to himself, he asked, ‘Have you ever studied phonetics or grammar?’

‘No,’ said the boatman, ‘I’ve no use for those tools.’

‘Too bad,’ said the scholar, ‘You’ve wasted half your life. It’s useful to know the rules.’

Later, as the rickety boat crashed into a rock in the middle of the river, the boatman turned to the scholar and said, ‘Pardon my humble mind that to you must seem dim, but, wise man, tell me, have you ever learned to swim?’

‘No,’ said the scholar, ‘I’ve never learned. I’ve immersed myself in thinking.’

‘In that case,’ said the boatman, ‘you’ve wasted all your life. Alas, the boat is sinking.’