The Story of the Other Wise Man

An annual Christmas tradition in our home is my wife’s reading of The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry van Dyke. This little gem of a novel tells the tale of the pilgrim Artaban. Artaban lives during the time of Jesus and devotes his life to searching for him. He never encounters Jesus; but along the 33 years of his pilgrimage, Artaban performs many heartfelt, charitable deeds. I won’t spoil the ending; but as he is dying, Artaban learns that his life had more meaning than he ever could have imagined.

In the preface to his book, Van Dyke offers insights on the human condition. No matter how hard you work at it, it will never work out the way you hoped for:

You must face the thought that your work in the world may be almost ended, but you know that it is not nearly finished.

You have not solved the problems that perplexed you. You have not reached the goal that you aimed at. You have not accomplished the great tests that you set for yourself. You are still on the way; and perhaps your journey must end now—nowhere—in the dark.

Later in the preface van Dyke offers wonderful advice to all who are moved by the creative force within:

An idea arrives without effort; a form can only be wrought out by patient labor. If your story is worth telling, you ought to love it enough to be willing to work over it until it is true—true not only to the ideal, but true also to the real. The light is a gift; but the local color can only be seen by one who looks for it long and steadily.

Van Dyke offers the wisdom that the goal is not what counts, but that the integrity by which you seek to accomplish the goal is everything:

Who seeks for heaven alone to save his soul,
May keep the path, but will not reach the goal;
While he who walks in love may wander far,
Yet God will bring him where the blessed are.

Toward the end of the book, Artaban faces one last test. Will he be true to his goal or true to Love. He chooses Love. Van Dyke writes:

What had he to fear? What had he to live for? He’d given away the last remnant of his tribute for (Jesus). He had parted with the last hope of finding Him. The quest was over, and it had failed. But, even in that thought, accepted and embraced, there was peace. It was not resignation. It was not submission. It was something more profound and searching. He knew that all was well, because he had done the best that he could, from day to day. He had been true to the light that had been given to him.

There is a final treat for the reader of this wonderful book—and that I will leave for you to discover.

Best wishes for a wonderful and peaceful Holiday.

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2 Responses to The Story of the Other Wise Man

  1. Bob G. says:

    “He had been true to the light that had been given to him.” I believe that as we respond to the light we are given, we are given more light.

    The world is replete with sad stories of those who believed that destination was the master rather the means. How many Richard Cory’s are there in this world??

    The influence and difference that we make in this world is an incremental function of our day to day steps. It is not tallied and then restrospectively attributed at some point in time after some particular achievement or milestone is reached. No, by then the dye is already cast and we are already known.

    Many “die on the beach… waiting” because they operate under this world’s most fatal illusion that achievments and stature as measured by this world correlate directly to legacy and influence. They miss what was always waiting for them and in fact looking for them! I think this is what Hemmingway was speaking of when he said “… the world breaks us too – but is in no particulalry hurry.”

    Thank you, Dr. Brownstein, for your work and guidance over the years. It reaches and impacts more than you may know.

    Best – Bob G.

  2. Bob,

    Thank you for your wisdom and your very kind words. They are very much appreciated.

    As to getting caught up in the “destination”, Hugh Prather writes: “Devoting ourselves exclusively to meeting our needs is such a narrow, paltry, petty approach to living that it is virtual death. Yet we do this without ever asking why we would want to control on behalf of something we never controlled in the first place. “

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