THE STOREKEEPER

A story of learning. A story of teaching. There once was a storekeeper. He kept a store for a magician. His storage was full of lovely figures, sculptures and figurines, all kinds of shapes, sizes, materials and weights. There were wooden statues, vases carved from precious stones, metal sculptures, crystal bowls, porcelain dolls, wax figures, African masks and animals carved from exotic timber. All these items had magic in them. Each one represented a real thing and they had the power to whisper their meaning into the minds of the magician. 1

In the beginning of time, the statues and figures were neatly stacked in the shelves of the great storage. Each of them was wrapped in a cloth and placed into a silk bag to protect it. The storekeeper could tell them apart by shape and weight, sometimes by their scent. Special figures had special places and the storekeeper knew his storage so well, he could have reached for any item in the dark. He served his master well and never failed to bring out the appropriate wisdom for any situation. Then times changed. The magic started working and spreading among the common people. They devised new ways of carving, of casting, shaping and molding. And they started producing figurines by the droves. 2

The master wanted to own some of those fashionable statues. He got whole armfuls and expected that the storekeeper find room on his shelves, and merge them with the existing stock. The magician brought a tray of twentyfour green clay frogs with white bellies, (for example) and said (for example): “Storekeeper, take care of these in a hurry. There are new grey frogs on the market, with blue dots on their backs, and I must get a tray of those as well.” “Oh, great magician,” said the storekeeper, “is your wisdom not plentiful enough? Would one of each kind not serve your purposes well? The figures are the carriers of knowledge and wisdom; it is quite enough to have one of each remind us. Tell me, pray, why own twenty-four clay frogs? Do you expect to forget the meaning of a frog 3

twenty-four times?” (You can tell that the magician and his storekeeper were on friendly terms.) “Storekeeper, mind your own business. Things are moving so fast, nowadays, that they’ll invent other clay figures. Hurry! Do something.” You might imagine the confusion. The storekeeper started using brown wrapping paper, as the kingdom had run out of cloths and silk bags. He rushed to put them on the shelves, all the green clay frogs on one shelf, the grey ones with the blue dots next to them. Finally, the magician turned up with purple frogs with pink legs. The storekeeper was exasperated. He wrapped them into brown paper and stacked them on the shelf with the other frogs. 4

The magician went on a trip to find some very fashionable elephant figures, carved from sandalwood. He returned with a basket full of elephants of all sizes. “Take care of them, store them well; these are likely to be the last pieces of that range; they will be worth a fortune in a year or so.” The storekeeper sighed, ordered another roll of brown wrapping paper, pushed some precious vases towards the back and stacked the wrapped elephants into a shelf. “I’m losing sight of this,” he mumbled, when he finished his task. “There is no way to keep all these figures apart. They all look the same to me.” Of course, one day the inevitable happened. 5

The magician came rushing into the storage, out of breath and ruffled. “Storekeeper, I need the rough-tough-laugh grey frog with the blue dots and the golden eyes. Bring it out to me right now, for the people in the Comritire section of the Wigglewire district were attacked by the Wenchtrore army and the attack made them lose hope. I need to get them to rough it out, and be tough and laugh at the enemy.” “Oh, woe unto me,” cried the storekeeper, “A grey frog with blue dots and golden eyes?” “Yes, grey for rough, blue for tough and golden for laugh, you knew that!” “Master, I can try.” 6

The storekeeper reached into the frog shelf and took one of the brown paper lumps out. “Master, they look all the same to me. Let’s hope for the best.” “What are you saying, storekeeper, you don’t know my store?” “Sir, I can perfectly remember anything and everything if it comes one at a time and I store it away one at a time. But the way you have been going on, bringing trays and baskets of the same figures, bly me, a man is not a machine.” (You can tell that in a fight, they were on formal terms.) “Stop your foolish talk. What have you brought out of the shelf? Look at this. It’s a green frog... a hoop – swoop – 7

troop frog for rounding up scattered soldiers. Try again. Quick! The people of Comritire need strength.” “Let me try another one.” “Try, try, try. Now just look at this. It’s a grey frog with yellow dots and red eyes. It’s a wine – dine – fine frog for entertainment. What is the matter with you? Can’t you tell the difference?” “No, Sir, to me they look the same. Almost the same. Frogs, brown wrapper, all in the same shelf.” The storekeeper was disheartened. “But can’t you make out the difference between green frogs with white bellies and grey frogs with blue dots? Let me show you the difference between.... “ 8

“Sir, with due respect: you of all people should know that a difference between can’t be shown. Between is not a thing. You can show me one frog. You can show me another frog. Those are the things I see. My mind sees two things that are almost identical. My mind believes what it sees. If I’m supposed to keep them apart then don’t show them to me together. I just take what you give me and store it. And the way you have been loading the goods on me, I couldn’t help but store away together the things that you gave me together. Now don’t blame me if I can’t keep them apart.” “Just listen to your impertinent words, storekeeper. Now will you just do your duties and help me save the 9

Comritirians with the rough-tough-laugh frog, the grey one with the blue dots and golden eyes!” “Master, for the first time in history, I fail. I don’t know which one of these is the rough-tough-laugh frog. Have the king cut off my head if you will.” “You have me in a good mind to do so, storekeeper. But it won’t save the people from the Wenchtrorian onslaught. No time for quibbling over heads. Let’s work together. We’ve got to unwrap all the frogs and find the right one. I’ll start at this end of the shelf, you’ll start there. Don’t rush. We can’t afford to make another mistake.” “I wish you had chanced on that no-rush wisdom a bit sooner. There is a nursery rhyme from my childhood: One 10

by one, what good fun. Store apart the things you want to keep apart.” This is the moral of this story. (What? Is that it? Well, well, of course, they found the rough-tough-laugh frog and the magician got to the battle field just in time to do his magic on behalf of the people of Comintire. The Wenchtrorian army was pushed back across the border. Then the magician put his mind to creating order in his storage. He fixed a note to the door saying: Store apart the things you want to keep apart. Difference between is not a thing to be seen.)
Irma Walter 2011 Author’s note: Comparing is valid for examination. Comparing is not valid for learning.

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