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29 July 2006

The man arrived, inevitably, in a labyrinth. The exact details of how he arrived are unimportant. Everyone arrives in a labyrinth at some point, awaking unexpectedly in the middle, not quite sure whether they meandered casually in, choice by choice, or leaned against a section of wall that, as in so many cartoons and movies, simply swiveled right around and plunked them somewhere else.

Unlike most labyrinths, there are no walls; the exit, then, is likely to be something other than a door. The curving, forking paths are separated by swaths of garden, cold-weather-hued green daubed with Queen Anne's Lace and wisteria and other delicate, complicated flowers. One would no sooner walk across it than push through a wall of thorns.

How, then, to find a way out? Left to chance, never; one needs a guide, an intuition, a principle to follow. Surely classical mythology has come up with a few of these; but who really has the time to look that up?

There are animals in the labyrinth. Grass and flower creatures: pillbugs, ants, butterflies, spiders, snails. When you arrive, a snail resting on a smooth gray stone happens to capture your attention. Looking closer at its shell, which seems grey when seen directly but turns every color just as you move your eyes. As you stand and walk away, the snail starts to turn and extends its eyes, waving them urgently in the other direction; you wait, it slowly -- rapidly, to be fair, to a snail -- glides forward.

It takes a while to find the way out. You're not quite there yet, and sometimes worry that you took a wrong turn somewhere, but at other times you believe in the entirety of the choices, that right and wrong are continually determined and possibilities renewed. At night you build a small fire at a fork in the path and fireflies keep you company, offering no advice but blinking warmly, more dense around you than in the darkness behind them. During the day, traveling slowly as you must behind the snail, you have time to think, to go running, to notice the other flowers. Sometimes you see another traveler and you call to one another across the paths, later sharing the light of a single campfire, calling to each other again until your choices have separated you once more.

It occurs to you that the purpose of the labyrinth may not be to find a way out, but to finally merge paths with someone else, and continue walking with them. What is there to do in the meantime, then, than try to live honestly and decently and try to choose wisely, however imperfect our wisdom.