(This one’s for my philosophers.)
The traveler decided to take a break halfway to the summit. He realized with some alarm that his big gulping breaths couldn’t quite catch enough air. His lungs seemed to grasp for atmosphere in the same way his frozen fingertips had struggled for purchase on the rime-crusted handholds onto this ledge.
But he could see the summit from here. The traveler must go on.
Behind him, through the notch, past the foothills, through meadows and lonely woods, he had left behind an empty life. His wholehearted efforts at meaningful existence hadn’t filled the hole at the center of things. There were questions he couldn’t answer, questions he could hardly ask to himself, but when the valley folk told him about the sage on the mountain, he knew where he must go.
They told the traveler not to attempt it.
“You will only find pain on the mountain,” said the outfitter.
“Then I’ll be no worse off than down here,” he said. The outfitter packed up the traveler’s purchases and sent him on his way with a sad shake of the head.
Back on the ascent, the traveler’s fingernail broke against a rock and welled with blood instantly. The sharp, wincing inhalation felt thin, and as he sucked the blood away, he tried to slow his body down.
He imagined the summit and the sage who lived there, and how old he must be. Who is this man, who chooses to live where there’s hardly any ground beneath his feet, and yet, all the world beneath his feet? Who would choose to live so close to the sky, with his head above the clouds?
It took longer to reach the summit than it should have for someone who had been moving day and night for weeks, but at last, the traveler’s eyes topped the ledge, and there he was.
The sage meditated on a seat of stone at the top of the world, his stillness so deep that it calmed the winds. And like the rock itself, he was ancient and immovable.
The traveler remembered himself, gulped, pressed both palms into the rocks and pushed onto the summit.
“Wise sage,” he said, dropping the one knee, “I have come many miles to seek your teachings.
“Life is empty. Each day follows the last, and the only end is death. I come seeking your help and your wisdom.”
An eternity passed. The traveler wondered for a moment if he had come too late.
Then the fissures in the ancient face began to move. The sage coughed, clearing cobwebs of disuse from his vocal cords, and opened his eyes to regard the traveler.
The traveler bowed his head and said, “Please. Teach me what you know.”
The sage’s eyes met the traveler’s. And then he said, “Have you ever heard of the Frege-Geach problem?”