How do you even begin to eat a mountain?

[I have retold this story countless times. It was told to me when I was a student in the 80s. I googled the original storyteller but could not find any reference to it online. It resonated with me because I was born at the foot of Table Mountain in District Six, Cape Town. I am thankful, even now, for Khurram Murad for making this part of his keynote address so long ago.]

table-mountain
Table Mountain taken by Aadela Parker.

There once was a man who was very unhappy. Something was troubling him but he could not put his finger on it. At night he was restless and it took a while for him to sleep. That night he had strange dream.

He dreamt that an old man approached him and said, “When you wake in the morning, eat the first thing that you see.” When he woke up that morning sweating from the vision, he opened his eyes and saw the mountain. What? How am I supposed to eat a mountain?

Maybe the old man was joking. He then went about his usual tasks for the day. He still felt troubled though. That night he had the same dream. But now the old man was ranting and raving, “What are you afraid of? Eat the first thing you see.”

It is not easy to choose what you should see when you wake so when he woke that morning again and saw the mountain, he thought the old man must be crazy. The third night the old man was now threatening him with a stick and promised to make the rest of his nights a living hell if he did eat what he saw when he woke.

That morning he woke with determination. When he saw the mountain, he immediately packed and set out to eat it. But as he moved closer to the mountain, a strange thing happened: it started to grow smaller. The man began to panic because it seemed as the mountain was moving further away. Just my luck he thought and started to increase his pace. The closer he moved the smaller the mountain.

By midday he was running. At the end of the day he reached where he thought the mountain should have been. But it had grown so small that he could stoop down, pick it up and put it in his mouth. What do we learn from this strange but interesting story? I believe four things:

  • We all need dreams. We need a vision and a plan to get us where we need to go. We must see the idea before us and keep it in our sight. A dream that you cannot conjure before you is not going to keep our attention.
  • A dream will remain unattainable if we make no effort to make it real. It takes slog. Sometimes the work seems impossible to absorb. But sometimes the most difficult things to learn turn out to be the most enjoyable once you get it. Sometimes, the harder a thing becomes the sooner you are reaching a breakthrough. Apartheid gave way when we thought that we should prepare ourselves for a long fight and bitter fight.
  • Besides the dream and the effort you also need belief. You must believe in yourself. You must believe that you can win. You must believe that it is worth it. Belief gives you confidence and the world cannot resist a person with confidence it will open up paths and opportunities that you never imagined.
  • Finally: sometimes the solutions we are looking for are not weird or strange. Sometimes (often) what we look for, or the solution, lies right in front of us like the mountain in my story. That mountain was in front of his window his whole life but it did not occur to the man to seek it out.
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