Two people sat on a hillside, looking down into the valley. Trees filled the land, cut by a river winding its way through the forest. It kept going until everything blurred together far off in the distance.
The young boy turned to the old man next to him and asked, “Grandfather, how big is the world?”
Without pause, the old man replied, “As big as you need it to be.”
The boy’s face crinkled in confusion.
The old man laughed. “Forgive me, child. It is sort of a joke I used to make. Why do you ask about the size of the world?”
“Father said that the world was small. Only a few moons journey, end to end. He mentioned older beliefs about the world being bigger, but that he rejected. I began to wonder about those beliefs and thought you might know something.”
“Do you think me wiser than your father?”
“Oh no! I just meant… You are his father after all, and… I meant no disrespect to either of you…” The boy’s face was bright red.
“Quiet, child. You need not fear. I am not trying to trick you into revealing some disloyalty. I merely wonder why you do not take your father’s word, and instead seek out the old opinion of an even older man.”
The boy sat silently for a little while, considering how to respond. “Grandfather, I want to understand the world,” he began after a time. “I have not seen its size, so I ask those who might know to teach me. Father says he knows, but he has never been gone from the village more than a day. Should I accept his words? I do not know what is true?”
The old man smiled. “I have never been gone more than a day or two myself. Why would my answer be more compelling than your father’s?”
“So I should accept father’s claim?”
“That is not what I said, child. I have no more experience outside the village than does your father. If his experience is not sufficient, than neither is mine.”
“So there is no way to know?”
“Perhaps. But perhaps there is knowledge beyond our direct experience. Have you been to the end of the river?”
“But you know what is there?”
“The sea. Everyone knows that.”
“How? Not everyone has been there.”
“The boatmen have told us, though it takes nearly a moon to get here from there.”
“So you know, but you have not seen.”
The two sat quietly again for some time.
The boy finally asked, “So have either you or father spoken to someone who has travelled the length of the world?”
“No. We have not.”
“So how do you know the size of the world?”
“Is it not enough that it is your father who tells you? Or your grandfather?”
“I again mean no disrespect to either of you, but no, it is not. Both of you are due my respect and obedience, but if you disagree, how am I to decide who is right?”
“Ha, ha! Good. Good! You have come to it. That is the question you must ask. How, indeed?”
“When you leave here and go back home, will it be the same place you left?”
“And yet, what was happening when you left?”
“Sister was helping mother clean up after our morning meal.”
“What will be happening when you get back?”
“Father will be preparing the evening meal, and expecting my help.”
“Are those the same?”
“No, of course not.”
“So how will it be the same place?”
The boy was puzzled.
“The whole world is like that. The same, but always changing. The world is as big as you need it to be because it is always new, and there is always somewhere else you can go.”
The boy’s puzzlement became a scowl. “That is not what I was asking, though.”
“No. It is not.”
“So do you agree with father or not? And how do you know?”
The old man sighed. “So close,” he muttered. “The question you ask is both more difficult and less interesting. It will keep for another time. For now, think about our conversation today. Talk with your father and ask him how he knows. Next time, we will discuss his answer.”