Monday, November 14, 2011

Mule School

We were late getting to Williams Tavern Restaurant in Washington, Arkansas Sunday after church. It was almost one o’clock when we stepped onto the porch to discover the wise old man, meditatively sitting on a bench, gazing at the mule paddock.

“Hello, sir, will you join us for lunch?”

“Well, Mr. and Mrs. Ford, I had lunch at about 11, but it’s time for some blackberry cobbler and coffee, so, yes, I’ll join you.”

It took a long time for the understaffed restaurant to seat us. In fact, the wise old man got tired of waiting and sauntered to a recently vacated table by the fireplace and cleared it himself. As we got seated, the maître d’, I guess you’d call her that, let us know we should not have violated protocol and seated ourselves. The wise old man was unrepentant, though, and gave the haggard lady a very sweet compliment—something about her ability to remain fresh and pretty even in a high stress job. Her demeanor changed and we received special attention as we dined. His coffee cup was never more than half empty when the waitress filled it.

“Sir, what brings you to Washington,” my wife asked.

“Those two white mules out there. There is something about those big white mules that bespeaks nobility and gratitude. They put me in mind of the Houyhnhnms, those highly rational equines in Gulliver’s Travels.The mules seem so tranquil and appreciative of everything life has brought them, even though they come from two worlds, that of the horse and that of the donkey. Far from being conflicted because of this double heritage, these beasts are somehow able to look upon their sterile state as a blessing. Horses flee from danger but donkeys face it and figure out how to respond. So the mule’s impulses are cowardly but their mental discipline holds them steady. Their rationality can be mistaken for loyalty, though I believe it emanates from a benign gratitude, a spirit of acceptance of their fate.”

I was blown away by this vague concept and sought clarification by asking, “So what can we learn from the white mules? Should we go visit them?”

“Suit yourself, Dan, but Thanksgiving is the appropriate time to observe their acceptance of themselves and of their circumstances. I myself sense a mixture in my own nature, a kind of double heritage like that of the mule. I have the nature to flee like the horse, but there is enough donkey in me to keep me plugging away at the task before me. I am thankful for the calling that keeps me stable (no pun intended), thoughtful and full of joy.”

“What a wonderful thought for Thanksgiving,” my wife said.

“The school of the mule rules,” he said with a wry grin, as he finished off his cobbler.

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