He had been swimming for months.
He was certain that no one had ever made such an effort, or taken such a risk. This time, Keith wanted to see a real philosopher.
They say that the real philosophers, who are way out in the deep water, are hideously distorted from how they have adapted to dive so deep. This was why they never came to shore,.. or so they say. As far as Keith knew, however, they might just like staying out in the deep water, in the fog, diving for pearls, just as he liked swimming.
Keith was an artist, and this was only his third time venturing out beyond where most artists dared to swim. On his first trip out, he ran into a dead body. He couldn’t tell if it was of an artist or a philosopher, but it spooked him good. And just then, a young woman came to the surface with a pearl for him to take. It was the largest pearl he had ever seen; the size of a walnut. Certainly the work of a philosopher, but the woman was not old, grisly, or distorted. She was, in fact, quite pretty and happy. He heard of other artists who had tried to dive for their own pearls, but they kept to the shallower waters: swimming and diving deep are two completely separate skills.
She had told Keith that the body was of an artist who got lost in the fog. She had offered her a pearl to take to shore, but she insisted she knew what she was doing on her own and just swam around and around until she drown. Keith listened, but knew then that the body was not that of an artist. It was an entertainer who wanted to be an artist. Some people simply didn’t understand.
Philosophers dive deep and get the pearls, artists swim out to collect them and bring them back closer to shore, entertainers paddle out just past the breakers to get the pearls from the artists and surf them ashore to the waiting public. There is a dense fog bank off shore, past the breakers, which is where the artist generally like to stop. They liked to be seen by the waiting public on the beach, vaguely, from afar,.. but that’s about it.
Keith knew well how hard it was for people to figure out where they belonged and the limitations of their roles. When he was young and first entered the water, he tried to act like the other entertainers. He focused solely on surfing the waves back to shore and getting praise for how well he surfed, but once the initial excitement of it wore off he found dealing with the people on the beach annoying. The first time he paddled out to meet an artist he didn’t even take the pearl. He heard the stories the artist told of their experience swimming and he simply slid off of his board and started to swim out into the fog.
He was exhilarated with how it felt being out where he could do anything and go anywhere. He would come back to shore from time to time to rest in the shallower water and entertainers would come to him expecting a pearl. He liked their attention as he told of his journeys, but they quickly learned that he never had any pearls so they stopped coming to him. So, he set out to look for pearls.
He tried diving for them himself, once, but that did not work out so well. He decided to stick to what he was good at. The first pearl he got was off an old man who told him that he used to be one of the deepest divers. He talked of all his diving experiences and finally gave Keith a tiny little pearl. He swam it straight back to shore and no one was impressed. The entertainers seemed more interested in the stories of his swimming and the old man than they were of that tiny pearl. He realized that the old man was probably lying to him; he was probably an artist too old to swim, or an entertainer too old to surf.
From the experience, Keith realized that combining the stories of his swimming with the beauty of the pearl would be worth even more. That would involve not only swimming to get a pearl, but swimming because he enjoyed swimming… to pursue the adventure in his own swimming. Over time, he also learned that the adventure of his swimming reflected and melded with the quality and aspects of the pearls that he was offered. He even started to believe that the philosophers were anticipating his intentions; there always seemed to be someone with exactly the right pearl for what he had in mind as he went along. This is what brought him to this leap of faith; to swim for months with the hope that there would be a philosopher out here somewhere, who was ready for him.
There was a moment, when Keith was swimming in a very thick fog as he had been for months, not having seen another person in a very long time, that he heard the sound of a huge splash and the very loud wheeze of a long intake of air. He swam towards it and found an old white haired man holding a pearl the size of a soccer ball over his head. The old man was still breathing heavy when he saw Keith and smiled.
“Hello artist,” he said, “You have come for my pearl.”
Shocked, Keith stammered, “Hello. I guess I did, but I have never seen one so large.” The truth was that Keith had no idea how he would swim with it and he was feeling insecure.
As if reading his mind, the old man tilted back to float and rested the pearl on his crotch like he were an otter. Then, opened his arms and let out a big sigh. “There are much larger ones down there, but I am still learning how to carry them. I have to work my way up. How long have you been swimming, artist?”
“Um… I don’t really know for sure. Months I suppose.”
“Months? Good… and what have you learned of artistry so far?”
Keith thought for a moment, “That the artist makes the pearl more interesting, but only if they respect the pearl.”
The philosopher smiles and says, “And?”
Keith was taken aback a little, “And… the pearl affects how I swim, which in turn, affects how the entertainers surfs and how the public receives the entertainer… but I shouldn’t focus on that.”
“Oh? What should you focus on?”
“The pleasure of my own adventure.”
“So, is this part of your adventure? What brings you so far out?”
“I was challenging a theory of mine. It seemed to me that the pearls offered to me were exactly the ones I was looking for. Even though I have never really known what that was.”
The philosopher let’s out a big laugh, “Then this is the pearl you were looking for.”
“How do you know?”
“I don’t. I have always suspected the same as you. As far out as we are now, and with how deep I go and how long I stay down, I have always come to the surface to find an artist waiting for me.”
“How long were you down there?”
“This time… a few years… at least.”
Keith gasped. He was looking at a real philosopher. “Pardon me sir, but I had heard that philosophers like you were…”
“Disfigured?.. No, that is only what weak artists tell young artists so the young artist never endeavor to prove how weak they are. Come… take this. I am going to rest a bit and head back down.”
Keith swam over and picked up the pearl from the philosopher’s lap, surprised at how heavy it was. He leaned back and settled it on his own lap. “Thank you. Will I ever see you again?”
“I doubt it. People like me tend to die on the bottom. It is where we live, thus where we prefer to die.”
“I see. I guess that makes sense as I cannot see myself being anywhere else but out here swimming.”
“Thus, it is where you will die. Swim well artist. Swim well.”
And with that Keith began to swim back. Quickly losing the philosopher in the fog.