The Tortoise to My Centipede

Last Thursday, after a late supper with Tara and JR and being devoid of any other social schemes, I settled down with an old book that I reread from time to time. I sat down on the bed with cigarettes, lighter, and ashtray ready, and opened a random page and started reading. That night I found a story that I’d quite forgotten. It goes like this:

“Once upon a time there was a centipede that was amazingly good at dancing with all hundred legs. All the creatures of the forest gathered to watch every time the centipede danced, and they were all duly impressed by the exquisite dance. But there was one creature that didn’t like watching the centipede dance – that was a tortoise.

‘How can I get the centipede to stop dancing?’ thought the tortoise. He couldn’t just say he didn’t like the dance. Neither could he say he danced better himself, that would obviously be untrue. So he devised a fiendish plan. He sat down and wrote a letter to the centipede:

‘O incomparable centipede,’ he wrote, ‘I am a devoted admirer of your exquisite dancing. I must know how you go about it when you dance. Is it that you lift your left leg number 28 and then your right leg number 39? Or do you begin by lifting your right leg number 17 before you lift your left leg number 44? I await your answer in breathless anticipation. Yours truly, Tortoise.’

When the centipede read the letter, she immediately began to think about what she actually did when she danced. Which leg did she lift first? And which leg next? And the centipede never danced again.”

How sad. Lighting a cigarette and thinking about the story, it got me wondering. I’ve gone through most of life just like the centipede go through her dance. Without really thinking about or even knowing what I’m doing, I just do it, going through the motions of a series of spontaneous and impulsive improvisations, as opposed to adhering to one particular choreography, resulting in a rather surreal existence that my life mostly is. And I’ve had one hell of a good time doing it.

But of course, sooner or later, a tortoise would eventually show up, touting borrowed wisdom and claiming absolute truth, asking for answers and demanding justification, and I’m left analyzing how I’ve lived my life and questioning where I am going to next. So much, even, that I’d plunge into a depression so deep that I thought I would never get out. So much, even, that I’d succumb to my fears and insecurities and let them dictate my feelings, thoughts, words, and actions. So much, even, that I’d forget to do what I do best and simply live my life to the fullest, no matter what the odds or consequences may be.

Why? Because misery loves company? Because they’re miserable then I should be, too? Because they failed then I’m bound to as well?

To you tortoises out there, this is what I have to say:

When you dim your light so someone else can shine, the whole world gets a little bit darker. It’s a line I heard somewhere that I’ve always remembered. Yet knowing this, I still always step aside when you wish to have the limelight. I still always let you try to shine the best that you can just because you’ve made me feel so guilty for being the way I am and living the way I live. I still always let you put me down and make me feel less, unworthy, and undeserving.

But quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

I’ve got one life to live and I’m going to live it the way I know how. And even if my wisdom and my truth are mine and mine alone, I wouldn’t have it any other way. No matter how you see me, analyze me, or define me, I’ll still be who I am. I don’t need your approval and I don’t care about your judgment. No more justifications. I have finally returned to me.

And unlike the centipede, I ain’t gonna stop dancing.

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