The Prompt for this story comes from storyaday.org by Julie Duffy.
The thing I wanted most from my life was to be able to tell myself– at the end– that I had learned everything I possibly could about the world in the time allotted to me. To that end, I set out to pursue my life as an anthropologist. I learned about cultures, countries, and continents. I learned philosophy, history, architecture, and art. But a curious thing happened: each step I took on the bridge of exploration took me farther from my end goal, not nearer.
The more I learned, the more there still was to know.
I married, but was always dissatisfied after a few years, and would try again with someone else. How could I stay with just one woman, when there were billions in the world and only a small sample available to me to study in my short life? Eventually I gave up on marriage, and just lived with them; they always said they understood when I wanted to leave, but I had come to know them better than that. They hated me, and I couldn’t blame them.
But still I plodded on. The bridge swayed beneath my feet, but I clung on all the more tightly as I took dogged step after dogged step, and deluded myself that I was getting closer to the other side where rest and satisfaction awaited me. I had friends, but they, too, were fleeting. They loved how I let them talk about themselves all the time, while I sat back and listened– and learned. Eventually, they all figured out that I wasn’t going to actually do anything for them. They were merely books on the shelf, read and then set aside for the next interesting story. I knew people didn’t appreciate being treated like that.
I didn’t care.
Eventually I grew old and tired, as people do, disappointed that I hadn’t managed to devise a way of prolonging my life, to continue my studies. The world grew still around me, and the bridge of my ambition ceased its wobbling as I lay down and looked up at the sky. And then, I gazed upon a place I had never thought to examine before: I looked within.
Who was I? What was I good at? Where did I belong? Who did I love? I had learned so much in my short life, except the most important thing:
I had failed to know and understand myself.
Without warning, the bridge cracked beneath me, and I barely grabbed onto the rope railing to keep myself from falling into the abyss of despair.
I will know myself, I vowed, as I began to climb what had now become a ladder. With each rung of realization I rose, and reached, and rectified. My muscles strained, and I grunted with each step, but I would not relent in my pursuit.
By the time I reached the top and my hands took purchase on the soft earth, I felt I was no longer the man I had thought I was. I was a chastened man, a humbled man, an infinitely unworthy man.
But I was wise at last.