It was back in high school when I noticed the difference. All the seniors, all the cool ones anyway, hung out under the senior tree, the gathering spot for those who were going places. I was going nowhere. I knew this from the moment I entered high school and got a strong whiff of what my future held; stifling conformity, doing work I had no interest in for the benefit of others, yielding to the wishes of what society had in mind for me, and speaking your mind when you knew damn well no one cared what its contents were.

Happily, those days are behind me. I had fun during my high school years, but it had absolutely nothing to do with high school. I just didn’t have the desire to make something of my life, whatever that meant. When I recall roaming Hollywood, Santa Monica, downtown, and elsewhere in Southern California going to concerts an inner peace comes over me that’s irreplaceable. It was the best liberal education I could have received… and I gave it to myself.

But back to the senior tree. Day after day the seniors stood underneath and around it, behaving like morons while scheming plans for success, or what adults had taught them success was. Belief systems were crystallized in conjunction with these plans, systems that were unalterable or impenetrable. It felt like I was living in a foreign land. All this preparation for the endless financial grind ahead made me queasy. I didn’t belong in that world. I understood I was going to have to work in some menial labor-intensive fashion, and I was okay with it. We all work to make other’s rich, if we’re not working for ourselves. At that point in life, I became aware that writing would be my release. It would make my particular ‘endless grind’ easier to swallow.

I missed as much school as possible, graduating by two credits. That decision proved to be the reigning accomplishment of my high school career.

Years later I find myself living in the Shenandoah Valley. The solitude has been life-changing, except for one thing. As I’ve matured, I’ve seen that the senior tree has shape-shifted into a dragon living in my neighbor’s garage. It goes something like this:

I’m walking through my neighborhood. It’s a delicate, cool morning with a touch of heat. Spring colors are dazzling the eyes. About a block from home a regular looking Joe type says hi.

“How’s it going?” I say.

“Good. Did you know I’ve got a fire-breathing dragon in my garage?”

Instead of wishing him to have a nice day, I make the mistake of engaging him in dialog. I’m making an effort to be part of the human species, so in order to do that, I need to speak to them from time to time. “Interesting. Can I have a look?”

He takes out his keys and presses a button, and the garage door goes up. There’s plenty to look at, but no dragon in sight.

“Where is it?” I ask, greatly anticipating his response.

“It’s right over there,” he says, pointing toward the door leading to the kitchen. “I forgot to tell you he’s an invisible dragon.”

If that’s the case, I tell him, let’s spread flour on the floor to see if we can get footprints.

“That would work,” he says sounding disappointed, “but this dragon floats in the air.”

“Well then, we’ll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.”

The man shakes his head. “His fire is heatless.”

I’m getting annoyed, and almost turn to go home. But I’m stupid, at times, and press on. I point to the shelves on the wall. “I see you’ve got spray paint. Let’s spray around the door area and make him visible.

“He lacks any material constitution. The paint won’t stick.”

“I think I left my oven on,” I say, walking briskly to the safety of my front door. On the way I laugh. What’s the difference between an invisible, immaterial, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?

This post is based on a parable by Carl Sagan