A woman disciple had been told—as all the disciples were told—to choose one verse from a holy text each week, and learn it by heart. She protested to a senior, for whom she had a great respect, “That would be quite impossible for me. Even as a child I have never been able to memorize things.”
“How do you know?” asked the senior.
“Why, at one of my first classes in infant school, we were set to learn a little list by heart: it was six dates, and the others learned them quite quickly. But I just couldn’t. I couldn’t. And at the end of the lesson, the school mistress (I can see her now, in her black bombazine and jet bracelets, all sweetness on the surface but hard as nails underneath) said that the others could go home but I was to sit there till I had learned it. Well, I couldn’t learn it. We just sat there: me, and her looking at me, with her lips in a straight line. After an hour, my mother came to find where I was, and when she learned what had happened she took me away. That’s how I know I can’t remember things.”
“You seem to remember that pretty well,” remarked the senior, and she suddenly blazed up with some wounding remarks about deliberate idiocy angling for special treatment, not stopping at offensive personal remarks.
The junior went out almost in tears. She stayed away for several days, and then came back obviously uncertain of her reception.
The senior greeted her most kindly, and after a little conversation said, “You seem a bit pensive—is anything the matter?”
“Oh, no, nothing,” replied the disciple reproachfully. “Only what you said to me the other day.”
“Why, what did I say?”
“You said that, and then you said that, and then …” and the disciple recounted the cutting slights point by point.
“So you can remember, then? How is it that you can remember all that, and yet you can’t remember one little verse from the holy texts?”
“Because that applied to me. The texts don’t apply to me personally; they’re declarations of the holy truth, I suppose, but they don’t apply to me personally.”
“Ah,” said the senior. “That’s where you might be wrong, you know. All that nonsense I was talking doesn’t apply to you at all—it just applied maybe to some clown whom you let into your role for a moment. But the holy texts apply to you, to the real you.
“Apply them to yourself, to yourself personally, as clearly and sharply as you applied those silly remarks of mine, then you’ll find you can remember the verses easily.”