A Simple Lesson

A Simple Lesson

Pupil and instructor sat for their first lesson. They had the same textbook. They opened to the first page.

“Now read the first line,” the instructor said.

“Problems equal zero,” Tollie said.

“Very good. Now, read the next line.”

“Solutions equal one.”

“Ah. Very good. Now, line 3.”

“Execution equals two.”

The instructor smiled.

“That’s the lesson. Simple enough, right?”

Tollie squirmed in his chair. His instructor told Tollie to close his book.

“Let’s go over it,” the instructor said. “Problems equal……?”

“Zero,” Tollie said.

“Yes. And solutions equal…….?”

Tollie closed his eyes. He squinted like a clenched fist, as though the answers might be extracted like the juice from a squeezed lemon. Tollie’s face flushed as it strained. He gave out a deep sigh. His face relaxed.

“What’s the answer, Tollie?”

“I don’t know.”

“Solutions are one,” the instructor said.

“Goddamnit,” Tollie said. “That’s what I thought. That’s what I was about to say.”

“And the last part is execution. Execution equals two.”

“Execution equals two,” Tollie repeated.

“You know what it all means?

“What?” Tollie asked.

“It means problems plus solutions equals 1. And it means problems plus solutions plus execution equals 3.”

“Hmmmmmmm,” Tollie said.

“Even more,” the instructor said, “And this is a crucial lesson…….it means all the problems in the world don’t add up anything unless there’s solutions. And for every solution that’s executed, the outcome is triple.”

“I’m stumped,” Tollie said.

“How old are you?” the instructor asked.


“It’s a pretty simple equation,” the instructor said. “I’m surprised you’ve made it this far without understanding.”

“It’s been hard,” Tollie said. “I’ve always had lots of troubles and problems.”

“Then go home and study. Study just this page. Give it time and all the attention it needs. Write it down a thousand times if you have to. Do whatever it takes and we’ll return to it again tomorrow.”

The next day they sat at the same table with their books.

“So, what are problems?” the instructor asked. “Without looking in the book.”

“Zero,” Tollie said. “Problems are zero.”

“And solutions?”

“I don’t know,” Tollie said.

“You didn’t study overnight?”

“I forgot,” Tollie said. “Like I told you yesterday, I got problems.”

The instructor grabbed his book and stood from the table.

“Then we’re done.”

“But I’ve got problems,” Tollie said. “Lots and lots of problems. It’s hard for me.”

“Yes,” the instructor said. “But I can’t help you if you’re not willing to learn the rest of the equation. A very simple fucking equation. A very simple fucking fair equation.”

“You’re cruel,” Tollie said, looking up at his instructor. “You’re going to abandon me to all these problems?”

“Yes,” the instructor said. “I am abandoning you. But I am not cruel. For, believe it or not, I’ve got my own problems. Problems that affect other people. And I can either sit here with you luxuriating in our problems, or I can leave to go work on my problems, which, sadly, happen to be others’ problems as well.”

The instructor stepped away from the table.

Tollie tried handing him the textbook.

“Keep it,” the instructor said. “You may find it useful some day.”

The instructor walked to the door. A step away from the exit, he stopped and turned to tell Tollie, “Try looking at page 2.”

Then the instructor left.

Tollie opened the book to page 2. It was an exact copy of page 1. He flipped through the entire textbook of hundreds of pages and each page was the exact same.

Tollie slammed the book shut, assuming he’d been tricked. He swept the book off the table, not realizing, even at 43 years old, some truths are just that simple.

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