So I’m telling a younger friend of mine about a strange incident that took place back when I was eighteen. I don’t recall exactly why I brought it up. It just happened to come up as we were talking. I mean, it was something that happened long ago. Ancient history. On top of which, I was never able to reach any conclusion about it.
“I’d already graduated from high school then, but wasn’t in college yet,” I explained. “I was what’s called an academic ronin, a student who fails the university entrance exam and is waiting to try again. Things felt kind of up in the air,” I went on, “but that didn’t bother me much. I knew that I could get into a halfway decent private college if I wanted to. But my parents had insisted that I try for a national university, so I took the exam, knowing all along that it’d be a bust. And, sure enough, I failed. The national-university exam back then had a mandatory math section, and I had zero interest in calculus. I spent the next year basically killing time, as if I were creating an alibi. Instead of attending cram school to prepare to retake the exam, I hung out at the local library, plowing my way through thick novels. My parents must have assumed that I was studying there. But, hey, that’s life. I found it a lot more enjoyable to read all of Balzac than to delve into the principles of calculus.”
“那时我已经高中毕业了，但还没进大学，”我解释道。“我那时啊，就是一个学术‘浪人’—— 大学入学考试败北，准备来年再战，所有事都还没有定数，”我继续缓缓说着，“但我到没怎么为上大学这事儿心烦。我心里明白，如果我真想上，去个相对不错的私立大学还是不在话下。但父母坚持让我考国立大学，尽管我一直预感要完，但还是乖乖参加了考试，不出所料，挂了。那时的国立大学入学试，数学是必考科目，但我对微积分真是一点都不感冒。第二年我基本上就是在打发时间，好像只是为了证明我去上学了而已。 我没去补习班准备来年的考试，反而常泡在我们那的图书馆，埋头苦读那些大部头小说，我父母肯定以为我在那学习呢。哎，这有什么，生活不就是这样吗？我发现把巴尔扎克读个遍可比学微积分有趣多了。”
At the beginning of October that year, I received an invitation to a piano recital from a girl who’d been a year behind me in school and had taken piano lessons from the same teacher as I had. Once, the two of us had played a short four-hands piano piece by Mozart. When I turned sixteen, though, I’d stopped taking lessons, and I hadn’t seen her after that. So I couldn’t figure out why she’d sent me this invitation. Was she interested in me? No way. She was attractive, for sure, though not my type in terms of looks; she was always fashionably dressed and attended an expensive private girls’ school. Not at all the kind to fall for a bland, run-of-the-mill guy like me.
When we played that piece together, she gave me a sour look every time I hit a wrong note. She was a better pianist than I was, and I tended to get overly tense, so when the two of us sat side by side and played I bungled a lot of notes. My elbow bumped against hers a few times as well. It wasn’t such a difficult piece, and, moreover, I had the easier part. Each time I blew it, she had this Give me a break expression on her face. And she’d click her tongue—not loudly but loud enough that I could catch it. I can still hear that sound, even now. That sound may even have had something to do with my decision to give up the piano.
At any rate, my relationship with her was simply that we happened to study in the same piano school. We’d exchange hellos if we ran into each other there, but I have no memory of our ever sharing anything personal. So suddenly receiving an invitation to her recital (not a solo recital but a group recital with three pianists) took me completely by surprise—in fact, had me baffled. But one thing I had in abundance that year was time, so I sent off the reply postcard, saying that I would attend. One reason I did this was that I was curious to find out what lay behind the invitation—if, indeed, there was a motive. Why, after all this time, send me an unexpected invitation? Maybe she had become much more skilled as a pianist and wanted to show me that. Or perhaps there was something personal that she wished to convey to me. In other words, I was still figuring out how best to use my sense of curiosity, and banging my head against all kinds of things in the process.
无论如何，我俩的关系仅仅是恰好在同一所学校学琴罢了。在学校碰见了，肯定是会打招呼问候一下，除此之外我真不记得我俩还有过什么私人的交集。所以平白无故收到她的邀请（还不是独奏会，是与另外三位钢琴家一同演出）真让我太意外了—— 实际上，这简直让我不解。 不过那一年我最充裕的就是时间了，所以我回了请帖，告诉她我会准时出席。我之所以这么做，其中一个原因就是好奇，想搞清楚这背后到底在搞什么名堂—— 是不是真出于什么我不知道的原因？为什么过了这么久，突然邀请我去她的演奏会。难道是因为她现在琴技高超，想向我炫耀一番？还是她有什么悄悄话想和我说？ 换句话说，那时的我还不明白该怎样更好的驾驭自己的好奇心，那时的我啊，对所有发生的事都是一路追问到底。
The recital hall was at the top of one of the mountains in Kobe. I took the Hankyu train line as close as I could, then boarded a bus that made its way up a steep, winding road. I got off at a stop near the very top, and after a short walk arrived at the modest-sized concert venue, which was owned and managed by an enormous business conglomerate. I hadn’t known that there was a concert hall here, in such an inconvenient spot, at the top of a mountain, in a quiet, upscale residential neighborhood. As you can imagine, there were plenty of things in the world that I didn’t know about.
演奏厅在神户市的一座山顶上。我先搭乘离我最近的阪急电铁，然后再换公交车，车子载着我爬上了蜿蜒又陡峭的上山路。记得我在山顶附近的车站下了车，走了一会后，便到了演奏厅。那地方看起来不大，隶属一家商届巨擘，想必也自是由该集团管理了。 可这里交通不便，又在山顶，我之前还真不知道有这么个演奏厅。 不过这儿也是一片非常安静的高档住宅区。正如你想的，这个世上啊，我有很多事儿都不知道呢。
I’d felt that I should bring something to show my appreciation for having been invited, so at a florist’s near the train station I had selected a bunch of flowers that seemed to fit the occasion and had them wrapped as a bouquet. The bus had shown up just then and I’d hopped aboard. It was a chilly Sunday afternoon. The sky was covered with thick gray clouds, and it looked as though a cold rain might start at any minute. There was no wind, though. I was wearing a thin, plain sweater under a gray herringbone jacket with a touch of blue, and I had a canvas bag slung across my shoulder. The jacket was too new, the bag too old and worn out. And in my hands was this gaudy bouquet of red flowers wrapped in cellophane. When I got on the bus decked out like that, the other passengers kept glancing at me. Or maybe it just seemed as if they did. I could feel my cheeks turning red. Back then, I blushed at the slightest provocation. And the redness took forever to go away.
“Why in the world am I here?” I asked myself, as I sat hunched over in my seat, cooling my flushed cheeks with my palms. I didn’t particularly want to see this girl, or hear the piano recital, so why was I spending all my allowance on a bouquet, and travelling all the way to the top of a mountain on a dreary Sunday afternoon in November? Something must have been wrong with me when I dropped the reply postcard in the mailbox.
The higher up the mountain we went, the fewer passengers there were on the bus, and by the time we arrived at my stop only the driver and I were left. I got off the bus and followed the directions on the invitation up a gently sloping street. Each time I turned a corner, the harbor came briefly into view and then disappeared again. The overcast sky was a dull color, as if blanketed with lead. There were huge cranes down in the harbor, jutting into the air like the antennae of some ungainly creatures that had crawled out of the ocean.
车越往山顶开，车上的乘客便越少。等我到站时，车上就剩司机和我两个人了。我下了车，按着邀请函上写的路线走上一条有些许小坡的街道。每次拐弯时，山下的港口都一下映入眼底，再走几步又很快被挡住了。 乌云了无生气的挂在天上，像灌满了铅的毯子。山下海港上有好些大型起重机，它们就像从海里爬上来的奇特生物，行动笨拙缓慢。 机器的悬臂就像它们的触角，挺得直直的高耸入云。
The houses near the top of the slope were large and luxurious, with massive stone walls, impressive front gates, and two-car garages. The azalea hedges were all neatly trimmed. I heard what sounded like a huge dog barking somewhere. It barked loudly three times, and then, as if someone had scolded it severely, it abruptly stopped, and all around became quiet.
As I followed the simple map on the invitation, I was struck by a vague, disconcerting premonition. Something just wasn’t right. First of all, there was the lack of people in the street. Since getting off the bus, I hadn’t seen a single pedestrian. Two cars did drive by, but they were on their way down the slope, not up. If a recital was really about to take place here, I would have expected to see more people. But the whole neighborhood was still and silent, as if the dense clouds above had swallowed up all sound.
Had I misunderstood?
I took the invitation out of my jacket pocket to recheck the information. Maybe I’d misread it. I went over it carefully, but couldn’t find anything wrong. I had the right street, the right bus stop, the right date and time. I took a deep breath to calm myself, and set off again. The only thing I could do was get to the concert hall and see.
When I finally arrived at the building, the large steel gate was locked tight. A thick chain ran around the gate, and was held in place by a heavy padlock. No one else was around. Through a narrow opening in the gate, I could see a fair-sized parking lot, but not a single car was parked there. Weeds had sprouted between the paving stones, and the parking lot looked as if it hadn’t been used in quite some time. Despite all that, the large nameplate at the entrance told me that this was indeed the recital hall I was looking for.
I pressed the button on the intercom next to the entrance but no one responded. I waited a bit, then pressed the button again, but still no answer. I looked at my watch. The recital was supposed to start in fifteen minutes. But there was no sign that the gate would be opened. Paint had peeled off it in spots, and it was starting to rust. I couldn’t think of anything else to do, so I pressed the intercom button one more time, holding it down longer, but the result was the same as before—deep silence.
我按了门铃，但没人回应。等了一会，再按，还是毫无反应。我看了看手表，演奏会原本预计15分钟后就要开始了。但紧锁着的大门，毫无打开的迹象。铁门上的清漆有些脱落了，掉漆的地方变成了一个个小圆点，都开始生锈了。我想不出还能做什么，于是又按了一次门铃，这次我死死压着按钮没有松手，让它响了好一会儿，但结果还是一样 —— 一片死寂。
With no idea what to do, I leaned back against the gate and stood there for some ten minutes. I had a faint hope that someone else might show up before long. But no one came. There was no sign of any movement, either inside the gate or outside. There was no wind. No birds chirping, no dogs barking. As before, an unbroken blanket of gray cloud lay above.
I finally gave up—what else could I do? —and with heavy steps started back down the street toward the bus stop, totally in the dark about what was going on. The only clear thing about the whole situation was that there wasn’t going to be a piano recital or any other event held here today. All I could do was head home, bouquet of red flowers in hand. My mother would doubtless ask, “What’re the flowers for?” and I would have to give some plausible answer. I wanted to toss them in the trash bin at the station, but they were—for me, at least—kind of expensive to just throw away.
Down the hill a short distance, there was a cozy little park, about the size of a house lot. On the far side of the park, away from the street, was an angled natural rock wall. It was barely a park—it had no water fountain or playground equipment. All that was there was a little arbor, plunked down in the middle. The walls of the arbor were slanted latticework, overgrown with ivy. There were bushes around it, and at square stepping stones on the ground. It was hard to say what the park’s purpose was, but someone was regularly taking care of it; the trees and bushes were smartly clipped, with no weeds or trash around. On the way up the hill, I’d walked right by the park without noticing it.
往山下走了不远，我看到一个小公园，它看起格外温馨，大概有平常人家院子大小。在公园最里边，远离街道的那侧，有一面斜着的天然石墙。这儿根本称不上公园 —— 没有喷泉，也没有任何供人娱乐的器材。只有一个小凉亭，稳稳地坐落在中间。亭壁斜着的镂空格子上爬满了常春藤。四周的灌木把凉亭包的严严实实，一块块方形的脚踩石静静地铺在地上。我不知道这公园到底为何而建，但看得出是有人来定期打理的。这儿的树木和灌木丛都修剪的十分精致，周围没有一点儿杂草和垃圾。上山的时候，我曾直直地从路边走过去，竟然都没发现这么个地方。
I went into the park to gather my thoughts and sat down on a bench next to the arbor. I felt that I should wait in the area a little longer to see how things developed (for all I knew, people might suddenly appear), and once I sat down I realized how tired I was. It was a strange kind of exhaustion, as though I’d been worn out for quite a while but hadn’t noticed it, and only now had it hit me. From the arbor, there was a panoramic view of the harbor. A number of large container ships were docked at the pier. From the top of the mountain, the stacked metal containers looked like nothing more than the small tins that you keep on your desk to hold coins or paper clips.
After a while, I heard a man’s voice in the distance. Not a natural voice but one amplified by a loudspeaker. I couldn’t catch what was being said, but there was a pronounced pause after each sentence, and the voice spoke precisely, without a trace of emotion, as if trying to convey something extremely important as objectively as possible. It occurred to me that maybe this was a personal message directed at me, and me alone. Someone was going to the trouble of telling me where I’d gone wrong, what it was that I’d overlooked. Not something I would normally have thought, but for some reason it struck me that way. I listened carefully. The voice got steadily louder and easier to understand. It must have been coming from a loudspeaker on the roof of a car that was slowly wending its way up the slope, seemingly in no hurry at all. Finally, I realized what it was: a car broadcasting a Christian message.
过了一会，我听到远处传来一个男人的声音。不是平时说话的那种声音，而是从扩音器里发出的那种增强音质。我听不清他在说什么，但每句话说完，他都明显地停顿一下。 这声音听起来非常严谨，不带一丝感情，好像在尽可能用客观的口吻，说着些非常重要的事儿似的。 我突然觉得这也许就是对我说的吧？仅仅对我！ 就像有人特地来告诉我，到底哪出了问题，我又忽略了什么。 要是平时，我断然不会这么想，但显然这些想法现在一股脑涌了上来。 我于是仔细听着，那声音越来越大，也更加清晰。 这声音一定是从某辆车车顶上的扩音器里传出来的，那车肯定是沿着蜿蜒的斜坡向山上缓缓驶来，完全没有为什么事儿着急的样子。 最终我听出来了：那是基督徒的传教广播。
“Everyone will die,” the voice said in a calm monotone. “Every person will eventually pass away. No one can escape death or the judgment that comes afterward. After death, everyone will be severely judged for his sins.”
I sat there on the bench, listening to this message. I found it strange that anyone would do mission outreach in this deserted residential area up on top of a mountain. The people who lived here all owned multiple cars and were affluent. I doubted that they were seeking salvation from sin. Or maybe they were? Income and status might be unrelated to sin and salvation.
我坐在长凳上，听着他的布道。 我觉得会有人在山顶这种杳无人烟的住宅区传教，真是太奇怪了。 住这儿的都是有钱人，每人有着好几辆车，那他们还会因为自身的罪孽而去寻求救赎吗？对此我深表怀疑。 不过也不能否认这种可能，收入与地位也许与救赎、罪孽什么的没多大关系吧。
“But all those who seek salvation in Jesus Christ and repent of their sins will have their sins forgiven by the Lord. They will escape the fires of Hell. Believe in God, for only those who believe in Him will reach salvation after death and receive eternal life.”
I was waiting for the Christian-mission car to appear on the street in front of me and say more about the judgment after death. I think I must have been hoping to hear words spoken in a reassuring, resolute voice, no matter what they were. But the car never showed up. And, at a certain point, the voice began to grow quieter, less distinct, and before long I couldn’t hear anything anymore. The car must have turned in another direction, away from where I was. When that car disappeared, I felt as though I’d been abandoned by the world.
A sudden thought hit me: maybe the whole thing was a hoax that the girl had cooked up. This idea—or hunch, I should say—came out of nowhere. For some reason that I couldn’t fathom, she’d deliberately given me false information and dragged me out to the top of a remote mountain on a Sunday afternoon. Maybe I had done something that had caused her to form a personal grudge against me. Or maybe, for no special reason, she found me so unpleasant she couldn’t stand it. And she’d sent me an invitation to a nonexistent recital and was now gloating—laughing her head off—seeing (or, rather, imagining) how she’d fooled me and how pathetic and ridiculous I must look.
我突然想到：难道这整件事都是那女生策划的一个恶作剧吗？这个想法—— 也可以说直觉 —— 突然冒了出来。但我怎么也想不通，她故意给我这些假信息，在周日下午给我拉到这么一个偏僻的山顶上，到底是为了什么？也许是我做了什么伤害她的事，让她埋怨至今？还是，她就是没缘由的讨厌我，讨厌到了要整我的程度？ 邀请我去一个根本不存在的演奏会，现在她也许正在那得意扬扬地 —— 大笑着 —— 看着（也许是想象着）她多成功的骗了我，而我看起来又是何等的可悲和荒唐。
O.K., but would a person really go to all the trouble of coming up with such a complicated plot in order to harass someone, just out of spite? Even printing up the postcard must have taken some effort. Could someone really be that mean? I couldn’t remember a thing I’d ever done to make her hate me that much. But sometimes, without even realizing it, we trample on people’s feelings, hurt their pride, make them feel bad. I speculated on the possibility of this not unthinkable hatred, the misunderstandings that might have taken place, but found nothing convincing. And as I wandered fruitlessly through this maze of emotions I felt my mind losing its way. Before I knew it, I was having trouble breathing.
就算这样，但真有人会仅仅出于恶意，就费这么大劲儿设一个这么复杂的局去骚扰他人吗？ 甚至费功夫去印一封邀请函！真有人会如此刻薄吗？我真是想不出来，我做过什么能让她恨我到这个地步。 但有时候，我们的确会践踏别人的感情、伤害他人的自尊、害他们难过，而我们甚至都没意识到自己错在了哪。我推测着这“深仇大恨”的可能性，还是发生了什么误会？但不管哪种说辞，都让人难以信服。当我在这种错综复杂的情绪里怅然若失的徘徊时，我感觉自己的思绪越来越飘忽不定。没待我反应过来，我已经开始喘不上气了。
This used to happen to me once or twice a year. I think it must have been stress- induced hyperventilation. Something would fluster me, my throat would constrict, and I wouldn’t be able to get enough air into my lungs. I’d panic, as if I were being swept under by a rushing current and were about to drown, and my body would freeze. All I could do at those times was crouch down, close my eyes, and patiently wait for my body to return to its usual rhythms. As I got older, I stopped experiencing these symptoms (and, at some point, I stopped blushing so easily, too), but in my teens I was still troubled by these problems.
这种情况在我身上，一年会发生个一两次。我想这一定是由紧张引起的呼吸不畅。当一些事让我心慌意乱，我就会嗓子发干，喉咙好像收缩了似的没法让足够的空气进入肺部。这时我就开始恐慌，就像被急流打翻，快要溺水了那样，身体也开始僵硬起来。 这时我能做的就是俯身蹲下，闭上双眼，耐着心挨过这一段，等着我的身体恢复正常。 随着年龄增长，这些症状也慢慢消失了（而且，在某一刻，我也没那么容易脸红了），但在我少年时期，这些问题可一直苦苦困扰着我。
On the bench by the arbor, I screwed my eyes tightly shut, bent over, and waited to be freed from that blockage. It may have been five minutes; it may have been fifteen. I don’t know how long. All the while, I watched as strange patterns appeared and vanished in the dark, and I slowly counted them, trying my best to get my breathing back under control. My heart beat out a ragged tempo in my rib cage, as if a terrified mouse were racing about inside.
I’d been focussing so much on counting that it took some time for me to become aware of the presence of another person. It felt as if someone were in front of me, observing me. Cautiously, ever so slowly, I opened my eyes and raised my head a degree. My heart was still thumping.
Without my noticing, an old man had sat down on the bench across from me and was looking straight at me. It isn’t easy for a young man to judge an elderly person’s age. To me, they all just looked like old people. Sixty, seventy—what was the difference? They weren’t young anymore, that was all. This man was wearing a bluish-gray wool cardigan, brown corduroy pants, and navy-blue sneakers. It looked as though a considerable amount of time had passed since any of these were new. Not that he appeared shabby or anything. His gray hair was thick and stiff-looking, and tufts sprung up above his ears like the wings of birds when they bathe. He wasn’t wearing glasses. I didn’t know how long he’d been there, but I had the feeling that he’d been observing me for quite some time.
我居然之前都没发现：一位老人已经坐到了我对面的长凳上，直直地看着我。对于年轻人来说，老年人的年纪还真是很难判断。 我感觉，老年人看起来都差不多。六十岁、七十岁 —— 有什么区别？总之，他们不再年轻就是了。 这位老人穿着灰中带蓝的羊毛开衫，棕色的灯芯绒长裤，和藏蓝色的运动鞋。他身上的衣物，看起来很有岁月感似的，因为没有一件是新的。但也绝不是衣衫褴褛的那种破烂。他的白发看起来浓密且硬，一缕缕的伏在耳朵上方的头皮上，就像小鸟在水中打湿的翅膀。对了，他没戴眼镜。我不知道他在那坐了多久，但我感觉他已经观察我好一会儿了。
I was sure he was going to say, “Are you all right?” or something like that, since I must have looked as if I were having trouble (and I really was). That was the first thing that sprang to mind when I saw the old man. But he didn’t say a thing, didn’t ask anything, just gripped a tightly folded black umbrella that he was holding like a cane. The umbrella had an amber-colored wooden handle and looked sturdy enough to serve as a weapon if need be. I assumed that he lived in the neighborhood, since he had nothing else with him.
我知道他要说什么，“你还好吗？”或者其他类似的话，因为我看起来好像麻烦缠身似的（我也确实是这样）。这是我看到那位老人时，蹦进脑海的第一印象。 但他什么也没说、什么也没问，只是握着他那把伞面叠得紧紧的黑色雨伞，好像那伞是个拐棍一样。那伞的琥珀色手柄看起来足够结实，有必要时，当个武器来用想必也没什么问题。 我推测他就住在附近，因为他身边什么行李也没有。
I sat there trying to calm my breathing, the old man silently watching. His gaze didn’t waver for an instant. It made me feel uncomfortable—as if I’d wandered into someone’s back yard without permission—and I wanted to get up from the bench and head off to the bus stop as fast as I could. But, for some reason, I couldn’t get to my feet. Time passed, and then suddenly the old man spoke.
我坐在那试着让自己平静下来，那老人便静静地望着我。他的目光坚定有力，没有一丝闪躲。这让我感觉十分变扭—— 好像我没得到主人允许，就在别人家的后院里闲逛似的 —— 我那时只想赶快站起来，然后去车站坐车回家。但也不知道怎么回事，我就是感觉双腿动弹不得。时间一分一秒流过，那老人突然说话了。
“A circle with many centers.”
I looked up at him. Our eyes met. His forehead was extremely broad, his nose pointed. As sharply pointed as a bird’s beak. I couldn’t say a thing, so the old man quietly repeated the words: “A circle with many centers.”
Naturally, I had no clue what he was trying to say. A thought came to me—that this man had been driving the Christian loudspeaker car. Maybe he’d parked nearby and was taking a break? No, that couldn’t be it. His voice was different from the one I’d heard. The loudspeaker voice was a much younger man’s. Or perhaps that had been a recording.
我自然不知道他想说什么。不过我突然想到—— 难道他是开那辆传教车的司机？也许他把车停在路边过来休息一会？不对，不太可能！ 他的声音和之前车里扩音器发出的声音完全不同。那个声音听起来要年轻多了，但也许那是事先录制好的也说不定？
“Circles, did you say?” I reluctantly asked. He was older than me, and politeness dictated that I respond.
“There are several centers—no, sometimes an infinite number—and it’s a circle with no circumference.” The old man frowned as he said this, the wrinkles on his forehead deepening. “Are you able to picture that kind of circle in your mind?”
“是很多圆心 —— 不，有时候有无数个圆心 —— 这是一个没有周长的圆。”老人皱着眉说，他额头上的皱纹看起来更深了。“你能在脑子里想象出这种圆吗？”
My mind was still out of commission, but I gave it some thought. A circle that has several centers and no circumference. But, think as I might, I couldn’t visualize it.
“I don’t get it,” I said.
The old man silently stared at me. He seemed to be waiting for a better answer.
“I don’t think they taught us about that kind of circle in math class,” I feebly added.
The old man slowly shook his head. “Of course not. That’s to be expected. Because they don’t teach you that kind of thing in school. As you know very well.”
As I knew very well? Why would this old man presume that? “Does that kind of circle really exist?” I asked.
“Of course it does,” the old man said, nodding a few times. “That circle does indeed exist. But not everyone can see it, you know.”
“Can you see it?”
The old man didn’t reply. My question hung awkwardly in the air for a moment, and finally grew hazy and disappeared.
The old man spoke again. “Listen, you’ve got to imagine it with your own power. Use all the wisdom you have and picture it. A circle that has many centers but no circumference. If you put in such an intense effort that it’s as if you were sweating blood—that’s when it gradually becomes clear what the circle is.”
老人又开口说道，“ 听好，你要用尽全力去想象它，用尽你所有的智慧去想。一个有很多圆心，但没有周长的圆。如果你尽最大的努力去想，拼命去想 —— 这时那个圆的样子，就会在你脑中慢慢清晰起来了。”
“It sounds difficult,” I said.
“Of course it is,” the old man said, sounding as if he were spitting out something hard. “There’s nothing worth getting in this world that you can get easily.” Then, as if starting a new paragraph, he briefly cleared his throat. “But, when you put in that much time and effort, if you do achieve that difficult thing it becomes the cream of your life.”
“In French, they have an expression: crème de la crème. Do you know it?”
“法语里有句话：crème de la crème. 你听过吗？”
“I don’t,” I said. I knew no French.
“The cream of the cream. It means the best of the best. The most important essence of life—that’s the crème de la crème. Get it? The rest is just boring and worthless.”
“奶油中的奶油，就是指最好中的最好。 那是生命中最宝贵的东西 —— 就是 crème de la crème. 懂吗？ 剩下的不过是庸碌与无趣。”
I didn’t really understand what the old man was getting at. Crème de la crème?
我不太明白老人到底在暗示什么。Crème de la crème?
“Think about it,” the old man said. “Close your eyes again, and think it all through. A circle that has many centers but no circumference. Your brain is made to think about difficult things. To help you get to a point where you understand something that you didn’t understand at first. You can’t be lazy or neglectful. Right now is a critical time. Because this is the period when your brain and your heart form and solidify.”
“你再想一想，”老人说道。“ 再闭上眼睛，从头想一遍。 一个有很多圆心的圆，没有周长。你的大脑就是用来想这些难题的，它要帮你搞清楚那些你最初不懂的问题啊。不要犯懒也不要忽视这一切，现在正是至关重要的时候，因为就是在这个阶段，你的大脑和你的心决定了你成为怎样的一个人。”
I closed my eyes again and tried to picture that circle. I didn’t want to be lazy or neglectful. But, no matter how seriously I thought about what the man was saying, it was impossible for me at that time to grasp the meaning of it. The circles I knew had one center, and a curved circumference connecting points that were equidistant from it. The kind of simple figure you can draw with a compass. Wasn’t the kind of circle the old man was talking about the opposite of a circle?
I didn’t think that the old man was off, mentally. And I didn’t think that he was teasing me. He wanted to convey something important. So I tried again to understand, but my mind just spun around and around, making no progress. How could a circle that had many (or perhaps an infinite number of) centers exist as a circle? Was this some advanced philosophical metaphor? I gave up and opened my eyes. I needed more clues.
But the old man wasn’t there anymore. I looked all around, but there was no sign of anyone in the park. It was as if he’d never existed. Was I imagining things? No, of course it wasn’t some fantasy. He’d been right there in front of me, tightly gripping his umbrella, speaking quietly, posing a strange question, and then he’d left.
I realized that my breathing was back to normal, calm and steady. The rushing current was gone. Here and there, gaps had started to appear in the thick layer of clouds above the harbor. A ray of light had broken through, illuminating the aluminum housing on top of a crane, as if it had been accurately aiming at that one spot. I stared for a long while, transfixed by the almost mythic scene.
The small bouquet of red flowers, wrapped in cellophane, was beside me. Like a kind of proof of all the strange things that had happened to me. I debated what to do with it, and ended up leaving it on the bench by the arbor. To me, that seemed the best option. I stood up and headed toward the bus stop where I’d got off earlier. The wind had started blowing, scattering the stagnant clouds above.
After I finished telling this story, there was a pause, then my younger friend said, “I don’t really get it. What actually happened, then? Was there some intention or principle at work?”
Those very odd circumstances I experienced on top of that mountain in Kobe on a Sunday afternoon in late autumn—following the directions on the invitation to where the recital was supposed to take place, only to discover that the building was deserted—what did it all mean? And why did it happen? That was what my friend was asking. Perfectly natural questions, especially because the story I was telling him didn’t reach any conclusion.
这些我所经历的怪事儿： 那年深秋的那个周日下午，在神户那座山顶的经历 —— 按着邀请函上的地图去了一个本该举办演奏会但实则却被废弃了的演奏厅—— 这意味着什么呢？为什么会发生这一切呢？这是我那位年轻朋友本意要问的。 这也是意料之中的问题，尤其是我给他讲的这个故事，本身也没有答案。
“I don’t understand it myself, even now,” I admitted.
It was permanently unsolved, like some ancient riddle. What took place that day was incomprehensible, inexplicable, and at eighteen it left me bewildered and mystified. So much so that, for a moment, I nearly lost my way.
“But I get the feeling,” I said, “that principle or intention wasn’t really the issue.”
My friend looked confused. “Are you telling me that there’s no need to know what it was all about?”
“But if it were me,” he said, “I’d be bothered no end. I’d want to know the truth, why something like that happened. If I’d been in your shoes, that is.”
“Yeah, of course. Back then, it bothered me, too. A lot. It hurt me, too. But thinking about it later, from a distance, after time had passed, it came to feel insignificant, not worth getting upset about. I felt as though it had nothing at all to do with the cream of life.”
“The cream of life,” he repeated.
“Things like this happen sometimes,” I told him. “Inexplicable, illogical events that nevertheless are deeply disturbing. I guess we need to not think about them, just close our eyes and get through them. As if we were passing under a huge wave.”
My younger friend was quiet for a time, considering that huge wave. He was an experienced surfer, and there were lots of things, serious things, that he had to consider when it came to waves. Finally, he spoke. “But not thinking about anything might also be pretty hard.”
“You’re right. It might be hard indeed.”
There’s nothing worth getting in this world that you can get easily, the old man had said, with unshakable conviction, like Pythagoras explaining his theorem.
“About that circle with many centers but no circumference,” my friend asked. “Did you ever find an answer?”
“Good question,” I said. I slowly shook my head. Had I?
In my life, whenever an inexplicable, illogical, disturbing event takes place (I’m not saying that it happens often, but it has a few times), I always come back to that circle —the circle with many centers but no circumference. And, as I did when I was eighteen, on that arbor bench, I close my eyes and listen to the beating of my heart.
每当那些没法解释、毫无逻辑、又扰乱人心的事儿，发生在我身边时（我并不是指这些事儿经常发生，但也确实发生过几次），我总是会想到那个圆 —— 那个有很多圆心，但是没有周长的圆。然后，我就会像我18岁，坐在凉亭边长凳上那样，闭起双眼，仔细听自己心跳的声音。
Sometimes I feel that I can sort of grasp what that circle is, but a deeper understanding eludes me. This circle is, most likely, not a circle with a concrete, actual form but, rather, one that exists only within our minds. When we truly love somebody, or feel deep compassion, or have an idealistic sense of how the world should be, or when we discover faith (or something close to faith)—that’s when we understand the circle as a given and accept it in our hearts. Admittedly, though, this is nothing more than my own vague attempt to reason it out.
有时我感觉我好像有点明白这圆是什么了， 但我又总是搞不懂更深一层的含义。 这个圆，很有可能并不是一个有形的、实体的圆，而是一个只存在于在我们脑中的圆。当我们真诚地爱着某人，或者感受到一种发自心底的同情、再或是对这个世界满怀希望与憧憬，亦或是我们找到了信仰（或者那些类似的使命）时 —— 那就是我们开始理解那个圆，视它为合理，并在心中坦然接受它的时候。 诚然，这也不过是我自己带着几分暧昧的解读罢了。
Your brain is made to think about difficult things. To help you get to a point where you understand something that you didn’t understand at first. And that becomes the cream of your life. The rest is boring and worthless. That was what the gray-haired old man told me. On a cloudy Sunday afternoon in late autumn, on top of a mountain in Kobe, as I clutched a small bouquet of red flowers. And even now, whenever something disturbing happens to me, I ponder again that special circle, and the boring and the worthless. And the unique cream that must be there, deep inside me.
你的大脑就是用来想这些难题的，它要帮你搞清楚那些你最初不懂的问题。然后它们才能变成你生命中的“奶油”啊，剩下的不过是庸碌与无趣。这就是那个白发老者对我讲的，在那个深秋的周日、 在那个多云的下午、在神户的那座山顶上，18岁的那个我仍紧握着那一小束红色的花。即便到了现在，每当有什么扰人的事情发生时，我都会想起那个特别的圆，剩下的不过是庸碌与无趣。那独特的“奶油”一定在那儿，在我的心底。 ?
本文原载于 The New Yorker