Two squirrels ran side-by-side on an open plain. They were surrounded by many, many other running squirrels. They all ran in the same direction.
The two squirrels running together were friends. They had been for some time. But as close as they were to each other, they saw the world differently.
One squirrel was named Hank. Hank believed in things. Things he couldn’t see or prove or grab hold of. The other squirrel was named Sam. Sam only lived for what he could see. For Sam, belief was an unnecessary thing, because to him it sounded a whole lot like guessing. To Sam, there was no need to guess about the world. It was plain as day, all around them. What you could see, what you could touch—that was real. Nothing more.
One day, as Sam and Hank ran along on the open plain, two squirrels among many, Hank spoke.
“Sam, the squirrels ahead of us have been talking.”
“They always talk. So what?”
“Well,” said Hank, “they say they’ve heard news from the squirrels in front.”
This troubled Sam. This troubled Sam because he couldn’t see those squirrels. The squirrels just ahead he could see. But not the squirrels in front. Sam wanted to argue about this, but Hank had roused his curiosity. He wanted to know what the squirrels in front were saying.
“What did they say?” he asked.
“They say that at the end of this plain is a cliff,” said Hank. “A big, tall cliff.”
“And--?” prompted Sam, pretending to humor Hank, but really caring very much.
“And,” continued Hank, “they say all the squirrels before them ran right off it. They fell.”
Sam considered this news. It was not good news. But it wasn’t proven news either. He couldn’t see the squirrels in front, and he certainly couldn’t see any cliff. All he could see was the plain, and the other squirrels running near him. The news from the squirrels in front could be a lie. Or it could be a joke. Granted, it would be a bad joke. But still… something told him it was true. There had been rumors of this sort of thing before, passed backwards from somewhere up ahead, traveling rearward from mouth to mouth, squirrel to squirrel... And at that very moment, something deep inside Sam knew instinctively this plain would, in fact, end. At that moment he believed that every squirrel would one day stop running and fall. And a sadness came over Sam.
He looked up to see Hank watching him. “There’s more,” Hank said.
“Tell me,” said Sam.
“Well… they also say there’s a net. They say that if we all just keep left, just keep leaning and running and steering to the left, that there’s a big, huge net, ready to catch falling squirrels. They say there’s a safety net on the left side of the cliff.”
At this, Sam snorted out loud. He couldn’t help himself. A cliff was one thing. It made sense. It was somehow inevitable, logical. They couldn’t just go on running forever, after all. It made sense to him that all of this would someday end. But a net?
“You’re nuts,” Sam said.
“Please," pleaded Hank, "don’t make me hungry. Besides, what harm does it do to believe in a net?”
“You’re kidding, right?” said Sam with raised eyebrows. “You’ll drive everyone crazy. We’re all going our own way. No one wants to be told to change direction.”
“But…” stuttered Hank—“It doesn’t matter what way the other squirrels are going… if what the squirrels in front say is true, every way ends at the cliff… except the one way that ends at the net.”
But Sam had stopped listening and was busy running his own way.
After that, Hank and Sam debated off and on about the cliff and the net. Hank believed in both. Because Hank believed in things. Things he couldn’t see or prove or grab hold of. But Sam only believed in the cliff. Because he reasoned that some squirrel up ahead could actually have seen the edge coming in time to relay information backwards, to the squirrels behind, and so on. But a net? How could anyone know about that? How could a squirrel communicate after falling off the cliff? It just didn’t make sense to Sam.
As the weeks wore on, the two friends grew further and further apart. Because Hank was always leaning to the left. But Sam kept going his own way. Finally, one day, in desperation, Hank made his final plea. He didn’t want to lose his friend. They were almost out of sight of each other as it was.
“Sam,” shouted Hank, “please run to the left.”
“Why?” Sam yelled back in response, “It’s pointless. There’s just no proof of a net.”
Hank was not a learned squirrel. He was not a scholar. He was simple and furry and gray, and he was at the end of his cleverness. All he had left was his love for a friend.
“What have you got to lose by running to the left?” Hank pleaded. “If I’m right and there’s a net, we’re both saved. And if I’m wrong… well, then, you and I both end up over the cliff with all the rest of the squirrels. We fall, but at least we fall trying. But if you keep running your own way, and you’re wrong about the net…” he swallowed hard—“then you lose everything!” Hank held his breath, waiting for Sam to speak. Nothing.
“Sam?” Hank shouted—“Can you hear me? SAM?!”
But there was no response.
Two squirrels ran further and further apart on an open plain. They were surrounded by many, many other running squirrels, and they all ran towards a big, tall cliff. But to the left was a net.