The Man and The Couch

Written by Nate McKay : September 23, 2008

There is a man. And we’re sitting on his back.

Not directly on his back; but the couch we’re on does sit on his back. And since we’re on the couch, we’re sitting on his back.

I’m not sure how he got to where he is. Maybe I put him underneath, maybe you did, maybe someone long ago did. Whoever it was that first made him carry this couch doesn’t matter; we’re still on his back.

Who needs to argue history here?

Maybe there is more then one person carrying the couch we sit on. It could just be this guy though.

However, I’m sure comfortable up here. I really appreciate what that he carries us from here to there. But mostly I forget that he’s down on the ground,

with a couch on his back.

One day someone was missing from the couch. I couldn’t figure out where he went. Then I saw another set of feet by the man who carries our couch. So I decided to jump off and figure out what was going on.

“Why are you down here?” I asked my fellow couch potato.

“Well, while everyone was sleeping I saw this man crying. I couldn’t sleep with this noise, so I decided to find out what was the matter. He told me that every now and then his back really hurt from carrying this couch. Some days he can ignore it pretty well, others not so well. I figured since I haven’t stretched my legs in a while it might be a good to get some exercise, so I decided to help carry the couch. Then I realized that it was a lot of work to carry it and this man’s back must hurt quite a bit. So I stayed here.”

“Does it really hurt that bad?” I asked the man who carries the couch.

“Some days the pain is unbearable. Other days I can ignore it. But most days just fly by like a blur.”

So I decided to stay and help him carry the couch as well. It makes me sad when people cry.

After a few days of carrying the couch I decided that I needed a break. My friend had already gotten back up on the couch to rest a few times.

Why can’t I?

While I was resting upon the couch I told all of my friends of the adventures I had carrying this couch. I told them of the mans plight. And we all came to the conclusion that we must do something.

“Why does there need to be a couch?” A couchling asked. “We shouldn’t burden the man simply by providing an object for our own comfort. We can do away with it and simply sit on him. When we do this, then we will be able to better see the path he walks.”

I found this to be a great idea. We can all be enlightened as to the hardships others go through for our own comfort.

But soon the boniness of the man’s back began to make us all uncomfortable.

“Must I sit here, watching this man toil, it makes me uncomfortable. His back is awfully hard and when we consider it, we really haven’t helped him all that much. Maybe we should build a better couch, a couch that will not harm him so much. Maybe even one that will help him eat better!”

So we did. And we reflected upon the times when we helped carry the load, when we sacrificed our comforts for this man’s journey. We felt proud of ourselves, but soon forgot about the man.

I think of him from time to time. Some of us go down, a few at a time to help him carry the load. Give him new clothes. Even some new shoes from time to time. And we felt good about ourselves.

But all the while, the man continued to stumble on, with a couch upon his back.

Author Bio:: Nate is a Pentecostal who recently realize that he’s living in exile. He occasionally like to play shoegaze, write science fiction, and rant about things he doesn’t quite understand.

Image by David Austria.

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Viewing 10 Comments

    • ^
    • v
    Maybe I'm missing something, but I'm not sure I get it.
    Are you talking about "give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, teach a man to fish he'll start his own profitable fishing business?"
    • ^
    • v
    It's a parable of sorts obviously. I wrote it one day after it really hit me that the vast majority of our society is built on the backs of the third world, or those living in poverty period. We go and help out at times. Even try to change our society to make us uncomfortable. But when you get down to it, we're still being carried by the rest of the world. It's our comfort on their backs. At least that's the cliff notes version.

    The question is:

    How do we change that?

    Try to be respectful with any responses.
    • ^
    • v
    The simple answer is I don't know, Nate. I think things might be better if we sofa-sitters didn't exist.

    I like your parable. It reminds me of a script my friend once wrote which was about an evil Blofeld character who had invented the world's most powerful weapon - the armchair. Bond sat in the chair and was bombarded with images of pain and suffering, and ultimately was shaken but not stirred.
    • ^
    • v
    I almost cried while reading this...
    • ^
    • v
    Sad but all too true.
    How often people feel that throwing scraps of used clothing makes up for our ride.
    It reminds me of a "reality show" that National Geographic had several years ago. A family from St. Louis was sent to live with a nomadic family in Mongolia. First thing the father did when he got back to his home was send a chain saw to the Mongol family. We have way too much stuff and so little wisdom.
    • ^
    • v
    wow, thanks for writing that. Right now I feel like I'm off the couch and having a chat with some of the folks underneath it, but I still find myself looking forward to the time I can go back to sitting and talking about my experiance. This metaphor is really quite accurate I think.

    The more I think about it, the more I think that there will always be people sitting on couches, and simply getting up off our butts may not be quite enough; we must find ways to help carry the load. And not just enable the people under the couch to get their own couches either. How does that happen? God help us find a way.
    • ^
    • v
    Will I be chided relentlessly if I question the nature of your couch?
    In what ways do I, sitting in Panera on a leather chair, typing on a laptop, ride on the backs of the third world? I have an infinitely better quality of life than 90% of the world's population, and I have not worked for over three years since I went back to school.
    But how would they be better off if I were not sitting here? What could I actually be doing to make their lives better? What are the actual barriers to improvement over their lives?
    Would buying fair trade coffee make that much of a difference, or does it merely misdirect scarce resources and perpetuate the poverty of others?
    Would it be better for me to consume less? Would the reduction in demand help those who produce at the lowest levels, or take even the low-paying job they have now away from them?
    My understanding at this point requires that we work not for equality in ends but rather justice in means. The most oppressive institutions are not market based but government based. The best possible aid to poor Hatians is to give them each a green card. Artificial barriers to participation in voluntary processes are better identified as FORCE.
    That couch you are carrying has a name, it is THE STATE. When you ride the couch you rely on GOVERNMENT PRIVILEGE.
    How can we best help these people? Work for open boarders, free markets, elimination of privilege (especially corporate), and invite or sponsor the oppressed to live with us.
    Sitting on a couch implies no guilt.
    • ^
    • v
    There isn't enough space on the couch for everyone.
    • ^
    • v
    You raise some equally important points here.

    Personally, I feel convicted -- I believe convicted by God-- to a life of compassion for the poor --those upon whom the wealthier of us rest our feet, whether we care to realize it or not. I do not, however, believe that everyone does or should share that conviction. Some are called, as it were, to "go as poor among the poor", while others are called to use their resources and position to do what they can in the hierarchies of power, be it the church, the state, or what have you. I think if you can honestly say that you are using the resources at your disposal for the good of humanity, to benefit people of all "worlds", then perhaps the man on whose back our couch is resting may well be cheering you on, gladly carrying you toward a better future.

    As for the question of whether there is enough space on the couch for everyone, I think that may be an image of the "new earth" we are hoping towards as Christians.
    • ^
    • v
    I would argue that if one is truly using the resources at their disposal, one has already jumped off the couch.

    The image of a new earth would most certainly be what we are hoping for.


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