The story of Abu Kasem and his slippers could be read as a simple morality tale. There is a rich miser who has a run of bad luck, faces disgrace, and loses his money. Moral: avarice is bad. Bad things happen to people who love money too much, who don’t know how to share, who take advantage of the misfortunes of others. The miser gets what he deserves because what he does is not right.
We’ve heard this important message many times. If only more folks would take it to heart. But Kasem’s story is pretty elaborate and outlandish to convey such a straightforward lesson. We’re missing the juice if we don’t question this story more closely.
The miser’s downfall is the result of an absurd chain of events that revolves around a pair of slippers, slippers that almost see to behave don’t you think, in a peculiar manner. When Kasem tosses the old beat up slippers out of the window and they get caught in the nets of the fishermen and rip holes in those nets, we think “bad luck.” When he tries to bury the slippers in his backyard and is reported by a snoopy neighbor, we might think the same thing. But honestly, when the dog tosses the slippers off the balcony and they hit a pregnant woman on the head! And she has a miscarriage! Please.
Kasem tries and tries to get rid of his old slippers and they keep coming back. They keep finding him, like a loyal dog. So what are these slippers?
The clue is in the opening paragraph. The old slippers were inseparable from Kasem’s public character. Indeed, they are so well known and so closely identified with him that every problem they create is immediately traced back to him. The miser is, in a sense, these miserable, nasty slippers. They are his persona, that well cultivated sense of himself that he holds dear. They are other face of his riches, a kind of fetish. We notice that even when he tries to destroy the slippers, Kasem has to hold them in his own hands. He doesn’t ask his servants to dispose of them for him.
Kasem is passionate about the poverty of the slippers. He insists that what others recognize as a vice (his stinginess) is a virtue. This tells us something about personas and the way our cherished sense of how we appear to others can blind us to the truth. Oh, I shudder to think what others see and understand about me that is hidden from my view. Or worse yet, what I think that I’m hiding that is out in plain view! But then, we are, most of us, in the same boat.
When I read this story I feel a sense of fate. I wonder about destiny when I think about how those slippers kept finding their way back into Kasem’s life. How about you? Stay tuned…