The gems of learning we quote from the past all had a real, live beginning. Each crystallized out of a human story. If we could only know those stories.
Pebble in the Stream
Each storm has, like a navel, a hole in its middle
through which a gull can fly in silence…
— Anonymous, 14th century Japan
Who uttered this? What lead them to it? Were they broken in some war, left useless as a cart stripped of its wheels? Did they feel the silence while everyone fought above them? Or did they actually see a gull fly out of a storm and mirror it to life? Were they tumbling through some grief? Trying to swallow the death of a father or a child? Or did some long acceptance of wind and rain open their heart like a flower till they heard the ocean swell and crash though they were miles away? Who did they cough this up too? Was it a stranger or a friend? Did that person politely back away? What then? Did they retreat to scribble it on some shred of paper? In whose pocket was it found? Or was it left on the table of a loved one too stubborn to listen? What matters is passed in this way. Inside every utterance-reduced-to-a-quote is food from the gods wrapped in a struggle carried by someone awakened to life.
Like salt from a wave that’s left on shore, there’s this residue we call meaning, which we can bring like a smelling salt to those battered by the storm. Just yesterday, I was in a hospital, trying to soothe the broken fish flapping on their beds because I was one of them. Not knowing if my survival will be hopeful or taunting, I feel compelled to offer some small thing. Yesterday it was the gull. I waited for a break in their pain, waited to be invited in, and dropped the anonymous knowing between us like a pebble in the stream. It cleared our agitation for a moment.
Today, I keep thinking of the one, eight hundred years ago, who uttered this. I want he or she to know that what they found in their suffering or joy helps.
A Question to Walk With: Take a quote that is significant to you and trace or imagine the story it came from.
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