Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Story - The Girl Who Grew Flowers


One day a man, a gardener, passed a large house. The house had many floors and obviously many rooms, but it was the garden which caught his interest, for as he looked, he saw there was something wrong with the flowers.
          The flowers, which he recognised, should have been white and yellow with purple edges, but they had somehow become contaminated and were speckled with black flecks. The gardener bent down and stroked the petals, half expecting the flecks to be dust from one of the nearby factories, or mud splattered from the road. But it was none of these. The flecks were part of the flowers.
          Just then a young girl came out of the house. She looked up and saw the man, who seemed old and kind to her, standing by her fence. She smiled a brilliant smile – until she saw him examining the flowers. Then her smile faded and she made to turn away.
          ‘Wait,’ he called. ‘Tell me about the flowers. Why are they marked like this?’
          The girl hesitated, then came over. ‘I don’t know,’ she told him. ‘But I wish with all my heart that they weren’t.’
          The man nodded, understanding. ‘Have you tried washing them?’ he said.
          She nodded.
          ‘Hmm, have you tried moving them to another part of the garden?’
          ‘Yes, but it made no difference. I’ve tried putting them where there is sun all the time. And putting them in the shade. And even growing them on their own in a green house, but nothing changes them. They always come up with these marks and I hate it because everyone who goes past, sees them and thinks that’s all I can grow.’ The girl looked down, her face fixed as if trying not to cry.
          The man was quiet for a moment. Then, pointing towards the garden gate he asked if he could come in. The girl nodded.
          He walked slowly, opening the gate with a thoughtful frown creasing his forehead. As he approached the girl he saw her step back slightly so he slowed more, and sat on the grass – not wanting to frighten her.
And that’s when he felt it.
          ‘What the matter with this soil?’ he murmured, bending forwards.
          The girl, surprised, looked up from herself. ‘What?’ she asked.
          ‘The soil. There’s something not right with this soil. I work with plants too, you see,’ he told her. ‘And I know this earth is not as it should be.’ He bent low and sniffed.
          It looked funny to the girl, to see him curled over, bending low. She felt that at any moment he would topple forward, and for a moment she had to look away to hide a nervous giggle. But when she saw him dig his fingers into the soil and rub them together with quite the most tender touch she had ever seen, she fell silent inside. And in that silence she saw him more clearly than she had before: she saw a compassion she was not used to; an understanding she had not experienced. Moreover, she also saw that he was not old as she had thought; he was in fact much younger. What had appeared as age to her, was in truth the manner of a powerful and loving man - who cared deeply for what he touched.
          ‘What is it you see?’ she asked, curious as she had not been before.
          The man looked up, opening his mouth to speak, but then stopped. The expression on her face made him see that she was not the young girl he’d previously thought her. She was a woman, and the realisation surprised him.
          ‘Er,’ he started, regaining his thoughts. ‘The soil here is not clean. It has some sort of tar running through it. The flowers cannot grow as they should…’ he paused and sniffed the ground again, and this time the woman, growing more and more curious, did like-wise.
          Together, their heads side by side, they examined the soil, and saw that far from the flowers doing badly, there were doing surprisingly well.
          ‘Why did you choose this garden to plant them in?’ the man asked, looking at her deeply, still trying to accept the change he’d seen come over her.
          ‘I…’ the woman hesitated, trying to recall accurately. The closeness of the man, who was seeming younger and more familiar to her all the time, was distracting her. ‘I wanted my flowers to be seen here. I knew I could grow beautiful flowers, because of the ones I grow inside the house, but nobody could see-‘
          ‘Inside the house? You have other flowers?’ The man interrupted her, standing up. ‘Show me, please. Let me see them!’
          She looked up at him a moment, then rose. ‘They’re in the courtyard,’ she said, and led the way to the house. She wanted to run ahead but the man, despite his eagerness, walked slowly - seeing everything. This impressed her and she hung back by his side. And so, in this way they passed into the house: the man stopping to look at this and that, asking her questions about the things there. And the woman found herself answering about those things in a new way: she had always been eager to share and talk of her possessions, but his tenderness led her to a stillness free of that compulsion, and now her answers, new and courageous, surprised her.
          At last they came out into a central quadrant of the house. And there the man found himself in a magnificent garden, surrounded by the most beautiful, perfect flowers. They spread everywhere around them; growing in buckets and pots, on ledges and in window beds and - he noticed - directly from the ground. He touched and stroked them all, admiring the colours which were pure and untarnished. Almost translucent.
          ‘These are amazing!’ he asserted. ‘The best I’ve ever seen.’
          The woman smiled for a moment, but then her face darkened. ‘If only the soil out there was good, then everyone would see my beautiful flowers.’
          The man stopped. He heard the sad anger in her voice and turned. ‘It will not help to be angry with the earth,’ he said. ‘As bad as it may be, it still nourished those tender buds.’
          ‘Then maybe I should never have planted them,’ she said defiantly. ‘Why should I care if no one sees these, my real flowers. And if it is that soil that has ruined them, then I hate that ground. Why should I give it anything!’
          ‘Where did those flowers by the road come from?’ he said.
          The woman’s eyes softened, weary. ‘I bought them as seeds; as I did these.’
          ‘So,’ he said, ‘they have potential, don’t they? What a triumph it would be to nurture those other buds to this glory.’
          ‘But I’ve planted so many,’ she sighed. ‘I’ve tried to give them all the love I can and I’m tired. And I’m tired of no one seeing what I can really do.’
          ‘Listen, you have planted flowers out there, and though not perfect, they are growing. And the flowers growing in here - your true flowers unaffected by the outside - well, they are perfect. Perhaps if you took some of these, and planted them amongst the others, then the added power, the extra beauty, would help support them… perhaps it might even hasten the healing of the ground.’
          ‘You think I should be trying to heal the soil?’

          The man gently took her hands in his, a promise in his touch. ‘I think,’ he told her, his eyes bright with belief. ‘That you already are.’

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Story - The Princess' Road

Once there was a Princess and a Queen who lived alone in a palace.  And the palace, although not large, was still a proper palace and around it was a beautiful, ornamental garden.  A garden filled with many beautiful flowers which the Princess had planted herself. For everyday, since the day she had first been able to walk, she had wandered through the garden, digging her small hands into the soil and pushing seeds into the moist earth.  Indeed, as time went by the palace gardens had become so full of flowers that it was impossible to look anywhere without seeing fields of vibrant colour.  To the Princess this was wonderful, and normal, and all she had ever known, but to her mother it felt as if she was surrounded, and trapped by an overwhelming beauty. And she often complained.

You see the old Queen had never left the palace, nor did she want to.  She had always felt that if she went away from the glamour of the palace, people might not know that she was a Queen.  Therefore she made sure she stayed within the boundaries of its grounds, or better still within the protection of its walls, where it would always be obvious and clear that she was a Queen.  And not only to others, but to herself too.

Now although the Queen never wanted to leave the palace grounds, at times she still needed to go further a field, so it became necessary for the palace grounds to grow in size.  As a result of this the palace and the grounds had become so large that it was quite possible to become lost, inside them.  That is not to say that the Queen nor the Princess became lost, unable to find their way, but that they were ‘lost’ inside their shared world. 

The Queen was not concerned about this, but the Princess was.  She felt that the grounds were her mother’s world, and even though she had planted many flowers which were her own, she did not feel fully at home.  So one day she decided that she would build a small garden of her own and surround it with a brick wall.  She collected together the materials she needed, and started to build.  It was hard work which hurt her hands, but slowly it grew in size and strength, surrounding her in a perfect circle.  It had taken quite a while, and by the time she was finished she had become so familiar and comfortable inside, that she did not want to leave it.  It became her home.

Inside her wall the princess’ flowers grew well, but she had forgotten the flowers that were outside and when the wall became so high that she could no longer see them, they began to die.  The Queen noticed and even though she had once felt threatened by their beauty, she realised that she had begun to rely on their splendour.  They made her palace grounds special, and herself more distinctive.  She knew death of the flowers was because her daughter now never left the small walled garden she had created, and agonised over what to do.  She needed to find a way to tempt the Princess back out into the larger grounds, and in time came upon the idea of sending her daughter on a journey that would force her to leave her walled garden.  So the Queen went to see her daughter, and told her that it was necessary for her to carry a message to the next kingdom.  The daughter did not want to leave, yet her mother made such a fuss, accusing her daughter of all sorts of betrayals, that the Princess was left with no choice but to carry out the task.

The Princess in turn agonized over what to do, and thought long and hard.  Eventually though she had an idea: she had plenty of materials left to build bricks with and so she could extend her walled garden, and effectively take it with her.  Excited, she began to build and slowly the walled garden stretched across the palace grounds and out into new countryside.  The Princess had never been outside of the grounds before and sometimes she was quite frightened, so during those times she built the wall a little higher and made herself feel safe.  At other times though, she would like the things she saw around her and would build the wall a little lower.

Now although the Princess had become very good the making bricks and building walls, she was still moving quite slowly, and therefore she was able to absorb everything around her.  That is to say she was able to see everything.  However one-day, while she was building her walled garden through a part of the countryside that seemed peaceful and beautiful, she heard a voice coming from a place in which she could see nothing.

“What are you doing?”  said the voice.

“I am travelling,” said the Princess.

“Travelling?  Then why are you building a wall around you as you travel?”

The Princess opened her mouth to answer, but realised she could not remember.  It had been so long since she had first built her wall, that she could not remember exactly why she did it.  “Um, because I have always done so, I think.”

“Oh. Can I help you then?”

“Yes,” said the Princess.  “I would be very happy to have friend.”

The invisible person climbed over the wall.  “Show me what to do,” she said.

And so the Princess began to teach her new invisible friend how to build the wall, and immediately they fell into a new pattern of working. The Princess would make bricks, and her friend would lay them.  They were now able to move much faster and they passed places and scenes the Princess had never seen the like of before.  However her new invisible friend had, and she would tell the Princess about them.  In this way the Princess learnt that although moving slowly and looking around so carefully had shown her many things, she now realised that she had not always seen correctly.  For this reason she was very excited and pleased to have her invisible friend with her, and began to wonder about other things too.  Sometimes, for example, she wondered what a friend really looked like, and several times she asked her.  But her invisible friend would always reply, “I don’t know, I am invisible.”

After the Princess and her invisible friend had travelled a certain distance, the Princess realised that she had run out of materials with which to make new bricks.  She sat down worried, and did not know what to do. 

“What’s the matter?”  said her friend.

“I can’t make any more bricks,” said the Princess.  “I can’t go any further.”

The Princess heard a sound and realised her invisible friend had sat down next to her, and was thinking the problem through with her.  The Princess smiled, she could feel the presence of a true friend. She was tempted to reach out her hand and touch her, but she was scared of what she might feel, since she still had no idea of what kind of person or thing her friend really was. 

It was while she was thinking these thoughts that her friend suddenly said, “I know, let’s use the bricks from the back of the wall to build at the front.”

The Princess jumped up.  She was excited, realising that in this way she would never run out of bricks.  She would be able to go where ever she wanted and always have a wall around her.  She immediately ran to the back of the wall, collected as many bricks as she could carry, and brought them to the front.  “I’ll build the front,” said her friend.  “While you collect the bricks.”  Again the pair worked as a team, the Princess collecting all bricks, and her invisible friend building at the front. 

However, the Princess was so excited and busy collecting the bricks that she did not notice that not quite as many bricks were appearing at the front, as were disappearing at the back.  So it was with a shock that she stopped one day, looked around herself, and saw that her wall had almost disappeared.  She also saw that her flowers were now spreading beyond the boundaries of the wall, and had blown their seeds so far that they had created huge fields and meadows.  All around the Princess was the colours of the flowers, dancing in the summer winds. 

The Princess turned around and around looking, amazed at what she saw, until her eyes fell upon a long narrow pathway, running through the fields of flowers.  As she looked closer she saw that the pathway was a road, a road which was made with the bricks from her wall.  Her invisible friend had secretly been laying a road instead of building the wall.  The Princess felt a pang of nervousness, but also excitement.  For she saw how her wall had become a pathway.  A pathway through a countryside covered in her flowers.

“Do you like it?” said the gentle voice of her invisible friend, slipping her hand into the hand of the Princess’s.

The Princess looked down, the hand had felt just like her own. So much so that she was almost not surprised to see that it was her own two hands that were classed together. “Yes I do,” she told the voice, the voice in her own heart.

“Look at your road,” said the voice, “look at what’s happening.”

The Princess looked, and there in the distance, far far back along the road that she had built, was small figures walking her pathway. And amongst them, was the Queen, her mother, walking tentatively but surely over the bricks.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Story - The True Nature of Abundance

One day a young man came to the temple of an old venerable Master. He found the Great man in his garden, and eagerly beseeched him. "Great Sir, I wish to know the true nature of abundance. I want to learn how to manifest it within myself—by myself. But first I know I need to understand it. Will you instruct me?"
          The Master examined him closely, and though seeing the man's ambitions and desires, saw also that his heart was open and good. He agreed to guide him and told him that to find the truth within the nature of abundance he must meditate on the nature of all the world's gifts. Then, playfully, he tapped his wrist and asked him. "How long have you got?"
          The young man, not seeing the twinkle in the Master's eyes, immediately answered, "I have two days, Sir. I have scheduled for it!"
          The Master's eyebrows raised slightly but he made no comment. Instead leading the young man to a quiet corner of the temple he told him to sit in stillness and first consider wealth. The young man nodded eagerly and sat down. The Master withdrew again to his garden.
          It was near the end of the first day when the young man reappeared.
          "Great Sir, I have considered money, and I confess I'd come here thinking it to be a great power. I believed it to be a force that would be able to lead me to achieve and obtain all of my desires.
          "Yet I have found it is not a power in itself. I can see no way to make it, or even use it, without other people, without a system. And if I try to see it as something coming from within me, something I can truly manifest, I fail. It seems there must always be something that comes first, something behind it. What is that thing, Sir?"
          "Come tomorrow," said the Master.
          The next day the young man came just after the sun had risen. "What shall I consider today, Sir?
          "Consider... all," said the Master simply. The young man nodded and immediately entered the temple.
          It was almost dark when the Master went looking for him, and found him much puzzled.
          "Sir, I have done as you bid and considered many things. After yesterday's failure I did not know where to put my attention, so I asked myself what I knew that was in abundance. Strangely, I heard myself answered with the bizarre and abstract. For example, I found myself thinking about the bounty of the world itself: the rain that always comes, the air which is within and around everything, and the light beaming constantly from the sun. However, none felt right, none felt complete on its own. And again, all of it was still outside me. All was not mine. Sir, I am no nearer to my goal."
          The Master regarded him with a gentle, but penetrating stare before saying simply, "Tomorrow."
The young man, already much changed from the 'scheduler' who had first entered the temple, nodded. He rose and walked slowly away, as if every step was being watched for some clue to his quest.
          The next day the young man was seated in the temple even before the Master himself had arrived. The old man smiled him a blessing and left him with no words to disturb his silent pilgrimage. Returning to his garden the Master passed the day in joyful expectation. Sure now of what was to come. And indeed, it was barely noon when he at last heard the cry.
          He watched with a delighted smile as the young man came rushing across the garden towards him. When he arrived, thrown onto the grass beside him, the Master could see plainly his student's eyes burning with great joy.
          "Master, it is Love! This above all others is the true nature of abundance. It is infinite, it requires no materials, it reproduces itself indefinitely, and, and infinitely. It is... it is... in everything, and everything comes from it. It is love that is behind all those other things. It is love that creates yet needs nothing to be created. And Master, it is within me! I can love, I can always love. I can love anything I want, there are no limitations, there are no rules. I can be abundant!"
The young man leaped to his feet, his face beaming. Sure in his own mind that he had completed the task.
          The Master regarded him with delight and curiosity, and seeing that the young man felt satisfied, he bowed gently to indicate his blessing and bid the young man good bye.
          However, he was not surprised when the man returned, somewhat quieter, within a day.
          "Great Sir, what is the true nature of Love?"
          The Master smiled and asked him to sit next to him for a moment. Before responding he let his eyes wander, considering his own answer. They passed from the passion of the young soul beside him, to the flowers of his garden, rich in their colour and blessings. He thought of the delicacy of their veins, the silkiness of the petals, and the fragile yet resilient stems. Then, there beside him he saw his watering can, reminding him of its sacred liquid that was so humble it held no colour, nor taste; that it was willing to adopt any shape, and fall to fill from the lowest level, and yet without it nothing could live.
          From there his thoughts drifted across the garden to the surrounding trees, rising above them in wise grandeur, and then on, carried by the wings of myriad birds. As he flew with them, he thought of the earth and all its life-giving fields, forests, rivers. And the oceans, each one powerful in its healing of the world - absorbing the symptoms of disharmony, re-balancing life. Ever cleansing.
          And on and on his mind flew, with grace and speed it landed on distant shores, grazing the slopes of smooth hills, each one bearing the Master’s inner knowing higher, until it was flung vertically upwards by the majestic gradient and power of the tallest mountains. Flung now, through the sky that grew ever deeper in colour, until at last his mind burst into space.
          Now the Master ‘saw’ new scenes roll by: the incalculable stars, the untold worlds, but, most of all, the size of the womb-like blackness! The blissful, never ending, ever-expanding enormity of the All.
          Slowly, with a gentle tenderness, the Master’s meditation ended and he turned to the young man who still sat quietly, obediently, by his side. Looking into his eyes the Master saw that at last they reflected the sweetest of all things: the longing. The desire to know, to know that which in itself brought ever perpetuating joy. In a breathless whisper, and this time with the utmost solemnity, he asked the young man a second time:
          "How long... have you really got?"

Friday, 26 December 2014

Story - The Peace Gulls

Once upon a time, two ordinary, everyday gulls were walking over the sand dunes, on their favourite beach, when they came across an amazing sight. There in the sand was a pulsating, bubbling, inky-black pond. The gulls knew that it was profoundly evil. They knew this because as they looked in horror and revulsion, they could feel the blackness dragging them towards it. They knew its evil attraction, its demonic longing. They even felt their eyes being sucked towards it.

“We must get away,” cried Albert. “It is evil, it wants to kill us; I just know it.”

However, Paul his companion was less excitable – and more adventurous. He wanted to investigate, and he went close enough to see into the inky blackness – where, for a second, he thought saw a flash of something familiar. He had no idea what it was, but he could not just walk away and leave the pool.

“Maybe we can do something, you know, to get rid of it,” he said, not even aware of why he was saying so.

“Get rid of it!” Albert gasped. “Are you crazy? It’s huge; it could be who knows how deep. We’re just gulls. What could we possibly do?”

But Paul was still peering into the blackness, wondering what he had seen. “I don’t know, but it doesn’t feel right to just leave it. Something… someone might fall into it. We should try to do something.” He thought for a second then said, “We could push the sand in from the sides, and fill it in.”

There was an affected choking sound beside him. “FILL IT IN?” came the words, spluttered out at last. “It’s much too big! Besides,” Albert added, a bit calmer. “The sand would just sink to the bottom and the pond would still be there.

Paul nodded sadly, knowing this was true. “Perhaps,” he said after a few minutes. “Perhaps it would burn. We could set fire to it and burn it away.”

Albert’s head snapped around. “I saw that once,” he said, excited now himself. “I saw something like a big black lake burning. It made a horrible smell, but it was definitely burning itself away. That just might work you know. And at the very least it would stop anyone falling into it.”

So the gulls agreed, and Albert, who was fond of a little smoke in the evening, took out his pipe lighter while Paul gathered some dry brushwood and leaves, and piled them at the side of the black pond.

Albert lit them, and together they pushed them into the strange black goo. There was a sucking sound, and the burning brushes sank into the blackness. But it did not catch fire.

“I guess it’s not the same stuff,” said Albert.

The gulls stood and looked sadly at the pond, wondering what to try next, when they heard a cry above them. Looking up they saw a brilliant white dove diving towards them. While calling over and over again, the dove seemed to increase its speed and angle of descent, making the gulls wonder if it would be able to slow in time to land. But the dove didn’t land; instead, to the gulls’ shock, amazement, and disbelief, the dove plunged right into the middle of the evil black pond…and disappeared.

“Good heavens!” exclaimed Albert. “What was that?”

“That,” came an awed and breathless voice beside him, “Was a Peace Dove.”

Albert turned slowly, his eyes narrowing as he saw Paul staring, enraptured, at the spot where the dove had disappeared.


“A Peace Dove. Sent from heaven.” Paul replied, not taking his eyes away from the still rippling surface of the pool.

“Oh my God,” exclaimed Albert. “He’s finally lost it.”

Albert did of course know the story of the Peace Doves, how these magical creatures would descend to earth in times of trouble and help the animals with their problems. But it was a fairy tale; everyone knew that. Or ought to.

“Now, listen Paul,” he said, trying to be reasonable. “There is no such thing as a Peace Dove. That was probably a mad dove—or a stupid one. Either way, it is now a dead dove.”

“It was a Peace Dove,” Paul replied insistently. “And I know they really exist because my mother told me they did and she knew everything.”

“I suppose she told you that too,” Albert muttered unkindly.

But Paul didn’t respond, for at that moment the dove reappeared. It was barely recognizable, covered as it was in a thick shiny layer of the goo, but it was the same dove nonetheless and it seemed completely unharmed. It slowly made its way to the side of the pond, waded out and turned to the two gulls. It watched them silently for a second, then gave a sharp, rousing call that they didn’t understand but which filled them both with a feather-twitching tingle. Then it opened it wings and lifted itself from the ground.

Higher and higher the dove flew. The blackness clung to it like mud and none dripped away, none let go. It was as if the blackness was either trying to go along or pull the dove back to the ground. Nevertheless the dove carried that evil goo high into the bright sunlit sky.

From the ground the two gulls watched with open mouths, as the dove became an ever-smaller dot of blackness in the infinite blue. Blackness that is, until suddenly there was a bright flash and all the evil goo covering the dove disappeared.

Just one flash and the dove was once again brilliant white.

But then, once again it was diving towards the ground. It hit the black pond and disappeared again with a plop. A second later it surfaced, weighed down by more blackness, and lifted into the sky—again pausing to call to the gulls as it did.

It was after the third time that the gulls understood what it was doing. “Look!” Paul cried, pointing at the pool edge. “The level it is going down. The Peace Dove is taking the stuff away; it’s draining the pond.”

The dove dropped again, and collected more blackness. But what the gulls saw this time, once the dove had lifted away and left the surface lower again, chilled their blood. There, near the far side of the pool, and barely discernible under the thick, inky sludge was the tip of a bird’s wing.

Paul immediately rushed around the pond and began pulling at the wing tip with his beak. “Help me!” he called to Albert. Although to be fair, even the cautious Albert was already hurrying to join him.

Together they pulled and pulled at the wing of whatever poor creature was stuck in the blackness, but could not get the bird free.

“What shall we do?” Albert groaned, falling back onto the sand. But even as he spoke, Paul was in the air. “This is not the way,” he cried and beat hard to gain height. Albert stared in shock as he saw Paul rise then flip over, and start to dive towards the center of the pool.

“NO!” screamed Albert, “You’ll be killed! You’re not a Peace Dove.”

A second later Paul hit the surface and was gone. And Albert was left with a terrible memory: the echo in his head of Paul’s final words to him: “You said there was no such thing. If he can do it, then so can I.”

* *

Albert sat on the sand and groaned. Guilt and fear filled him. Why did he try to make his friend think the dove was not special? Why did he make him believe there was no difference between himself, an ordinary common bird, and that brilliant and beautiful gift from heaven? If he hadn’t, Paul would never have seen himself as equal; he would never have tried such a thing.

The remorse Albert felt threatened to drain him of all hope and life.

But then, impossible though it should be, Paul re-appeared. He was covered, black beyond night and barely recognizable. But it was Paul—healthy, alive Paul. Albert jumped up—relief and joy flooding him as he rushed to help Paul drag himself free of the pool.

“It’s heavy, Albert,” he gasped, catching his breath. “But I can do it. I can do it!”

Then, barely pausing to get his balance, he began to beat with his wings and lift himself into the air. Immediately Albert joined him, encouraging him on—knowing that the only way Paul would be free of the blackness would be to take it as high as he could; high enough for it to go from him as it had from the Peace Dove.

Within seconds of leaving the ground, the Peace Dove joined them, also encouraging Paul, its eyes burning fierce with its own determination and joy. Together the three birds flew higher and higher until, with a triumphant shriek from the Peace Dove, Paul was surrounded by brilliant light, and was instantly returned to his previous self—though perhaps a little more brightly so.

The dove gave a long call and disappeared in another flash of light.

* *

Albert and Paul stared at the spot where the dove had been.

“He was teaching us, Albert. He was showing us how to do it.”

Albert said nothing. He knew it to be true, yet his fear and guilt made it hard for him to say so.

Paul began to drop. “I’m going to get some more,” he called.

Albert winced. He couldn’t bear to see Paul covered in the evil blackness again. He was terrified his friend might not make it a second time. He caught up with Paul and tried to talk him out of it, but Paul was insistent, declaring that he felt stronger and that he knew it would be easier.

“It’s not that hard, Albert”, Paul cried, “I feel so light! You can do it too! If we both do it we’ll drain the pond in no time.”

Albert was no longer the same gull that had called Paul foolish. He knew he would join his friend. Not because he believed he could, but because he would no longer leave it to chance that Paul would be okay. He would follow him even into the heart of the black pool, if only to make sure he came out again. Together the two birds turned and dived into the pool.

They hit the surface and Albert felt as if he had dropped into a soft sleepy blanket. It was comfortable and quiet, and he could have easily stopped and stayed in it had it not been for his concern for Paul, whom he could no longer see. He turned and struggled back to the surface. To his relief Paul appeared at the same time, and Albert’s every thought now filled with the desire to get Paul out of the pool as quickly as possible. He nudged and pushed his friend to the edge, in a way that made Paul laugh. It was only once they were free of the pool, even with the blackness that clung to them that Albert was at last able to realize what they had done.

Two things struck him immediately. The first was that once out of the blackness, he could sense and feel just how evil it really was, how easy it would have been to be sucked into its sleepy folds. The other was how much the two of them had taken from the pool. It had dropped dramatically, and the bird they had first seen just a wing of, was now half freed.

Albert tried to stagger around the pool to get to the trapped bird, but Paul called him back. “It won’t work,” he said. “ I can’t explain it, but I know that the only way is to take the blackness away from around him first.”

And so, trusting his companion, Albert joined Paul in the long slow climb to where the blackness would be lifted from their bodies. And when it was, Albert experienced such joy, such relief and lightness, that he immediately turned and dropped back to fetch more himself.

As the two birds worked together the surface of the pool dropped quickly. With each trip into the sky they grew stronger. They experienced feelings of excitement and purpose. But the most remarkable thing was what happened to their vision. For the more they carried, the more they could see. And what strange things they saw. At first they were aware of indefinable glimpses, flashes, and twinkles that puzzled and delighted them. But then the glimpses solidified into flocks of birds of all shapes, sizes and colors, dropping and soaring from the earth to the sky. As they rose they carried darkness; as they dropped they brought light. The birds cleared not just dark pools like the one they themselves were draining, but they cleaned the very ground itself.

Albert and Paul yearned to stop and watch what the other birds were doing; yet their concern for the poor bird caught in the pool below spurned them on. The level dropped and the bird was revealed. They saw that it was a small sandpiper.

When at last it was free Albert and Paul carried it up out of the dried-out hollow. They laid the bird on the sand and pushed open its mouth and eyes. The sandpiper blinked and looked up at them. “Oh my God!” it gasped. “Peace Gulls!”

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Story - The Selfish Youth

One day a youth arrived in a country that was unknown to him, and from a country that was unknown to the land he’d arrived in. Indeed, no one he met had visited his land, no one had heard of it – in fact, no one even believed in it. However the youth was not troubled by the peoples’ disbelief in his origin, for if they could not accept what he himself knew to be true it only made it all the easier for him to dismiss the conviction with which they condemned his quest. For condemn it they did.

You see the youth had left his home to please himself: to find whatever made him happy, to enjoy all the world’s delights; to obtain for himself that which would make him content. Yet when he told the people his dream and purpose, they called him a fool and named him ‘Selfish’. Though the youth frowned at the word, he did not argue – for in truth he understood them no better than they he. It took the interruptions of Life to bring common understanding.

For it so happened that one day the youth was walking by the river when he came upon a group of the townsfolk in great distress. A young child had fallen from a boat and had been swept to where she now clung desperately to a rock that had both saved and imprisoned her in the center of the rushing water. The child was obviously in great danger, as would be any who tried to reach her, for the river here was too fast and hazardous to be entered by man or boat. Yet when the youth saw the child he thought no more of her dilemma than how best to solve it, which he did with a curious trick.

He watched the water a good while, studying its flows and eddies and learning its ways. After which he walked up stream and calmly threw himself in. The people stared in amazement as the river seemed to grab hold of the youth, carry him to the rock, allow him to grasp the child, and then carry him onwards to where the flow neared the bank again and the youth was able to struggle out. When he made his way back to the people, who rushed to meet him, he was genuinely surprised at the words of praise and gratitude that rained on his head. Bemused, the youth placed the shivering child into her mother’s arms and returned to his stroll. The people watched after him with new eyes.

This may have turned the peoples’ favor towards him. Yet when they later told him with great passion that he could not truly be selfish if he would so casually risk his life, he simply replied that to be ‘selfish’, as they put it, was all he wished for. So the people, being of devout humility and duty, again managed to become scornful - if a little less certain about it.

Yet their resolve was further tested when later it happened that the youth came upon a man begging for food in the street. Surprised that no other seemed to see the man, he took it upon his time to sit and share his lunch with the man. The beggar was much affected by this passing, and asked the youth if he was indeed the one who called selfish, when he youth smiled and nodded happily, the man shook his head with confusion and wonder.

And so it went on, each time the youth saw some need, he filled it; each time the people said he wasn’t selfish, he vexed them by affirming he was - and happy about it.

Eventually the people became so exasperated with the youth’s duality, that they sent their oldest and wisest one to speak with him; to learn the truth of this anomaly. When the old one asked the youth why he called himself selfish, the youth shrugged and said that he understood that to be the right word for someone who sought only to make the self happy. The old one replied that was indeed so, but if that was his only wish, why did he go out of his way to help others. The youth frowned and responded that was his way. So the old one asked the youth he would call one who did nothing for another. And it was to this that the boy made a curious comment: He said that in his land anyone who ignored the self, whether the Self within his body or the Self within another’s, could never be described as one who was true in his path of Self-fishing.

The old one started and stared at the youth, before throwing back gray locks to laugh, enjoying the absurdity of such a large misunderstanding based merely upon an unfamiliar word. Yet when the aged eyes fell again on the youth they met a face so full of purity that certainty fell away. So much so in fact that, as the old one left, the youth heard the word, ‘self-fishing’ repeated over and over from the old one’s lips.

The next day, when the people came to hear the judgement of their wisest, they discovered no sign of the elder - finding instead, a large note pinned on the door reading:

‘Gone Self-fishing’.

Journal - Dolphin Experience

A female dolphin I used to look after always wanted to play
longer and to do things in her own way. Her temperament was gentle, patient, and...

...one day, when taking a break from the cleaning work, I’d been sitting at the pool-side, with my feet hanging in the water. Squeak had been trying to jump over my knees, making me a little anxious that she might land on me, when she suddenly stopped and turned her attention to my feet. She slowly, very slowly, positioned herself so that one of my feet was between her jaws; she didn't snap at my foot, and as soon as she was in position she stopped. Yet it worried me and I pulled my foot away; it's hard to let anything with nearly ninety teeth and an extremely strong jaw do with your foot. She didn't seem surprised by my reaction, she merely rolled onto her side and looked at me (dolphins have a blind spot in their vision straight ahead, so I guessed that this was what she was doing) then she swam off. She circled the pool once, came back and did it again. It was so weird; she came towards my feet, then slowly open her mouth and positioned it as before. This time I didn't move my foot - that was until she started to close her mouth, which I couldn't bear and pulled it back again.

Nevertheless, she didn't give up; she again rolled on her side, made a single circuit of the pool, and tried again. The next time she managed to close her mouth a little bit more before the 'rational' part of me won and I pulled my foot away again. Squeak had great patience, and repeated the whole pattern a further three times, each occasion getting her jaws closer together before I would ‘chicken’ out. Eventually she succeeded in closing her mouth completely over my foot, and I found myself in the 'unreal' situation of having my foot held like an egg in her mouth, feeling her move her tongue under my sole. It was like being in a kind of suspended animation where your whole body goes kind of electrified. It was only broken when she started to move her head, gently scraping my skin (dolphins often scrape each other with their teeth, which is what causes the lines along their bodies and although I'm not going to pretend I know why, it does seem to be anything but aggressive). Unfortunately this snapped me out of the trance and I lost my nerve again. I pulled my foot away - she instantly and deliberately let go. I struggled to my feet and walked away; I was confused, shaking, and I couldn't look at her. It left me in a state of shock.

Story - Granddad’s Apples

‘It was the apples that saved me, you know.’

My grandfather - self appointed storyteller.

He’d said it as I walked in the door like it was a ‘Hello’. I remember I’d eyed him for a second. It was his way with me then, in that time when he was still living with us. He’d throw some obscure statement at me, then wait and see if I’d bite.

You see, back then, when he first told me the ‘Story of the Apples’, I was pretty arrogant; I thought I knew it all and that everyone else was either ignorant or backward. Of course, it was really that I thought I ought to know it all, and too scared to admit I didn’t. Granddad knew that.

‘Cut him some slack.’ Was my dad’s advice when I’d complained about how much the old man teased me. ‘He’s an incorrigible, devious, truth manipulating, sly and possibly evil-minded old sod – or so he always insists.’ His serious expression cracked and laughed at his father’s joke (he laughed just like Granddad too), then he smiled at some unspoken memory. ‘He was a great dad, you know,’ he went on, before adding in a kid’s sing-song voice: ‘My dad’s makes up better stories than your dad does!’

‘Maybe,’ I’d replied in my clever way. ‘But I don’t think mum would agree.’

But he was right. Granddad was good at tales. He told us all stories; as often as we’d stop long enough to listen - not that we’d all got the same ones though. No, we each got different types. For my mum it would be funny tales that cheered her up when she came in from work at the children’s home (the kids there ran her down); my dad got exaggerated reminisces from his own youth that usually embarrassed the hell out him, but kept him young he said; and my little sister got exciting fairy tales about knights, princesses and, for some strange reason, evil accountants. And as for me? Well, Granddad had it in his mind to play this little game with me: he’d tell me some far-out story, something that sounded like complete make-believe, but was, he always swore, the gospel’s truth. My job was to try and prove it false. The thing was, I had to do it before the end of the story - I couldn’t come back later and pick him up on something. Once the story was told he wouldn’t say another word about it. Only that it was up to me to figure it out.

So, down I sat in the armchair next to him. In a kind of a flop; like I was doing him a favour by giving him someone to talk at for a while. He just grinned – knew me too well. He knew I couldn’t pass him and his stories by, not even if the house had been burning.

‘Go on then,’ I gave.

‘Well…’ He started slow - the bit where he would let the line run out, like a wily old fisherman. ‘My brother and me were lying on top this old hill. A big grassy knoll. We were twelve, twins, and it was our birthday. We’d been up to some silly game I don’t mind now, and we were taking a breather. Just lying there watching the sky, not a cloud in it, dreaming and such and…’ he paused for effect before rushing out the next bit. ‘And then there’s this thud.’ Boom! He bangs his hand on the chair arm, making me jump. ‘Big and loud it was, like the sound of a ball in a glove. Made us both leap up and look about. And it didn’t take long to find out what it was, because there was nothing up there but us.’ He paused, looking away inside himself, as if remembering.

My cue. I knew it. He knew I did. I sighed.

‘What was it, Granddad?’

He spun on me, eyes gleaming and bright. ‘The apples boy! Weren’t you listening. I said it was a story about apples.’

No doubt my face showed my annoyance, but he just ignored it.

‘Yeess,’ he goes on, steady again now. ‘Two apples, they hit the ground together, and with some force. But that’s not surprising, considering how far they’d fallen. You see they hadn’t come from a tree, as there was none up there for them to fall from.’

He stopped again, a long pause. I froze. Another bait. I knew he was waiting for me to ask another apparently sensible question that would somehow turn out to be stupid.

‘Somebody threw them?’ I said slowly, checking the logic even as I spoke.

He looked at me; I at him. It was like an old western stand-off.

‘Ah boy, you’ve got to listen more closely, if you’re gonna to catch me out.’ (He made out he was disappointed – two faced bugger). ‘I told you we were on an old knoll, and we were up and looking about as soon as they hit. We’d have seen anyone before they’d get more than a skip away. No lad, there wasn’t no one there to throw them, and no trees for them to fall from neither. So they must have come from the sky – there can’t be any doubt about it.’

‘Passing plane,’ I said. ‘They were thrown out a passing plane.’

‘Not bad,’ he said, feigning generosity. ‘But no, that’ll not do. There weren’t that many about back then. Besides, we’d have seen it, or heard it at least.’

‘Freak weather – some weird cloud action or something, sucked them up from an orchard somewhere, and dropped on you and your brother.’

String of tuts, head shaking as if sad. ‘Now didn’t I just say it were a clear day?’

‘But Granddad, apples don’t just fall out of the sky!’ I cried out. I was puffed up and indignant, and must have been quite a sight.

‘That!’ he exclaimed, excited. ‘That was just what I said. Yes, I was the miserable one back then. Suspicious of everyone, cynical of the world and moody with it. Moved around in a great show of self-importance, slouching here, flopping there.’

He’d paused for a bit, looking at me with his mischievous expression – until I realised that I’d been unconsciously straightening myself up in the chair while he’d been speaking. I got the point all right, and wondered if God had put him on earth just to torment me.

‘My brother, on the other hand, was as bright as the Sun itself. Happy go lucky, he never had a bad word to say, nor a fear to run from. Used to annoy the hell out of me, it did!’ My Grandfather chuckled to himself, before falling into a fit of coughing.

‘So what did your brother reckon they were?’ I asked when he was okay again.

‘Well as I said, they came from the sky. So, he reckoned that as there was nothing up there but the sun, that must be what they were. Sun Apples.’

‘Sun Apples!’ I cried. ‘Granddad, I know you like to kick to death every sacred cow going, but there’s no way I’m buying a story about apples coming from the sun, let alone falling all the way from it.’ I looked at him with a determined face. ‘Anyway,’ I added, ‘they’d have smashed if they’d have fallen that far.’

‘They’d have smashed whatever,’ Granddad said. ‘If they’d been normal apples that is,’ he added, all mysterious. ‘But like I said, there was nothing else up there. That’s why my brother was so sure they was special sun apples.’

‘And how then,’ I came back, ‘did they get through space?’

‘Oh lots of ways we probably know nothing about. Maybe the space twisted and curved like Einstein said. And they didn’t have to travel at all, and were just sort of dumped here.’


‘Or maybe,’ he went on, making himself sound sinister. ‘There’s some kind of weird, alien type of thing, out there in space, that turned itself into a couple of apples when it got close to earth. There it is, imagine, flying through space and it passes by the earth. ‘Hello,’ it thinks, ‘nice looking place.’ And it wants to land. Well, maybe it’s a shape-shifting alien and has no shape of its own. It needs a shape so it listens in to all our minds, searching for what we’d expect to see falling from the sky. And there you go, what is it we all think of when we think of things falling? Apples. Thanks to Newton, remember?’


‘Or,’ he went on, ignoring me. ‘They were something else altogether…’ he trailed off meaningfully.

‘Which means that you have no idea what, right?’ I challenged.

‘Well, not then I didn’t, not when I was just a know-it-all-no-nothing little sprog who thought life was all about MTV, Money and Macdonald’s.’

‘And you know now, do you?’ I almost growled.

He grinned at me; his eyes twinkling as if there could be no doubt about his knowing. ‘Let me tell you what happened first,’ he said instead. ‘My brother, well, he jumped straight in. Takes a huge bite and starts chomping away. But not I. I didn’t want to know. It was evil, I told him. It wasn’t natural, I said. Apples don’t just fall from the sky, let alone come from the sun. But like I said, I was cynical back then, you see. No imagination. So, I don’t want to know, and told my brother he’s was fool and all sorts of other nasty things.’

It had come out in a stream, his eyes switching from bright and awed, to piecing and hard (making me sense the difference between how he viewed himself and his brother), but now he paused, tutting to himself and remembering. After a moment he turned to me again, speaking now in a softer tone. ‘The truth of it though was that I was cross and twisted up inside. I was scared and that I didn’t want to say so; I was always scared then, you see, and I hated being so.’ He chuckled. ‘You know, right then I’d would have strangled God himself for putting me on the earth, if I could of got my hands on him.’

Despite the laughter, his eyes were serious. Whatever garbage he was giving me about apples, he meant what he was saying now. In that moment I saw him sort of afresh. He seemed to want to share something important with me, and the gesture, a kind of vulnerability in a way, got to me. For the first time perhaps, I was really listening.

‘After that I went from bad to worse,’ he went on. ‘I couldn’t do anything right. I didn’t seem to have any confidence and everything I touched went wrong. I was a mess at school, no drive, no ambition.’

He stopped again and looked distant, shaking his head with pain in his eyes. Then they snapped back to me, burning bright again, and he went on.

‘But my brother on the other hand. He had it all,’ he said it powerfully. Not like he was cross or against it in any way; it was more as if he was proud. ‘Amazing it was. His life went so sweetly, and whatever he wanted he got. As for whatever he didn’t want, well, that somehow always seemed to move away. He knew just where he wanted to go and he always got there.’ He laughed again. ‘We were complete opposites!’

‘But you’re not like that now,’ I said, trying to understand. ‘I’ve never known you like that. What happened?’

‘My brother! You see, just because everything went right for him, it never made him cruel or arrogant. He was always kind. Well, it turned out he’d kept the other apple. And when we reached our twenty-first birthday, just before he died, he gave it to me. I was at the bottom then, you see. I had next to no friends and never before felt so alone. But somehow he understood it more than I did, and knew that by then I didn’t have enough bile left in me to care what happened, that I wouldn’t refuse anything. So, that was when he gave me the apple – a birthday present he said, one that had always been mine and he’d just been looking after it for me until I was ready. Well, I was surprised, not just because it was still perfect, after all them years, but because I’d gotten so used to having nothing – nothing that was really mine.’

Granddad grinned. A really happy one.

‘So I ate it. And my brother watched me do it, smiling with his eyes so kind, despite all the things I’d said to him over the years. And as I ate I felt what he’d been talking about, felt the thing that had made him what he was, and me what I was. And I knew I’d be all right.’

‘What? What was it?’

‘Ah, now, if I could tell you that so you’d really know what I mean, believe me I would. There isn’t any gift I’d rather give you. But I can’t, so maybe the gift of it’s going to have to be in the truth of what had happened to my brother just before those apples hit the ground. Something I never knew myself until the moment he gave that apple back to me, all those years later.’

He paused, watching me close. But somehow, I knew this time it wasn’t a cue; nothing for me to try and guess. This time, in a funny way, I knew he was on my side.

‘You see, just before they landed, my brother had been lying there thinking about life and how wonderful it was – he saw it like that, you see, always did – and he’d said to the sun, in his head: ‘Is it real, is it really the way I’m seeing it?’ and then he asked for a sign to tell him if he was seeing it right. So, when the apples hit a second later, his certainty in life, his knowing that it was all right, well, it went right off the scale! He didn’t care where they’d come from, how or nothing else. He was the happiest bloke in the world because they came right when he’d asked. From then on there wasn’t anything that could shake him.’

‘But where did they come from?’

The old man grinned. ‘I don’t know, I never did. My brother, bless his faith, believed they came from himself. That his mind made them up with all its happiness, joy and his wanting to know. And then he told me, that though he’d asked for the sign for himself, he knew that when two came, that it meant one of them was for me.’

He paused, looking at me softly.

‘And that was what did it for me, son. That’s what saved me. You see, as I stood there listening to him telling his story, eating my apple while he spoke, I knew what he meant. He meant that I was there as well! I mattered too. That in his eyes I was as much as he was, and son, my brother was a lot. He was everything!’

My grandfather’s eyes were gleaming as they remained locked to mine for a few more seconds. Until finally he sat back in his chair, and second or two later he started to drift of to the sleep that came to him so often in his last days.

I sat thinking about him and his brother, wondering what it meant. When I heard him start to snore, I rose quietly and slipped away.

Later, when I told my father about the story, he listened carefully. His eyebrows rose often, but he said nothing. I’d thought he’d been as puzzled by the tale as I was, but now, years later, I realise it was because he knew, all through my telling of it, what the old man had been really saying. You see, they both knew what I was going through, knew about the doubts and insecurities that made me so grumpy all the time. My dad could see what his father was doing for me with all those tales that rocked my watery, fear-filled certainties. He knew the old man was trying to bring me down to earth with his gentle humour; down to where I could build a foundation of my own. But when he heard the apples story, well, then he finally knew how much the old man loved me – I’d have seen that in my Dad’s eyes that night, if I'd known what to look for. But when I’d finished re-telling the story he didn’t say much, except this:

‘You know he’s giving you a bit of himself, don’t you?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Well, I’ll put it this way. Your Granddad was a lonely kid, his own dad left when he was young, his mum drank. He was mostly on his own.’

‘But what about his brother?’ I interrupted. ‘He had him, even if they didn’t get on.’

My dad smiled. ‘That’s where you’re wrong.’ He said, then chuckled a bit. ‘In fact, that’s where you could have got him too, with that silly-story game he plays with you. You see, your Granddad made up his brother to be the ideal he thought he wasn’t – he put all that was good into him, and left himself with all the bad. But he didn’t need to have done that; it was all in his head, you see.’

He paused, watching me frown just like Granddad did, before adding, ‘You see, your Granddad, he was an only child.’