Aloneness Is an island, Beautiful, peaceful, A world of one's Own making.
Yet also, Isolated, Adrift, no anchor, Ever searching For a home.
One day in the middle of the big, wide ocean the sea floor began to tremble. Then it shook violently. A plume of smoke and steam shot up through the sand. The shaking continued for many days. Finally the plume reached the ocean surface. Red hot lava rocks shot into the air, raining ash everywhere. After many days, the volcano grew so big that it emerged from the water to make an island in the ocean. The island was hot and bothered. It had been a violent beginning. But the ocean waves washed over her and the sea breeze blew across her rocks. Now she was cool and calm. But she was lonely. All about her were rocks and nothing else. “There must be something more,” she said to herself. “Rocks can’t be the only thing on Earth.” She waited and waited, watching the horizon. A bit of lichen began to grow on her rocks and a few insects arrived from far away. Around the island, little sea animals came to live. In the shallow water near her shore, sea urchins and sea stars and other little animals came to live. They were fun to watch but they never came onto the island so she could not talk to them. The waves washed up on the island every day, pounding her rocky shore. Rains came and left puddles in her porous rocks. The wind blew hard sometimes and broke up the rocks. Soon there was a little sandy beach on the island. One day, a bird arrived on the island, carrying a long stalk of grass in its beak. It alit on a rock and dropped the stalk of grass. “Hello,” said the island. “Are you coming to live on me?” The bird didn’t answer. It just pooped on the rock then flew off. More birds came and went. None of them stayed, but their guano mixed with the rocks to make soil and the seeds they dropped began to sprout. More plants grew and soon there were green patches among the brown soil and the black lava rocks. One day, a large round seed washed up onto the island. It was a coconut. It rooted itself in a green patch and began to grow. After many days, it grew into a fine, tall tree. Now there was shade from the sun on the island. Another large bird arrived. “Hello,” the island greeted it as politely as she knew how. “Wouldn’t you like to live here? I have plants to eat and insects and a fine tree for shade.” “Yes, you are a nice little island,” the bird answered. “I think I will build my nest here.” So the bird stayed. Soon her mate arrived. They built a nest in a hollow near the palm tree. The bird laid three eggs. The eggs hatched and the island now had five inhabitants. The island had fun watching the little hatchlings learn to fly. But all too soon, they flew away. “We’ll be back next year,” the parents called out as they flew away. The island was glad the birds would return. But now she was lonely once again. She waited and waited. Finally one day, a boat stopped by. “What a little island,” the man and woman in the boat said. “We can’t live here. But we can stop here to fix our sail. And look, there are even coconuts to eat!” The man climbed the tree and threw down some coconuts to the woman. They stayed that night and the next. Then their boat was fixed and they went on. They hadn’t noticed that two little mice had jumped off their boat onto the island. When the people left in their boat, the little mice came out to look for seeds to eat. “Welcome,” the little island said. “Will you stay here to live? I have fresh water and plenty of seeds. I have hiding places and good spots to build a nest. There are no predators to bother you.” The mice answered, “You are a nice little island. We will stay.” So the little mice gathered seeds, made a nest and raised a little family. On the first day that their babies left the nest, the parent mice said to the island, “Thank you.” “You are welcome,” the island said. She felt very proud and happy. Now she would no longer be lonely.
The Mist of Life translation of Hermann Hesse's Im Nebel
Strange, in the mist to wander! Lonely are bush and stone, No tree sees the other, Each is alone.
Full was my world of friends, While yet my life was bright; Now that the mist descends, All have vanished from sight.
Truly wise no one can be, Who the dark not kenns, That inescapably and calmly Him from all others rends.
Strange, in the mist to wander! Life is to be lone. No one knows the other, Each is alone.
Each is a floating island Drifting in an expanse of sea. Shifting winds and currents Our courses mark, our lots determine.
Islands touch and lock, While others bump and drift apart, Some just float along, And all in time will sink and part.
Course and lot are fixed, Rudders and anchors of little avail. Action is not ours to take, Reaction alone is for our shaping.
To accept the given with dignity, Or wring one's hands and tear one's hair In utter despair or wild protest? The choice is yours, the choice is mine!
Together we live but alone we are, Aloneness is our existential lot, Togetherness our social drive.
Alone and together we live and thrive, Alone and together we ail and die, A wondrous meld of opposites.
An epigram a day:
An only child is a lonely child.
Aloneness is existential lot, loneliness is personal plight.
Aloneness is our lot, loneliness is our choice.
Aloneness is an inescapable condition of life.
Togetherness is choice, aloneness is lot.
Aloneness is a fertile breeding ground for thought.
We come alone, we are alone, we leave alone. That is our lot.
Píccola has her say:
When left alone I am so forlorn. I crawl into my cave to wait Until I hear you at the gate.
Do not accept aloneness; Somewhere there is a pack you can join.
When your master leaves, sit in his favorite spot; This will cause him to return.
Greet your masters with full glee And maybe next time they won't leave.
A man and a woman met. They sat together, they ate together, they worked and played together. But one day the woman said, "I need-" "No," answered the man. And he placed a brick on the floor between them. The next day the woman said, "Let's-" "No," the man said. He put another brick on top of the first. Then a day later, the man said, "I think-" "I don't," said the woman. She added a brick to his. And so it went. "I believe-" "I don't." "I like-" "I don't like-" This continued until the brick wall between them was so high they couldn't see each other. So they stopped talking. One day a little creature with a long snout, long ears, and a long tail came into the house. It went over to the man and sat in his lap. Then it went to the wall and whined. It jumped but it could not get over the wall. "Why not?" the man asked himself. He lifted the creature to the top of the wall. It jumped down onto the woman's side. She held the creature and stroked it. After awhile, she put it back on the wall and it jumped down onto the man's side again. So it went. Both the man and woman loved the creature. But one day, when it jumped down onto the woman's side, it hurt its back. The woman held it and stroked it, but she couldn't heal its hurt. She held it up to the top of the wall. "Can you?" she asked. "Yes," answered the man. He took the creature down and held it. The creature soon felt better but then it wanted to go back to the woman. The man didn't want it to hurt itself again. "Could we-" he asked? "Yes," the woman answered. The woman took a brick from the middle of the wall. But the opening was too small, so the man took another brick out. After taking out four bricks, there was an opening for the creature. It ran back and forth happily between the man and woman. But the wall was no longer strong. One day, it crumbled. The creature just barely escaped the falling bricks. The man took the bricks and made a path outside the door with them. He found some wood and built a long sofa. When he brought it into the house, the woman found some cushions. Then they sat on the couch in the middle of the room. The creature hopped onto the couch and sat between them, quite content. And there they sit to this day, all three happy on their couch together.
An Existential Dance
Bridges are conduits, They link and direct. Walls are barriers, They halt and separate.
Plenty is a boon, It nurtures and enables. Want is a bane, It drains and lames.
Hate is a curse, It soils and diminishes. Love is a blessing, It charms and enhances.
War is a dead end, It kills and destroys. Peace is an oasis, It shelters and sustains.
These either-ors are galore, The contraries of life, Polar possibilities That challenge and unsettle.
And it's all an interplay of choice and chance, An endless, trying existential dance!
Lamentation without end, Criticism ad nauseam. A jaundiced view of human beings, A no less dour view of life, A scoffing cynic are sure to make.
An idealism that expects too much Readily becomes a gnawing cynicism. Fault lies less with life and humans Than in man's quarrel with God's creation. Cynicism is basically quarrel with the self!
An Epigram a Day:
Some listen open-minded, their thoughts evolve. Some listen selectively, their thoughts harden.
People at odds with themselves are people at odds with life.
Absolutes are the most intolerant and intolerable of fictions.
Conviction and tolerance are incompatible.
Argument tends to spawn less thought than ill feeling.
Belief is refuge and prison.
Walls do not deter me. I use them as highways.
Do not leap off walls. It is fun but there are consequences.
Once there was a young lad who loved to build bridges. That was all he ever built with his blocks, and when he played outside, he gathered sticks and stones to make all manners of bridges. When he began school, he took every opportunity to read and write about bridges, and his Math and Science projects always focussed on the topic. But the boy’s teachers didn’t mention this love so much as his kindness to others and his ability to get along with all students. One teacher remarked, “He knows how to build bridges between the popular boys and the less popular studious ones.” As the boy grew into a man he never lost his love of bridges. He decided to study them at the university. “But I need to do more than just build bridges,” he told himself. So he joined a fraternity and the chess club. He soon became president of the fraternity, as all saw his ability to bridge disputes, coming up with solutions that pleased all. He also became rather well known for his innovative chess move called the “bridger.” University life ended too soon and the young man had to move from the fraternity and set out to seek his fortune. He moved to the country of his mother’s birth to continue his studies. While there, he often served as an interpreter and a cultural bridge between visitors from his own country and the natives, as he was fluent in both languages. But after a year of study, he decided he wanted to do something else. He still liked bridges but felt the need to make a mark in the world somehow, to help others. So he studied a third language then travelled to a far off land, where the local people had little. He found that in the city there were many rich people but outside the city, working the land, were poor people who worked all day and yet still had not enough to eat. The young man often visited one village that could be reached only by travelling on donkey down a deep ravine and back up the other side. Thus, these people were cut off from the rest of the world, and had only their own meager gardens to feed them. The villagers, however, were artists who wove the most beautiful cloths, using native dyes and hand looms. The young man often mentioned these cloths to the rich people in the city, but they were not interested. “That village is too remote for us,” they said. “We cannot deal with people who live so far away. And besides, how could anyone as poor as they produce a product fine enough for us?” And when the young man mentioned to the villagers that they might visit the city, bringing their cloths, they answered that they had no time, for the trip down and up the ravine took a full day, and it was dangerous to stay overnight in the wilderness. And so the young man continued to be the only one to travel between the city and the village. He found himself staying longer and longer in the village, for the people were kind and honest and he helped them as much as he could. But sometimes, he felt the need to be in a big city, among people more like himself. Then he would take as many of their cloths as he could carry and travel back to the city. There he would sell the cloths and use the money to buy goods for the villagers. But this was difficult, as he could not carry much for such a long distance. One day, as he was climbing the ravine, the young man thought, “If only there were a bridge, I could walk straight across this ravine.” He stopped suddenly. That was it! A bridge. Why hadn’t he thought of that before? As soon as he reached the village, he went to see the village elder to broach his idea. The elder listened carefully. “We had a bridge once,” he said. “It was woven of rope from our grasses. But it broke and many people were killed. It was not worth it.” “I can build a bridge that will not break,” the young man said. “I only need to get materials from the city.” “How can you do that?” the elder asked. “We have no money for materials.” “I will ask the rich people to help,” the young man said. “Why should they help us?” “I will show them how a bridge will help them as well.” “Well, lad. I doubt it will work but try it. Who knows?” So the young man soon returned to the city, where he sought out the rich people he had met. They had no interest at first but a few people who had bought one of the brightly woven cloths said “Then we could buy more of these cloths and make much money selling them to tourists.” ‘Very well” the young man said, “but you must promise to pay a fair price and to honor the villagers as true artists.” The rich people agreed, thinking to themselves that the poor villagers would be content with a few pesetas, while they could sell the cloths for many pesos. They gave the young man materials and some helpers. They even provided him with an expert on bridges to help him design a sturdy bridge. The young man was soon very busy, planning and studying, using all he had learned at the university to now actually build a bridge. At times, he questioned whether he was capable of such a large undertaking, but his mentor proved to be a good man who offered much advice. The young man had no time to visit the village and often wondered how they were doing and what they would think when they saw the bridge. As the bridge began to take form, the villagers on the other side of the ravine showed up to watch. Soon some city people came out too, to see what was happening. The villagers and the city people soon began to wave at each other and shout hellos across the ravine. In the evenings, when the work was done, the villagers would play their instruments and dance, and the city people would dance on their side of the ravine. After many long months, the bridge was finished. The city people planned a great party on their side to honor their young bridge-maker. No mention was made of the villagers. But the young man secretly planned to invite the villagers as well. One night of a full moon, he was the first person to walk across the newly-built bridge. He went to the village elder in the morning and told him of the festivities. “Please come with all your people,” he said. “And bring your music and your finest cloths, that the city people may appreciate you.” The elder agreed. And so on the first day of the summer season, a warm, windless day, the city people marched to the bridge, following the mayor and a grand marching band. When they arrived at the bridge, they saw the villagers approaching on their side, wearing gaily colored shawls and playing their instruments. The two groups continued on to the bridge. Halfway across, the mayor and the village elder met and shook hands. Then the villagers turned around and the city people followed them back to the village. There everyone danced and sang and ate the food the villagers had prepared long into the night. As it was not safe to cross the bridge in the dark, the villagers invited the city people to stay the night. In the morning, the city people bade a fond farewell to the villagers. “Thank you for the wonderful music and food. Come visit us in the city,” they said. “You are welcome. And bring your cloths to sell at market.” They pressed money into the villagers’ hands but the villagers returned it. “Yes, we will come to visit,” they answered. “When we sell our cloths, then we will have money to buy what we need. But we will always return to the village, for this is our home.” Then they turned to the young man. “And you are always welcome in our village,” they said. “For you are now named “Bridgebuilder.” They presented him with a fine cloth on which was woven a design of an intricate bridge. They also presented him with a fine donkey, carrying a beautiful cloth saddle. “You are now one of us.” “And one of us,” the mayor said. “For you are indeed the bridgebuilder. And we and the villagers are, in the end, the same people. Thank you for allowing us to see that.” The young man knew now that he was indeed, and would forever be, a builder of bridges of all kinds. He proudly draped the cloth over his shoulder in the manner of the villagers, mounted his donkey, and led the people back to the city, telling the villagers that he would soon return.
Common Entreaties Commonly Unheeded
Be forthright and truthful, Gentle and loving, Considerate and generous, Thoughtful and obliging.
Praise when appreciation is due, Console in times of grief, Help when there is need for help, Soothe when despair sets in.
Be accepting of those different, Understanding and tolerant, Warm and hospitable, Empathic and compassionate.
These are words to be taken to heart, Thoughts to remember and to live by, Each would be more human for it, And life would be less fraught with strife.
Love spawns kindness, Kindness fosters goodness, Goodness changes mankind And mankind is the better for it.
Thinking can spawn good thoughts, Thoughts can foster laudable action, Action can readily change the world And the world can be the better for it.
The moral is obvious The results inevitable. Change for the better Is ours for the making.
But we can also choose To go our old and hopeless course, A loveless thoughtless way of life, A life of personal strife and national wars.
The challenge is there, But is the will to change?
An Epigram a Day:
Reciprocation in word or deed or attitude is reflex more than reflective response: The accordant tit for tat of social creatures.
Argument guided by reason becomes meaningful discussion, Discussion dominated by emotion becomes empty argument.
Every structure, human or other, is only as strong as it is flexible.
Respect for others is predicated upon respect for the self.
Two sets of stairs, in two different countries. So different and yet so similar. Both created by individual men but for different purposes. The stairs in Prague, a piece of art, are a political statement. The stairs in Hamilton were created by a man who retired and needed something to do. On whim, he began to create these stairs from materials he found on the path.The city threatened to tear the stairs down but the locals objected and the stairs remain. Both sets of stairs make a similar statement: the individual and art will prevail.
The Boy Who Climbed Stairs
The boy played happily for the first four years of his life. He did whatever he pleased and no one scolded him or told him to do this or that. But that changed one day. He went to school. There he met many children of his age. They were practicing stepping on blocks. Each child must step up on one block then step down and step up on the next. This was easy for the boy and he enjoyed the activity. Some children could not step up well and had to have help, but he had no trouble. During the break, he played with the other children. He liked school and was still a happy boy. One day, he was sent back to his first home.At first, he was sad to leave his parents. But when he arrived and saw his beloved home and grandparents again, he was really, really happy. Again, he could do whatever he wished. There was no school. He played whatever he wished, whenever he wished. He rode the horses, he herded the geese, he played with the other boys. And he was outside all day long. After a year, he was sent back again. He was glad to see his parents and happy to see his friends at school. But now the children had to scale four blocks. This meant jumping up as high as they could. Some children could only scale one or two blocks. The boy managed to scale three. “I can do as well as the others,” he thought. “I just lack practice. While I was playing, the others were practicing. I must practice every day.” He did practice, at school and at home until he could easily jump up on to the fourth block. “But I can do better than that,” he said to himself. “Why not try five?” So he kept practicing at home and soon he could jump upon five stacked blocks and then six. Only one other child could do as well as he. Every year a block was added. But the boy was already ahead, so school continued to be easy for him. It came time to choose another school. One school only required that the students jump upon eight blocks. Another required nine. But the top school required ten. The boy couldn’t quite yet jump upon ten blocks. So he took the easy route and entered the school with eight blocks. But he soon found this boring. So he went to the top school and asked to be admitted. “You may enter and try,” the principal said. “But you have missed the first month. Our students are now jumping on eleven blocks.” Well, the boy knew that he could do this if he tried extra hard, so he practiced every day after school and soon he could jump the eleven blocks as well as anyone else. So he continued to enjoy school. Now there were added activities, such as music and languages. He enjoyed these and excelled at anything he tried. Other students had special blocks at home for practice and tutors to help with music and languages, but that did not hinder the boy. He just made his own blocks out of bricks he found in the back alley and he practiced his violin every night. He read his Latin reader late at night when the family was asleep. And soon, he was the top student in many areas. Finally came the time to enter the Superior school. The boy’s family had no money to send him to the school, but he worked in the summer and saved enough to afford the schooling. He excelled in this school as well. Now students did not jump on blocks but rather climbed stairs as far as they could. The boy would always climb a bit farther than the others, just to show himself that he could. The end of the year stair test was always easy for him. He went from the Superior school to the Great School and finally to the finest school in his nation. And he still excelled. When the boy, who was now a man, left this last school, he decided he would like to teach stair climbing to others. So he sought a job in one of the Great schools and was soon accepted. For many years he worked in the Great School, teaching stair climbing and practicing himself, so that every year he climbed a bit farther. He soon found that the stairs never ended; they went upward for as far as the eye could see. This did not disturb him. He enjoyed climbing and loved the challenge, so he just kept climbing. Even when he grew old and left the Great School, he continued to climb, albeit a bit more slowly. And if I’m not mistaken, he is still climbing his staircase somewhere, every year going a bit higher and setting an example for those who climb below.
Uli's Steps in Hamilton, Ontario
Life's Stages a translation of Hermann Hesse's Stufen
Just as every blossom wilts and every youth Gives way to age, so too does every stage of life, Every wisdom too, and every virtue blossom When due in time and may not endure forever, At each of every call of life, one's heart Must be prepared to part and start anew, On order ably and bravely and free of sorrow To give itself to other new commitments. And each beginning harbors its own magic, That shields us and that helps us on with life.
Let us with joy exhaust one sphere upon another, And to none of them as to a homeland cling, The cosmic spirit is not upon binding and limiting, It wants to lift from stage to stage and broaden us. Hardly at home are we in any circle of life, Cozily settled,before we threaten to go limp; He alone who is ready to leave and to journey forth, Can the paralyzing force of habit escape.
It is quite possible that even the hour of death Us will youthful further to new realms, Life's call to us will never end... Well then heart, take leave and fare you well!
An epigram a day:
Life should be an upward spiral, not a downward plunge.
Dreams realized are dreams trivialized.
To strive is to court failure, Not to strive is failure.
Goals are many, few are reached.
Some pursue their dreams, others only nurture them.
Thrash and flail and you may prevail.
It is the step beyond expectation and obligation that spells success.
Though my legs may Be very short, they Up stairs can bound As well as a long-legged hound.
Race up stairs with glee And boundless energy, But never descend Lest you your back rend.