Everything Else

In a land in our time there lived a man, who read a book and found lots of wonderful stories therein. There were true and invented stories, experienced and pensive, enjoyable and painful stories. There were stories which contained stories, and such which were actually not stories. For every story he read, there occurred to him nearly five which he had either experienced or thought up himself. So the thought came to him, that a lot in the world was a story which could be healing for himself and others; he only needed to absorb the healing stories well and to forget the terrible ones immediately. Then he would learn which story he had used when and for what. So he organised his own stories which he knew, and which had become a help to himself and others, or could become so. Sometimes he noted it down when a new story came to his ears and sometimes when a helpful story occurred to him, he memorised it.

Then he saw before him in a picture the storystories of this life arranged in long shelves, as in a large pharmacy. And behind the counter there sat a man who had learnt to listen to himself and others. He was a master of his subjectspecialty. His talent was that he understood how to tell the right thing at the right time to himself and to those who visited him.

Treasure Hunting

“In a land deep in your heart, there once lived a people which was as happy or unhappy as any people, and as rich or poor as any people, and as satisfied or longing as any people, and among them lived a boy who had a dream which many boys have: He wanted to search for a hidden treasure. Now this may not seem so peculiar, but this boy was lucky enough – or would you not call this lucky? – not only to have the dream of such a treasure but in fact to have found, in a secret hiding place in the garden, a key to just such a treasure. He had the key, the treasure belonged to him! But how should he find the treasure now, since he did not know where it was hidden? The boy sat down pondering.”

The Storyteller

Many years ago, there lived an old man in our country who knew how to tell so many tales that the people said about him: This man is an inexhaustible source. Yet more notably he had the gift of telling each tale in such a way that it became the story of the listener. Often the storyteller had many listeners, and sometimes, after one of his tales, he could hear them having a dispute, for each person felt deeply that the words had been chosen exclusively for him, while someone else claimed the same for himself.

People came to the storyteller with multifarious concerns. There was a mother who accused her son of being dull and inactive. And her son replied that, since she was always wandering restlessly about, he could not work. There was a woman who complained that she constantly had to admonish her husband not to drink so much. And her husband said, only when he was drinking could he bear her habit of complaining. There were children who ate too much or too little, there were the sick who wished to recover, and those who were suffering and hoped to be freed from pain. There were couples, who wanted to come together, and others who wished to separate, and many other people who addressed him with their needs. He was able to help all of them in one way or another.

One day a young man stepped up towards him saying: “I want to learn this art of yours.” The old man looked in his eyes. Those eyes told him about the desire of this young man, to be able to tell stories to free people from their sufferings. They also spoke of the young man’s fear that his wish could be denied, and that he would never have the opportunity to learn this art from its master. The old man nodded. “You can live with me as long as you are learning, and you can pay later if you are content with what you have learned. The young man was happy to hear this reply, and thus began his apprenticeship.

“First you need to learn to pay reverence to the stories”, the old man said to him. “Only he who can tremble from the power of a story can receive it with its full effect. You need to find within yourself the yearning for the word of release, for the word that frees, for the word which opens the doors and sends your listeners on a voyage. And you need to learn to be silent. The moment when your tale has its greatest force is the moment when it moves your listener and yourself with the greatest speed. This is when it must end, so you gain momentum and are flung on the path that it shows. – This is not true of all the stories”, he added wisely after a pause.

“You need to learn to feel the power of the words” he stated on another occasion. “One sentence does not have the same power as another. For mostly it is like this: Any word that is too much is taking away some of the story’s power. The contrary may be true for people who talk a lot without saying much: Their speech robs their listeners’ strength.”

“There are different powers within words” he once said. “Threatening and strengthening powers, and power that guides you on your search. All three are good. But you must know, which of the powers is contained in the story that you are telling.” All this the young man heard with curiosity and wonder. Yet he felt grieved to find that the old man did not tell him any stories. It even seemed as if his master hid his tales from him, and only told them when he was absent. At first he did not dare ask the old man about this. But with every day that passed by, his disappointment grew, and finally he decided to address this question. He had not yet opened his mouth when his master began to speak:

The Blade of Grass in the Desert

A man travelled across a desert. All around him there was only sand, stones and rocks, the luminous blue sky, and above him the glowing hot sun. Halfway it so happened that he wanted to have a rest and he looked around for a suitable place. A little further away from the path he found an overhanging rock which could offer him shade for the duration of his rest.The man went to the spot. When he arrived, he saw something unusual. In the shade of this rock, there actually grew a blade of grass.

“Well, well, well, where do you come from?”, asked the man, and then laughed at himself: “In my loneliness, I’m already talking to the grass. It would be better if I were to investigate where the blade of grass comes from”. He pulled the little plant out of the sand and laid it carefully to the side. Then he dug deeper and deeper. Although he didn’t exactly hit a bubbling well, the earth here was truly somewhat damp. As the man continued on his way, he did not forget to place the blade of grass in the damp earth again. He built a small wall in front of it with a couple of stones to protect the plant from drying out through the hot desert wind. Then he went on his way.

On his way back he passed the spot again. Naturally he looked to see if his plant still lived. He was very happy: a proper little tuft of grass had grown out of the blade. The man dug a little deeper in the earth and pushed it in even damper earth. With a scarf, two poles and a pair of ties, which he had taken with him for the return journey, he improved the wind-protection for his plant.

Many years later, a friend of this man had to travel across the same desert. The man bade his friend: “Take a look and see what has become of my plant – whether it is still there!” The friend promised he would. When he returned from the journey he reported: “A small meadow has grown out of your blade of grass. Other travellers have discovered the spot. They have made the wall bigger and placed more poles with scarves there. Someone has dug a well there and covered it with a piece of leather. A beautiful fig tree is growing next to the well. A cricket chirps in its leaves.”