Thursday, 4 October 2012

Finding the Gifts of Life

Last week, I went out for a walk around the local park, Parc Maisonneuve, in the early evening.  It had been raining during the afternoon and although the rain had since stopped, dark clouds hung in the sky ominously, just waiting for the right moment to drop some more of their precious cargo.  I like walking.  I prefer to walk in nature than along the paved pathways and concrete sidewalks of a city, but if that is all I have, then that will have to do.  This evening I was treated to an amazing spectacle.  I would actually call it a miracle.

As the sun sank slowly down behind the houses and apartments of the suburbs, the last rays caught the underside of the leaves of one of the trees in the park.  The affect was to turn these leaves to a beautiful gold colour.  They glimmered, shone and glittered as they basked in the last vestige of sunlight for the day.  I stopped, awestruck and feeling an emotion rising from deep within.  My heart was touched.  I felt that in this moment, I was witnessing a miracle.  I smiled.  My spirits lifted.  The world had spoken to me.

These are the times when I give thanks.  These are the times when I am humbled by the beauty of nature, by the simplicity of life.  These are the moments that you need to capture in your heart.

The Search For Gold
Every day, for longer than she cared to remember, Barta had sat and watched over the comings and goings of the village.  She knew all of the people that lived there and they equally knew her.  Her husband had died many years before, during the time of the unrest, and she had never taken another.  The village had long been the subject of a rumour that had become a folklore within this part of the country.  Occasionally, travellers full of bravado would arrive in search of the mythical gold, claiming that they would be the one to finally discover its whereabouts, and always they left soon after, empty handed.  Barta had seen many pass through the village in this way and each time another one left, she felt a sadness in her heart for what they viewed as a wasted journey.  But Barta knew, gold or no gold, that every person has to discover their own treasure in life, and it cheered her to know that each person that came had at least begun to walk their path, and the walking was all that really mattered anyway.

On a morning much like any other, Barta noticed a lone figure approaching the village on horseback.  As the rider drew closer, Barta could see no visible goods for trade, so she judged that this was either another who came in search of the gold or just a traveller passing through.  She hoped it would be a traveller so that she could gain some news from other lands.  Barta always liked to hear stories from the distant places and she passed much of her time imagining how they must look and how it would feel to actually be there.  As Barta watched the rider, so too did the rider watch Barta, as it slowly approached her.

Kaeke had been riding for several weeks, camping on the trail each evening and beginning again at sunrise.  He had journeyed a great distance since he had set out from home many months before.  He recalled the day that he had left.  His mother had embraced him and kissed him on each cheek.  Then she turned away and went back into the house.  His father took his right hand and placed his other on Kaeke's shoulder, "A heart that questions will never be content until it has found the answers for which it seeks.", he had said, "Go and seek the answers my son, go and find your gold, and when you have found them, we will be here waiting."  And now here he was, riding into the village at last.  The answers were now at hand.  But he was surprised to see that the village was not prosperous or rich looking, considering the gold that was said to be found there.  In fact, it looked much like many of the other villages he had seen on his journey.

Kaeke noticed the old woman sitting in the square and decided he should ask her where he might find a place to stay.  He had no idea how long the search for the gold would take, but probably he only needed a few days.  Why was it that in all of the villages he had passed through, he had seen so many of the old people sitting alone, doing nothing, just watching and waiting.  It was as though they had reached a certain point and then given up on life.  He rode up to the old woman and he saw that she was had a kindly face and that she was not as old as he had first supposed.

"Hello there!  My name is Kaeke and I'm in need of a place to stay for a few nights.  Do you know of any where around here where I can find a bed?"

Barta was surprised.  The rider was a man as she had thought, but he seemed barely a man and more of a boy.  Barta prided herself in being able to know where every stranger was from based only on their accent, but the accent of the rider was unfamiliar to her.

"From where do you come?", she asked him.  "Your accent is not known to me and I know all of the accent around these parts."

"I come from the land that can be found over the mountains and across the great water.  I have ridden for many weeks to arrive here."

"And why do you come?  Are you on your way to some place else?"

Kaeke did not really want to tell this old woman why he was there.  If he found the gold, then he might get robbed when he tried to leave.  It occurred to him that perhaps the villagers kept up the illusion of being poor to hide the gold from others who might come and try to steal it.  But the woman did have a kindly face and after all, he had nothing to hide from anyone.  On his travels, he had found that honesty and truth served him well and had always helped him in building trust with strangers.  It seemed that people reacted best when you were open with them.

"I will be here for a few days only until I find some of the gold of which I have heard many stories.  Long have I dreamed of seeing it with my own eyes."

"You come in search of the gold?  Then I wish you luck and success and I hope that you will not leave here a poorer man than you are now.  You know that many have come and many have failed?  The gold is just a legend Kaeke, nothing more.  But, if you wish to stay and search then take the road on the left and continue until you come to the house with yellow rose bushes out front.  It is the house of Nashani.  She should be able to give you a room there.  Tell her Barta sent you."

Kaeke thanked Barta and then rode on to find Nashani's house.  Barta watched after him.  "Always so many come with the same purpose and always they leave in the same way.  Chasing a thing that exists only in dreams."

In the days that followed, Kaeke rode out each morning and returned just after the sun had dropped below the horizon.  In the beginning he was filled with the high expectation of quick success.  He rode out with a smile on his face and an old tune that he hummed as he rode.  The tune reminded him of home.  In the evening, when he returned once more to the village empty handed, the same smile and the tune could be seen and heard.  Sometimes he would see Barta sitting and watching and always he would raise his arm in greeting.

The days became a week and a week quickly became a month.  Kaeke had still not found any trace of the gold.  He had searched in the woods, he had searched in the hills, he had searched in the fields and he had searched along the river.  Nothing.  Not even the smallest glimmer or hint could be found.  But he still searched with the same smile and always humming the same old familiar tune to himself.

One morning Kaeke had been wandering through the forests that surrounded the village, humming his tune and being completely lost in the thought of what he would do with all his gold, when he found that he had emerged from the trees and was standing just outside the village.  He thought about heading in amongst the trees again but he decided that if his feet had brought him this way, then perhaps there must be a reason.  My feet walk the path but the path leads me where it will, he thought.

As he walked into the village, Kaeke saw Barta sitting in her usual place, "Hello Barta", he called out as he approached, "and how is every one and every thing in the village today?"

"Kaeke", Barta smiled.  There was something about the cheerfulness of this boy that was infectious.  Perhaps it was his ever present smile and that terrible tune that he hummed, "the village is just the same as it always is.  Do you like our village life, or do you find it strange compared to where you are from?"

Kaeke sat down next to Barta.  "When I set out on my travels to come here, I thought I would find that every new place I came to would be very different from what I knew, and in the beginning, it was exactly like that.  The further I travelled from home, the more strange places and people seemed to become.  But then I slowly began to see through the strange customs and the different ways of speaking and I realised that actually, every thing is just the same wherever you go and that every person has the same basic needs in life: food, shelter and love."

"But you have left your home and you are alone.  Where is the love of which you speak?"

"It is true that when I first thought about leaving my home, I was afraid that I would be lonely.  In the first few days I travelled, that was true.  I felt alone because I saw other people together with their families and with their friends and that made me think of my own and I missed them.  But after only a few days, I realised that I was never really on my own and that I was never without love."

"That doesn't make any sense to me." said Barta. "You're talking in riddles Kaeke.  Who was with you?"

"Well of course, physically I was on my own, that is true.  If you had seen me you would not have seen another person with me.  But loneliness is not a physical condition, it is a state of the mind.  I found that because I had finally begun my search for the gold for which I had so long dreamed, my heart was keeping me company.  In the quiet moments of solitude, I began to hear its voice and I hear it still.  My heart has become my companion on my journey.  And since I have finally been realising my dream, I have been giving love to myself.  It sounds strange I know, to think of giving love to yourself because we are always taught to think that love has to be given to another person.  What I have discovered is that by finally doing the thing that I have always dreamed, I have been giving myself the ultimate gift.  The gift of love.  And that is why I have never travelled alone or without love."

Barta looked into the face of the young man that sat beside her.  Was he mad?  Had all the days of being alone in the woods looking for the gold affected him?  Then she thought about her own life and how she had sat day after day watching the village and all of its inhabitants.

"Although you speak strangely for one so young, perhaps I understand what you mean.  I have sat on my own, watching over the village day after day, for many years, but I have never felt alone.  I often thought that it was because my late husband sat beside me but now because of the words you have spoken, I know it is because my heart has been keeping me company all this time."

Kaeke looked at Barta and he could tell that there was something more she wanted to say.  He sat quietly and waited.  It surprised him to think that he hardly knew this woman at all, yet here she was, telling him things about her life that she probably had never told any one else before.  People were so often afraid to open their hearts to others through fear of ridicule and being thought of as foolish.  But actually it is exactly from being open that we earn trust and make friendships.  When we extend ourselves, we are sharing a part of our soul with that other person - we are giving the gift of ourselves.  Often Kaeke did not know where these thoughts came from but he felt the truth in them as soon as they occurred to him.

"I loved my husband Kaeke."  Barta continued, "He was a good man and we spent many years happy together in this village.  But I have long dreamed of looking out on the world from the top of the mountains.  Before we were together, I wanted to leave but my father would not let me travel alone.  Then I met my husband, fell in love and got married.  We talked in the evenings of what we wanted from life and although I wished to travel, he had no desire to leave.  Gradually, I buried my dream of the mountains and I began to forget about it.  After he died, my old dreams began to return to me once again.  That is why I sit here.  I told you that I watch the village but the real truth is that I am looking at the mountains, wishing that I could go there."

"Then you should go to the mountains Barta!  You should go and see the world from up above."

"I am too old Kaeke.  It is too late for me now.  My time is passed.  Perhaps I will see it in the next life."

"When I told my parents that I wished to go in search of the gold they told me that I was too young to travel alone.  But I kept my dream alive by preparing and readying myself.  I had to show my parents that I would be able to make the journey.  I had to fight for my dream.  Never think of yourself as too old Barta.  There will never be a perfect day to begin the adventure, there is only ever the first moment when you take a step on the path.  If you wish to see the mountains, then go and see the mountains.  It is never too late to begin.  Only the beginning matters, only starting to walk the path is important.  Life is all about the journey and never about the final destination."

That was an interesting thought.  If life was not about the destination, then why was he so intent on discovering the gold?

"Kaeke, you are the first person who has spoken to me in this way.  I do not understand why I have told you what I have told you.  Perhaps it is because I know you will leave here soon and carry away my secrets with you.  I will think about what it is that you have said.  Your words awaken an old heart, I can feel it stirring once more."

"I am pleased that we shared this time Barta.  I will never tell another of what you have spoken.  You too have given me something on which to ponder."

In the next days, Kaeke would see Barta and he could now see that it was not the village she was watching but rather her gaze was fixed on the mountains that lay off in the distance.  Then one afternoon as he rode back from another fruitless search for the gold, he saw that the seat was empty.  His immediate reaction was to think that perhaps something had happened to Barta.  He galloped his horse into the village and asked after her.  No one had seen her at all that day.  Feeling concerned, Kaeke went to the house of Barta and knocked on the door and waited.  There was no answer so he turned to leave and as he did so, he noticed a folded piece of paper laying under a rock next to the path.  He retrieved the paper and could see that his name was written on one side.  He unfolded it and read:-

'My friend Kaeke,

For too many years I have watched over this village and for too many years I have troubled myself with the gossip and the affairs of others, when I should have been moving on with my own life.  I let myself stagnate when life was going on all around me.  Thanks to you, I can hear the calling of my heart once more and so I have set off to find my mountains.  In return for the kindness that you gave so freely to me, I will give some advice in return: the gold may be found in the most unexpected of places.


Kaeke was happy for his friend.  It was good to know that she had finally set off in search of her own gold and he liked that he had been able to help her.  Then a thought occurred to him.  Perhaps every person is a messenger, carrying within us a message intended for another and when we are needed the most, we appear in the lives of those needing the message and we appear just at the right time.  But what could Barta have meant about the gold being found in the most unexpected of places?  Hadn't he already searched in all of the most unusual places he could think?  And if she knew where the gold was found, why had she not simply told him where to find it?  It was confusing.  He walked slowly away, recollecting all of the places he had looked for the gold and wondering if there were any that he could have overlooked.

On each of the next days, Kaeke looked to where Barta had always sat and he missed seeing her.  He had become used to her being there but he also knew that life was about change and that nothing could ever stay the same.  He recalled a story his grandfather had once told him of a man called Samuel who tried everything to stop change from coming into his life.  At the end of his life, Samuel found that it was he himself who had changed because he had changed his life in order to stop everything else from changing.  It was just like flowing water that encountered a too hard rock.  The water will alter its course and go around the obstacle, if it is unable to change it.

Kaeke had been bothered about the thought that had come to him about his journey.  He had always thought that finding the gold was the most important thing but now he realised that everything he had seen and learned on his search for the gold was more important.  It was the walking of the path and trying to accomplish your dream that made the difference.  He realised that ever since the day he had set out from his parents home, he had never been happier.  He saw life differently.  Actually that was not right.  Now he saw life where before, he had just seen animals, birds, fish, plants, trees, the sun, the moon, the stars.  He now saw miracles performed in front of his eyes every waking moment.  He knew too that to be truly happy in life, one had to go in search of their own personal gold, whatever and wherever that might be.

One more week passed and as Kaeke rode out in the morning, he decided that this would be the last day of searching for the gold.  He was now ready to return home.  What was home? he wondered.  It had always been the small farm on which he had grown up.  It had been the woods in which he played as a boy, dreaming of adventures.  It had been the stream in the valley, where he had sent many boats to journey to the great sea.  Since he had begun this journey, he had felt more at home than ever before.  Perhaps my home is where my heart is? he asked himself and as he did so, he already knew the answer because his heart told him he was right and it was happy.  I don't need a certain place, as long as I follow my heart because my heart will always be home on the path.

Gold or no gold, he felt that he was a richer person for having travelled to the village and for searching.  The day passed much like all of the others.  He wandered through the forests, he travelled the valley and he spent time down at the river.  Towards the end of the day, he began his ride back to the village for the final time.  As this was his last day, he had finished the search earlier than usual so that he could return to the house of Nashani and pack his belongings, ready to begin the journey home in the morning.  As he reached the edge of the forest he could see the village before him, so he stopped so that he could look upon the old place one last time.  Being late afternoon, the sun was already low in the sky and as Kaeke watched, it dropped below the clouds, sending out a myriad of rays of yellow and orange light.  What a beautiful way to end his final day here, he thought and he gave thanks for being allowed to witness this spectacle before he left the village.  He turned in his saddle to look back on the trees of the forest, where he had spent much of his time in his vain search.  As he looked, one tree caught his attention.  He smiled and then he laughed.

"You crafty old witch.", he said.  "All this time you knew and you never told me."

At this perfect moment in time, the setting sun had captured this one tree with its rays of orange and yellow.  As a breeze blew, the leaves danced as they glimmered, shone and glittered.  Kaeke had at last found his gold.

The end.

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