The wise one told me this story. I have written it down.
As I was walking along the path one day, I came upon a man. He slept peacefully, next to his fire. He was sitting up, his body supported by a log. From the crags in his face, I could tell that he had seen many winters. His hand was open, resting by his side. In his palm was a cloth, and on it lay a tiny pebble. He woke as I approached, and, following my gaze to his hand, he asked me to come and sit by his fire.
After some time, he spoke, “Many winters ago, when I was young, a man came along the path just as you have. He gave me this stone and told me to polish it every day. He said he would return one day and ask what I had learned.”
I pondered his words for a moment, and then replied, “I am sorry I am not that man, but I should surely love to know what you have learned.”
Sleep was still hard in his eyes as he spoke, “When first he gave me the stone, it had many sharp edges that made polishing it painful. I had to avoid the sharpest turns, and come at them from different directions to smooth them out. My hands were cut many times in the process, but I kept on. By and by those edges became smooth and began to gleam. They became some of the most beautiful aspects of the stone.
“As I polished, I came to know the stone’s every crevice and hill. I came to see it much like our own Mother Earth. Mountains rose up to the heavens marked by tiny ravines. Rivulets of lighter stone crashed down through valleys of crystal. It was as complex as any land I have ever known, and as beautiful.
“One day a wide vein of gold appeared in the stone. I spent many days concentrating my labors on that vein, bringing out its luster. I forsook other parts of the stone in my efforts. The gold vein gleamed in the sun and was quite beautiful.
“By and by, I noticed that one of the ends of the vein had disappeared. I realized my polishing was wearing it away. I decided to stop polishing the stone to preserve the gold. For many days I kept it safely tucked away in my pocket, sacrificing my appreciation of its luster in the hopes of making the gold last forever. As I did, I went about my business.
“One day I chanced to take it out and look upon it. I found that the jostling in my pocket had continued to ware away at the gold vein, and it was gone. I had lost it anyway.”
He looked off, but his gaze was not forlorn. It was wistful. He continued, “Having lost the gold, I took up polishing the stone again, paying attention to all of its nuances. As I did, I came to appreciate the stone’s constant changing. I saw mountains rise and crumble. I saw deep ravines shrink to riverbeds that grew into hills that eventually blew away like dust. I saw paths of quartz appear and disappear like waves on the sand. And by and by I noticed the stone growing ever smaller, as if it was moving further and further away from me, though I knew it still rested in my hand.”
For the first time since he started talking, he looked down at the pebble in his hand. Then he looked at me. “What do you see in my hand?” he asked, leaning forward and holding it out toward me.
“I see a pebble,” came my reply.
He smiled, dropping his hand back down, “That is because you see only what is obvious.”
He closed his eyes and leaned back against the log, speaking quietly, “I see much more, for this stone has been with me many winters, and even in its current state, I can see what it is, and all that it has even been.”
His voice grew even softer as he motioned with his hand toward me, “You must take it now, for it has shone me all it can.”
I moved to do as he said, but before I could grasp it, the old man’s hand relaxed and the pebble fell to the ground, lost amongst the other stones that lay there. The breath came from him and reached up to the ancestors as he joined them.
I sat by the fire till it too, faded. Then I continued on my way, along the path.