AJ Cronin tells the story of a cliff on the Channel Isle of Jersey where Victor Hugo, despondent, in exile, sick and persecuted by the France he so loved, climbed. Every evening he traversed this jagged cliff and, looking into the sunset, meditated in quiet. When he was done, he would stand, renewed, pick up a pebble, stone or large rock and toss it into the sea raging below. Some children who played nearby every night noticed Hugo and pushed forward a young lass who asked,
“Monseir Hugo, why do you come here to throw these stones?”
Victor Hugor, author of such great literature about the tragedy and love of life, smiled and said
“Not stones, my child, I am throwing self-pity into the sea.”
(Adapted from AJ Cronin as told in Everyday Greatness by Stephen Covey, p 430).
Self pity into the sea. When gazing upon the lives of the great among us, whether they be statesmen and women, authors, or humanitarians, we often see the product of their lives without a nod to the pain, frustration and heartache that produced such. We praise Ghandi for how he brought peace to many parts of India torn by bloodshed and violence, but if faced with the empty plate and glass, we would say it was too much to miss a meal. He missed meals for days to accomplish such for the people he loved.
But I think that sometimes our problem is not that we want to do great things. So many of us are rushing around attempting greatness in some fashion or another. We answer emails like we’re the king of some domain and take phonecalls in public places to sound important to anonymous strangers who wished we’d take it down a notch.
Our problem is that we’ve gotten rid of the places of respite: the hammocks, garden benches, and reading rooms of yesteryear. We don’t have a spot by the creek, or a place overlooking the lake that we go to in order to ponder life and love and meaning. We all need a place to ponder life and meaning and when we’re done, to rise and pick up a rock– certainly a different size fits different days — and cast into into the lake as we forever rid ourselves of any self pity so that we may move forward to the tasks of today.
I know of a person who has a 21 year old daughter who walked down to the pond on Saturday in a flash flood and ended her life. Her self pity wasn’t thrown away, she drowned in it, literally.
Listen here, we all have struggles. We all have pain. We all have things that just aren’t fair and people who treat us unjustly. But we must make time for moments alone to ponder such things and deal with our emotions and make peace with our God. And when we arise, if we can take that rock of self pity and toss it far away, we’ll be far the better person for the tasks we must undertake on the morrow.
Yea, though I wax poetic, truth be that self pity is a rock, that if not untied and tossed, can serve to weight us down into the depths. And such depths are dark, unfriendly, and if you don’t wake up and untie yourself when you realize you’re sinking — maybe you’ll let go and live — but you risk going under permanently in a place of instability where the mind goes to hide when the burden it carries is too great.
This post is for any and all of you who will read, not just teachers. For, I think we all must learn to have some solitude to deal with the strife of life.
Here’s to you, fellow traveler on the way, we all have noble callings to which we must ascribe and we cannot meet them while carrying a bag of rocks tied around our necks.
Here’s to you and here’s to some rock tossing we all need to do.
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