A little boy came to his grandmother one day because he had an urgent question. He had to decide what he’d do with the rest of his life.
His grandmother thought he had plenty of time to figure this out yet, since he was only nine or ten years old, but there was no stopping him when he got going on something. So she sat with him and listened.
First, he wanted to become a race car driver, and get behind the wheel of a big and powerful car, and zoom around the track at incredible speeds, and win great big trophies beneath the waving checkered flag. Oh, how he wanted to be a race driver.
“But, grandmother,” he abruptly said, “I don’t think I can do it. I don’t think I’m tall enough. You have to be really tall to drive a race car, right?”
Grandmother tried to break in that he had plenty of time to grow, and she didn’t think you had to be really tall to drive a car, but he didn’t give her a moment to speak. He was off again.
This time, he wanted to be an airplane pilot. He imagined soaring high above the clouds, and seeing places far away, and looking down on the land or the ocean from his airplane above. Oh, how he wanted to be a pilot.
“But, grandmother,” he abruptly said, “I don’t think I can do it. To fly an airplane, you have to go really high. I don’t even like climbing ladders. I don’t think that will work.”
Grandmother tried to tell him that he might learn to be more comfortable on ladders, and she’d seen him racing along the upper levels of the playground equipment, but he didn’t give her a chance to say a word. He was off again.
Now he wanted to be an explorer. He wanted to meet new people who’d never seen other people before. He wanted to be the first to see rivers and waterfalls, and find new kinds of plants and animals. He wanted to wear a leather jacket and a big hat, and speak fifty languages to the people who marched through the wilderness with him. Oh, how he wanted to be an explorer.
“But, grandmother,” he abruptly said, “I don’t think I can do that, either. After all, I really just like to stay at home.”
Grandmother was quick, this time. She jumped in before he picked another thing he’d love to do, but for some reason could never do. I think the hug might have been what worked to help him listen rather than keep talking.
“Grandson, listen to me for a little while,” she said. “I want you to close your eyes and imagine the things I describe to you.
“Imagine the mountaintop,” she said. “You’ve been there. You’ve seen how hard and sharp the rocks are. It’s a harsh, rugged place. And that’s the land. Yes, that’s what land is.”
Going on, she said, “Now imagine the beach. On the beach, it’s soft sand. It settles beneath your foot, and it tickles your toes. You can lie down on it and it cradles you. And that’s the land, too. Yes, that’s what the land is.
“Now imagine the forest, with its soaring trees and ferns growing wildly everywhere. In some places there are rocky outcrops, and in others swamps and reeds. The trees reshape the land as time passes. And that’s the land, too. Yes, that’s what land is.
“And now, grandson, imagine the volcano. Imagine the hot, liquid rock flowing down the mountainsides. Imagine it pouring red-hot into the ocean, and imagine the way it makes new land where there was water before. And that – the liquid lava and the bursting sand, and the hardened rock of the growing shoreline, that’s the land. Yes, that’s what land is, too.
“Land is like all of that, and even more things. Land doesn’t have an imagination; it doesn’t dream of the things it can be, and yet it takes all these shapes.
“Now imagine, grandson: if land can take on so many forms without a will or purpose or imagination, what makes you think that you’re more limited than the land? You have a brain to consider all sorts of things that might be.
“And grandson, you might make any of them happen.”
The photo is of lava entering the Pacific Ocean at Kamokuna, Hawai’i, on July 27, 2017. Photo by Eric Anderson.