The Wooden Bowl Revisited, Guest Post by Tom Carroll
I beg your pardon, if I’ve I dropped my fork. Smile with me please, as my feet stumble and I trip over a word and miss when reaching for a thought. What follows is a story you may have heard before. It leaves the reader with a mixture of feelings, depending upon your point of view – your own thoughts and actions. The original story is attributed to a great man, Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy. Intending no disrespect, I’ve added some thoughts that turn the story upside down at the end. Tolstoy’s version goes like this:
A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and a four-year old grandson. The old man’s hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered. The family ate together nightly at the dinner table. But the elderly grandfather’s shaky hands and failing sight made eating rather difficult. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor. When he grasped the glass often milk spilled on the tablecloth. The son and daughter-in-law became irritated with the mess. “We must do something about grandfather,” said the son. I’ve had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating, and food on the floor. So the husband and wife set a small table in the corner. There, grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed dinner at the dinner table.
Since grandfather had broken a dish or two, his food was served in a wooden bowl. Sometimes when the family glanced in grandfather’s direction, he had a tear in his eye as he ate alone. Still, the only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a fork or spilled food. The four-year-old watched it all in silence. One evening before supper, the father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor. He asked the child sweetly, “What are you making?” Just as sweetly, the boy responded, “Oh, I am making a little bowl for you and mama to eat your food from when I grow up.” The four-year-old smiled and went back to work.
The words so struck the parents that they were speechless. Then tears started to stream down their cheeks. Though no word was spoken, both knew what must be done. That evening the husband took grandfather’s hand and gently led him back to the family table. For the remainder of his days he ate every meal with the family. And for some reason, neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer when a fork was dropped, milk spilled, or the tablecloth soiled.
As invited when it was sent to me, I checked to verify the Tolstoy connection, which proved true. And I was curious as to what Snopes would have to say – which was a lot. They said that the story has several variations and many interpretations – but all are in keeping with the general theme – our blindness and tendency to disrespect the feelings of others. While these are examples of insensitivity that should never be ignored, there is a larger, brighter perspective regarding the experience of old age and physical death.
So let’s look at this story from another angle – the idea, as many like to say, that we are spirits having a physical experience. And in view of inevitable aging of the body, we should consider nature’s lessons. Spring and summer give way to fall. And winter, the herald of spring. Without minimizing the challenges presented by the aging process, let’s look again and give the story a slightly different name. We’ll call it; “The Wooden Bowl… Revisited!”
Now, let’s consider that the old gentleman’s tears could have been for his family rather than for himself. Consider that he could have been crying because his family had thus far failed to understand that the length of our life is not as important as the depth and span of our hearts. Consider that the old man was secure in his knowledge that his real strength did not reside in his body.
It is true that we will be tempted to be fearful of old age, and how we overcome this fear will vary from person to person. What is common to all is the importance of practicing fearlessness – making it the strongest of all our muscles. No one has identified that one perfect phrase – special words with the power to comfort everyone, at every time of need. The peace-filled word and heart remains the responsibility of the comforter, the injured and the bereaved. As we must each one in our own way to practice fearlessness right in the face of all that tempts us to dwell upon the uncertainty of our mortal lives.
No one knows how it all works. But our deepest intuitions tell us that we will live – continue to live, uniquely aware. I am not referring to or discounting heaven as it is popularly conceived. I’ll simply not burden readers with speculation. Let it be enough to say that Life is eternal. The forms it assumes, including these bodies, change and one day die. And still, life is eternal! The unique perspective that is me as differentiated from you – can we simply call this the soul? A soul, like the rose call it any name we like – the you and me that have never not been and will never not be. Maybe there really is only one consciousness – the One we hear so much about. Oneness looking at the world from your eyes also seeing with my eyes and all others – so many points of view – perfect and perfectly unique!
Wooden bowls, ceramic plates – all will fall one day, shattering into unusable pieces. Life is not a plate or bowl. Broken, the life they contain remains – a soul untouched by time, unthreatened by infirmity. To say more would be to intrude upon the mystery. As, in spite of all that has been said and written – a mystery is all that really remains. This and an intuition born of our observation of nature. We are nature’s children. As such, we follow nature’s example. Spring to summer, summer to fall… and winter that makes way for life’s expressions renewed. Life is eternal.
So, though I beg your pardon if I’ve I dropped my fork, smile with me please, as my feet stumble and I trip over a word and miss when reaching for a thought! Right in the middle of my clumsy execution of the simplest of life’s tasks – let’s laugh wide and deep at a joke none of us really understands. It goes like this: “We are not these bodies. We are immortal souls!”
Reaching to lift it to my lips, I just tipped over a full glass of the best wine! What a joke it is! I may not understand yet, but that’s the funniest thing I ever did! What made it perfect was when all my friends and loved ones laughed and continued laughing until tears spilled down both sides of our faces.