Be and Become
All the gull could do was strut and squawk and preen its feathers. They were fine feathers. Light but strong. Their black tips fading to the soft grey of an autumn morning to the flecked white of quartz pebbles tossed and tumbled onto the beach by the restless sea.
It understood the human child’s words, but the sounds it made in reply might just as well have been the clicks and whistles of wild porpoises, or the bark of sea-lions. Still, the high ledge was a safe place to rest its tired wings, and the boy would often feed it through the open window.
There was a sadness about the boy. A Shadow. The gull both sensed it and saw it. If the gull could speak it would have asked the boy what the deep dark midnight of the Shadow was. But its sharp beak was made for spearing fish, not forming words. Words were a kind of magic only humans had learned.
So instead it flew away. Far out across the ocean. As far from the salt-spray mist of the coast it knew so well as it dared to go. Away from the foaming waves that broke themselves endlessly on the ragged shore.
Away from the boy who fought so bravely against the Shadow. As far as any gull had ever flown. Only the albatross had flown further.
It would find a whale thought the gull. Theirs was the wisdom of centuries.
“Mother Whale,” cried the gull. “Knowest thou the secret humans call speech?”
“I do not,” replied the whale. “What care we for humans? They are cruel and careless. But wouldst thou listen to our song?”
“Your songs are beautiful,” said the gull, “but too sad for a heart weighed heavy with such sorrow as mine.”
“Then I cannot help thee. Thou seekest one wiser than I.”
“But who?” asked the gull. “Where?”
“The way is not in the sky,” the whale said. “The way is in the heart.”
And with that, the whale disappeared beneath the surface.
‘Should I follow?’ the gull wondered. It could never dive as deep as the whale. High the gull soared on beating wings. Higher than the clouds. Higher than any gull had ever soared. Only the osprey had soared higher.
“Why so high?” asked a voice, as soft and sweet as the perfume of lotus blossom. “What is it you seek? My blessing? You have it. Knowledge? First know thyself."
My Lord,” said the gull, bowing its head as it swooped through the air. “There is a boy. I wouldst speak his name and call him friend for fond have I grown of his fellowship. But troubled is his soul and lost his spirit wanders. And I do not have the words to ease his pain.”
“Ah, yes,” said the enlightened one. “There are many lost souls. To live is to suffer. The love of heaven shall be their salvation. What we think, we become. All that we are arises from our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.”
“But the boy. The Shadow!”
“The boy is dying. That is what you see. He cares not for himself. So deep and selfless is his love for another that his own life is nothing more than the flickering of a candle to him. And yet, that one small flame can light a thousand candles.”
“And words?” asked the gull.
“Love needs no words. Peace comes from within, Brother. Do not seek it without. The boy knows this. Go now. Do not dwell in the past, nor dream of the future, but concentrate the mind only on the present. Simply ‘be’. It is enough.”
“Yes, I - I think I understand.”
“To understand everything,” said the voice, “is to forgive everything. Even the Shadow.”
‘What we think, we become. With our thoughts we make the world.’
The gull wondered if this was really so. And if it was, then, why could it not make its own world? It wasn’t enough to simply ‘be’. It needed to ‘become’.
The gull was tired and hungry when it finally made it back to the high cliffs it called home. It flew over the boy’s house to see if the Shadow was still there. The window was open and the gull could see its young friend lying on his bed, sleeping.
A smaller version of the boy was leaning with his elbows on the window-sill, resting his chin on his hands, waiting. There were some dried crusts of bread scattered on the ledge. But too much bread is not good for gulls. So instead it circled the boy’s house twice more before flying away.
It perched on the highest rock at the very top of the cliffs and there it sat. Thinking. Wishing. It could never have created a whole new world, but perhaps, just perhaps, it could change the world it lived in. If only a little.
For six days and six nights the gull sat and thought. Cold winds blew in off the sea and rain dampened its feathers. It saw the sun and moon rise and set, only to return again in their endless cycle. Still, the gull sat. Never leaving its rock. Until, at dawn on the seventh day, it opened its beak and said... “Friend.”
So excited was the gull to have unlocked the secret of words, it flew fast and straight for the boy’s house. Faster than it had ever flown. Only the swallow could fly faster. But the window was closed. The room empty. Both the boy and the Shadow had gone. The gull settled on the high ledge and, tucking its head under one folded wing, cried salty tears. Its small heart broken. ‘Had it all been for nothing?’ it thought.
The gull was still pondering this when the window was thrown open. So startled was the gull that it fell off the ledge with a frightened squawk.
“Stanley!” Called a child’s voice. “Come back!”
The gull circled and wheeled and perched on the window-sill nervously. This was not the boy, but the same smaller version of its friend it had seen before. Ruffling its feathers, it peered at the child curiously. “Friend?” it asked.
The child’s eyes opened wide with surprise and wonder. “You can talk?”
“Talk,” the gull nodded. “Words.”
“I know my brother calls you Stanley,” said the child, “but are you a boy or a girl? I’m a boy.”
“Boy,” said the gull, looking past the child, into the empty bedroom. Where?”
“You mean my brother? He’s here.”
The boy had walked into the room just in time to hear the gull speak. He stopped and stared. The gull had found its voice. Its words. The boy had lost his. He stood at the window, looking as if he’d put them down somewhere and couldn’t quite remember where he left them.
The Shadow was still there, but it had faded from violent purple to a less threatening twilight-blue. Beneath the blue, the gull could see the pure white of faith, and under that the shining gold of hope, but brighter than them all was the red of love; that grew stronger with every beat of the boy’s heart.
The boy shook his head in disbelief. He threw back his head and laughed, and the sound of his laughter was as high and bright as the sun. “I don’t believe it!”
“Believe,” said the gull. “Be and become.”
“Be? Be what?”
“Only be,” said the gull. “It is enough.”