A Story after a Legend from the Sahara Desert
It was late afternoon, and there was a wind stroking gently over your hair and giving an ida of coolness to your face. It was the time of the day enticing into talking, and the desire for storytelling became so compelling that everybody asked old Raman to tell one of his wonderful stories.
The wise old man smiled. After thinking for a moment he called: “We’ll meet at the palm tree with the rock when the fires are kindled!”–“Palm tree with the rock? What does that mean?” they shouted after him. “Go and search for it!” He said this already leaving. “Search for it! You won’t miss it.”
Before the night was falling they found the tree. It was standing a bit apart from all the other palm trees on the beach which looked like beautiful slender waving ladies; but the strong dark green fans of it’s leaves gently touched the trees next to it. This palm tree had a strange shape! Of sturdy build, with a mighty trunk and strong fans which seemed to be visibly restrained in their movements, it obvioulsy lacked the cheerfulness that made all the other palm trees appear so feminine.
The oddest thing about this tree however was it’s top! The leaves seemed to be bowing towards the centre. “Look closely”, said the old storyteller after sitting down among them, “pay attention to the next gust of wind.” And they saw it! As the wind blew the fans a bit apart from each other they saw that in the palm’s heart where usually the new light-green shoots are emerging from the centre of the trunk there was a mighty reddish rock; a rock the sort of which there were many lying across the beach.
Raman left no time to ask questions. With a wide movement of his arm he invited everybody to sit down in a circle. In the middle they lit a fire, and the night fell quickly covering everything as if with a dark cloth. “You would like to know how this big rock came up there?” Raman began his tale. “Well, it happened many many years ago, at a time when this palm tree was still a tiny little seedling. There were no houses yet, nor was there a well. Only a few palms were standing on the beach. They and our little palm tree were content with the nutrients from the sandy soil and the humidity from the sky.
The little palm tree loved the sea and the music of the water. It loved the soft wind on the late afternoons and the suddenly falling and often cold night with it’s shadeless darkness. And in clear nights it loved the moon painting hard outlines and drawing long stripes on the ocean which give you an idea of infinity. The little tree knew that a few meters behind there was the desert. But it didn’t have an idea what this means, what dry and empty is about. It was a healthy and happy seedling. Until the day this man arrived!
He came through the desert. He had been wandering around for days, had lost all his possessions, and was almost crazy from thirst and heat. His hands were sore and burning from the futile attempts to dig for water, and his whole body and mind were extreme pain. So he was standing in front of the water, the endlessly vast salty water. The man threw his dried up body into the water, but his mouth with the chapped lips and the furry tongue was burning from thirst which the salty water couldn’t quench.
Then he was seized by a violent rage. ,I have a right for water!’ he cried out. ,I want to live because that’s my right!’ He grabbed a big rock, and his rage gave him a strengh his dried up body could hardly provide; and he shouted, shouted over the boundless water, shouted towards the indelible heat of the sun, shouted towards the desert and up to the unattainable tops of the palm trees. He had lifted the rock in a gesture of threat. His arms were trembling, and it seemed as if finally all his strength would get lost. That was when he saw the palm seedling besides the other palm trees, in between gravel and sand, light-green, full of hope for every new day.
,Why are you living?’ the man shouted. ,Why can you find food and water, and I am dying of thirst? Why are you young and beautiful, why do you have everythng and I have nothing? You shall not live!’ With all his remaining strength he pressed the rock into the middle of the young tree’s heart. The sound of crunching and breaking seemd to multiply into the infinity of the desert and the sea. And then this horrible silence! The man collapsed besides the little palm tree. Two days later he was found by camel-drivers–and it is said he was saved.
None of the drivers had been looking after the the little shattered palm tree. It was almost buried under the burden of the rock, and it’s death seemed inevitable. It’s light-green fans were broken and were withering quickly in the glowing heat of the sun. It’s soft heart was crushed, and the big rock was weighing heavily on the delicate trunk which was in danger of breaking at the slightest breath of wind.
But the man hadn’t been able to kill the little palm tree. He had injured it, but couldn’t kill it. When the horrible sound of breaking twigs, the tearing up of young shoots and the burning pain were accumulating in the young tree, when everything became an outrageous cloud-like mass of pain and always more pain, at this moment a first little wave of force was stirring inside, independent of the pain. And this wave was growing, interrupting the undulation of the pain, making the breaks between pain and more pain grow longer and longer, until the force became stronger than the pain.
The tree tried to shake off the rock. It asked the wind for help; but there was no help. The rock remained in the tree top, on the little palm’s heart, and didn’t move. ,Give up’, the little tree said to itself, ,the rock is too heavy. It is your fate to die young. Bow to it! Let go of yourself! It is too difficult.’ But there was another voice: ,No, there isn’t anything too difficult. You must try it. You must do it.’—,How can I do it?’ the palm tree asked, ,the wind can’t help me. I am all alone in my weekness. I can’t shake the rock off.’—,You don’t need to shake it off’, the other voice said. ,Accept the burden of the rock. Then you will see how your strength is increasing.’
And the young tree, in great distress, accepted it’s burden and stopped wasting it’s energy by trying to shake the rock off. It embraced the rock in the centre of it’s top. It cramped into the ground with long and increasingly strong roots, for with it’s double load it needed stronger foothold. Then came the day when the palm’s roots had gone so deep as to hit upon a water vein. A well came up to the surface, liberated, and transformed this place into a place of joy and wealth. Now, having a firm footing and a long-lasting source of nutrition, the tree started to grow upwards. It laid broad and sturdy fan twigs around the rock. Sometimes it seemed as if it was protecting it. It’s trunk increased in girth, and even if all the other palm trees might be higher and more delightful, the palm tree with the rock, as people would call it, was undisputably the mightiest tree.
Requested by it’s burden, it had taken up the fight against it’s faint-heartedness. It was the winner in this fight. It had laid open a well which since quenched the thirst of many. And, most importantly, the tree had accepted it’s burden. It was still laying on it’s heart, but it had taken a position that made it bearable. Only the exterior burden seems unbearable to us. When we accept it it becomes part of us.”
Raman the storyteller laid his both hands at the trunk of the big palm tree. The fire had almost gone out, and the heareres were leaving one after another. Only one of them stayed. He had arrived late and had benen sitting a little bit apart.
He now sat next to Raman, and the two of them were sitting quietly for a long time.
“I am the man who pressed the rock onto the palm tree,” the man said. “ I had forgotten about it, but your tale brought it all back to me. What shall I do? I feel guilty.”
“Bear this guilt as the tree is bearing the rock”, Raman answered. “Accept the guilt. Try to transform as much of it as you can into love. Don’t forget that love is something you have to do. It is not enough to just see it and know about it’s necessity. Love is life, and it only grows from doing.”
The men were still sitting a long time under the palm tree, and there was a slight wind that would start the fire again.
(An original author of this story is not known to me. I found this version here and translated it into English.—Maria Backes)