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What One Small Grain Learned
by
Arthur Hale

Art originally posted this story on The Zoo Fence’s Open Forum. For us, it was love at first read! And so, we asked him if we could post it here, at Open Space. Happily, he agreed. When we asked him if he would like us to include a few biographical or other introductory sentences with the story, here is what he sent us: “Nothing about me is of much importance except my status as a Seeker. I’m a committed student of A Course in Miracles after being, over the years, an atheist, an agnostic, a Taoist, an evangelical Christian, a Wiccan, a Catholic, and an I-don’t-know-what-I-am like the little grain in this story. He’s me, and I can hardly wait, like him, to see what, after being ’this’, being ’that’ will be like”.

We hope many TZF’s visitors will enjoy this story, and appreciate its lesson, as much as we do.

Art Hale is the author of the book Christ Yes, Religion No, and of a poem that appears here on Open Space.

(Editor’s Note: If you came here from Consider This! and would like to return, please click here. If you would like to return to the Open Space menu, please click here.)

The Zoo Fence

What One Small Grain Learned

A single grain it was, hardly to be noticed among all the other grains on the stalk. It did not know how it had come to be there, nor did it even wonder. “I am one of these,” it thought to itself — for this particular grain had somehow attained command of thought. “We are all here, we are all alike, and this is reality.”

And so it believed, nor had it any reason to doubt the correctness of its own observations.

Until, that is, IT happened.

IT was a wind. A very strong wind, cold, wet and blustery. All day it blew, and all night it blew, and the little grain hung onto its place among the others with might and main, but at long last the wind won the contest and the little grain fluttered to the ground.

For a while it lay still, exhausted by the struggle. After a while, however, it began to sense that things were not the way they were before. It was no longer in its place among the others. Around it was not the warmth of snuggled-up grains, but instead a sort of vast emptiness that didn’t seem to stop anywhere, and certainly didn’t snuggle up to him, and didn’t feel like anyone he knew.

He had only been there a little while, alone and by himself, trying to figure all this out, when a green worm came along. It was only a small green worm, but to the little grain it seemed like the worm’s other end was a very long distance away. Reasoning that anything that big should know a great deal, the grain ventured to ask.

“Excuse me,” it said in a small frightened-grain voice.

“For what?” asked the worm in a rumbling worm voice.

“For being small and ignorant,” replied the grain. “I am going to ask you a small and ignorant question, if I may, please.”

“So ask,” said the worm.

“What am I?” asked the grain. “I know I am one of them, but they aren’t around anymore, and I just sort of wondered what we are. I mean, what I am.”

The worm regarded him silently for a moment, and then, after searching though all his memories, said, “Hmmm, I think that you are a pebble. Hmmm. Yes, that’s it. A pebble.”

“Oh,” said the grain. “At least it’s nice to know that much. What do pebbles do, so that I can set about doing what I am supposed to do?”

“Pebbles,” said the green encyclopedia, “lie there.”

“Oh,” said the grain, again.

“Excuse me now,” said the worm,” but I have places to go, leaves to eat, birds to avoid. Goodbye, pebble, lie well.”

And the worm was gone.

The little grain practiced Lying There for a while, and thought he was getting to be rather good at it — but somehow, it didn’t feel comfortable, as if it were not really the proper thing for him to be doing. Lying There seemed somehow unfulfilling. And the more he lay there, the more he began to suspect that the green worm was not infallible after all.

Just as he had decided that a second opinion might be helpful, a bird came along. Fortunately, it was a robin, which would have eaten the worm but was not interested in the grain as a potential meal.

“Excuse me,” ventured the grain, thinking that something this very, very big would surely have all the right answers.

“Whaddayawant?” mumbled the robin, hardly interrupting his hungry search for bugs and worms.

“I am small and ignorant, and I wish to ask you a small and ignorant question,” the grain replied.

“Okay, buddy, make it fast, okay?,” the robin replied, with impatience, “I ain’t got a lotta time, ya know.”

“Please, sir,” the grain asked, “what am I?”

“A confounded nuisance, that’s what,” the robin said, adding, “Geez. Whatta dumb question.”

And the robin promptly flew away.

The grain pondered this new information with puzzlement. He had no idea what a Confounded Nuisance was supposed to do, so how could he set about doing it?

It seemed like hours passed after the robin left, during which all the poor grain could do is work on Lying There. In case, you see, that that was what he was really supposed to do.

At long last there came another visitor. It was a very impressive visitor, for it had big, interesting eyes set far away from its head on stalks, and carried a large something-or-other on its back. Because it was moving very slowly, the grain thought he might get a bit more conversation out of it than out of the robin. Anyway, it would be worth a try!

“Excuse me,” he said.

“Certainly,” said the snail, for that is what the visitor was.

“I am small and ignorant …” said the grain.

“Who isn’t,” countered the snail.

“… and I was wondering …” continued the grain.

“Who isn’t?” asked the snail.

“… if you might be able to tell me what I am?” the grain said, completing his question.

Although the grain did not know it, he had finally asked someone who really could give him the right answer. The snail gazed at him with its fascinating eyes for a moment, and then asked, “Well, what do you think you are?”

“One of them,” said the grain. “But I don’t know what they are either. The green worm told me I was a pebble, and what I am supposed to do is Lie There. And then the robin told me I am a Confounded Nuisance, but he didn’t tell me what Confounded Nuisances are supposed to do. Do you know?”

“Well,” said the snail, “I happen to know for a fact that you are not a pebble, for I have met many a pebble in my time, and not one of them but was singularly lacking in conversation skills. Besides, you are not hard. Pebbles are hard. Nor,” the snail continued, “are you a Confounded Nuisance. In fact, I am rather enjoying our conversation. Let me examine you for a moment and see if anything jogs my memory.”

Feeling a bit self-conscious, the grain continued to Lie There quietly while the two fascinating eyes examined him, top, sides, bottom and all, this end, that end … and then withdrew into the large something-or-other.

“I’m thinking,” came a muffled voice from within. “Be back with you in a moment.”

After a few moments, the muffled voice spoke again. “I have it.” The head reappeared, then the eyes. “One remembers things from one’s previous journeys. One overhears conversations. And one mulls these things over, until one arrives at Wisdom. You, my small friend, are a Seed.”

“A seed,” the grain said. “Thank you for telling me. May I ask another question?”

“Assuredly,” the snail replied, good-naturedly.

“What does a Seed do?” the grain asked. “I’m tired of Lying There.”

“A Seed,” the snail replied, “becomes.”

“Becomes?” the grain said, with some confusion. “Excuse me, I’m not following you at all.”

“That hardly surprises me,” said the snail. “Let me put it this way. You are not going to just Lie There for very long. A change, a very big change, in fact a monumental change, is going to occur, and you will become something else quite different, far more wonderful, the very thing you were meant to be.”

Images filled the grain’s small mind, chief among them the image of a very big and beautiful grain.

“No,” said the snail, who apparently could read minds.

“No?” asked the grain.

“No,” responded the snail, with emphasis. “It is quite natural, of course, that you should at first imagine that what you will become is a bigger and better Seed. Perhaps a perfect Seed, but still a Seed. But I tell you that you will become something far, far better. You are a small, yellow-colored thing now. What you shall be is a tall, beautiful Green Thing with beautiful green leaves, and in that form you will be the source of Life for many who are like you today, and are bound, as are you, to the same higher destiny.”

“But I like the way I am today,” the grain said.

“You may remain that way as long as you choose, so long as you do not allow yourself to be exposed to Light and Water,” explained the snail. “Seeds like you have remained in dark, dry places for thousands of years. But if you expose yourself to Light and Water, the change will happen. And if you are to be a source of Life, it must.”

The grain thought about what the snail had said. It was all very frightening. And so unfair! Here was a beautiful promise — with a price attached: to be that, you must no longer be this. The grain looked up, and saw clouds forming, with shades of gray ever growing, and he felt the cool breeze, and somehow knew that the time for a decision was at hand. He knew that the snail had offered, without saying so, to take him to a dark, dry place where Light and Water would not reach him. He could choose that — or he could wait until the graying sky opened and the rain began to fall, and yield himself to the destiny the snail had described.

“What would you have me do for you, small yellow Seed?” asked the snail.

“If you don’t mind, sir,” the grain answered, after a moment more of pondering, “I think I’d like to see what it’s like to be a tall Green Thing with beautiful leaves.”

“Good for you,” said the snail, with a happy wave of his amazing eyes. “I praise you, small Seed. You have chosen the Way of the Maker. You will gleam before Him in beauty.”

With that, the snail moved slowly and silently away, and the rain began to fall.

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