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A boy had come of age. His father, sensing the boy’s agitation, sat down with him and told him a parable of the pearl diver and the thresher.
“Son — ”
said the father,
“there were two young men ready to enter manhood, their lives before them. They were full of passion and idealism, eager for adventure, and yearned for love like they would never yearn again.
The first young man, about your age, was a pearl diver. He would dive deep into the sea, knife clenched between his teeth, holding his breath, until he reached bottom where he pried open oysters for pearls. Many of the pearls were small, or misshapen, lacking luster. Others were uniform and round, suitable as jewelry, but short of the exquisite perfection he demanded. He ignored those for something truly prized. He would have to dive many times and deeper each time to open more oysters, until he found that perfect, precious pearl he wanted.
Each dive, deeper and longer underwater, was risky for the pearl diver. He could tire and drown, or get the bends while ascending from a great depth. He could cut himself with his knife and attract sharks. This was a risk he was willing to take, to put his life on the line for that one pearl like no other.
Which he did. Many years he dove, hunting for his special pearl while what he considered lesser pearls sat on the ocean floor, unable to catch his eye. He grew weary of his toil, and resentful that the pearl of his dreams hadn’t yet presented itself to him. Time ran away from him, until one day, diving deeper than he had dove before, he spotted the finest oyster he had ever seen, and began prying it open. It was tough, refusing to yield its treasure, and he began to look upward to the shimmery sea surface wondering how much longer he could stay down there. Eventually, with tremendous effort, he pried it partly open and glimpsed the beauty within. His eyes widened, his heart pounded. My pearl! he thought.
He frantically wrenched the knife into the flesh of the oyster, forgetting his poise and the skill he needed for a proper extraction, and out popped the pearl, to be suddenly carried away by an ocean current! He swam after it, his chest throbbing in pain, his muscles aching, dizzy from breathless exertion and fear. Come to me!, he seemed to cry to the escaping pearl. Finally, his hand wrapped around the gem, and he started his ascent to air…but he was a long way off and before he made it halfway he drowned. In his death throe, his hand loosened and the pearl and his knife floated to the silty bottom, to lay within sight of each other for eternity.”
“The second young man…”
continued his father,
“also your age, maybe a little older, was a thresher. He worked on a farm and threshed wheat to separate out the grains. He pounded and flailed wheat every day, to collect huge basketfuls of grain. He cared not so much for the quality of individual grains, for he was paid by weight. He would throw out moldy grain or diseased grain, or pest-eaten grain, but beyond that his interest was simply to collect as much edible grain as he could.
And so he threshed wildly and tirelessly, his brow glistening with sweat, singing a tune to himself all the while. Grains tumbled into his waiting baskets, and he marveled at the product of his efforts. Every basket was a feather in his cap. The grains ground up and baked would provide food for himself for a long time. No meal would be a king’s feast, but he would never go to bed hungry. He would thresh, eat, and rise to thresh again. There needn’t be more to life, he thought, as long as I can satisfy myself.
The thresher spent many years threshing wheat for grain, and many years eating that grain, sometimes marveling at its nourishing consistency, but with increasing frequency as time passed wondering if the development of his palate was stunted. He had fine-tuned his day to day life to ensure he would never go hungry, and he mostly enjoyed his work, even if it lacked a higher purpose. As long as the grains tumbled, he was happy. Perhaps there was little passion in his pursuit, but there was comfort and satisfaction and well-being.
Years turned into more years, and the thresher wearied of his routine. I’m fed, he thought, and each bread I make from the grain is a little different from the last, but my heart never soars even as my belly is sated. I live a good life and never want for food, but something is missing. I have secured myself a reprieve from hunger, but in doing so have made myself hungrier than I could ever imagine.
The thresher laid down his flail, prepared to set out and seek meaning, but too much time had passed. His joints and muscles ached with overuse, his back stooped from gazing earthward instead of heavenward, his heart lacked the vigor he would need to start anew. Memories blurred into an indistinct stew, leaving him nothing within to sustain an odyssey, and the transcendent feeling he wanted was long lost to him.”
The father sighed, and sat back in his chair.
“Son, you can be the pearl diver or the thresher. How you choose will affect you for the rest of your life. Or you can take to heart the wisdom I’m about to give you:
There is a time for threshing and a time for pearl diving, and you would do well to know the virtue in both.”