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Nothing is Written in Stone

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Human beings are social creatures: we need companionship. Yet, when we get together, we often get on each others’ nerves; we offend and hurt each other.

That is because we are also selfish creatures: we need to ensure our that own needs are met. Sometimes our selfishness conflicts with our ability to take care of another person’s needs. Sometimes our emotions, especially anger, impede our kindness.

Relationships are complicated and easily damaged, not only by a total breakdown in communication or utter alienation but also by small wounds. A slight or snub, that perhaps went unacknowledged at the time, can fester and grow.

On Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year, I spoke about our need to repair relationships that may have suffered in the previous year. According to tradition, if we concentrate on seeking forgiveness from others we have hurt, then God will judge us favorably when we repent on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. God will write us in The Book of Life, giving us another year to be social, selfish, and selfless.

I also shared a story that I’d read in a book by my friend, Ralph Singh.* Stories to Light our Way is a curriculum guide, designed for use with Pre-K and Elementary School children.  But I have found that stories appeal to the inner child that resides in most adults. We all need stories to light our way.

The world of the desert is very harsh. Strong winds turn the sand into an endless ocean of shifting waves. Sometimes even the footprints of the camel caravans are erased faster than writing on a chalk board. The hills are so high and valleys so deep people easily get lost. The hot sun beats down, making it very difficult to travel.

Two friends were walking through the desert. A large sandstorm came up and they began to feel lost. They argued about the right direction: “You’ve made us lose the way,” one shouted. This made the other so angry that he slapped his friend in the face. The one who was slapped was hurt, but without saying anything, he wrote in the sand: “TODAY MY BEST FRIEND SLAPPED ME IN THE FACE.”

When the storm stopped, they started their journey again and soon found an oasis. There in the middle of the desert were trees, and grass, and a nice pond. They decided to take a bath. The one who had been slapped rushed in first and forgot to check for quicksand. He got stuck and started drowning. Quickly the other friend threw him his robe and helped him climb out. After he recovered from nearly drowning, he wrote on a stone: “TODAY MY BEST FRIEND SAVED MY LIFE.”

The friend who had just saved the other was surprised and asked, “After I hurt you, you wrote in the sand, and now, you write on a stone, why?” The other friend replied, “When someone hurts us we should write it down in sand where the winds of forgiveness blow it away. But, when someone does something good for us, we must engrave it in stone where no wind can ever erase it.”

According to Ralph’s research, a version of this story exists in every one of the world’s religions.  The oldest version is found in an ancient Hindu text, which concludes with the teaching: “Our anger should dissipate like a wave in the water. When we write it on stone it will never go away.”

When I was younger, when I would make a mistake and need to correct error, my mom would say, “It’s okay, nothing is written in stone except the Ten Commandments.” I used to think my mom was funny.**

Now that I am older, this is not just a funny thing Mom used to say. I really appreciate her wisdom that nothing is written in stone except God’s commandments, which, unlike human words, are meant to be enduring. Human errors are meant to be forgiven, barely pressed into the sand and washed away by the ocean.

If we want God to be forgiving of our mistakes, we must be forgiving of ourselves and of each other.  I like to think that our mistakes are recorded in pencil, easily erased by repentance, while our names are recorded in The Book of Life in Sharpie.

Notes:

*My version of the story is reprinted here with Ralph’s permission.  You can find out more about Ralph’s work at the Wisdom Thinkers Network website.

** Funnier than my mom: Mel Brook’s portrayal of Moses and his delivery of the Fifteen Commandments.

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Comments (2)

…in Sharpie.

Great imagery!

I am unfamiliar with this story. But I love it and will use it. Somewhere.

There are some other wonderful stories in the book, too. Ralph gave me the accompanying CD, so I can listen to him tell the stories. It’s like having him in the car with me while I’m stuck in traffic!

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