When we are young and we first think about how we will make our ways in the world, we all know with a fairy-tale certainty that we will always remain the heroes of our own stories, and that heroes always triumph at the end. Our true identity as a prince or princess will be discovered, our name will be on the magazines or billboards or best-seller racks, our swing will win the World Series, our life story will be set on the shelf for future generations to read, and our hand will surely at length come to rest on the great lever that turns the world.
Then, as we set out on our journeys, most of us realize that none of these things will ever come true. We learn that we are standing on the side of a mountain, and that the only thing we can hope to accomplish with our lives is to pick up a tiny pebble and move it six inches up or down the slope. When we learn this, many of us give up in despair, and lose ourselves in sensation or apathy or even self-destruction.
The beginning of wisdom comes when we begin to look at the world and the world’s past, and we see how millions of people, all moving their own pebbles by their own tiny amounts, have made mighty cliffs vanish or rise up overnight, and over time have made mountain ranges rumble across the landscape like gazelles, and have thrown up whole continents and cast them down again into the sea.
And if we continue learning long enough, we find at last that our own pebble is tied to every other particle of the universe, so that the reverberations of how we move it will go on echoing outwards to the farthest limits of time and space until both end. And we learn that nothing to be done by any man or angel throughout creation will ever matter any more or any less than the momentous event of our pebble-moving, so that all the powers of heaven and earth wait to see what direction we will choose with hushed breaths and stilled wings.