Once, a young man who was very good with his hands decided he wanted to make something that would take him far into the future. He had some lengths of beautiful honey coloured wood that had been put aside for something special. He ran his hands along the smooth edges and had the start of an idea.
The young man built a step. He was also good with his mind so he devised a perfect joint that fitted together without nails or screws. He carved each edge lovingly by hand smoothing each plane and cutting each angle with precision. It took him a whole day to make the first step and when the sun rose the next morning he began to make a second. In the last of the long evening light, which made the wood glow like wisdom, he fitted the second step to the first with a join so perfect that it could barely be seen.
The following morning he stood upon the first step and began to build the third.
At the end of the third day the young man lay down on the second step to sleep. The wood was warm and the wood dust sweet and the softness of his satisfaction kept him comfortable.
On the fourth day the young man discovered that he had used up all of the beautiful honey coloured wood. For a while he didn’t know what to do. He sat on the third step with his feet on the second, with his chin in his hands and pondered. Eventually the young man had a thought. He reached down past his feet and carefully dismantled the first step, then he turned and fitted it just as carefully on to the third. He had built the fourth step.
The young man felt that he should somehow mark his journey so he reached for his finest, smallest chisel and began to carve a tiny picture onto the riser of the fourth step. The next day he dismantled the second step and used the wood to build the fifth. Then he took his tiny chisel and carved a word into the riser. The following morning he dismantled the third step and built the sixth. On the riser he incised the five fine lines of a stave and then chiselled a note.
He continued on his journey and each day he added a picture, a word, or some music to his creation.
The young man was on his way.
On day 87 he carved a minim on the top riser.
On day 160 he carved a picture of a hand.
On day 197 he carved the word BLUE
He felt happy and fulfilled and his life went on.
On day 306 he carved the last note of an arpeggio.
On day 916 he carved a picture of a bird.
On day 2090 he carved the word SLEEK.
Surrounded by music and art and poetry he felt productive and creative.
On day 8334 he carved a high C
On day 12541 he carved a mountain.
On day 18572 he carved the word HEART.
One day, the man who was now not so young, lifted his head from his life’s work and discovered that the world had changed around him. When he looked up he could no longer see where his steps were taking him. When he looked down he could no longer see where he had come from. He stood on step 22536 and regarded the piece of wood in his hand.
He thought that maybe if he replaced it below him and retraced his steps he might be able to find the point at which he had left meaning behind. But as he bent to do it he realized that, up or down he could only ever make the future out of the past. He suddenly understood that every day when he thought he was making something original he was always building his new out of pieces of his old.
He looked again at the piece of wood in his hand, darkened with age and worn as a river stone and faced the realization that he could never adapt to what was ahead if he only used what he already knew. Crowded as it was with letters small and large he nevertheless found a tiny clear space and carved one last word.