An original short story.
The following story is written in the manner of an old Chinese folk tale. The meaning, perspective of the characters, and relevance to the world of piano playing, is for the reader to determine…
The old man sat upright, alert in the Pavilion.
He slowly sipped a steaming cup of Pu-erh tea, breathing the fresh spring air deeply, exhaling slowly, sensing the subtle shifting of energy, tasting the unspoilt dew.
He couldn’t remember a time before he was here. Presented as an infant, he had grown up in this place on the rooftop of the world, gathering herbs and food, training in the energetic arts, and sitting at the feet of the masters who preceded him on the holy mountain.
He rightly and fully deserved to be here, far removed and above the dust of the valley floor, a solitary figure seated in the Pavilion, enjoying the morning sunshine.
He watched intently as the shadows steadily moved across the tree-line, observing the sun as it rose to its zenith above the mountain tops, enjoying each changing colour, alert to every small detail of the vibrant landscape as it burst into life. From the Pavilion it was possible to see the totality of the ten thousand things…
…and the view was truly his.
At first he didn’t want the woman to succeed and make the ascent.
But as the days progressed he observed her steady progress, the skill of her movement, the flexibility and balance that confirmed she had trained well and reached a commendable level of accomplishment.
But would she really appreciate the view from the Pavilion?
Would she watch intently as the shadows steadily moved across the tree-line, observing the sun as it rose to its zenith above the mountain tops? Would she perceive those smallest of changes as this luscious landscape rose to its fullness, purring in the summer warmth?
Perhaps she would. The old man chuckled softly to himself.
As he savoured another glorious sunset from the Pavilion, the old man hoped she would soon be at his side. Perhaps tomorrow she would complete her ascent and prove herself worthy.
And the view from the Pavilion would be shared with this new companion.
They sat together, enjoying the crisp morning air, pouring fresh cups of Pu-erh from a simple Yixing clay teapot.
At first, he had struggled to accept this woman’s appearance in the Pavilion.
He had thought it would be easy to adjust. It was not.
For her part, she understood that he was not a bad man. Humanity lives and breathes within the changing landscape of each season, she mused.
And now they watched together as the shadows steadily moved across the tree-line, observing the sun as it rose to its zenith above the mountain tops, enjoying the staggering beauty of the ripe landscape as the cooler winds of Autumn began to blow.
Far below, in the dust of the valley, a boy started to climb the mountain.
“He won’t make it”, thought the old man, sipping another infusion of his aged Lincang Pu-erh.
Turning to the woman he voiced his concerns;
“The boy lacks the training. As soon as the new snow starts to fall, he will surely lose his footing, and never make it to the summit. He belongs in the dust of the valley below with his own folk.”
And yet the boy was already exploring the foothills, undeterred, fuelled with an insatiable spirit of adventure and discovery. Merrily he made his way towards the higher ground, singing his own simple song to himself, invigorated by the fresh nip in the air.
“He is content where he is”, the old man muttered under his breath. “See how he enjoys himself even there, and relishes such a small, limited vista.”
The woman quietly reflected on her own journey, while considering the old man’s words with due respect, aware of the need for dignity in all our conduct.
Finally she spoke:
“Even in the foothills it is possible to watch the shadows move across the tree-line, observe the sun as it rises to its zenith above the mountain tops, and even to perceive the immensity of the ten thousand things,” she suggested. “But I must travel down to the foothills and help the boy climb here safely and with a secure footing”.
Bemused, the old man watched as she rose to her feet, gathered the barest essentials, and began the descent.
Once again, the pavilion was truly his, and he sensed that he truly owned all that his eyes surveyed from the lofty peak.
And yet, was this loneliness he felt as the chill wind of winter began to blow?
When they arrived at the summit, the Pavilion was deserted.
“You told me I would meet the master here… where is the old man?”
And so she explained:
“Who knows? He watched intently as the shadows steadily moved across the tree-line, observing the sun as it rose to its zenith above the mountain tops. In the quietude, he was alert to every tiny detail in the universe as it knelt silently before him, until at last he became one with it.”
And as she watched the accepting response of the boy, she noticed that the young skin of his face concealed the oldest of eyes. He stood there, mature, alert, surveying the scene, his face radiant.
At last the boy said to her,
“I have always wondered how the world would appear from this Pavilion, high in the sky. The foothills offer a majestic view of the mountains, and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that for all the world… but from here I can truly see the ten thousand things.”
The woman smiled. And in the gentle spring breeze she thought she heard the soft chuckle of the old man.