20 Jun And then you will be ready to begin the most difficult
“We can start working with time if you wish,” Chiang said, “till you can fly the past and the future. And then you will be ready to begin the most difficult, the most powerful, the most fun of all. You will be ready to begin to fly up and know the meaning of kindness and of love.” A month went by, or something that felt about like a month, and Jonathan learned at a tremendous rate. He always had learned quickly from ordinary experience, and now, the special student of the Elder Himself, he took in new ideas like a streamlined feathered computer. But then the day came that Chiang vanished. He had been talking quietly with them all, exhorting them never to stop their learning and their practising and their striving to understand more of the perfect invisible principle of all life.
Then, as he spoke, his feathers went brighter and brighter and at last turned so brilliant that no gull could look upon him. “Jonathan,” he said, and these were the last words that he spoke, “keep working on love.” When they could see again, Chiang was gone. As the days went past, Jonathan found himself thinking time and again of the Earth from which he had come. If he had known there just a tenth, just a hundredth, of what he knew here, how much more life would have meant! He stood on the sand and fell to wondering if there was a gull back there who might be struggling to break out of his limits, to see the meaning of flight beyond a way of travel to get a breadcrumb from a rowboat. Perhaps there might even have been one made Outcast for speaking his truth in the face of the Flock. And the more Jonathan practised his kindness lessons, and the more he worked to know the nature of love, the more he wanted to go back to Earth.
For in spite of his lonely past, Jonathan Seagull was born to be an instructor, and his own way of demonstrating love was to give something of the truth that he had seen to a gull who asked only a chance to see truth for himself. Sullivan, adept now at thought-speed flight and helping the others to learn, was doubtful. “Jon, you were Outcast once. Why do you think that any of the gulls in your old time would listen to you now? You know the proverb, and it’s true: The gull sees farthest who flies highest. Those gulls where you came from are standing on the ground, squawking and fighting among themselves. They’re a thousand miles from heaven — and you say you want to show them heaven from where they stand! Jon, they can’t see their own wingtips! Stay here. Help the new gulls here, the ones who are high enough to see what you have to tell them.” He was quiet for a moment, and then he said, “What if Chiang had gone back to his old worlds? Where would you have been today?” The last point was the telling one, and Sullivan was right. The gull sees farthest who flies highest.
Jonathan stayed and worked with the new birds coming in, who were all very bright and quick with their lessons. But the old feeling came back, and he couldn’t help but think that there might be one or two gulls back on Earth who would be able to learn, too. How much more would he have known by now if Chiang had come to him on the day that he was Outcast! “Sully, I must go back,” he said at last. “Your students are doing well. They can help you bring the newcomers along.” Sullivan sighed, but he did not argue. “I think I’ll miss you, Jonathan,” was all he said. “Sully, for shame!” Jonathan said in reproach, “and don’t be foolish! What are we trying to practise every day? If our friendship depends on things like space and time, then when we finally overcome space and time, we’ve destroyed our own brotherhood!
But overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now. And in the middle of Here and Now, don’t you think that we might see each other once or twice?” Sullivan Seagull laughed in spite of himself. “You crazy bird,” he said kindly. “If anybody can show someone on the ground how to see a thousand miles, it will be Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” He looked at the sand. “Good-bye, Jon, my friend.” “Good-bye, Sully. We’ll meet again.” And with that, Jonathan held in thought an image of the great gull-flocks on the shore of another time, and he knew with practised ease that he was not bone and feather but a perfect idea of freedom and flight, limited by nothing at all.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull a story