05 Aug Jonathan Seagull spent the rest of his days alone… (RICHARD BACH)
When they hear of it, he thought, of the Breakthrough, they’ll be wild with joy. How much more there is now to living! Instead of our drab slogging forth and back to the fishing boats, there’s a reason to life! We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly! The years ahead hummed and glowed with promise.
The gulls were flocked into the Council Gathering when he landed, and apparently had been so flocked for some time. They were, in fact, waiting. “Jonathan Livingston Seagull! Stand to Centre!” The Elder’s words sounded in a voice of highest ceremony. Stand to Centre meant only great shame or great honour. Stand to Centre for Honour was the way the gulls’ foremost leaders were marked. Of course, he thought, the Breakfast Flock this morning; they saw the Breakthrough! But I want no honours. I have no wish to be leader. I want only to share what I’ve found, to show those horizons out ahead for us all.
He stepped forward. “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” said the Elder, “Stand to Centre for shame in the sight of your fellow gulls!” It felt like being hit with a board. His knees went weak, his feathers sagged, there was a roaring in his ears. Centred for shame? Impossible! The Breakthrough! They can’t understand! They’re wrong, they’re wrong! “… for his reckless irresponsibility,” the solemn voice intoned, “violating the dignity and tradition of the Gull Family …” To be centred for shame meant that he would be cast out of gull society, banished to a solitary life on the Far Cliffs. “… one day, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, you shall learn that irresponsibility does not pay. Life is the unknown and the unknowable, except that we are put into this world to eat, to stay alive as long as we possibly can.” A seagull never speaks back to the Council Flock, but it was Jonathan’s voice raised. “Irresponsibility? My brothers!” he cried. “Who is more responsible than a gull who finds and follows a meaning, a higher purpose for life? For a thousand years we have scrabbled after fish heads, but now we have a reason to live — to learn, to discover, to be free! Give me one chance, let me show you what I’ve found …” The Flock might as well have been stone. “The Brotherhood is broken,” the gulls intoned together, and with one accord they solemnly closed their ears and turned their backs upon him.
Jonathan Seagull spent the rest of his days alone, but he flew way out beyond the Far Cliffs. His one sorrow was not solitude, it was that other gulls refused to believe the glory of flight that awaited them; they refused to open their eyes and see. He learned more each day. He learned that a streamlined high-speed dive could bring him to find the rare and tasty fish that schooled ten feet below the surface of the ocean: he no longer needed fishing boats and stale bread for survival. He learned to sleep in the air, setting a course at night across the offshore wind, covering a hundred miles from sunset to sunrise. With the same inner control, he flew through heavy seafogs and climbed above them into dazzling clear skies … in the very times when every other gull stood on the ground, knowing nothing but mist and rain. He learned to ride the high winds far inland, to dine there on delicate insects. What he had once hoped for the Flock, he now gained for himself alone; he learned to fly, and was not sorry for the price that he had paid. Jonathan Seagull discovered that boredom and fear and anger are the reasons that a gull’s life is so short, and with these gone from his thought, he lived a long fine life indeed.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull a story
Image: work of Ukrainian artist Vladislav Erko for the book ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull a story’