A Folk Tale … and Wasted Life

detail, Urashima Taro Returning … – Yoshitoshi Tsukioka, 1886

The story is told in Japan,
of a responsible young man named Urashima Taro.

One day, whilst walking by the sea,
Urashima Taro noticed a group of cruel boys
poking and tormenting a baby turtle on the beach.

Possessing care and compassion for the suffering animal,
Taro chased the boys away,
gently lifted the turtle, and carefully
released it back into the sea.

Some time later, while in his little boat at sea,
Taro heard a voice repeating his name.

Looking around and seeing nothing,
he then looked into the sea to find,
floating beside his boat, a turtle.

The turtle spoke to Taro and told him that,
if Taro left the boat and climbed on to its shell,
he would transport Taro to the undersea kingdom
known as Ryugu-jo.

Though at first nervous and apprehensive,
once under water, Taro found that,
in that unknown environment, he could actually breathe.

The deeper he went, the more relaxed he became.

When the turtle arrived at a beautiful undersea palace,
a woman greeted him saying that she was a princess who
– wanting to visit the world of men, had changed her form:

She was the turtle he had saved on the beach.

In gratitude, her father told Taro
that he could stay in the undersea kingdom
for as long as he wished.

For many days, Taro enjoyed the thrill and care-free life
of the undersea kingdom.

After a great deal of time had passed, however,
Urashima Taro thought of his family,
and desperately wanted to se them again.

The princess told him that she could not force him to stay and,
as he prepared to return to his old life, handed Taro a box –
but telling him that he must never open it in the world of men.

Returning home, Taro saw that the people in his village
were all strangers; and that his home
was now an empty field.

On inquiring about his family, Taro was told
that they had died … several hundred years ago.
Taro realised that, in the days he had spent
frolicking in the palace,
many years had passed in the world that he had left.

Realising that there was now nothing left for him of his old life,
Taro remembered the parting gift given him by the princess.

Ignoring her warning, he opened the box and
– enveloped by a cloud of white smoke –
he was instantly transformed into an old man;
and in the realisation of this … Taro died.

I had never come across a satisfactory moral for this old tale.

But to me – one was always evident.

I view the world, I suppose, ‘from the outside’ –
as a man whom no one wants to know:
whom multitudes regard as narrow-minded and morose.

But I too, look at the world and – while they see me,
I also see them …

In Taro, I see the fate and future of the majority
of the human race of the 21st century:
impatiently despising all calls
to self control and moderation;
moral discernment and selfless living –
many of whom, I believe, will one day
look back from their death-beds …

and realize that they have wasted
an entire lifetime
in the pursuit of vanity, greed;
entertainment, and ambition.

For me, this life is an opportunity to think
– and consider; and use the time given me
to humble myself;
to live as though I might one day actually have to
give an account of myself before God;
and to exercise empathy, discretion, and integrity.

“Good” or “Bad” … “Right” or “Wrong”
– it seems, is now determined
upon nothing greater than

My house; My family;
My possessions; My career;
My church; My country; My memories –

“Me” … “My” … and “Mine”.

Urashima Taro realised – too late –
that the whole of his life was gone.

How many, I wonder, in the final hours of their life,
have developed the realisation – too late –
that the same was true of them …

… that the constant pursuit of Entertainment
and Ambition had stolen their entire life ?

It was the observation of John Owen –
chaplain to Oliver Cromwell – that,

“And hence it is come to pass, that
wherever there have been complaints of
faults, miscarriages, errors
… their counsels have only been
how to destroy the Complainers,
not in the least

how they should reform themselves … ”

Those who are false,
hate those who are true.

The mass of people will have little or nothing to do
with a man or woman who displays sober-minded
consideration in daily life. Often, such a person
will be despised and ridiculed as “narrow-minded”.

Is that an insult … Or is it a compliment ?

I may not like to be without friends in my life, but
I can certainly appreciate Why it is happening.

And, as I have no desire to be – to imitate –
what I see and hear around me,
I am obliged to accept it.

I greatly value the lesson that I took
from the tale of Urashima Taro …

I choose to lament now
– to feel shame, and be sorry
for those occasional times
when I have selfishly, in ignorance or emotion,
upset people through something impulsively said –

rather than to realise, on my deathbed,

that I have lived life as a pathetic,
self-centred narcissist
whose sole incentive for existing
was the pleasure and promotion

… of Me.

P Livingstone

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