Monday, August 6, 2012

A Single Shard

Is it weird that one of my all-time favorite books is considered a children's book?  Probably, but to be perfectly honest, I don't care.  A story about a young boy who's greatest wish is to learn how to throw clay and create a pot on his own potter's wheel, the reader is drawn into his world where life is difficult, but also happy and full of opportunity if one is willing to work hard, where perseverance is eventually rewarded, and where a single celadon shard can change someone's destiny.

So why do I love this story so much?  Because it actually teaches you something.  Growing up, most children's books I read were fun or cute, but certainly didn't really teach anything.  Other books were educational in teaching various aspects of history or science or literature.  The Magic School Bus books stick out to me in that category.  But when it came to teaching actual life lessons, none really come to mind.

And that's why I love this book, because scattered throughout the story are life lessons.  Although some don't particularly apply to this day and age as the book is set in 12th century Korea and most people reading the book aren't basing their actions on a need to survive, there are some that do apply to our time.  My favorite lesson, is similar to just putting one foot in front of the other, but I prefer the wording of it.

The main character of the book, Tree-ear (I can't believe I'm just now telling you his name), lives under a bridge with his good friend Crane-man who is also the person who raised him since he is an orphan.  Towards the end of the book, he has to tell Crane-man that he is going on a journey.  As he struggles to find the words to tell his friend about this, eventually telling him in a rather round-about fashion, he reveals that he doesn't want to say the name of the city he's traveling to because "it seems too far away, to say it."  What I love is Crane-man's response, "No, my friend, it is only as far as the next village.  A day's walk, on your young legs."  Tree-ear is naturally puzzled as his destination, Songdo, is a very long journey.  So Crane-man explains, "Your mind knows that you are going to Songdo.  But you must not tell your body.  It must think one hill, one valley, one day at a time.  In that way, your spirit will not grow weary before you have even begun to walk.  One day, one village.  That is how you will go, my friend."

For me, that is such a life lesson, to just take things one day at a time.  There are many times when I look too far forward and just as Crane-man says, my spirit grows weary before I even get started.  Keeping in mind to take things one step, one day at a time helps a lot and I tend to get a lot more done with that mentality.  It's a fairly simple way of thinking and a fairly common one too, but for some reason, the way he says it just makes so much more sense to me and really speaks to me every time I read the book.

Another life lesson is again provided by Crane-man just before Tree-ear sets out on his journey.  "Of all the problems you may meet on your journey, it will be people who are the greatest danger.  But it will also be people to whom you must turn if ever you are in need of aid."  His words, though honestly sad as it speaks to the sinfulness of man, are very true.  Oftentimes, in life, some of our greatest challenges are brought about by people and it is people who are often a great danger to us.  But at the same time, when we are in trouble, we need to be able to turn to people for help.  I think its just a good reminder to be watchful as we go through life.  Other lessons, not quite as obvious are woven into the fabric of the story.  Lessons of perseverance, of hard work, of courage.

But it is not just because of the lessons that I love this book.  Its just under 150 pages.  Very few books with that few of pages are really able to develop the characters in them in my opinion.  By the end of the book I might like the characters and enjoy them, but very rarely am I attached to them in any lasting way.  And, again, that's what makes this book so unique.  Because this is one of the few books that I have read countless times, and every time I read it, it makes me cry because I am so attached to the characters.  I know some of you are probably in disbelief because I'm the seriously emotional person when it comes to movies and books, but for the most part after I've seen or read a movie/book once or twice, I kind of desensitize myself I guess and after that I'm fine.  I might tear up a bit or feel sad, but I don't all out cry.  There are only a few books and movies that do that to me.

And finally the other reason I love this book is because I can relate so well to Tree-ear.  He has a dream to learn to make pots, but it is one that it seems will never come true because he is an orphan and the potter's trade passes from father to son.  Still, despite that, he continues to work hard, to dream about the pot he's going to make someday, and eventually, his dream comes true.  Granted he goes through a lot of disappointments and getting to that point was not easy, but it all paid off in the end.  For me, it just encourages me to keep going, to keep working towards my dream, accepting each disappointment as it comes and working to move past it.  Its not easy, and like with Tree-ear there are days when it all seems completely hopeless and pointless.  But you keep plugging along and working your way towards your goal.

And finally, I will leave you with one last life lesson that goes with what I just said.  When Tree-ear learned that potter's trade went from father to son and that as such he would likely never become a potter, he was crushed.  The hope he had kept alive for over a year as he worked for a master potter suddenly died.  Yet once again Crane-man was there with words of wisdom that proved true, "My friend, the same wind that blows one door shut often blows another open."  And for Tree-ear, the second door did indeed blow open.

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