Once upon a time there was a large rock. It wasn't anywhere near the size of even a small boulder, and at the same time much too big to be any sort of pebble. And so it was simply a large rock, which the rock thought was just fine.
This rock had been for a very long time rolling through the world, bump, bounce, jump, never once changing speed. In fact the rock had been rolling for so long that it couldn't remember when the rolling had first begun, or for what reason, or where it had started out or what the destination was. But the rock was hard, and the rolling never hurt it, and the breeze was nice during the day and the stars were the rock's constant and faithful companions at night, so everything was just fine.
One day, as the rock was careening down a particularly nice grass-covered slope a crow came from the east and began to fly alongside of it.
“Hello,” said the crow, “What are you doing there?”
“Hello to you, friend,” replied the rock. “I am just enjoying the day, it is so very beautiful.”
“But, Mr. Rock,” (and this impressed the rock very much, for it had never been called ‘mister' before), “How can you say that you are enjoying the day when you tumble yourself about so violently?”
“It's not I that tumble myself about, or at least I don't will it. I don't know how I came to be moving in this manner, or where I am headed to.”
“Surely you know where you came from, at least.”
“No sir, I do not.”
“Ah!” said the crow, “That must be very sad indeed, not to know where you're from or where you're going; essentially not to know what oneself is about. I imagine your situation would be unbearable to me.”
The rock was rather upset. Up to this point it had been chiefly concerned with the immediate. Happy simply moving through the world, the rock had never really given much consideration to its origins and destination. But now the crow's words and the feelings they inspired were working on the rock, transforming its thoughts. Was it really ‘sad' for one to not know these things?
Before the rock had a chance to collect itself and respond the crow spoke again. “Well, it's been a pleasure conversing with you, Mr. Rock. Until next time!”
And he flew off.
The rock rolled on, so intent on all the crow had said that it barely noticed when the sun began to sink. And that night the rock looked at the stars and they didn't seem as bright as usual, but the rock was so absorbed in its own thoughts that it didn't care, and that night for the first time the rock began to lose momentum and slow down. But the rock paid no attention to this, either.
A few days later the crow came up and began again to fly alongside the rock.
“Hello there, Mr. Rock, I thought you might enjoy a bit of company.”
“Good day,” said the rock, “It would be nice to have someone to talk to for a while. And the last time we spoke you gave me a great deal to think on.”
“Well thank you, Mr. Rock. I am honored that I was able to provide you with a distraction for all of the hours that you undoubtedly pass in misery.”
“I miss your meaning, Mr. Crow, for I pass my hours quite happily.”
“Well,” said the crow, “I'm sure that you are comparatively happy, for I know few beings that could bear utter social isolation as heroically as you do, but surely you don't mean to suggest that you enjoy having no company on your long roll?”
“Ah, but we two are talking right now,” replied the rock.
“But only because I came over to you. Do you think we would have met otherwise? Or that you would have met anyone else today?”
Once again, before the rock could reply the crow flew off, saying, “Farewell, Mr. Rock, until next time!”
That night, as the rock rolled and tumbled its way across a particularly desolate stretch of ground, where even the hardiest plants had to fight to lay down a few small and insufficient roots, it looked up at the heavens.
“I've never felt lonely with all of you looking down on me,” the rock told the stars. “You, with all of your wondrous, illuminating constellations were my silent friends. But now the crow has shown me that this was all a fiction, and I finally realize that I am alone. I have no home, and nowhere to go, and no one to help me. I have only the wide, beautiful world through which to move. But this is enough.”
And the rock felt very sad, and the stars seemed very cold indeed. And as it continued rolling the rock lost more momentum and slowed down, and this time it noticed but couldn't make itself care.
Many, many days passed. Although the rock felt very alone, it continued to roll along and did its best to enjoy the world as much as it always had, and to forget the crow's words. In fact at times the rock wished that the crow had never spoken to it, and that nothing had disturbed its world. But when eventually the crow came again to fly alongside, the rock was so sick with loneliness that it struck up the conversation first.
“Hello, Mr. Crow, how are you today?”
“Quite well, thank you, Mr. Rock. It is a most pleasant day, isn't it?”
Now, the rock was very comfortable with this topic. It seemed the best yet that the crow had broached. The rock said yes, it was a very pleasant day, and told the crow about all of the wonderful things it had witnessed: grasshoppers jumping up out of the lush green carpet just ahead of the rock's path, and the little pool that the rock had recently rolled past, the sunlight dancing on the water so dazzlingly that it looked like an entire universe of light, encapsulated, and many more minor experiences which to the rock were beautiful and good.
But when the rock had finished the crow only cocked its head and sighed, “How sad!”
The rock was very confused and asked the crow how these happy moments could be cheerless, and the crow said, “Well of course all these things you have mentioned are very wonderful; what is to be regretted is that you have never had the chance to truly appreciate them. Before you begin to recognize their beauty you're always moving on, with never a backward glance.”
“But, Mr. Crow, you're moving, just like me. You're flying, and surely that must be more difficult than rolling. You are in the same position as me. My sad state, as you call it, is your sad state.”
“Correct, Mr. Rock, and wrong as well. For whenever I want to rest I land, wherever I please, and when I do I have all the time I desire to study everything before me. Why, if I were constantly moving like you I fancy I should be very miserable indeed!”
The rock pictured all of the things it had just described to the crow, and thought to itself, “I love these things, or thought I did. But if I've never really appreciated them fully, as the crow says, then how can I be sure of this love?”
Before the rock had a chance to voice this question the crow said, “Well, dearest friend, I'm off to relax. Enjoy your roll! I'm sure we'll meet again,” and flew off.
The large rock kept rolling, but all was not right with it. That night as the rock gazed up at the stars it thought about how they had already been lost as friends, and how now they were lost in another way. But the rock kept on rolling, thinking about all the crow had said, every day finding it harder to believe in the mystery of a flower unfolding or to enjoy the spectacle of rain, every day feeling more acutely the loneliness that the crow had revealed, and every day drawing further away from the world.
As the rock became more and more preoccupied with what it had been told, it became less aware of its surroundings. Soon it couldn't remember entire days, having passed them in contemplation, or find the constellations at night. It thought only of finding someone to talk to, and tried to remember where it came from and where it was going, and infrequently and dispassionately looked at the landscape, not enjoying the sight but trying to decide if it was beautiful or not, and why. And all the while it crept closer to a stop.
Years later the rock was sitting next to a stream. It had not moved in such a great while that it couldn't remember a thing, not even how to speak, and had long ago stopped noticing anything that went on around it. Thick moss had crept up and covered the rock like a shroud. And on this scene came the crow, flying from the east. It circled once, twice, three times before landing on the rock, where it began to fashion for itself a nest atop the soft green bed.
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I can't really remember how this story got started. I know that when I wrote it I was still waiting tables in Oakland and that for the most part it was written on waiter pads during lulls in business. I think that it might have briefly been on another website and then taken down, but for all intents and purposes this is the first time it is being published.