[VIEWPOINT]Turtles, cookies and happinessA student gave me his when he had to move to a different area. He was using a large glass bowl to keep the turtle, with several pebbles on the bottom. Amazed by the little creature, I put the bowl by the window where I could see easily from my desk. Whenever I looked at it, the turtle was always doing the same thing. It tried to climb up the wall of the glass bowl, but slid back to the bottom when it nearly reached the top. I felt sorry for its fruitless efforts.
Another story: A rich man from the city was walking on a beach when he met an idle fisherman. The fisherman was lying by his boat, and the rich man became curious. He said, “Excuse me, but why are you not out on the sea fishing at this hour?” The fisherman responded, “I have already caught today’s share of fish.”
“You can always catch more, right? ”
“Well, you could earn more money and buy a new, bigger boat. Then you can go out farther to the deep sea to catch even more fish, right? Someday you will be a rich man like me.”
“What can I do when I become rich?”
“Are you kidding? You can always enjoy a comfortable, easy life.”
The fisherman responded, “That’s exactly what my life is right now. ”
This to me was a story that made me look back on my life. If I were the one who had met the fisherman, I would have given exactly same advice to him. Probably what we already have is more than enough, but we do not realize how much we have today, and spend every day in our lives without looking around us trying to have more.
I recently read a U.S. bestseller, “Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal,” by Rachel Naomi Remen. Ms. Remen, a holistic treatment specialist, writes about her patients. One of the stories in the book was about a prostate cancer patient. He had been living a hectic life as a successful businessman, and until he was diagnosed with cancer his idea of happiness was having his cake. Like a little kid wanting a piece of cake, he had wanted something in his life for happiness. The cake might be money one day, power another; it could be a new car, a big business contract or an address in the fanciest neighborhood in town. He said:
“When I give my son a cookie, he is happy. If I take the cookie away or it breaks, he is unhappy. But he is two-and-a-half and I am 43. It’s taken me this long to understand that the cookie will never make me happy for long. The minute you have a cookie it starts to crumble or you start to worry about it crumbling or about someone trying to take it away from you. You know, you have to give up a lot of things to take care of the cookie, to keep it from crumbling and be sure that no one takes it away from you. You may not even get a chance to eat it because you are so busy just trying not to lose it. Two years ago, cancer asked me, ‘Okay, what’s important? What is really important?’ Well, life is important. Life. Life any way you can have it. Life with the cookie. Life without the cookie. Happiness does not have anything to do with the cookie, it has to do with being alive. Damn, I guess life is the cookie.”
The turtle by the window is still trying to climb up the slippery glass side only to fall back. Then it tries and fails again. It never gives up.
I don’t want to see the turtle anymore and decided to move the bowl so that I don’t have to look at it all the time. I started to see myself in the turtle, who toils and fights to climb up the side without knowing what lies ahead.
* The writer is a professor of English literature at Sogang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Chang Young-hee