Monday, February 12, 2007


(News-Herald, August 2002) There are two types of people in the world; those who like to divide the world into two types of people, and those who don’t.
There are many many ways to do the dividing (my favorite new e-mail joke: there are 10 kinds of people in the world; those who understand binary and those who don’t). Let me suggest today that in the river of life, there are sticks and there are stones.
Stones are stationary. The current flows around them; they feel the pressure of the flow, but they stay put.
Sticks ride the current. They are carried along with the rush of the water.
Stones shape the river; sticks are driven by it.
Sticks cover a lot of territory, see a lot of the river bank, come in contact with many others. Often sticks can hook together, and move on to see what’s around the next bend side by side.
Stones become part of their surroundings, anchor the other stones with them. They don’t see much of the river bed, but what they see they know well.
Current may dislodge a stone, uproot it and send it tumbling further downriver, but a stone never really enjoys it. A stone feels disoriented, uncertain, and looks to get itself planted quickly again.
Sticks can become lodged against a bank or caught in an eddy. You can watch them bobbing there, edgy, itching to get back to their journey again.
Some sticks and stones are thoughtless and judgmental. Stones may look at sticks flashing by and be disgusted by their lack of stability, their insistence on moving on ahead, their unwillingness to settle. Some sticks look down on stones and think how dull, how boring, how pointless to sit there in one place.
But sticks and stones can also envy each other. Stones may look at sticks and envy their freedom, their movement, their energy, the sheer excitement of plunging on ahead with the rush of water. Stones can become lonely, feeling as if people and events rush by them and leave them sitting where they have always been.
Sticks can envy stones their peace. Sticks rush endlessly on and may dream of what it would be like to be a stone, at peace and settled in your own stable corner of the universe and the feel events move around you, instead of picking you up and tossing you ahead on the current.
Stones dislike being left behind. Sticks dislike leaving people behind.
Sometimes sticks and stones try to join together. Hardly ever works. There is no way for them to live together in a manner that honors both their styles. Opposites may attract. They may even love each other. But that doesn’t make them able to build a life together.
I think some places are better suited to one or the other. A big city, like Chicago, seems like a place suited to sticks. Venango County is a good place for stones.
I don’t think it’s better to be a stick or better to be a stone. The sticks complain that Venango County is too set in its ways, too stolid and stable. The stones complain that the sticks give up too soon, leave too easily. But each type of life has its rewards, and each requires that you give something up.
Ultimately, I think sticks and stones work well together. For a stone, there is a certain satisfaction that comes from helping to shape and direct the forces that send a stick on its way. And for a stick, that direction and shape to the river of life helps give them direction of their own, for which they can be grateful.
Without stones, a river would be a straight unwavering rush to the sea, without any interest or bend or change, monotonous and ultimately pointless. And if the river carried nothing with it, the life of each little section would be small and limited and connected to very little else.
If there really are two types of people, then we can each be only one type at a time, and our lives are richer and deeper and broader for our sharing with the “other” type. Life really is bigger than one person can take in from one small vantage point.
Sometimes, after a stick has traveled a long time, it becomes heavy and sinks to rest on the bottom; sometimes a stone is worn away until it is light enough to be carried away on the current. To really see the river, we have to see it more than one way. But while we’re waiting for the day our vision may change, we can benefit from the sight of others. That’s the best reason I know to have two types of people in the world. Or 10.

1 comment:

Miranda said...

I really liked this one, Peter.

From my Flickr