A friend of mine returns from Morocco with a beautiful story about a missionary who, as soon as he arrived in Marrakesh, decided that he would go for a walk every morning in the desert that just lay outside the city. The first time he did this, he noticed a man lying down, with his ear pressed to the ground and stroking the sand with one hand.
‘He’s obviously mad,’ the missionary said to himself. But the scene was repeated every day, and after a month, intrigued by this strange behavior, he decided to speak to the stranger. With great difficulty, since he was not yet fluent in Arabic, he knelt down by side.
‘What are you doing?’
‘I’m keeping the desert company and offering it consolation for its loneliness and its tears.’
I didn’t know the desert was capable of tears’.
‘It weeps every day because it dreams of being useful to people and of being transformed into a vast garden where they could grow cereal crops and flowers and graze sheep’.
‘Well, tell the desert that it is performing an important duty,’ said the missionary. ‘Whenever I walk in the desert, I understand man’s true size, because it’s vast open space reminds me of how small we are compared with God. When I look at its sands, I imagine all the millions of people in the world who were born equal, even if the world has not always been fair to all of them. Its mountains help me meditate, and when I see the sun coming up over the horizon, my soul fills with joy and I feel closer to the Creator.’
The missionary left the man and returned to his daily tasks. Imagine his surprise when, next morning, he found the man in the same place and in th same position.
‘Did you tell the desert everything that I said?’
The man nodded.
‘I can hear every sob. Now it’s weeping because it has spent thousands of years thinking that it was completely useless and wasted all that time blaspheming against God and its own fate.’
‘Well, tell the desert that even though we human beings have a much shorter lifespan, we also spend much of our time thinking we’re useless. We rarely discover our true destiny, and feel that God has been unjust to us. When the moment finally comes, and something happens that reveals to us the reason we were born, we think it’s too late to change our life and continue to suffer, and, like the desert, blame ourselves for the time we have wasted.’
‘I don’t know if the desert will hear that,’ said the man. ‘He’s accustomed to pain, and can’t see things any other way.’
‘Let’s do what I always do when I sense that people have lost all hope. Let us pray.’
The two men knelt down and prayed. One turned towards Mecca because he was a Muslim, and the other put his hands together in prayer because he was a Catholic. They each prayed to their own God, who has always been the same God, even though people insist on calling him by different names.
The following day, when the missionary went for his usual morning walk, the man was no longer there. In the place where he used to embrace the earth, the sand seemed wet, for a small spring had started bubbling up there. In the months that followed, the spring grew, and the inhabitants of the city built a well there.
The Bedouin call the place ‘The Well of the Desert’s Tears’. They say anyone who drinks from its waters will find a way of transforming the reason for his suffering into the reason for his joy, and will end up finding his true destiny.
(From, Like the flowing river by Paulo Coelho)