by guest blogger Jacob Wilde
There once lived a famous French philosopher by the name of Rene Descartes - famous for his fetish for cross-eyed women - but also famous for his obsession with a particular story. It is a simple story, and it goes like this:
There once was a famous Greek man who owned hundreds and hundreds of olive trees. The oil he made from them had made him quite wealthy, and he possessed anything and everything he could have wanted. His life was filled with joy and contentment.
One summer, a terrible drought fell upon the land, and little by little, the moisture fled from the olive trees, hissing out of leaves, twigs, branches, limbs, until every single tree the man owned had withered and died. His money disappeared. His possessions had to be sold for food. And one day, all the man had left was his house, his clothes, and a bowl full of olives.
He was distraught with grief, with emptiness, with self-pity. And so, he decided to hurl himself from the cliff at the end of his village, overlooking the sea. He set out for the cliff, popping the last of his olives in his mouth as he went, and throwing their pits over his shoulder. He passed through the village with his face to the ground and after some time reached the cliff’s edge. He looked down at the salty mist curling up from the rocks below and just as he was about to jump into oblivion, he looked over his shoulder. A beggar was approaching him from where he had just come. He was crawling on the ground, picking up the discarded olive pits, sucking on them for any last piece of salt or nutrition.
Why did a man who spent most of his time thinking about Cartesian grids and epistemology become so interested in this story? It seems to be simply about a difference in perspective and a difference in appreciation. A rich man loses all he has, and doesn’t realize until the end of his life that what he had was still quite a lot.
This story Descartes loved is more than about gratitude and thanksgiving. It’s about people. We are the rich. We are the poor. But we are also the olives.
Each and every person we meet will experience us in a different way. Some will take a bite, toss us over the shoulder, to some we’ll do the same. But others will pick up your pit. Your black purple, fleshy, salty, rock hard pit. And they’ll lick it. And they’ll think it tastes wonderful. Oscar Wilde once said, “never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary.” I think that we all have a weird, oddly shaped pit. And there are many people out there who will think your’s is beautiful and nourishing.
When I was younger, I was convinced the key to a contented life was to not be boring. To be creative, and different, and special, and to not just have a little bitty house and a little bitty dog. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered: what’s wrong with a little bitty life?
Whatever sort of life you lead there’s a lot of olives. Things you can have or not have, things you can be interested in or not interested in, people you can love or not love. But the point is that no matter how many olives you lose, no matter how many pits you pick up from the street, whether it’s a person you appreciate, a hobby you get deep into, or a sandwich, you will always have one olive and that’s you. It’s a simple thing, but I think sometimes we get so caught up in being special, maybe even in being happy, that we forget just how lucky we are to have ourselves.
I don’t think you need to take your olive to the white cliffs of Dover. I don’t think you need to learn Latin. You don’t need to drink wine and live dangerously. But you have a life. You have an olive, you luck lucky sods. I hope you never get to the point where you become so unappreciative of that little morsel, that you throw the pit over your shoulder.
Jacob Wilde is a 17 year old award-winning writer from Eastern Ontario. He is entering his first year at Queen's University to study psychology on a Chancellor's Scholarship.