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Modern Interpretations of Ancient Expressions

【十五、 踏水車的老人––誠意篇】

15. Chapter on Making the Mind Sincere—The Old Man Who Pedals the Water Wheel

□   孫秀美 文
By Sun Xiumei

Heaven will not cut off people's chances to live.






The Yangzi River quietly wound its way around this small village. It seemed to have been flowing in that way since time without beginning, and who knew for how many more centuries it would continue to flow? The old man lifted his wrinkled face, which had been ruthlessly marked by time, but still retained its determined, gentle and kind expression. Gazing at the golden sun setting lazily over the western mountains, he walked towards the water wheel out of habit. For sixty years, he had been pedaling the water wheel day in and day out. The turning wheel set the water moving, and it also stimulated his vitality. However, as the rushing water flowed away, his youth had also flowed away. Although his grandchildren were old enough to take over his work, he still came at dusk every day to pedal the wheel and reminesce about old times.

Sixty years ago, he was just a fifteen year-old kid. Every day, he would pedal the water wheel, and occasionally he would holler at a water buffalo here or a mountain goat there. The people walking by loved to tease him, saying, "Little Pillar! Sing us a folk song!" He would then laugh and sing at the top of his voice, from the time the sun rose above the eastern mountains until it sank over the western mountains. In such joyful gaiety, the day would slip away. Little Pillar turned into Big Pillar, and then into Old Pillar. He was still the "pillar" of the whole village. He was optimistic and progressive from birth, and these characteristics didn't seem to lessen as his vital energies declined with age. Similarly, he never became discouraged in the face of hardships posed by natural and human disasters.

One year there was a drought, and the water level became so low that he could hardly pedal the water wheel. Pedaling the empty wheel, he pressed his full lips together, gazed at the fiery red sun, and said, "Heaven will not cut off people's chances to live." This faith inspired boundless vitality in him, enabling him to continue pedaling the wheel of life. Every day, Little Pillar went to the riverside as usual and dug up the mud from the riverbank. He moved basketful after basketful of mud away, until the water covered the wheel and he could pedal again. However, after a short while the ongoing drought would bring the water level down again. He dug the mud again! He alternated between digging and pedaling, pedaling and then digging. Everyone called him Silly Pillar. "Heaven will not cut off people's chances to live!" said Silly Pillar. Finally, who knows if it was his silly temper that overcame the dragon-temper of the dragon in charge of the rain, but it started raining, and the drought was over! Silly Pillar drove the water buffalo to soak in the water, vigorously pedaling the water wheel on the one hand and singing folk songs on the other hand. The fiery red sun was scared into sinking over the western mountains, and the weather cooled off!

Another time, the dragon in charge of rain lost its dragon-temper and cried hard for several months without stop. Big Pillar put on a straw hat and straw coat and went to dig the water channel, and then pedaled the water wheel strenuously in the rushing stream, using the power of the water to force the extra water into another channel. Again, everyone called him "Silly Pillar." Nevertheless, Silly Pillar still went every day to dig the channel and pedal the water wheel; pedal the water wheel and dig the channel. Finally, his silliness again overcame the dragon's stubborn temper. The rain stopped and the water went down! "Ah! Heaven will not cut off people's chances to live!" Happily, he threw handfuls of soft mud into the air. "Pala! Pala!" The mud plopping back into the water sounded as if it were pleading for forgiveness, saying "I'm scared, I'm scared!" in Chinese.

"Old Pillar! Don't be so silly! Why don't you enjoy your blessings at home, instead of coming out to pedal the water wheel?" The old man turned around to see who was the owner of that feeble voice. Oh, so it was the Elder Scholar, the one who had placed first in the county civil service examination. Sizing up his childhood companion, who leaned on his staff shivering, his long robe failing to hide his hunched back, the old man straightened up his own back, which was as even as a wall, and hailed, "Old friend! Being able to live and work healthily into old age is a true blessing!" The Elder Scholar appeared as if he'd been struck under the belt, and his shivering body seemed on the point of collapsing. After a long while, he nodded and said, "'A sincere person is one who chooses what is good and adheres to it.' 'It is only he who is possessed of the utmost sincerity that can exist in the world, who can give his own nature its full development.' Isn't that talking about you? Isn't that talking about you!"


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