The Stone King
When we hear the phrase “a fulfilling life” we might think of someone who has achieved complete satisfaction, joy, and happiness in their life—perhaps because they have fully developed their abilities or accomplished what they set out to accomplish. It is a highly subjective term as “fulfilling” can be experienced in many different ways. Even what constitutes an accomplishment really depends on who you are asking. However, we may all agree that today it is easier than ever to access the means and tools to aid our personal development and well-being. We can have almost any product delivered to our doorstep, often within less than 24 hours. We can travel anywhere in the world within less than 48 hours, and we can connect to individuals around the globe. The answers to most of our questions are literally at our fingertips.
Still, there are questions that even the World Wide Web cannot answer, and it’s mostly agreed upon that fulfillment does not come from the acquisition of material things. There are other layers to our existence that influence how we feel about our life and the world around us. Our health, for example, is an enormous factor in how we experience life—and even there, it has become incredibly easy to seek and find help. If we have a toothache, we go to the dentist; if we have heartburn, we take an antacid; if we get a splinter, we get tweezers and we pull it out. But let’s put a pin in that for now.
Another layer to our existence, one that can most certainly be a source of both fulfillment and frustration, is career. The options are virtually endless, and the means to achieve them are again at our fingertips. If we wish to work in a specific field, we can take the necessary training and apply for the appropriate jobs. To do all this, of course, requires knowing or discovering what one is passionate about.
For some of us, the right path seems to unfold naturally and effortlessly. For others, it may be an arduous journey to discover our true passion. We have probably all met someone who seems to be “in their element”, someone who is truly great at something and has managed to make a career out of it. But not all of us feel this way about work. It is a great experience to feel needed, and even more so, to feel validated and appreciated, but it can be somewhat of an uncomfortable journey to feel that what we do fulfills a specific purpose, or that we, ourselves, fulfill a certain purpose. We may even question if everyone is truly born to do something. What if only some of us are privileged to discover their true calling? Does everyone have a purpose?
Remember that splinter? Let’s pick that up again. Say we’ve been raking the leaves and get a splinter. Luckily, in modern days, more medicines and curative procedures exist than ever before. For something minor, like our splinter, we can deal with it ourselves, even using common household items. If we cannot handle an illness or injury at home, we can speak to the appropriate professional. If we experience an ailment that is perhaps not visible, but which affects us nonetheless, we can express what we are feeling to ask for help. Thanks to these tools, the issue can be resolved, and we can be given the necessary remedies to feel well.
All the above are the thoughts and musings of someone who experiences the world through a body that can speak, understand the spoken word, and can be moved exactly how it is asked to move. But what about someone who has significant communication challenges? What about someone who is unable to speak? What about someone who cannot express that their stomach is hurting, that they are experiencing allergies, or that they have a splinter?
When I worked as a direct caregiver at a residential school for children and young adults with disabilities, this thought occurred to me on a regular basis. In the years since, I often remembered one afternoon in particular. I was working with a young, non-verbal man on the autism spectrum in my land and garden workshop. I had worked with him for a few years and had learned, for the most part, to read the signs of his behaviors. I felt as though we had developed a good rapport. His once-frequent aggressive outbursts had decreased dramatically, and it appeared as if he enjoyed being outside and working with his hands and body. On this afternoon, though, he seemed unusually distressed about holding and pushing a wheelbarrow. This was a task we had done dozens and dozens of times, and which usually brought a big smile to his face. But not on that day, no matter how I tried. The wheelbarrow would not be touched, let alone moved. I sensed that the young man was close to becoming aggressive and began to prepare myself when it suddenly occurred to me to remove his work gloves and inspect his hands. I remembered once catching a splinter from the wooden handle of an old shovel. The splinter, so tiny it was almost invisible to the naked eye, caused excruciating pain, but all it took to cure it was to grab a pair of tweezers and remove the splinter.
Lo and behold, an area of the young man’s finger seemed red and irritated. A splinter, almost too small to notice, had dug into his skin. I didn’t know when he caught it, how long it had been there, but a quick visit to the school nurse took care of it. For the remainder of the afternoon, we worked together beautifully.
In some ways it was fortunate that it was a splinter. What if he had had heartburn? A stomachache? Allergies? Something not immediately visible? There are countless things that can cause us discomfort and pain. But when we are unable to speak, how are we going to express that we are not well? And what if the feeling of unwellness doesn’t express itself in the physical body, but in the emotional well-being?
If I manage to feel unfulfilled despite being constantly surrounded by the tools and means to accomplish almost anything, how does someone with the various challenges associated with autism learn to acquire the tools to feel fulfilled and happy? Who am I even to assume that we experience “fulfillment” the same way? Many times, it is a guessing game.
It was exactly these kinds of experiences and thoughts that have inspired me to write and illustrate “The Stone King”, a story about a village where everyone born is assigned a life’s task at birth and no one is ever burdened or concerned with the question of what their purpose or calling is. For centuries, the villagers live in perfect harmony with each other and nature, until one day, a young boy is born, who is different than the other villagers. He does not speak, and he exhibits unusual behavior. He experiences the world differently, namely not through spoken word or communication, but through feeling. When the harmony that has existed in the village for centuries begins to mysteriously disintegrate, the young boy is suddenly in the center of it all and he must learn to overcome his challenges and restore balance.
I believe “The Stone King” is a story that can help the reader, or listener, to re-think and reevaluate how others may be experiencing the world. Something as small as a splinter may be the tipping point between well and unwell, but not all of us can simply remove it. We are all longing for fulfillment, but none of us can go on this quest alone. Some of us may need little help, and some of us need more, but without one another, none of us would get there, and maybe there, alone, lies our purpose.
Robin R. Kaip
The views expressed in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the NLM Family Foundation.