This is an old tale that relates to the famine days in Ireland, when ideas of liberty and justice were refreshed among the ordinary people. But, this story is also a warning about what liberty means to some people, and how it affects the lives of others.
This was a time when paid work for any man was a bonus. So it was that, with some gratitude, a stone-mason was busily employed in the building of a stout wall to protect a garden. At the side of the mason there was a heap of stones that had been piled up. One by one he picked up each stone in succession, examined it, and then decided the best place in which to set it. The stones, for their part, quietly accepted what was their lot in this world, allowing themselves to be handled by the mason and to be introduced into those places that he thought was most appropriate. There was no need for the stones to be difficult, for they were fully aware that the mason’s object was simply to erect a strong wall. They were also very much aware of the fact that this wall would not be built if they decided to oppose the mason’s efforts.
Isn’t it ‘Murphy’s Law’ that states – “If something can go wrong at the most inopportune moment, then it will.” To the amusement of this stone-mason, after he had completed a considerable portion of the wall, one particularly cantankerous rock became very argumentative the moment the mason laid a hand upon it. The rock began to vehemently argue about the rights of stones, and the terrible tyranny of mankind in forcing stones to do their will. He told the mason, in no uncertain terms, that whether placed in the wall or out of it he was determined to enjoy the liberty he believed was the right of every stone upon this earth. This stone also swore that he would sooner be broken down into dust than surrender its liberty.
“Let me speak plain and honestly to you, Master Mason,” said the stone. “I will never allow myself to be restrained by anyone. I must have room to do what I want to do. To be able to look about me and decide for myself where I want to go, and to be able to roll freely as I think proper.”
Totally taken aback by this outburst, the mason could not help but laugh aloud. “By the good God,” says he, “haven’t I found an odd, mouthy specimen of the ‘Rock People’? And it tells me that it wants to have enough room to roll freely about, is that the way of it?”
“Aye, that’s the way of it,” says the rock.
“Tell me, Mr. Stone, did you ever hear of the old saying that, ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss?’”
“I did of course,” sneered the stone, “and I don’t like it one little bit! Moss you see is a sign of old age, and in my world old age is an absurdity. So, I tell you, I hope to God that I will be kept from ever gathering any moss!”
“What?” the mason gasped with complete surprise and disbelief. Then, contemptuously he asked, “Just what the hell do you think you are?”
“What am I!” the rock angrily replied. “I, sir, am just a plain and simple stone, nothing more and nothing less.”
“Well, now that we have that sorted can I ask if you are happy that I should give you a place in this wall I am building?”
“Well, of course I am,” confirmed the stone.
“Hold on!” said the mason, “You have just told me that you will never allow yourself to be forcibly restrained by anyone or anything. You said that you must have room to do whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted to! Your inconsistency is really most ridiculous, and you should really make up your mind as to exactly what you want. So, for the last time, will you go into the wall where I place you, or shall I simply leave you lying there on the ground?”
“Inconsistent? What inconsistency? I have already told you that I will allow you to place me into the wall,” replied the Stone, patronisingly, “but I will not allow you to ever deprive me of my natural rights! Liberty is the first of these rights, and I must insist that I have liberty, even in the wall.”
“And so you shall!” said the mason. “Your liberty will be that of obtaining your proper place in the wall, and of maintaining that place without being disturbed by anyone or anything.”
“You certainly have some funny ideas about liberty. I will tell you again, you gobshite, that I need to have room in which I can expand and move about in. What, in the name of God, makes you even think that I would lower myself to fill a place in the wall as just another mere wedge?”
“You are now beginning to stretch my patience, friend,” the mason warned. “You know, of course, that there is very little to be gained by continuing to argue the matter any further. If there is no hope of getting you to take up a particular place in the wall, then there is nothing left to me but to throw you back on the ground.”
“If that’s the way you feel about it, then go ahead and do your worst,” replied the Stone, stubbornly. “But I must still insist on liberty before all things! So, just throw me away, but at a respectable distance from these other stones. In this way I might just feel myself to be free and independent. When all is said and done I have exactly the same right to be a free-stone, as much as you have to be a free-mason.”
“That’s it then, there you go!” said the mason as he raised his hand and threw the stone away from himself with all of his might. It landed with a loud clatter in the middle of narrow road that passed nearby.
The Stone was now in a place where could fully enjoy every minute of the liberty he had longed for. This, he counted as a victory and he congratulated himself on winning through stubborn defiance. For a time everything went well for the stone in his new found liberty. It was the summer time and the weather was mild, the skies were bright, and the road was busy with various people making their way from one place to another. As the vehicles and people passed over the stone it was being continually transferred from one place to another, daily opening it up to more and more of the world’s ways. But, unfortunately, all good things come to an end eventually and the summer could not last forever. The autumn came, bringing with it clouds of dust and great showers of golden yellow leaves. When the gusts of wind had subsided they were followed by heavy torrents of rain, covering the narrow the road in a mire of mud, which also covered the entire stone and made it almost indiscernible from the land on which it rested. In this condition it lay there, fallen from the heights it had once considered itself to have reached, completely unrecognisable to the passing eye and treated in the same manner that the vilest of rubbish would be.
Unfortunately for the stone this was not the worst that it was to endure. Over the following few weeks the rains continued to fall quite regularly and the ground became a virtual sea of mud. The earth beneath the stone softened and the stone, under its own weight, sank slowly deeper in the mire until less than a quarter of its surface remained above ground. To add to the stone’s misfortunes there was no longer any possibility of retracing its steps, because the mason had now completed his wall and had moved on to other profitable work elsewhere. There was nothing left for the stone but to sink deeper and deeper into the earth, until none of its surface remained visible.
The stone’s fate was sealed. The ideals of Liberty and Independence had been very much desired by the stone, and he was determined that he would achieve these things in his life. But< In The manner in which he tried to achieve these ideals, the stone learned a very valuable life lesson. He had seen that those who seek such ideals at the expense of the social order do absolutely nothing but make a senseless and irremediable blunder.
In the spring of the following year the mason was once again gainfully employed in building another wall, which he hoped would be completed without the interruption he had suffered the previous year. He was, however, to become greatly disenchanted very quickly when, just like the year before, one of the stones began to grumble, and loudly protest against the treatment to which it was about to be subjected. The stone-mason, recalling the hassle he had endured on the previous occasion was just on the point of throwing the stone away, but hesitated. He had second thoughts about casting the stone away without at least trying to reason with it.
“Since no two stones are alike,” he said loudly, “it may be just that I met a stone that stood up against my arguments. It does not mean that another stone might to be prove to be less intractable after I have talked to it.”
“It was spoken truly! You are definitely a gobshite!” shouted the stone angrily. “You think that no two stones are alike! And this ignorance on your part is definitely your biggest and most foolish mistake. I can tell you here and now, eejit, that there is no difference between one stone and another. I am just as good as any of those stones in the wall, and I demand my rights.”
“Aren’t you the one with the big mouth?” exclaimed the mason, “But, I admit you are a sturdy lump of rock! Would you like to briefly inform me as to what you consider your rights to be? Don’t take all day about it, but simply tell me how you would like me to dispose of you.”
“I want to be a corner-stone,” the rebel stone demanded, “and I will be nothing other than a corner-stone. It is my destiny and I demand that this be done. Be quick now, mason, and place me in the wall as a corner-stone!”
“That I cannot do for you, my friend,” replied the mason. “Can you not see quite clearly that I have already chosen and placed all the corner-stones in their proper places?”
“Do you think that I’m blind?” asked the stone impatiently. “I can see well enough what has been done, but a man of your talents can easily take one of them out of the corner and put in its place. I have just as much of a right to be there as any of those stones, after all we are all equal. Each of us originated from a common quarry and, therefore, we are all alike. Just take one of them out, now, and put me in its place.”
“Now, can you not see just how grossly inconsistent you are?” The mason asked. “One moment you insist that all stones are equal, and have the same rights as each other. And yet you insist that I just rudely remove one of the corner-stones, just for your pleasure, despite your own acknowledgement that you are no better than they are! Christ, stone, I have to say that you have a very peculiarly odd idea of what equality actually entails. There is absolutely no way that I can continue to stand here and question what actually constitutes equality, because my time, unlike yours, is precious. I ask you, therefore, to decide if you want to be placed in this wall or not.”
“Of course, I want to be part of the wall,” said the stone, “but only as a corner stone. How can you be so blind as not to see that each of us stones is alike, and all, therefore, equal?”
“You are all stones alike,” replied the mason, “and are equal, but only in a certain sense. Your equality with each other exists in the fact that you are all equally able to be used as wall-stones, and not all of you being equally qualified to be used as corner-stones.”
The stone now cried out aloud, “To the devil with your ideas and doctrines! Either you make me a corner-stone, or you can build your wall without me.”
“Is that your final decision?” asked the mason. “Let me warn you not to try and make an eejit out of me, for I have not the patience or the time for such nonsense. This wall needs built and I cannot wait on your decision any longer.”
“I have decided! That’s it!” said the Stone. “Let me tell you that I would prefer to see your wall toppled and crushed into dust, along with everything else, before I would give up any of my principles in life. So, mason, just do whatever pleases you.”
“You are just one crazy, mixed-up, rock,” exclaimed the mason, “You are a complete gobshite, stone, so go and enjoy your ideas on equality where no one is likely to dispute it!” Saying this, he raised his hand and threw the stone as far away as he could from him. The stone-mason had thrown the stone with such force that, after it had travelled through the air, the stone fell down to the ground and sank several feet into the soft bottom of a deep and slimy pool.
To all intents and purposes this terminated the existence of that rebellious stone, for whatever became of it in that pool is impossible to know. It is almost two hundred years since the events in this tale took place and, since it became a total unknown because of its attitude, it is highly probable that is has eroded away. If this has not been the case, the stone has at least been eaten away by its foolishness in confronting the mason. We could conclude also that its predecessor from the year before suffered a similar fate. In this way, when seeking equality and liberty, it is important to know exactly what these two terms mean and how best you can achieve them. Knowing your role and keeping true to its ideals will encourage others to join with you in the cause. Being too demanding and having no support for your ideas may cause you to be cast out and perish in total anonymity. Equality and freedom is every person’s ideal, but you cannot hope to achieve it if demands and recklessness cause you to die in the course of achieving them.