A Thorn in the Flesh

Yoko was an oyster who had had an easy life. At his birth he had been released from his mother oyster under the form of a small sphere and had swam for five days without ever encountering one of those deadly starfish who could have eaten him up. Then he had had the good fortune of finding a giant rock placed at just the right depth below the surface of the sea. He thereupon had attached himself to that hospitable rock and had settled down to a peaceful existence.

Gradually he had formed the two valves of his shell, feeding himself on the minute organic particles which he filtered from the water passing through his slightly opened valves. After five years Yoko had thus grown to a respectable size, and his valves had become so thick and hard that he no longer feared that a snail would drill a hole through them and devour his soft body. In short, since his birth Yoko had felt quite satisfied with the way things were going.

But one day his life was drastically altered. A grain of sand lodged itself into his shell, causing indescribable irritation to his tender tissues.

Yoko cried out in pain. “Damnation! A foreign body has penetrated my epithelium!”

And thereafter from a contented oyster Yodo became a wretched one. Night and day he fought the intruder, but to no avail. The more he endeavoured to expel the grain of sand, the more it bore into his flesh.

Now Yodo was by no means a pious oyster. He did occasionally think of praising God when a particularly tasty tidbit of organic matter entered his shell, but whatever religion he had ended there. However, faced with the totally new experience of pain, he decided that extreme measures were in order: for the first time in his life he prayed in earnest.

“Lord,” he pleaded, “please deliver me from this grain of sand.”

Naturally, his plea reached the ears of God, for God is just as present in the depths of the sea as in the heights of the sky, and he never lets a sincere prayer go unnoticed. So God spoke up as soon as Yoko had formulated his request.

“Yoko, my beloved oyster,” God said, “rest assured that your prayer has reached me.”

“Then you will grant me my wish?” asked the mollusk, “and rid me of this grain of sand which hurts me so much?”

There was a pause.

Then God answered gently, “I did not say that, Yoko. I only said that I was aware of your distress. Now, as to ridding you of it, that is another matter. You will have to trust my love for you and live with it for a while.”

This did not suit Yoko at all. He wanted action, and he wanted it now. This he told God in no uncertain terms. But God remained unyielding.

“Trust me,” he repeated, “and in the end all will be well.”

Of courses this was not at all to Yoko’s taste, and he was thoroughly disgusted with God. Humph! His talk about trusting him was all very nice, but he didn’t have a foreign body tearing away at his insides… So ran his thoughts. And for quite a while he ranted and raved at the insensitivity of God, at the cruelty of life, at the injustice of his fate, at his fellow oysters, at the sea currents and at everything in sight.

All the same, there came a day when his resentment finally spent itself, and he began to take stock of his situation. Bitterness, he reasoned, would not solve his problem. However much he blamed God for his plight, God had apparently made up his mind that events would run their course. On the other hand, however much Yoko fought the grain of sand, it would not go away. So, in desperation, Yoko opted for the only reasonable course of action left to him: he appealed to God once more, but this time for advice.

“Lord,” he prayed, “what shall I do?”

God answered, “Love your grain of sand.”

“What?” cried the oyster in utter disbelief, “you want me to love the cause of all my troubles?”

“Yes,” God replied, “that is what I would like you to do. But, of course, it is all up to you. You can go on hating your grain of sand and thus continue to be miserable for the rest of your life. Or you can love it and find happiness in the process.”

Yoko mulled this over in his mind for a long time. He was certainly keen on finding happiness, but the means to achieve this seemed to defy common sense. But then, as God had insisted from the start, this whole business was not a question of common sense but of faith in him. After all, he mused, what did he have to lose? He could hardly be more wretched than he was presently. Maybe he should take God at his word and see what would happen.

“All right, Lord,” he said finally, “I’ll do it your way, at least for the time being. I’ll try to love this monster inside of me. But you’ll have to show me how to go about it, because the only feeling I can experience at the moment is hate. I simply loathe that grain of sand.”

“That’s all right, Yoko,” replied God, “I know you can’t change your feelings by an act of the will. I’m merely suggesting that you love your grain of sand through an appropriate action on your part.”

“And what would that be?” asked the oyster.

“It’s really very simple,” said God, “Just make a nest for it in your body and leave it there in peace.”

Well that did not sound too impossible. So Yoko decided to give it a try. He gradually formed a cyst of tissue around the grain of sand. This took a long time, but eventually the work was done. The result was startling, for by now the pain, which had subsided by degrees, had completely disappeared.

“Well, well, well,” thought the oyster in amazement, “at least that part of God’s promise has already been fulfilled. If I can’t say as yet that I’m happy, at least I’m not miserable any more.”

And so time passed.

One day, God awoke Yoke from his afternoon siesta.

“Yoko, Yoko,” he called.

“Yes, Lord,” ansered the oyster.

“Remember, Yoko, I promised that, if you trusted me, things would go well for you? Now the time has come for me to fulfill my promise. Look down into your shell.”

Yoko was greatly surprised by this order. After all, he had learned from his early childhood that the interior of his shell was always plunged in darkness. And because of this, he had long ago given up looking into his shell. But now, prompted by God’s invitation, he looked in.

A strange sight awaited him. His entire body was suffused by a soft, white light. This originated from the part of his organism where he had made a nest for the grain of sand. And there, in the midst of the cistlike tissue which formed the nest, a perfect orb of matter was glowing. The grain of sand had become a matchless pearl.

The voice of God asked gently, “Are you happy now, Yoko?”

The oyster could not answer. His eyes were transfixed in utter fascination, feasting on the pearl. And, in a remote part of his mind, something in him wondered how it was possible that so much pain could produce so much beauty.

A story from Nil Guillemette, S.J. Greater Than Our Hearts – God-Tales for Young and Old.

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