The Shiny Ball Bearing

Some years back I knew a rather naive youth;  He  was a sailor and he told me a story. 

I worked long hours and had little time for myself.  My duties were the ones that no one else wanted.  I was transferred a lot;  I was always the new man and was expected to start at the bottom.

Once every two weeks or so the ship would have an underway replenishment.  The refrigerator ship would pull alongside the huge aircraft carrier and tons of food would be transferred by net.  After working my normal 14 hour day, it was my job to carry heavy boxes of frozen meat for the remainder of the night.  That morning I was expected to go back to work at my regular job.  There were no days off on the coast of Viet-Nam.  We were at war.  My work was very tiring and often I would fall asleep while standing up.  Sometimes I would be caught by the petty officer in charge and would be assigned two hours of extra duty to commence after work. This is the way my life went.

At times I wanted to go insane and I would try.  But some presence from within me, would not let me.  At times I would be furious with the presence and scream inwardly!  "Why can't I go insane?   Why can't I go insane?"  I thought if I could go insane, people would notice my suffering and help me.  But the inner presence   was always there, concealed, but would not leave me and  it would make me go on. 

My free time was very precious to me.  In the morning before work I would go out and stand in a gun tub, lean on the rail and watch the sun come up.  During these times I would ask myself,  "what will become of me?  Where is my life heading?  As the sun rose I would be awed by the magnificence of its power.  I liked that feeling, I needed that strength; in this I felt freedom.  During these times the sea was truly beautiful.

Alone in a crowd most of the time (though I did not wish to be), I worked with others who did not seem to understand me and they would say to each other, "Stay away from him, he must be crazy." 

I wanted a friend.  One day I found a friend;  His name was Jerrry.  I had longed to talk to someone and now I found my chance.  Though my friend did not fully understand me, that was all right (as I really didn't understand myself).  I felt that my friend must also feel the presence and that was the reason we could communicate.  My friend must have felt that I was somebody and that I had some worth.  We were very different; yet, there was an indescribable bond between us. 

When noon came I would quickly eat lunch and retreat to my sleeping compartment.  I was alone with myself at last, I could be my own person.

In these quiet moments I would sit and wonder.  I would feel free for a while until I had to be back for the afternoon's work.  One day after a quick lunch I went to my compartment and sat down on the chair less gray deck.  As I sat, a large shiny ball bearing fell from my pocket onto the deck and rolled to one side of the compartment.  I just sat there and watched it roll.  When the ship would roll to the port side the bearing would immediately follow and when the ship rolled to the starboard side the shiny ball bearing would lose its port bound momentum and pause for just a moment before it began to move to the starboard.  Watching this for some time, I noticed how much influence the movement of the huge ship had on the shiny ball bearing. I had an idea.  I stood up and went to my two foot by two foot locker which contained all I owned.  I rummaged through it and took out a piece of string.  I walked over, picked up the ball bearing and sat down again.  I tied one end of the string to the ball bearing, and then standing up, I tied the other end to the overhead so that the ball bearing would be suspended just over the deck.  Then, stepping back a few feet, I sat down on the deck and began to watch the event that was taking place.  The shimmering sphere was swinging slightly but soon found its own center.  I watched, with new interest, noticing that the sphere was still . . . it remained unaffected by the heaving motion of the huge ship. It was centered. I thought to myself,  "The bearing is still within the same compartment but yet it is untouched by the restless movement that surrounds it."  I was in wonder; this huge ship now revolved around the shiny ball bearing.  It was as though the bearing was the master of the ship.  Such a small change, adding a piece of string and a fraction of an inch of elevation to the ball bearing made such a tremendous difference.  I continued watching and thought to myself,  "why can't my mind be as the shiny ball bearing, at peace even while within the restless world.  Why can't I be as centered within myself so that I may enjoy the beauty of the sunrise every moment of life.  What must I do?"  Once again I became aware of the "presence" I had experienced briefly at other times.  "Yes," I said, "this must be it, the inner presence; that is the string that elevates life."

The course of my life changed;  I learned a secret.  Then I went back to work with a smile and a new found meaning.
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 © copyright 1998 by Robert E. Swanson, Jr.