An old traveller has seen the world. He is restless and keeps moving. One day he is in the distant mountains in an area not known to him.
On this particular day, after a long walk through a mountain valley, he sees a shady tree and what looks like a good place to rest on the horizon. As he nears, he sees that there is a fence around the area and a small building inside the fenced area. He enters and shouts out to see if anybody is there. There is no reply. He sits down next to the large oak tree.
As he sits he notices a white stone with an inscription on it. “Thomas Benedict – 8 years, 4 months, 16 days”. He notices other white stones. He gets up from his resting place and begins to read the inscriptions on the many white stones that he now notices that surround this tree. “John Williams – 3 years, 6 months, 11 days”. “William Burrows 16 years, 1 month, 3 days”.
Each stone has a name, a number of years, a number of months and a number of days. He sees now that there are hundreds of stones within the fenced off area.
As he searches and reads he sees that all of the inscriptions indicate periods between 1 year and 18 years. On no stone does he find any time more than 18 years.
With an painful surprise he realises that this is a cemetary. A cemetary where they must all be children. He sits again near the tree with a profound sadness. He feels tired and he feels sad and he asks himself “What must have happened to this people that they all die so young”.
An old man enters the cemetary. He has white hair and a white beard, and piercing blue eyes. He approaches the traveller with an open smile on his face.
The traveller looks up and gets to his feet as the old man approaches. He says “Are you the caretaker of this place?”
The old man nods.
“What has happened? Why have they all died so young?”.
The old man reaches to a cord about his neck from which hangs a small leather-bound book. He lifts up the old, battered, brown leather book and opens it. He says “it is the custom in our tribe that all carry with them at all times a book such as this”. “When we have a happy moment, we stop and note it down in the left column of the book, and we note how long it lasted in the right column.”
The old man opens to an earlier part of his book and shows the traveller. “First kiss – 25 days”. “First love – 3 months”. “First child – 2 months, 6 days”. “A journey with a friend – 1 day”.
When a member of our tribe reaches the end of their time, the rest of the tribe gather. We sum up the total of the right hand column and that is the number that we inscribe on their white stone.
We believe that this is the real measure of the life that each has lived.