In life, the rarity of humanity arises once, if at all, in the lifetime of a life. And so it was that Taburo walked his customary walk along a green and lush riverbank. It had rained for many days before, and the swift and dangerous roar of the rising floodwaters dumping into the Kozuichi River reverberated with an echo of serenity, as the life of a river mirrors the calm and turbulence of a soul. Taburo walked in meditation as he did each morning.
Morning was the calm of one’s soul; walking was the exercise of the mind; the world around was the dream of a butterfly; the silence of his body the wakefulness of the moment. And the whimper was heard; had Taburo not paused to reach with a finger to stroke the side of a common green river lizard which had momentarily frozen upon its way up a birch tree, he might not have heard the whimper, and perhaps his life would not have given rise to that rarity of humanity, and the test of life in the humanity of his very own life.
Taburo heard the whimper, and looked down. There, down below, clinging to an overhanging tree branch, was a boy of nine, perhaps ten, his feet partly submerged as the riverwaters were rising; wet through and through, whimpering, too weak to do much more. Thought was a robber of time when action was required, and Taburo did not think. He did. He was a strong swimmer. The river was rising rapidly. Time was not on the side of thought. He ran swiftly, as the samurai ancestor’s blood had trained him, tearing off his robe and shedding his sandals, and in a graceful singularity of movement, as an acrobat from a trapeze swing, he dove and cut through the waters.
The undercurrents were overpowering, but Taburo was a mighty warrior; his arms slashed through the currents, and within moments he was with the boy. The branch which provided the lifeline for the young lad snapped just as he reached the shivering body, and as the rushing waters were about to sweep the lad under, Taburo grabbed him by the scruff of his shirt and pulled him tightly towards his chest, wrapping a powerful arm from behind, around the boy’s chest, under each arm. With his free arm, he slashed through the battling rapids.
Taburo was the son of a warrior, the grandson of the Ishido Clan, known for the ferocity of their skill in swordsmanship, and with this same triumvirate of virtues: fearlessness, courage, and kindness, he slashed at the enemy. Yes, as he swam and as he neared the riverbank, the serenity of exhaustion and fatigue was slowly, imperceptibly overtaking him; and he knew that the river was no enemy. It was not a warrior to be feared; not an opponent to have courage against; not a worthy adversary to feel kindness towards. It was, instead, the dream of a butterfly.
These thoughts flashed quickly in his mind, like the silent fluttering of the butterfly, and Taburo laughed in silence. The rocky banks passed swiftly by; in his doing, he knew that he would have only one chance, as his strength was waning. He timed it well; for a warrior and a master swordsman, the three elements of a battle ensured victory: swiftness, accuracy, and timing. Such virtues, of course, were merely for the physical battle; missing was the fourth virtue, that of wisdom; but in this battle where the opponent was merely the dream of the butterfly, wisdom was not called for; only the agility of the first three virtues. Of the three, the latter was the most important.
He used the current to his advantage, and positioned himself; as it carried him towards the rocky embankment, he knew that he would hit a jutting boulder or tree root. At the precise moment, he slashed both feet towards the embankment, pointing like waiting spears…and as his toes touched surface, he felt the moment, and with the force and agility gained through years of swordsmanship, he pushed fiercely upward, lifting himself momentarily into the air, as he would with a sword about to slash his opponent; but this was a different battle, a different opponent, and in one movement, suspended above the roaring riverwaters, he threw the young lad high into the air.
Taburo slashed back into the dirty waters; at the same time, the lad landed on all fours onto an overhanging boulder several feet above, in the safety and calm of dry land. The eyes of the lad met the eyes of Taburo. With the serenity of a butterfly’s dream, Taburo became submerged, and disappeared into the timelessness of nature.