š šššIt was morning, and the new sun sparkled gold across the ripples of a
gentle sea. A mile from shore a fishing boat chummed the water, and the
word for Breakfast Flock flashed throughš theš air,š tillš aš crowdš ofš a
thousand seagulls came to dodge and fight for bits of food. It was another
busy day beginning.
šššš But way off alone, out by himself beyond boat and shore, Jonathan
Livingston Seagull was practicing. A hundred feet in the sky he lowered
his webbed feet, lifted his beak, and strainedš toš holdš aš painfulš hard
twisting curve through his wings.š The curve meant that he would fly
slowly, and now he slowed until the wind was a whisper in his face,š until
the ocean stoodš stillš beneathš him.š He narrowed his eyes in fierce
concentration, held his breath, forced one...š single...š more...š inch...
of... curve... Then his feathers ruffled, he stalled and fell.
šššš Seagulls, as you know, never falter, never stall. To stall in the air
is for them disgrace and it is dishonor.
šššš But Jonathan Livingston Seagull, unashamed, stretching hisš wings
again in that trembling hard curve - slowing, slowing, andš stallingš once
more - was no ordinary bird.
šššš Most gulls don't bother to learn more than the simplest facts of
flight - how to get from shore to food and back again. For most gulls, it
is not flying that matters, but eating. For this gull, though, it was not
eating that mattered,š butš flight.š More than anything else.š Jonathan
Livingston Seagull loved to fly.
šššš This kind of thinking, he found, is not the way to make one's self
popular with other birds. Even his parents were dismayed as Jonathan spent
whole days alone, making hundreds of low-level glides, experimenting.
šššš He didn't know why, for instance, but when he flew at altitudes less
than half his wingspan above the water, he could stay in theš airš longer,
with less effort. His glides ended not with the usual feet-down splash
into the sea, but with a long flat wake as he touched the surface with his
feet tightly streamlined against his body. When he began sliding in to
feet-up landings on the beach, then pacing the length of his slide in the
sand, his parents were very much dismayed indeed.
šššš "Why, Jon, why?" his mother asked. "Why is it so hard to be like the
rest of the flock, Jon? Why can't you leave low flying to theš pelicans,
the albatross? Why don't you eat? Son, you're bone and feathers!"
šššš "I don't mind being bone and feathers mom. I just want to know what I
can do in the air and what I can't, that's all. I just want to know."
šššš "See here Jonathan "said his father not unkindly. "Winter isn't far
away. Boats will be few and the surface fish will be swimming deep. If you
must study, then study food, and how to get it. This flyingš businessš is
all very well, but you can't eat a glide, you know. Don't you forget that
the reason you fly is to eat."
šššš Jonathan nodded obediently. For the next few days he tried toš behave
like the other gulls; he really tried, screeching andš fightingš withš the
flock around the piers and fishing boats, diving onš scrapsš ofš fishš and
bread. But he couldn't make it work.
ššššIt's all so pointless, he thought, deliberately dropping a hard-won
anchovy to a hungry old gull chasing him. I could be spendingš allš this
time learning to fly. There's so much to learn!
šššš It wasn't long before Jonathan Gull was off by himself again, far out
at sea, hungry, happy, learning.
ššššThe subject was speed, and in a week's practice he learned more about
speed than the fastest gull alive.
šššFrom a thousand feet, flapping his wings as hard as he could, he
pushed over into a blazing steep dive toward the waves, and learned why
seagulls don't make blazing steep power-dives. In just six seconds he was
moving seventy miles per hour, the speed at which one's wing goes unstable
on the upstroke.
ššššTime after time it happened. Careful as he was, working at the very
peak of his ability, he lost control at high speed.
šššš Climb to a thousand feet. Full power straight ahead first, then push
over, flapping, to a verticalš dive.š Then, every time, his left wing
stalled on an upstroke, he'd roll violently left, stall his right wing
recovering, and flick like fire into a wild tumbling spin to the right.
ššššHe couldn't be careful enough on that upstroke. Ten times he tried,
and all ten times, as he passed through seventy miles per hour, heš burst
into a churning mass of feathers, out of control, crashing down into the
šššThe key, he thought at last, dripping wet, must be to hold the wings
still at high speeds - to flap up to fifty and then hold the wings still.
ššššFrom two thousand feet he tried again, rolling into his dive beak
straight down, wings full out and stable from the moment he passed fifty
miles per hour. It took tremendous strength, but it worked. In ten seconds
he had blurred through ninety miles per hour. Jonathan had set a world
speed record for seagulls!
ššššBut victory was short-lived. The instant he began hisš pullout,š the
instant he changed the angle of hisš wings,š heš snappedš intoš thatš same
terrible uncontrolled disaster, and at ninety miles per hourš itš hitš him
like dynamite. Jonathan Seagull exploded in midair and smashed down into a
ššššWhen he came to, it was well after dark, and he floated in moonlight
on the surface of the ocean. His wings were ragged bars of lead, but the
weight of failure was even heavier on his back. He wished, feebly,š that
the weight could be just enough to drug him gently down to the bottom, and
end it all.
šššš As he sank low in the water, a strange hollowš voiceš soundedš within
him. There's no way around it. I am a seagull. I am limited by myš nature.
If I were meant to learn so much about flying, I'd have charts for brains.
If I were meant to fly at speed, I'd have a falcon's short wings, and live
on mice insteadš ofš fish.š Myš fatherš wasš right.š Iš mustš forgetš this
foolishness. I must fly home to the Flock and be content asš Iš am,š asš a
poor limited seagull.
šššš The voice faded, and Jonathan agreed. Theš placeš forš aš seagullš at
night is on shore, and from this moment forth, he vowed,š heš wouldš beš a
normal gull. It would make everyone happier.
šššš He pushed wearily away from the dark water and flew toward theš land,
grateful for what he had learned about work-saving low-altitude flying.
šššš But no, he thought. I am done with the way Iš was,š Iš amš doneš with
everything I learned. I am a seagull like every other seagull, and Iš will
fly like one. So he climbed painfully to a hundred feetš andš flappedš his
wings harder, pressing for shore.
šššHe felt better for his decision to be just another one of theš Flock.
There would be no ties now to the force thatš hadš drivenš himš toš learn,
there would be no more challenge and no more failure. And itš wasš pretty,
just to stop thinking, and fly through the dark, toward theš lightsš above
ššššDark! The hollow voice cracked in alarm. Seagulls neverš flyš inš the
ššššJonathan was not alert to listen. It's pretty, he thought.š Theš moon
and the lights twinkling on the water, throwing outš littleš beacon-trails
through the night, and all so peaceful and still...
ššššGet down! Seagulls never fly in the dark! If you were meant to fly in
the dark, you'd have the eyes of an owl! You'dš haveš chartsš forš brains!
You'd have a falcon's short wings!
ššššThere in the night, a hundred feet in theš air,š Jonathanš Livingston
Seagull - blinked. His pain, his resolutions, vanished.
ššššShort wings. A falcon's short wings!
šššš That's the answer! What a fool I've been! All I need is a tiny little
wing, all I need is to fold most of my wings andš flyš onš justš theš tips
alone! Short wings!
ššš He climbed two thousand feet aboveš theš blackš sea,š andš withoutš a
moment for thought of failure and death, he brought his forewingsš tightly
in to his body, leftš onlyš theš narrowš sweptš daggersš ofš hisš wingtips
extended into the wind, and fell into a vertical dive.
šššš The wind was a monster roar at hisš head.š Seventyš milesš perš hour,
ninety, a hundred and twenty and faster still. The wing-strainš nowš atš a
hundred and forty miles per hour wasn't nearly asš hardš asš itš hadš been
before at seventy, and with the faintest twist of hisš wingtipsš heš eased
out of the dive and shot above the waves,š aš grayš cannonballš underš the
šššš He closed his eyes to slits against the wind and rejoiced. Aš hundred
forty miles per hour! And under control! If I dive from five thousand feet
instead of two thousand, I wonder how fast..
ššššHis vows of a moment before were forgotten, swept away in thatš great
swift wind. Yet he felt guiltless,š breakingš theš promisesš heš hadš made
himself. Such promises are only for the gulls thatš acceptš theš ordinary.
One who has touched excellence in his learning has no need of that kind of
šššš By sunup, Jonathan Gull was practicing again. From five thousand feet
the fishing boats were specks in the flat blue water, Breakfast Flockš was
a faint cloud of dust motes, circling.
ššššHe was alive, trembling ever so slightly with delight, proud that his
fear was under control. Then without ceremony he hugged in hisš forewings,
extended his short, angled wingtips, and plunged directly toward theš sea.
By the time he passed four thousand feet he had reached terminal velocity,
the wind was a solid beating wall of sound against which he could moveš no
faster. He was flying now straight down, at two hundred fourteen miles per
hour. He swallowed, knowing that if his wings unfolded at that speedš he'd
be blown into a million tiny shreds of seagull. But the speedš wasš power,
and the speed was joy, and the speed was pure beauty.
ššššHe began his pulloutš atš aš thousandš feet,š wingtipsš thuddingš and
blurring in that gigantic wind, the boat and the crowd ofš gullsš tilting
and growing meteor-fast, directly in his path.
šššš He couldn't stop; he didn't know yet even how to turn at that speed.
šššš Collision would be instant death.
ššššAnd so he shut his eyes.
ššššIt happened that morning, then, justš afterš sunrise,š thatš Jonathan
Livingston Seagull fired directly through the center ofš Breakfastš Flock,
ticking off two hundred twelve miles per hour, eyesš closed,š inš aš great
roaring shriek of wind and feathers. The Gull of Fortune smiledš uponš him
this once, and no one was killed.
šššš By the time he had pulled his beak straight up into theš skyš heš was
still scorching along at a hundred and sixty miles per hour. Whenš heš had
slowed to twenty and stretched his wings again at last,š theš boatš wasš a
crumb on the sea, four thousand feet below.
ššššššš His thought was triumph. Terminal velocity! A seagull at two
hundred fourteen miles per hour! It was a breakthrough, the greatest single
moment in the history of the Flock, and in thatš momentš aš newš ageš
openedš for Jonathan Gull. Flying out to his lonely practice area, folding
his wings for a dive from eight thousand feet, he set himself atš onceš to
discover how to turn.
ššššššš A single wingtip feather, he found, moved a fraction ofš anš inch,
gives a smooth sweeping curve at tremendous speed. Before he learned this,
however, he found that moving more than one feather at that speedš will
spin you like a rifle ball... and Jonathan had flown the firstš aerobatics
of any seagull on earth.
šššš He spared no time that day for talk with other gulls, but flew on
past sunset. He discovered the loop, the slow roll, the point roll, the
inverted spin, the gull bunt, the pinwheel.
šššš When Jonathan Seagull joined the Flock onš theš beach,š itš wasš full
night. He was dizzy and terribly tired. Yet in delight he flew aš loopš to
landing, with a snap roll just before touchdown. When they hear of it,š he
thought, of the Breakthrough, they'll be wildš withš joy.š Howš muchš more
there is now to living! Instead of our drab slogging forth and back to the
fishing boats, there's a reason to life! Weš canš liftš ourselvesš outš of
ignorance,š weš canš findš ourselvesš asš creaturesš ofšš excellencešš and
intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly!
šššš The years ahead hummed and glowed with promise.
šššš The gulls were flocked into the Council Gathering when he landed, and
apparently had been so flocked for some time. They were, in fact, waiting.
šššš "Jonathan Livingston Seagull! Stand toš Center!"š Theš Elder'sš words
sounded in a voice of highest ceremony. Stand to Center meantš onlyš great
shame or great honor. Stand to Center for Honor wasš theš wayš theš gulls'
foremost leaders were marked. Of course, he thought, theš Breakfastš Flock
this morning; they saw the Breakthrough! But I want no honors. Iš haveš no
wish to be leader. I want only to share what I'veš found,š toš showš those
horizons out ahead for us all. He stepped forward.
šššš "Jonathan Livingston Seagull," said the Elder, "Stand toš Centerš for
Shame in the sight of your fellow gulls!"
šššš It felt like being hitš withš aš board.š Hisš kneesš wentš weak,š his
feathers sagged, there wasš roaringš inš hisš ears.š Centeredš forš shame?
Impossible!š Theš Breakthrough!š Theyš can'tš understand!š They'reš wrong,
šššš "... for his reckless irresponsibility " theš solemnš voiceš intoned,
"violating the dignity and tradition of the Gull Family..."
šššš To be centered for shame meant that he wouldš beš castš outš ofš gull
society, banished to a solitary life on the Far Cliffs.
šššš "... one dayš Jonathanš Livingstonš Seagull,š youš shallš learnš that
irresponsibility does not pay. Life is theš unknownš andš theš unknowable,
except that we are put into this world to eat, to stay alive as long as we
šššš A seagull neverš speaksš back štoš theš Councilš Flock,š butš itš was
Jonathan's voice raised. "Irresponsibility? My brothers!" heš cried.š "Who
is more responsible than a gull who finds and follows a meaning, aš higher
purpose for life? For a thousand years we have scrabbled after fish heads,
but now we have a reason to live - to learn, to discover, to be free! Give
me one chance, let me show you what I've found..."
šššš The Flock might as well have been stone.
šššš "The Brotherhood is broken," the gulls intoned together, and with one
accord they solemnly closed their ears and turned their backs upon him.
šššš Jonathan Seagull spent the rest of his days alone, butš heš flewš way
out beyond the Far Cliffs. His one sorrow was not solitude, itš wasš that
other gulls refused to believe the glory of flight that awaited them; they
refused to open their eyes and see. He learned more each day.š Heš learned
that a streamlined high-speed dive could bring him to findš theš rareš and
tasty fish that schooled ten feet below the surface of theš ocean:š heš no
longer needed fishing boats and stale bread for survival.š Heš learnedš to
sleep in the air, setting a course atš nightš acrossš theš offshoreš wind,
covering a hundred miles from sunsetš toš sunrise.š Withš theš sameš inner
control, he flew throughš heavyš sea-fogsš andš climbedš aboveš themš into
dazzling clear skies... in the very times when every other gullš stoodš on
the ground, knowing nothing but mist and rain. He learned to ride the high
winds far inland, to dine there on delicate insects.
šššš What he had once hoped for theš Flock,š heš nowš gainedš forš himself
alone; he learned to fly, and was not sorry forš theš priceš thatš heš had
paid. Jonathan Seagull discovered that boredom and fear and anger areš the
reasons that a gull's life is so short,š andš withš theseš goneš fromš his
thought, he lived a long fine life indeed.
šššš They came in the evening, then, and found Jonathanš glidingš peaceful
and alone through his beloved sky. The twoš gulls šthatš appearedš atš his
wings were pure as starlight, andš theš glowš fromš themš wasš gentleš and
friendly in the high night air. But most lovely of all was the skillš with
which they flew, their wingtips moving a precise andš constantš inchš from
his own. Without a word, Jonathan put them to his test,š aš testš thatš no
gull had ever passed. He twisted his wings, slowed to aš singleš mileš per
hour above stall. The two radiant birds slowed with him, smoothly,š locked
in position. They knew about slow flying.
šššš He folded his wings, rolled and dropped in a dive to a hundred ninety
miles perš hour.š Theyš droppedš withš him,š streakingš downš inš flawless
šššš At last he turnedš thatš speedš straightš upš intoš aš longš vertical
slow-roll. They rolled with him, smiling.
šššš He recovered to level flight and wasš quietš forš aš timeš beforeš he
spoke. "Very well," he said, "who are you?"
šššš "We're from your Flock, Jonathan. We are yourš brothers."š Theš words
were strong and calm. "We've come to take you higher, to take you home."
šššš "Home I have none. Flock I have none. I am Outcast. And we fly now at
the peak of the Great Mountain Wind. Beyond a few hundred feet, I can lift
this old body no higher."
šššš "But you can Jonathan. For you have learned. One school isš finished,
and the time has come for another to begin."
šššš As it had shined across him all his life,š soš understandingš lighted
that moment for Jonathan Seagull. They were right. Heš couldš flyš higher,
and it was time to go home.
šššš He gave one last look across the sky, across that magnificentš silver
land where he had learned so much.
šššš "I'm ready " he said at last.
šššš And Jonathan Livingston Seagull rose with the two star-bright gulls to
disappear into a perfect dark sky.
šššš So this is heaven, he thought, and he had to smile at himself. It was
hardly respectful to analyze heaven in the very moment that oneš fliesš up
to enter it.
šššš As he came from Earth now, above the clouds andš inš closeš formation
with the two brilliant gulls, he saw that hisš ownš bodyš wasš growingš as
bright as theirs. True, the same young Jonathan Seagull was there that had
always lived behind his golden eyes, but the outer form had changed.
šššš It felt like a seagull body, but already it flew far better thanš his
old one had ever flown. Why, with half the effort, heš thought,š I'llš get
twice the speed, twice the performance of my best days on Earth!
šššš His feathers glowed brilliant white now, and hisš wingsš wereš smooth
and perfect as sheets of polished silver. He began, delightedly, toš learn
about them, to press power into these new wings.
šššš At two hundred fifty miles per hour he felt that he wasš nearingš his
level-flight maximum speed. At two hundred seventy-three heš thoughtš that
he was flying as fast asš heš couldš fly,š andš heš wasš everš soš faintly
disappointed. There was a limit to how much the newš bodyš couldš do,š and
though it was much faster than his old level-flight record, it was still a
limit that would take great effort to crack. In heaven, he thought,š there
should be no limits.
šššš Theš cloudsš brokeš apart,š hisš escortsš called,š "Happyšš landings,
Jonathan," and vanished into thin air.
šššš He was flying over a sea, towardš aš jaggedš shoreline.š Aš veryš few
seagulls were working the updrafts on the cliffs. Away off toš theš north,
at the horizon itself, flew a few others. New sights,š newš thoughts,š new
questions. Why so few gulls? Heaven should be flocked with gulls! Andš why
am I so tired, all at once? Gulls inš heavenš areš neverš supposedš toš be
tired, or to sleep.
šššš Where had he heard that? The memory of his life on Earth wasš falling
away. Earth had been a place where he had learned much, of course, but the
details were blurred -š somethingš aboutš fightingš forš food,š andš being
šššš The dozen gulls by the shoreline came toš meetš him,š noneš sayingš a
word. He felt only that he was welcome and that this was home. It had been
a big day for him, a day whose sunrise he no longer remembered.
šššš He turned to land on the beach, beating his wings to stop an inchš in
the air, then dropping lightly to the sand, The otherš gullsš landedš too,
but not one of them so much as flapped aš feather.š Theyš swungš intoš the
wind, bright wings outstretched, then somehow they changedš theš curveš of
their feathers until they had stoppedš inš theš sameš instantš theirš feet
touched the ground. It was beautiful control, but nowš Jonathanš wasš just
too tired to try it. Standing there on the beach,š stillš withoutš aš word
spoken, he was asleep.
šššš In the days that followed, Jonathan saw that thereš wasš asš muchš to
learn about flight in this place as there had been in the life behind him.
But with a difference. Here were gulls who thought as he thought, For each
of them, the most important thing in living was toš reachš outš andš touch
perfection in that which they most loved to do, and that was to fly.š They
were magnificent birds, all of them, and they spent hour after hourš every
day practicing flight, testing advanced aeronautics.
šššš For a long time Jonathan forgot about theš worldš thatš heš hadš come
from, that place where the Flock lived with its eyes tightly shutš toš the
joy of flight, using its wings as means to the end of finding and fighting
for food. But now and then, just for a moment, he remembered.
šššš He remembered it one morning when he wasš outš withš hisš instructor,
while they rested on the beach after a session of folded-wing snap rolls.
šššš "Where is everybody, Sullivan?" he asked silently, quite at homeš now
with the easy telepathy thatš theseš gullsš usedš insteadš ofš screesš and
cracks. "Why aren't there more of us here? Why, where Iš cameš fromš there
šš šš"... thousands and thousands of gulls. I know. " Sullivanš shookš his
head. "The only answer I can see, Jonathan, is that you are pretty wellš a
one-in-a-million bird. Most of us came along ever so slowly. We wentš from
one world into another that was almost exactly like it,š forgettingš right
away where we had come from, not caring where we were headed,š livingš for
the moment. Do you have any idea how many lives we must have goneš through
before we even gor the first idea that there is more to life thanš eating,
or fighting, or power in the Flock? A thousand lives, Jon,š tenš thousand!
And then another hundred lives until we began to learn that there isš such
a thing as perfection, and another hundred again to get the idea thatš our
purpose for living is to find that perfection and show it forth. Theš same
rule holds for us now, of course: we choose our next world through what we
learn in this one. Learn nothing, and the next world is the sameš asš this
one, all the same limitations and lead weights to overcome."
šššš He stretched his wings and turned to face the wind. "Butš you,š Jon,"
he said, "learned so much at one time that you didn't have to go through a
thousand lives to reach this one."
šššš In a moment theyš wereš airborneš again,š practicing.š Theš formation
point-roils were difficult, for through the inverted half Jonathan hadš to
think upside down, reversing the curveš ofš hisš wing,š andš reversingš it
exactly in harmony with his instructor's.
šššš "Let's try it again." Sullivan said overš andš over:š "Let'sš tryš it
again." Then, finally, "Good." And they began practicing outside loops.
šššš One evening the gulls that were not night-flyingš stoodš togetherš on
the sand, thinking. Jonathan took all his courage in handš andš walkedš to
the Elder Gull, who, it was said, was soon to be moving beyond this world.
"Chiang..." he said a little nervously.
šššš The old seagull looked at him kindly. "Yes, my son?" Instead of being
enfeebled by age, the Elder had been empowered by it; he could out-flyš any
gull in the Flock, and he had learned skills thatš theš othersš wereš only
gradually coming to know.
šššš "Chiang, this world isn't heaven at all, is it?" The Elder smiledš in
the moonlight. "You are learning again, Jonathan Seagull," he said.
šš šš"Well, what happens from here? Where are we going? Is thereš noš such
place as heaven?"
šššš "No, Jonathan, there is no such place. Heaven is not a place, andš it
is not a time. Heaven is being perfect." He was silent for a moment.š "You
are a very fast flier, aren't you?"
šššš "I... I enjoy speed," Jonathan said, taken aback but proudš thatš the
Elder had noticed.
šššš "You will begin to touch heaven, Jonathan, inš theš momentš thatš you
touch perfect speed. And that isn't flying a thousand miles an hour, orš a
million, or flying at the speed of light. Because any number isš aš limit,
and perfection doesn't haveš limits.š Perfectš speed,š myš son,š isš being
šššš Without warning, Chiang vanished and appearedš atš theš water'sš edge
fifty feet away, all in the flicker of an instant. Then he vanishedš again
and stood, in the same millisecond, at Jonathan's shoulder. "It's kindš of
fun," he said.
šššš Jonathan was dazzled. He forgot to ask about heaven. "How doš youš do
that? What does it feel like? How far can you go?"
šššš "You can go to any place and to any time that you wishš toš go,"š the
Elder said. "I've gone everywhere and everywhen I can think of." He looked
across the sea. "It's strange. The gulls who scorn perfection for the sake
of travel go nowhere, slowly. Those who put aside travel for theš sakeš of
perfection go anywhere, instantly.š Remember,š Jonathan,š heavenš isn'tš a
place or a time, because place and time are soš veryš meaningless.š Heaven
šššš "Can you teach me to fly like that?"š Jonathanš Seagullš trembledš to
conquer another unknown.
šššš "Of course if you wish to learn."
šššš "I wish. When can we start?".
šššš "We could start now if you'd like."
šššš "I want to learn to fly like that," Jonathan said and a strange light
glowed in his eyes. "Tell me what to do,"
šššš Chiang spoke slowly and watched the younger gull everš soš carefully.
"To fly as fast as thought, to anywhere that is," he said, "you must begin
by knowing that you have already arrived ..."
šššš The trick, according to Chiang,š wasš forš Jonathanš toš stopš seeing
himself as trapped insideš aš limitedš bodyš thatš hadš aš forty-twoš inch
wingspan and performance that could be plotted on a chart. Theš trickš was
to know that his true nature lived, as perfectš asš anš unwrittenš number,
everywhere at once across space and time.
šššš Jonathan kept at it, fiercely, day afterš day,š fromš beforeš sunrise
till past . And for all his effort he moved notš aš featherš width
from his spot.
šššš "Forget about faith!" Chiang said it time and again. "You didn't need
faith to fly, you needed to understand flying. This is just theš same.š Now
try again ..."
šššš Then one day Jonathan, standingš onš theš shore,š closingš hisš eyes,
concentrating, all in a flash knew what Chiang had been telling him. "Why,
that's true! I am a perfect, unlimited gull!" He feltš aš greatš shockš of
šššš "Good!" said Chiang and there was victory in his voice.
šššš Jonathan opened his eyes. He stood alone with the Elder on aš totally
different seashore - trees down to theš water'sš edge,š twinš yellowš suns
šššš "At last you've got the idea," Chiang said, "but your control needs a
little work... "
šššš Jonathan was stunned. "Where are we?"
šššš Utterly unimpressed with the strange surroundings, the Elderš brushed
the question aside. "We're on some planet, obviously, with a green sky and
a double star for a sun."
šššš Jonathan made a scree of delight, the first sound he hadš madeš since
he had left Earth. "IT WORKS!"
šššš "Well, of course, it works, Jon." said Chiang. "It always works, when
you know what you're doing. Now about your control..."
šššš By the time they returned, it was dark. Theš otherš gullsš lookedš at
Jonathan with awe in their golden eyes, for they hadš seenš himš disappear
from where he had been rooted for so long.
šššš He stood their congratulations forš lessš thanš aš minute.š "I'mš the
newcomer here! I'm just beginning! It is I who must learn from you!"
šššš "I wonder about that, Jon," said Sullivan standingš near.š "Youš have
less fear of learning than any gull I've seen in ten thousand years.š "The
Flock fell silent, and Jonathan fidgeted in embarrassment.
šššš "We can start working with time if you wish," Chiang said, "tillš you
can fly the past and the future. And then you will be ready toš beginš the
most difficult, the most powerful, the most fun of all. You will beš ready
to begin to fly up and know the meaning of kindness and of love."
šššš A month went by, or something thatš feltš aboutš likeš aš month,š and
Jonathan learned at a tremendous rate. He always had learned quicklyš from
ordinary experience, and now, the special student of the Elder Himself, he
took in new ideas like a streamlined feathered computer.
šššš But then the day came thatš Chiangš vanished.š Heš hadš beenš talking
quietly with them all, exhorting them never toš stopš theirš learningš and
their practicing and their striving toš understandš moreš ofš theš perfect
invisible principle of all life. Then, asš heš spoke,š hisš feathersš went
brighter and brighter and at last turned so brilliant that noš gullš could
look upon him.
šššš "Jonathan," he said, and these were the lastš wordsš thatš heš spoke,
"keep working on love."
šššš When they could see again, Chiang was gone.
šššš As the days went past, Jonathan found himself thinking time and again
of the Earth from which he had come. If he had known there justš aš tenth,
just a hundredth, of what he knew here, howš muchš moreš lifeš wouldš have
meant! He stood on the sand and fell to wondering if there was a gull back
there who might be struggling to break outš ofš hisš limits,š toš seeš the
meaning of flight beyond a way ofš travelš toš getš aš breadcrumbš fromš a
rowboat. Perhaps there might even have been one made Outcast forš speaking
his truth in the face of the Flock. And the moreš Jonathanš practicedš his
kindness lessons, and the more he worked to know the nature ofš love,š the
more he wanted to go back to Earth. Forš inš spiteš ofš hisš lonelyš past,
Jonathan Seagull was bornš toš beš anš instructor,š andš hisš ownš wayš of
demonstrating love was to give something of the truth that he had seenš to
a gull who asked only a chance to see truth for himself.
šššš Sullivan, adept now at thought-speed flight and helping the others to
learn, was doubtful.
šššš "Jon, you were Outcast once. Why do you think that any ofš theš gulls
in your old time would listen to you now? You know the proverb,š andš it's
true: The gull sees farthest who flies highest. Those gulls where you came
from are standing on the ground, squawking and fighting amongš themselves.
They're a thousand miles from heaven - and you say you want toš showš them
heaven from where they stand! Jon, they can't see their own wingtips! Stay
here. Help the new gulls here, the ones who are high enoughš toš seeš what
you have to tell them." He was quiet for a moment, and then he said, "What
if Chiang had gone back to his oldš worlds?š Whereš wouldš youš haveš been
šššš The last point was the telling one, and Sullivan was rightš Theš gull
sees farthest who flies highest.
šššš Jonathan stayed and worked with the new birds coming in, who were all
very bright and quick with their lessons. But the old feelingš cameš back,
and he couldn't help but think that there might be one or twoš gullsš back
on Earth who would be able to learn, too. Howš muchš moreš wouldš heš have
known by now if Chiang had come to him on the day that he was Outcast!
šššš "Sully, I must go back " he said at lastš "Yourš studentsš areš doing
well. They can help you bring the newcomers along."
šššš Sullivan sighed, but he didš notš argue.š "Iš thinkš I'llš missš you,
Jonathan," was all he said.
šššš "Sully, for shame!" Jonathan said in reproach, "and don't be foolish!
What are we trying to practice every day? Ifš ourš friendshipš dependsš on
things like space and time, then when we finally overcome space andš time,
we've destroyed our own brotherhood! But overcome space, and allš weš have
left is Here. Overcome time, and all we haveš leftš isš Now.š Andš inš the
middle of Here and Now, don't you think that we might see each otherš once
šššš Sullivan Seagull laughed in spite of himself. "Youš crazyš bird,"š he
said kindly. "If anybody can show someone onš theš groundš howš toš seeš a
thousand miles, it will be Jonathan Livingston Seagull." He looked atš the
sand. "Good-bye, Jon, my friend."
šššš "Good bye, Sully. We'll meet again." And with that, Jonathan heldš in
thought an image of the great gull flocks on the shoreš ofš anotherš time,
and he knew with practiced ease that he was not boneš andš featherš butš a
perfect idea of freedom and flight, limited by nothing at all.
šššš Fletcher Lynd Seagull was still quite young, but already he knew that
no bird had ever been so harshly treated by any Flock,š orš withš soš much
šššš "I don't care what they say," he thoughtš fiercely,š andš hisš vision
blurred as he flew out toward the Far Cliffs. "There'sš soš muchš moreš to
flying than just flapping around from place to place! A...š a...š mosquito
does that! One little barrel roll around the Elder Gull, just for fun, and
I'm Outcast! Are they blind? Can't they see? Can't they think of the glory
that it'll be when we really learn to fly?
šššš "I don't care what they think. I'll show them what flying is! I'll be
pure Outlaw, if that's the wayš theyš wantš it.š Andš I'llš makeš themš so
šššš The voice came inside his own head, and though it was very gentle, it
startled him so much that he faltered and stumbled in the air.
šššš "Don't be harsh on them, Fletcher Seagull. In castingš youš out,š the
other gulls have only hurt themselves, and one day theyš willš knowš this,
and one day they will see what you see. Forgive them,š andš helpš themš to
šššš An inch from his right wingtip flew the most brilliant white gullš in
all the world, gliding effortlessly along, not moving a feather,š atš what
was very nearly Fletcher's top speed.
šššš There was a moment of chaos in the young bird. "What's going on? Am I
mad? Am I dead? What is this?"
šššš Low and calm, the voice went onš withinš hisš thought,š demandingš an
answer. "Fletcher Lynd Seagull, do you want to fly?"
šššš "YES, I WANT TO FLY!".
šššš "Fletcher Lynd Seagull, do you want to flyš soš muchš thatš youš will
forgive the Flock, and learn, and go back to them one day and work to help
šššš There was no lying to this magnificent skillful being, no matterš how
proud or how hurt a bird was Fletcher Seagull.
šššš "I do " he said softly.
šššš "Then, Fletch," that bright creature said to him, and theš voiceš was
very kind, "let's begin with Level Flight...."
šššš Jonathan circled slowly over the Farš Cliffs,š watching.š Thisš rough
young Fletcher Gull was veryš nearlyš aš perfectš flight-student.š Heš was
strong and light and quick in the air, but far and away more important, he
had a blazing drive to learn to fly.
šššš Here he came this minute, a blurred gray shape roaring out of a dive,
flashing one hundred fifty miles per hour past his instructor.š Heš pulled
abruptly into another try at a sixteen point vertical slowš roll,š calling
the points out loud.
šššš "...eight... nine... ten... see-Jonathan-I'm-running-out-of-airspeed..
eleven...ššššš I-want-good-sharp-stops-likešššššš yours...šššššš twelve...
but-blast-it-I-just-can't-make... -š thirteen...š these-last-three-points...
šššš Fletcher's whipstall at the top was all the worse forš hisš rageš and
fury at failing. He fellš backward,š tumbled,š slammedš savagelyš intoš an
inverted spin, and recovered at last, panting, a hundredš feetš belowš his
šššš "You're wasting your time with me, Jonathan! I'm tooš dumb!š I'mš too
stupid! I try and try, but I'll never get it!"
šššš Jonathan Seagull looked down at him and nodded. "You'll never getš it
for sure as long as you make that pull-up so hard. Fletcher, you lost forty
miles an hour in the entry! Youš haveš toš beš smooth!š Firmš butš smooth,
šššš He dropped down to theš levelš ofš theš youngerš gull. "Let'sš tryš it
together now, in formation. And payš attentionš toš thatš pull-up.š It'sš a
smooth, easy entry."
šššš By the end of three months Jonathan had six other students,š Outcasts
all, yet curious about this strange new idea ofš flightš forš theš joyš of
šššš Still, it was easier for them to practice highš performanceš thanš it
was to understand the reason behind it.
šššš "Each of us is in truth an idea of the Great Gull, an unlimitedš idea
of freedom," Jonathan wouldš sayš inš theš eveningsš onš theš beach,š "and
precision flying is a step toward expressingš ourš realš nature. Everything
that limits us we have toš putš aside.š That'sš whyš allš thisš high-speed
practice, and low speed, and aerobatics...."
šššš ...and his students would be asleep, exhausted from the day's flying.
They liked the practice, because it was fast and excitingš andš itš fedš a
hunger for learning that grew with every lesson. But not one of them,š not
even Fletcher Lynd Gull, had come to believeš thatš theš flightš ofš ideas
could possibly be as real as the flight of wind and feather.
šššš "Your whole body, from wingtip to wingtip," Jonathan would say, other
times, "is nothing more than your thought itself, in a form youš canš see.
Break the chains of your thought, and you break the chains ofš yourš body,
too..." But no matter how he said it, it soundedš likeš pleasantš fiction,
and they needed more to sleep.
šššš It was only a month later that Jonathan said theš timeš hadš comeš to
return to the Flock.
šššš "We're not ready!" said Henry Calvin Gull. "We're not welcome!š We're
Outcast! We can't force ourselves to go where we're not welcome, can we?"
šššš "We're free to go where we wish and toš beš whatš weš are,"š Jonathan
answered, and he lifted from the sand and turnedš east,š towardš theš home
grounds of the Flock.
šššš There was brief anguish among his students, for it is the Law ofš the
Flock that an Outcast never returns, and the Law had not been brokenš once
in ten thousand years. The Law said stay; Jonathan said go; and by nowš he
was a mile across the water. If they waited much longer, he would reachš a
hostile Flock alone.
šššš "Well, we don't have to obey the law ifš we'reš notš aš partš ofš the
Flock, doš we?"š Fletcherš said,š ratherš self-consciously.š "Besides,š if
there's a fight we'll be a lot more help there than here."'
šššš And so they flew in from the west that morning, eight ofš themš inš a
double-diamond formation, wingtips almost overlapping.š Theyš cameš across
the Flock's Councilš Beachš atš aš hundredš thirty-fiveš milesš perš hour,
Jonathan in the lead. Fletcher smoothly at his rightš wing,š Henryš Calvin
struggling gamely at his left. Then the whole formation rolledš slowlyš to
the right, as one bird... level... to... inverted... to... level, the wind
whipping over them all.
šššš The squawks and grockles of everyday life in the Flock wereš cutš off
as though the formation were a giant knife, and eightš thousandš gull-eyes
watched, without a single blink. One byš one,š eachš ofš theš eightš birds
pulled sharply upward into a full loop and flew all the wayš aroundš toš a
dead-slow stand-up landing on the sand. Then as though this sort ofš thing
happened every day, Jonathan Seagull began his critique of the flight.
šššš "To begin with," he said with a wry smile, "you were all aš bitš late
on the join-up..."
šššš It went like lightning through the Flock. Thoseš birdsš areš Outcast!
Andš theyš haveš returned!š Andš that...š thatš can'tš happen!š Fletcher's
predictions of battle melted in the Flock's confusion.
šššš "Well sure, O.K. they're Outcast," said some ofš theš youngerš gulls,
"but hey, man, where did they learn to fly like that?"
šššš It took almost an hour for the Word of the Elder to pass throughš the
Flock: Ignore them. The gull who speaks to an Outcast is himselfš Outcast.
The gullš whoš looksš uponš anš Outcastš breaksš theš Lawš ofš theš Flock,
Gray-feathered backs were turned upon Jonathan fromš thatš momentš onward,
but he didn't appear to notice. He heldš hisš practiceš sessionsš directly
over the Council Beach and for the first time began pressing hisš students
to the limit of their ability.
šššš "Martin Gull!" he shouted across the sky. "You say you know low-speed
flying. You know nothing till you prove it! FLY!"
šššš So quiet little Martin William Seagull, startled to beš caughtš under
his instructor's fire, surprisedš himselfš andš becameš aš wizardš ofš low
speeds. In the lightest breeze he could curve his feathers to lift himself
without a single flap of wing from sand to cloud and down again.
šššš Likewiseš Charles-Rolandš Gullš flewš theš Greatš Mountainš Windšš to
twenty-four thousand feet, came down blue from the cold thinš air,š amazed
and happy, determined to go still higher tomorrow.
šššš Fletcher Seagull, who loved aerobatics like noš oneš else,š conquered
his sixteen point vertical slow roll and the next day topped it off with a
triple cartwheel, his feathers flashing white sunlightš toš aš beachš from
which more than one furtive eye watched.
šššš Every hour Jonathan was there at the side of eachš ofš hisš students,
demonstrating, suggesting, pressuring, guiding. He flew with themš through
night and cloud and storm, for the sport of it, whileš theš Flockš huddled
miserably on the ground.
šššš When the flying was done, the students relaxed in theš sand,š andš in
time they listened more closely to Jonathan. He had some crazy ideasš that
they couldn't understand, but then he had some good ones that they could.
šššš Gradually, in the night, another circle formed around theš circleš of
students a circle of curious gulls listening in the darkness for hoursš on
end, not wishing to see or be seen ofš oneš another,š fadingš awayš before
šššš It was a month after the Return that theš firstš gullš ofš theš Flock
crossed the line and asked to learn how to fly. Inš hisš asking,š Terrence
Lowell Gull became a condemned bird, labeled Outcast; andš theš eighthš of
šššš The next night from the Flock came Kirk Maynard Gull, wobbling across
the sand, dragging his left wing, to collapse at Jonathan's feet. "Help me,"
he said very quietly, speaking in the way that the dying speak. "I want to
fly more than anything else in the world..."
šššš "Come along then." saidš Jonathan.š "Climbš withš meš awayš fromš the
ground, and we'll begin."
šššš "You don't understand My wing. I can't move my wing."
šššš "Maynard Gull, you have the freedom to be yourself, yourš trueš self,
here and now, and nothing can stand in your way. It is the Law of the Great
Gull, the Law that Is."
šššš "Are you saying I can fly?"
šššš "I say you are free."
šššš As simply and as quickly as that, Kirk Maynard Gull spread his wings,
effortlessly, and lifted into the dark night air.š Theš Flockš wasš roused
from sleep by his cry, as loud as he could scream it,š fromš fiveš hundred
feet up: "I can fly! Listen! I CAN FLY!"
šššš By sunrise there were nearly a thousand birdsš standingš outsideš the
circle of students, looking curiously at Maynard. They didn't care whether
they were seen or not, and they listened, tryingš toš understandš Jonathan
šššš He spoke of very simple things - that it is right for a guil toš fly,
that freedom is the very nature of his being, that whatever stands against
that freedom must be set aside, be it ritual or superstition or limitation
in any form.
šššš "Set aside," came a voice from the multitude, "even if it be theš Law
of the Flock?"
šššš "The only true law is that which leads toš freedom,"š Jonathanš said.
"There is no other."
šššš "How do you expect us to fly as you fly?" cameš anotherš voice.š "You
are special and gifted and divine, above other birds."
šššš "Look at Fletcher! Lowell! Charles-Roland! Judy Lee!š Areš theyš also
special and gifted and divine? No more than you are, no moreš thanš Iš am.
The only difference, the veryš onlyš one,š isš thatš theyš haveš begunš to
understand what they really are and have begun to practice it."
šššš His students, save Fletcher, shifted uneasily. Theyš hadn'tš realized
that this was what they were doing.
šššš The crowd grew larger every day, coming to question, toš idolize,š to
šššš "They are saying in the Flock that if you areš notš theš Sonš ofš the
Great Gull Himself," Fletcher told Jonathanš oneš morningš afterš Advanced
Speed Practice, "then you are a thousand years ahead of your time."
šššš Jonathan sighed. The price of being misunderstood, heš thought.š They
call you devil or they call you god. "What do you think,š Fletch?š Areš we
ahead of our time?"
šššš A long silence. "Well, this kind of flying has always been here to be
learned by anybody who wanted to discover it; that'sš gotš nothingš toš do
with time. We're ahead of the fashion, maybe, Ahead of the wayš thatš most
šššš "That's something," Jonathan said rolling toš glideš invertedš forš a
while. "That's not half as bad as being ahead of our time."
šššš It happenedš justš aš weekš later.š Fletcherš wasš demonstratingš the
elements of high-speed flying to a class ofš newš students.š Heš hadš just
pulled out of his dive from seven thousand feet, a long gray streak firing
a few inches above the beach, when a young bird on its first flight glided
directly into his path, calling for its mother. With a tenth ofš aš second
to avoid the youngster, Fletcher Lynd Seagull snapped hard to the left, at
something over two hundred miles per hour, into a cliff of solid granite.
šššš It was, for him, as though the rockš wereš aš giantš hardš doorš into
another world. A burst of fear and shock and black as he hit, and thenš he
was adrift in a strange, strange sky, forgetting, remembering,š forgetting;
afraid and sad and sorry, terribly sorry.
šššš The voice came to him as it had in the firstš dayš thatš heš hadš met
Jonathan Livingston Seagull,
šššš "The trick Fletcher is that we are trying to overcome our limitations
in order, patiently, We don't tackle flying through rockš untilš aš little
later in the program."
šššš "Also known as the Son of the Great Gull " his instructor said dryly,
šššš "What are you doing here? The cliff! Haven't I didn't I.., die?"
šššš "Oh, Fletch, come on. Think. If youš areš talkingš toš meš now,š then
obviously you didn't die, did you? What you did manage to do was to change
your level of consciousness rather abruptly. It's your choice now. You can
stay here and learn on this level - which is quite a bit higherš thanš the
one you left, by the way - or you can go back and keepš workingš withš the
Flock. The Elders were hoping forš someš kindš ofš disaster,š butš they're
startled that you obliged them so well."
šššš "I want to go back to the Flock, of course. I'veš barelyš begunš with
the new group!"
šššš "Very well, Fletcher. Remember what we were saying aboutš one'sš body
being nothing more than thought itself....?"
šššš Fletcher shook his head and stretched his wings and openedš hisš eyes
at the base of the cliff, in the centerš ofš theš wholeš Flockš assembled.
There was a great clamor of squawks and screes from the crowdš whenš first
šššš "He lives! He that was dead lives!"
šššš "Touched him with a wingtip! Brought him toš life!š Theš Sonš ofš the
šššš "No! He denies it! He's a devil! DEVIL! Come to break the Flock!"
šššš There were four thousand gulls in the crowd, frightened atš whatš had
happened, and the cry DEVIL! went through them like the wind ofš anš ocean
storm. Eyes glazed, beaks sharp, they closed in to destroy.
šššš "Would you feel better if we left, Fletcher?" asked Jonathan.
šššš "I certainly wouldn't object too much if we did..."
šššš Instantly they stood together aš half-mileš away,š andš theš flashing
beaks of the mob closed on empty air.
šššš "Why is it," Jonathan puzzled, "that the hardest thing inš theš world
is to convince a bird that he is free,š andš thatš heš canš proveš itš for
himself if he'd just spend a little time practicing? Why should that be so
šššš Fletcher still blinked from the change of scene. "What didš youš just
do? How did we get here?"
šššš "You did say you wanted to be out of the mob, didn't you?"
šššš "Yes! But how did you..."
šššš "Like everything else, Fletcher. Practice." By morning the Flockš had
forgotten its insanity, but Fletcher had not. "Jonathan, remember what you
said a long time ago, about loving the Flock enough to returnš toš itš and
help it learn?"
šššš "I don't understand how you manage to love a mob ofš birdsš thatš has
just tried to kill you."
š ššš"Oh, Fletch, you don't love that! You don't love hatred and evil,š of
course. You have to practice and see the real gull, the good in everyš one
of them, and to help them see it in themselves.š That'sš whatš Iš meanš by
love. It's fun, when you get the knack of it.
šššš "I remember a fierce young bird for instance, Fletcher Lyndš Seagull,
his name. Just been made Outcast, ready to fight the Flock toš theš death,
getting a start on building his own bitter hell out on the Far Cliffs. And
here he is today building his own heaven instead, andš leadingš theš whole
Flock in that direction."
šššš Fletcher turned to his instructor, and there was a momentš ofš fright
in his eye. "Meš leading?š Whatš doš youš mean,š meš leading?š You'reš the
instructor here. You couldn't leave!"
šššš "Couldn't I? Don't you think that there might be other flocks,š other
Fletchers, that need an instructor more than this one, that's onš itsš way
toward the light?"
šššš "Me? Jon, I'm just a plain seagull and you're... "
šššš " ...the only Son of the Great Gull, I suppose?" Jonathan sighedš and
looked out to sea. "You don't need me any longer. You need to keep finding
yourself, a little more each day, that real, unlimitedš Fletcherš Seagull.
He's your instructor. You need to understand him and to practice him."
šššš A moment later Jonathan's body wavered in theš air,š shimmering,š and
began to go transparent. "Don't let them spread silly rumors about me,š or
make me a god. O.K., Fletch? I'm a seagull. I like to fly, maybe..."
šššš "Poor Fletch. Don't believe what your eyes are telling you. Allš they
show is limitation. Lookš withš yourš understanding,š findš outš whatš you
already know, and you'll see the way to fly."
šššš The shimmering stopped. Jonathan Seagull had vanished into empty air.
šššš After a time, Fletcher Gull dragged himself into the sky and facedš a
brand-new group of students, eager for their first lesson.
šššš "To begin with " he said heavily, "you've got toš understandš thatš a
seagull is an unlimited idea of freedom, an image of the Greatš Gull,š and
your whole body, from wingtipš toš wingtip,š isš nothingš moreš thanš your
šššš The young gulls looked at him quizzically. Hey,š man,š theyš thought,
this doesn't sound like a rule for a loop.
šššš Fletcher sighed and started over. "Hm. Ah... very well," he said, and
eyed them critically. "Let's begin with Level Flight." And saying that, he
understood all at once that his friend had quiteš honestlyš beenš noš more
divine than Fletcher himself.
šššš No limits, Jonathan? he thought. Well, then, the time'sš notš distant
when I'm going to appear out of thin air on your beach,š andš showš youš a
thing or two about flying!
šššš And though heš triedš toš lookš properlyš severeš forš his šstudents,
Fletcher Seagull suddenly saw them all as they reallyš were,š justš forš a
moment, and he more than liked, he loved what he saw. No limits, Jonathan?
he thought, and he smiled. His race to learn had begun.
šš The New York Times, July 3, 1974
šššš Des Moines, Iowa, July 2 - John H. Livingston, the man who
inspired the best-selling novel "Jonathan Livingstonš Seagull,"
died Sunday at the Pompano Beach (Fla.) Airport soon after
completing his last plane ride.
šššš Richardš Bach, a former Iowa Air Guard pilot, has said his
best-selling book about a free-wheeling seagull was inspired by
šššš Johnnyš Livingston,š as he was known, moved many years ago
from Iowa to Florida. He was one of theš country'sš topš pilots
during the barnstorming days of the nineteen-twenties and
šššš Fromš 1928š throughš 1933,š Mr.š Livingstonš wonš 79 first
places, 43 seconds and 15 thirds in 139š racesš throughoutš the
country,š manyš ofš themš atš Cleveland. He won first place and
$13,910 in 1928 in a cross-country race from Newš Yorkš toš Los
šššš Mr.š Livingston leaves his wife, Wavelle, two brothers and
Richard Bach, of course, was attacked by the I.R.S. for most of the
rest of his adult life after writing this best-seller, which is very
obviously an inspired attempt to persuade all men to throw off the
shackles of the mortal world, and attempt to fulfill their own inner
spiritual potential, thus becoming all that they were spiritually
intended by their creator to be, rather than accepting the limited
non-spiritual roles our governmental rulers allow us, and that,
across time our physical reality seems to promote, but which,
slowly and surely destroys and enslaves the true, free, human spirit.
The I.R.S. didn’t like that at all !!