“[…] Seagulls, as you know, never falter, never stall. To stall in the air is for them disgrace and it is dishonour.
But Jonathan Livingston Seagull, unashamed, stretching his wings again in that trembling hard curve - slowing, slowing, and stalling once more - was no ordinary bird. […] For most gulls, it is not eating that mattered, but flight. More than anything else, Jonathan Livingston Seagull loved to fly. 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. 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 the air longer, with less effort. […]
“Why can’t you leave low flying to the pelicans, the albatross? […] Why don’t you eat? [his mother asked] Jon, you’re bone and feathers!”
“I don’t mind being bone and feathers, Mum. 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.”
“See here, Jonathan”, said his father, (…). […] If you must study, then study food, and how to get it. This flying business 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.”
Jonathan nodded obediently. For the next days, he tried to behave like the other gulls. […] But he couldn’t make it work.
It’s all so pointless, he thought, deliberately dropping a hard-won anchovy to a hungry old gull chasing him. I could be spending all this time learning to fly. There’s so much to learn!
It wasn’t long before Jonathan Gull was off by himself again, far out at sea, hungry, happy, learning. The subject was speed, and in a week’s practice, he learned more about speed than the fastest gull alive. […] Time after time it happened. […] Jonathan had set a world speed record for seagulls! […]
[…] As he sank low in the water, a strange hollow voice sounded within him. There’s no way around it. I am a seagull. I am limited by my nature. […] If you were meant to fly in the dark, you’d have the eyes of an owl! You’d have charts for brains! You’d have a falcon’s short wings! […] Short wings. A falcon’s short wings! 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 and fly on just the tips alone! […] He climbed two thousand feet above the black sea, and without a moment for thought of failure and death, he brought his forewings tightly in to his body, left only the narrow swept daggers of his wingtips extended into the wind, and fell into a vertical dive. The wind was a monster roar at his head. […] His vows for a moment before were forgotten, swept away in that great, swift wind. Yet he felt guiltless, breaking the promises he had made himself. Such promises are only for the gulls that accept the ordinary. […]
By sunup, Jonathan Gull was practising again. […] He was alive, trembling ever so slightly with delight, proud that his fear was under control. Then without ceremony, he hugged in his forewings, extended his short, angled wingtips, and plunged directly toward the sea. […] His thought was triumph. […] A single wingtip feather, he found, moved a fraction of an inch, gives a smooth, sweeping curve at tremendous speed. Before he learned this, however, he found that moving more than one feather at that speed will spin you like a rifle ball… […] He discovered the loop, the slow roll, the point roll, the inverted spin, the gull bunt, the pinwheel. […]
How much more there is now to living! […] We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free. We can learn to fly! […]
The years ahead hummed and glowed with promise.
“Jonathan Livingston Seagull! Stand to Centre!” The Elder’s words sounded in a voice of highest ceremony. […]
“Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” said the Elder, “Stand to Centre for shame in the sight of your fellow gulls!”
It felt like being hit with a board. […] Centred for Shame? Impossible! The Breakthrough! They can’t understand! They’re wrong, they’re wrong!
“…for his reckless responsibility,” the solemn voice intoned, “violating the dignity and tradition of the Gull Family…”
To be centred for shame meant that he would be cast out of gull society, banished to a solitary life on the Far Cliffs.
[…] A seagull never speaks back to the Council Flock, but it was Jonathan’s voice raised. “Irresponsibility? My brothers!” he cried. “Who is more responsible than a gull who finds and follows a meaning, a 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…”
“The Brotherhood is broken,” the gulls intoned together (…).
Jonathan Seagull (…) flew way out beyond the Far Cliffs. His one sorrow was not solitude, it was 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. […] With the same inner control, he flew through heavy sea-fogs and climbed above them into dazzling clear skies… […] He learned to fly, and was not sorry for the price he had paid. Jonathan Seagull discovered that boredom and fear and anger are the reason’s that a gull’s life is so short (…).
So this is Heaven, he thought, and he had to smile at himself. […] It felt like a seagull body, but already it flew far better than his old one had ever known. Why, with half the effort, he thought, I’d get twice the speed, twice the performance of my best days on earth! His feathers glowed brilliant white now, and his wings were smooth and perfect as sheets of polished silver. […]
[…] “… we choose our next world through what we learn in this one. Learn nothing, and the next world is the same as this one, all the same limitations and lead weights to overcome.”
[…] Jonathan took all his courage in hand and walked to the Elder Gull, who, it was said, was soon to be moving out of this world.
“Chiang…” he said, a little nervously.
[…] “Yes, my son?” Instead of being enfeebled by age, the Elder had been empowered by it. […]
“Well, what happens from here? Where are we going? Is there no such place as Heaven?”
“No, Jonathan, there is no such place. Heaven is not a place and it is not a time. Heaven is being perfect. […] You will begin to touch Heaven, Jonathan, in the moment that you touch perfect speed. And that isn’t flying a thousand miles an hour, or a million, or flying at the speed of light. Because any number is a limit, and perfection doesn’t have limits. Perfect speed, my son, is being there.”
[…] “Jonathan,” he said, (…) “keep working on love.”
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 just a tenth, just a hundredth, of what he knew here, how much more life would have meant!
[…] “The gull sees farthest who flies highest.”
The price of being misunderstood, he thought. They call you devil or they call you god. […]
“I just don’t understand how you manage to love a mob of birds that has just tried to kill you.”
“[…] You don’t love hatred and evil, of course. You have to practice and see the real gull, the good in every one of them, and to help them see it in themselves. That’s what I mean by love. It’s fun, when you get the knack of it.”
Fletcher (Seagull) turned to his instructor, and there was a moment of fright in his eye. “Me leading? What do you mean, me leading? You’re the instructor here. You couldn’t leave!”
“Couldn’t I? Don’t you think that there may be other flocks, other Fletchers, that need an instructor more than this one, that’s on his way toward the light?”
“Me? Jon, I’m just a plain seagull, and you’re…”
“… the only Son of the Great Gull, I suppose?” Jonathan sighed and looked out to sea. You don’t need me any longer. You need to keep finding yourself, a little more each day (…). […]”
“[…] Don’t let them spread silly rumors about me, or make me a god. O.K. (…)? I’m a seagull. I like to fly, maybe… […] Don’t believe what the eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way to fly.”
[Excerpts from “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” story, by Richard Bach, one of Michael Jackson’s favorite inspirational books]