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“There are two kinds of knives,” said the teacher to the class. “The kind that rust and the kind that bloom.”

The gaggle of boys tried to sit still and solemn, to maintain a proper posture, settled back on their heels on the hard dirt floor, but this pronouncement made them all lean forward. The teacher watched them in silence. Finally, one risked reprimand and asked the question they were all thinking. “How, Master?” he asked in a cautious voice. “How can a knife bloom?”

Three quick strokes, and the teacher had pierced the fruit on the table, split it open, revealed its belly. Three more strokes, and the petals of the roses cascaded across the dirt floor. Three steps, and the knife was under the chin of the brave boy who asked. No one breathed, and the moment was long. Then the teacher pressed the blade against his own palm and the red burst forward like a small blood rose. Two steps, and he was seated again, knife sheathed, hands folded.

“A rose bush gives a flower,” he said. “It is its purpose. Its bloom. A knife cuts. It blooms. It may cut many things, but that is its purpose. Without purpose, a thing rusts.

“And you…” He looked each boy in the eye, one by one. “Will you rust or will you bloom?”

As one body, the boys sank back on their heels. A heavy question. Again, the brave one spoke.

“But master, how will we know our purpose?”

The old one smiled.

“By knowing what you are,” he said. “By knowing what you are.”

© Deborah Edler Brown 2012

Photo by Marina Shemesh