From Erasmus to Mythbusters and in between through scores of lyrics and pop references, the proverb “a rolling stone gathers no moss” exists in dozens of languages – but people, times, and cultures make its interpretation a real challenge.
In a literal sense, Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters confirmed it is, in fact, exactly true that after six months of rolling stones they did indeed stay free of moss.
But in a figurative sense, is moss desirable, or undesirable? As a child I used to collect moss in the woods behind our house and make a moss garden tenderly displayed on a fallen tree limb. After that though, I mostly stopped noticing the moss. After leaving for college, I became the rolling stone. Since 2001 I have moved 11 times and in the previous decade that number was significantly higher. It sounds alarming to me now, but I know loads of people who have moved almost as much.
Like our culture, I see that gathering moss slows you down, and our culture has little room for slow. To our modern cultures of the West mobile people are agile, adaptable, go-getters. But to the ancient cultures of the Far East it was believed that nomads avoided responsibilities and did not acquire real bonds, wealth, or wisdom. Maybe both are wrong, and both are right.
Mosses started fascinating me again since moving to the country. I am continually marveling at the depth of their colors, the incredible variety of textures, the continual changes through light and season, and especially their sturdy delicacy. If there is Yin and Yang in this proverb, then the Yin is the moss, and the Yang is the rock, and as all things Yin and Yang, they transform each other.
I suppose that means there is a time for collecting moss, and a time for shaking it free. While it sounds hokey to say like the rock and the moss, the Yin and the Yang, life is all about balance, well, I think a wee bit of hokey might help this pokey world go ’round.