“... thousands and thousands of gulls. I know.” Sullivan
shook his head. “周e only answer I can see, Jonathan, is that
you are pretty well a one-in-a-million bird. Most of us came
along ever so slowly. We went from one world into another
that was almost exactly like it, forgetting right away where we
had come from, not caring where we were headed, living for
the moment. Do you have any idea how many lives we must
have gone through before we even got the ﬁrst idea that there
is more to life than eating, or ﬁghting, or power in the Flock?
A thousand lives, Jon, ten thousand! And then another hun-
dred lives until we began to learn that there is such a thing as
perfection, and another hundred again to get the idea that our
purpose for living is to ﬁnd that perfection and show it forth.
周e 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 same as this one, all the same limitations
and lead weights to overcome.”
He stretched his wings and turned to face the wind. “But
you, Jon,” he said, “learned so much at one time that you
didn’t have to go through a thousand lives to reach this one.”
In a moment they were airborne again, practising. 周e
formation point-rolls were diﬃcult, for through the inverted
half Jonathan had to think upside down, reversing the curve
of his wing, and reversing it exactly in harmony with his
“Let’s try it again,” Sullivan said, over and over: “Let’s try it
again.” 周en, ﬁnally, “Good.” And they began practising
One evening the gulls that were not night-ﬂying stood
together on the sand, thinking. Jonathan took all his courage in
hand and walked to the Elder Gull, who, it was said, was soon
to be moving beyond this world.
“Chiang ...” he said, a little nervously.
周e oldseagull lookedat him kindly.“Yes,my son?”Instead
of being enfeebled by age, the Elder had been empowered by
it; he could outﬂy any gull in the Flock, and he had learned
skills that the others were only gradually coming to know.
“Chiang, this world isn’t heaven at all, is it?”
周e Elder smiled in the moonlight. “You are learning again,
Jonathan Seagull,” he said.
“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.” He was silent for
a moment. “You are a very fast ﬂier,aren’tyou?”
“I ... I enjoy speed,” Jonathan said, taken aback but proud
that the Elder had noticed.
“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.”
Without warning, Chiang vanished and appeared at the
water’s edge ﬁ晴y feet away, all in the ﬂicker of an instant. 周en
he vanished again and stood, in the same millisecond, at
Jonathan’s shoulder. “It’s kind of fun,” he said.
Jonathan was dazzled. He forgot to ask about heaven. “How
do you do that? What does it feel like? How far can you go?”
“You can go to any place and to any time that you wish to
go,” the Elder said. “I’ve gone everywhere and everywhen I can
think of.” He looked across the sea. “It’s strange. 周e gulls who
scorn perfection for the sake of travel go nowhere, slowly.
周ose who put aside travel for the sake of perfection go any-
where, instantly. Remember, Jonathan, heaven isn’t a place or
a time, because place and time are so very meaningless.
Heaven is ...”
“Can you teach me to ﬂy like that?” Jonathan Seagull
trembled to conquer another unknown.
“Of course, if you wish to learn.”
“I wish. When can we start?”
“We could start now, if you’d like.”
“I want to learn to ﬂy likethat,”Jonathan said, and astrange
light glowed in his eyes. “Tell me what to do.”
Chiang spoke slowly and watched the younger gull ever so
carefully. “To ﬂy as fast as thought, to anywhere that is,” he
said, “you must begin by knowing that you have already
周e trick, according to Chiang, was for Jonathan to stop
seeing himself as trapped inside a limited body that had a
forty-two-inch wingspan and performance that could be plot-
ted on a chart. 周e trick was to know that his true nature
lived, as perfect as an unwritten number, everywhere at once
across space and time.
Jonathan kept at it, ﬁercely, day a晴er day, from before sunrise
till past midnight. And for all his eﬀort he moved not a
feather-width from his spot.
“Forget about faith!” Chiang said it time and again. “You
didn’t need faith to ﬂy, you needed to understand ﬂying. 周is
is just the same. Now try again ...”
周en one day Jonathan, standing on the shore, closing his
eyes, concentrating, all in a ﬂash knew what Chiang had been
telling him. “Why, that’s true! I am a perfect, unlimited gull!”
He felt a great shock of joy.
“Good!” said Chiang, and there was victory in his voice.
Jonathan opened his eyes. He stood alone with the Elder on
a totally diﬀerent seashore — trees down to the water’s edge,
twin yellow suns turning overhead.
“At last you’ve got the idea,” Chiang said, “but your control
needs a little work ...”
Jonathan was stunned. “Where are we?”
Utterly unimpressed with the strange surroundings, the
Elder brushed the question aside. “We’re on some planet,
obviously, with a green sky and a double star for a sun.”
Jonathan made a scree of delight, the ﬁrst sound he had
made since he had le晴Earth.“ITWORKS!”
“Well, of course it works, Jon,” said Chiang. “It always
works, when you know what you’re doing. Now about your
By the time they returned, it was dark. 周e other gulls looked
at Jonathan with awe in their golden eyes, for they had seen
him disappear from where he had been rooted for so long.
He stood their congratulations for less than a minute. “I’m
the newcomer here! I’m just beginning! It is I who must learn
“I wonder about that, Jon,” said Sullivan, standing near.
“You have less fear of learning than any gull I’ve seen in ten
thousand years.” 周e Flock fell silent, and Jonathan ﬁdgeted in
“We can start working with time if you wish,” Chiang said,
“till you can ﬂy the past and the future. And then you will be
ready to begin the most diﬃcult, the most powerful, the most
fun of all. You will be ready to begin to ﬂy up and know the
meaning of kindness and of love.”
A month went by, or something that felt about like a
month, and Jonathan learned at a tremendous rate. He always
had learned quickly from ordinary experience, and now, the
special student of the Elder Himself, he took in new ideas like
a streamlined feathered computer.
But then the day came that Chiang vanished. He had been
talking quietly with them all, exhorting them never to stop
their learning and their practising and their striving to under-
stand more of the perfect invisible principle of all life. 周en,
as he spoke, his feathers went brighter and brighter and at last
turned so brilliant that no gull could look upon him.
“Jonathan,” he said, and these were the last words that he
spoke, “keep working on love.”
When they could see again, Chiang was gone.
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! He stood on the
sand and fell to wondering if there was a gull back there who
might be struggling to break out of his limits, to see the
meaning of ﬂight beyond a way of travel to get a breadcrumb
from a rowboat. Perhaps there might even have been one
made Outcast for speaking his truth in the face of the Flock.
And the more Jonathan practised his kindness lessons, and the
more he worked to know the nature of love, the more he
wanted to go back to Earth. For in spite of his lonely past,
Jonathan Seagull was born to be an instructor, and his own
way of demonstrating love was to give something of the
truth that he had seen to a gull who asked only a chance to see
truth for himself.
Sullivan, adept now at thought-speed ﬂight and helping the
others to learn, was doubtful.
“Jon, you were Outcast once. Why do you think that any of
the gulls in your old time would listen to you now? You know
the proverb, and it’s true: 周e gull sees farthest who ﬂies highest.
周ose gulls where you came from are standing on the ground,
squawking and ﬁghting among themselves. 周ey’re a thousand
miles from heaven — and you say you want to show them heav-
en from where they stand! Jon, they can’t see their own
wingtips! Stay here. Help the new gulls here, the ones who are
high enough to see what you have to tell them.” He was quiet
for a moment, and then he said, “What if Chiang had gone
back to his old worlds? Where would you have been today?”
周e last point was the telling one, and Sullivan was right.
Jonathan stayed and worked with the new birds coming in,
who were all very bright and quick with their lessons. But the
old feeling came back, and he couldn’t help but think that
there might be one or two gulls back on Earth who would be
able to learn, too. How much more would he have known by
now if Chiang had come to him on the day that he was
“Sully, I must go back,” he said at last. “Your students are
doing well. 周eycanhelpyoubringthenewcomersalong.”
Sullivan sighed, but he did not argue. “I think I’ll miss you,
Jonathan,” was all he said.
“Sully, for shame!” Jonathan said in reproach, “and don’t be
foolish! What are we trying to practise every day? If our
friendship depends on things like space and time, then when
we ﬁnally overcome space and time, we’ve destroyed our own
brotherhood! But overcome space, and all we have le晴 is
Here. Overcome time, and all we have le晴 is Now. And in the
middle of Here and Now, don’t you think that we might see
each other once or twice?”
Sullivan Seagull laughed in spite of himself. “You crazy bird,”
he said kindly. “If anybody can show someone on the ground
how to see a thousand miles, it will be Jonathan Livingston
Seagull.” He looked at the sand. “Good-bye, Jon, my friend.”
“Good-bye, Sully. We’ll meet again.” And with that,
Jonathan held in thought an image of the great gull-ﬂocks on
the shore of another time, and he knew with practised ease
that he was not bone and feather but a perfect idea of freedom
* * *
Fletcher Lynd Seagull was still quite young, but already he
knew that no bird had ever been so harshly treated by any
Flock, or with so much injustice.
“I don’t care what they say,” he thought ﬁercely, and his
vision blurred as he ﬂew out toward the Far Cliﬀs. “周ere’s so
much more to ﬂying than just ﬂapping around from place to
place! A ... a ... 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?”
“I don’t care what they think. I’ll show them what ﬂying is!
I’ll be pure Outlaw, if that’s the way they want it. And I’ll
make them so sorry ...”
周e voicecame inside his own head,andthough it was very
gentle, it startled him so much that he faltered and stumbled
in the air.
“Don’t be harsh on them, Fletcher Seagull. In casting you
out, the other gulls have only hurt themselves, and one day
they will know this, and one day they will see what you see.
Forgive them, and help them to understand.”
An inch from his right wingtip ﬂew the most brilliant white
gull in all the world, gliding eﬀortlessly along, not moving a
feather, at what was very nearly Fletcher’s top speed.
“What’s going on? Am I mad? Am I dead? What is this?”
Low and calm, the voice went on within his thought, demand-
ing an answer. “Fletcher Lynd Seagull, do you want to ﬂy?”
“YES, I WANT TO FLY!”
“Fletcher Lynd Seagull, do you want to ﬂy so muchthat you
will forgive the Flock, and learn, and go back to them one day
and work to help them know?”
周erewas nolyingtothismagniﬁcentskilful being,nomat-
ter how proud or how hurt a bird was Fletcher Seagull.
“I do,” he said so晴ly.
“周en, Fletch,” that bright creature said to him, and the
voice was very kind, “Let’s begin with Level Flight ...”
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