Adapted from the story, "We Are All One," in Stories in Faith by Gail Forsyth-Vail (Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 2007), which was adapted from a Cantonese tale adapted by Lawrence Yep.
Once there was a young woman who lived simply but happily with her husband and their three children until one day a strange illness of the eyes came into their home. First her husband and then their eldest son started having trouble with their eyesight. Everything looked blurry and grey to them. They went to the local doctor and they tried medicine after medicine. But nothing worked, and soon they found they could not see at all.
Within a week, the illness had spread and now their middle son also could not see, and their youngest, a daughter, was showing the beginning symptoms of the illness, rubbing her eyes and complaining that everything looked blurry. Some of their neighbors, as well, were afflicted with this strange illness. The people of the village began to wonder if they would all soon lose their eyesight.
The woman was beside herself with worry. She visited doctor after doctor until finally one doctor told her of a miracle herb that might cure this illness. This healing herb was a plant that grew only in the deepest part of the forest. The woman decided she must leave her family to seek the herb.
Early the next morning she headed into the forest. She looked under bushes. She looked behind trees. She looked everywhere, but the herb was nowhere to be seen. Many hours later, exhausted, but still determined, the woman came upon a small stream. She sat down to rest, still looking around her for the herb.
Then she noticed a big rock had fallen into the stream, making the water run out of the stream to form a little pool. That little pool of water was flooding an anthill. Although she was in a hurry to find the herb, her heart went out to the ants. The woman stopped looking for the herb long enough to remove the big rock and dig a new channel for the water. With satisfaction, she watched as the water flowed away from the anthill. "We are all one," she stated simply, and she continued on her way.
The woman slept soundly that night, curled up under a large tree with a blanket to keep her warm. As she slept a strange dream came to her. In it she was inside the anthill, surrounded by cheering ants. The queen ant stepped forward majestically. "Do not be afraid," she reassured the woman. "We have brought you here to thank you for saving our home and our lives. In return, if you ever need our help, all you need do is call for us, and we will hear you and come to your aid." As the dream faded and the woman began to wake, she heard the queen ant's voice calling after her, distinctly saying, "We are all one."
All through that day, the woman searched for the herb. She wondered if she were already too late — and if everyone in her village was already blind. She was startled from her thoughts by the sound of a bird, intent upon catching a small centipede. The centipede was scurrying across the ground as quickly as his many legs would carry him. Taking pity upon the defenseless centipede, she quickly scooped him up and frightened the bird from her prey. Saying, "We are all one," she carried the centipede to some leaves and placed him gently in their cover.
That night she again had strange dreams. This time she was visited by the centipede. "Thank you for saving my life," the tiny voice proclaimed. "And now I will help you as you helped me. The herb you seek can be found by an ancient oak tree, in the very center of the forest." An image of a gnarled and twisting trunk came to her mind as she heard the centipede state, "We are all one." Then she awoke.
The woman spent the next morning making her way into the heart of the woods, searching for the oak tree. As the day progressed she noticed that the trees around her were getting blurry. Gazing towards the sky, she saw that the sun was still high in the sky. With a dawning horror she realized that she, too, must have contracted the strange illness. Quickening her pace she continued toward the center of the forest, but with every step her eyesight worsened.
Just as she was giving way to despair, she found the ancient oak tree! Even though she could barely see, she could tell it looked just like the one she had seen in her dream. Stumbling and out of breath, she began to search for the herb frantically. It was no use — her eyes could no longer tell one plant from another. Crying with frustration she wept for her husband, her children, herself, and the people of her village.
She turned to try to retrace her steps to her home and then she remembered. The ants! Perhaps they could help her now. She called to them and soon enough small voices responded.
" Bend down," the queen ant's voice called. "The herb you seek is right here. I am standing on it."
Gently the woman knelt and reached towards the sound. With cautious movements so as not to harm the queen ant, she found the herb and plucked it. Slowly and carefully she tore a small piece of the leaf and chewed it. Almost instantaneously, her sight was restored! Joyfully she harvested the herbs and prepared to return to her village. Before she left, however, she thanked the ants and proclaimed one last time, "We are all one."
The woman walked as swiftly as she could — all day and then all night, by the light of the moon. She hoped, oh, how she hoped, that she would return on time to save her village from blindness.
Finally she reached her home. As she called to her children they followed her voice, for by now they were all completely blind. Anxiously she gave them bits of the herb and then she waited to see what would happen. One minute passed — and then another — and then her eldest son laughed with joy. "I see you!" he shouted, "I truly see you!"
Soon everyone in the village had been cured of the strange illness and the woman who had saved them all returned to her simple but happy life with her husband and their three children. And she never forgot that "We are all one."