HOPE for the HAPLESS

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Romans 12:12


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The Quest for Perfection

Not so long ago there lived a good and kindly count. His rulings were always fair and impartial so he was well loved by all the people. Now as the count grew older it came to his mind that his image should be displayed for his subjects as a testament to all he had done for them. (This was a common practice among the nobility of the time.)

And so it was that in the prime of his reign the count set forth to find an artisan capable of the challenge. You see, the count though loved by all in the land was not of comeliness well endowed. He loved his people dearly, was quick to laugh always ready to help, and had (in his own meager sort of way) a warm and unforced smile. Unfortunately none of this could be conveyed in carved stone as readily as his short, stooped stature, his heavily-browed face, or his abundantly portly build. And thus he spent the next few years looking for just the right person to carve his statue.

Until at last in a small secluded village he found the very man he had been looking for. Just like the count this man had no striking countenance but simply by looking at him, the keenness of his eye, the sureness of his hands, the count knew beyond all doubts that this was the artist who could do the perfect job.

The count approached the small, weathered sculptor and told him of what he was looking to have done. The artisan was deeply flattered but replied “Surely there are better sculptors than me. As count you could have your choice of the best!”

“Yes, I most certainly can,” countered the lord, “And you sir are the man for this job.”

“I am nothing but a solitary young man with a watery eye and none-to-steady hand.” The count could see that this was an obvious lie. He had his royal coffers brought forward. To the little man he offered gold, jewels, riches beyond all measure. Nothing could sway his decision. The count offered him land, a new home, titles, servants. These were of no more success. Finally the count was able to wear the man down by sheer persistence.

“I will do what I will do for the sake of artistic truth” the sculptor told the count. He took only a small bag of gold up front. Less than a week later a large block of the finest marble was brought to the sculptor’s workshop just outside the village.

The count himself came soon afterward and took up residence in the village’s one tiny inn. He would be needed for the first while so the artist could make sketches and do studies from which to do his finished work. Right from the beginning the count knew that he had chosen well. He had never seen anyone spend so much time or give so much attention to every single minute detail as this young man did. The count would sit for as long as he could every day while the sculptor patiently studied and drew every detail of his face from every possible angle. When this was finally done the count took up a striking pose befitting any lord and the whole process began again.

The posing and the careful study went on for weeks and weeks. The count was beginning to wonder if having a statue, like the other nobles, was really worth all the bother. Unexpectedly the sculptor looked up from his paper and said “I am now ready to begin. Your statue should be finished within the year.” He was young but he knew the business well.

The count was so overjoyed that he gathered up all his people and left the village that same day, promising to send someone round to check in on the young man in one month’s time. The young sculptor, not wasting a moment put down his paper and picked up the hammer and other tools. The sound of the chisel striking stone could be heard well into the night.

From sun up to sun down the sculptor worked every day. As his work progressed he used his many near-perfect sketches to form a perfect image of the count in his head. It was this that he then went about letting loose from the marble ever so slowly. Tap by tap. Piece by piece. Flake by tiny flake.

Shortly there came a visitor to the door. It was a servant of the count. A month had already passed. At this point there was little more than the outline of a human form visible in the stone but the servant was wonderfully pleased.

“I can already tell who it is to be!” he exclaimed. “The count will be happy indeed!” The servant left that same day to take the good news back to the count. Time passed swiftly by. The young artist continued to work on the statue of the count every single day from sun up to sun down, and sometimes even longer. People had always said he was too particular in his work but no one could argue that this piece was shaping up to be one of the very best in the whole world.

Another rap on the door heralded the second servant of the count. By this time the specific details of the count were beginning to take shape. The servant laughed out loud for joy when he saw the statue.

“Surely that is the count himself I see being born before my very eyes!” he exclaimed “The count will be very pleased indeed!” With that the second servant left to return to the count.

And so the pattern continued month after month for the better part of the year the sculptor had promised. The statue continued to take shape and the servants seemed to be more and more speechless each time they came. The last servant to come was so immediately overwhelmed by the statue’s likeness that without a single word he fell to one knee then got up to personally fetch the count.

For all that time the sculptor had put up with the showings for the servants but now the count would be coming himself and the statue still wasn’t finished, it still wasn’t perfect.

A mere couple of days later the count arrived to a feverishly working artist. It looked as if he hadn’t eaten or slept in days, but the count quickly forgot his concern when he looked upon the statue before him.

Absolute perfection!” the count bellowed, his warm smile beaming forth. The sculptor had indeed captured the very heart of the dear count. Anyone who looked upon the statue could not help but smile and feel warmth for the man it portrayed, and who felt so much warmth for them in return.

“Verily I say to you, young man, that you have surpassed even my most glorious dreams! You shall be rewarded greatly for this work of most beautiful art. Money, servants … anything you ask for I will gladly give it to you!”

The sculptor seemed greatly distressed. “I would ask for but a little more time to finish the work before you my Lord” came his haggard reply.

The count was taken aback for he had not expected this at all. “But come now, why, young fellow? This is without a doubt exactly what I wanted, and even more if possible.’

“But, my Lord, it is not yet perfect! An that is why I ask for but a little more time. Give me yet one more month and I will give you absolute perfection!”

The count could not see how this was possible but consented to the man anyway. ‘What could it hurt?’ he thought to himself. It was already more than he had hoped for. As he began for home his mind began to dream of what more could be done.

The thirty days passed quickly for the driven sculptor. He worked feverishly, taking little time out to eat and even less to sleep. He would contemplate a single tap of the hammer and chisel sometimes for hours before committing it to the stone.

Fleck by tiny fleck he did the seemingly impossible. He took that statue and made it unquestionably, undoubtedly, and inescapably perfect. At long last he could sit back and look at his work with a craftsman’s pride!

The same day he finished was the day that the cont and his retinue came back. The sculptor was nervous, but excited and very proud as he prepared to unveil his final work.

“My Lord, I give you perfection” he said, pulling away the covering.

The count’s expectant look turned to one of confusion and then to anger.

“What is the meaning of this? Is this some sort of cruel joke?” he bellowed, “I’ll have none of it, and you will be lucky to ever work again. Mark my words!” And with that the nobleman stormed off, never once looking back.

The weathered young sculptor was in a daze. He looked at the statue. It was perfect, down to the last hair, down to the finest wrinkle. Nothing but the colour of the stone could distinguish the statue from the man!

Then the answer hit him like a thunderbolt. He reeled back from his work of perfection. The statue was dead. There was no glimmer of life in it whatsoever. He had been so busy for so long making it physically perfect that he had failed to see that in dong so he ha destroyed everything that made the piece (and the man) beautiful to behold.

The young man looked at his handiwork in the harsh afternoon sun and bitterly recognized that all that had mattered about the statue lay in dust about his feet.

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The Measure of Love

Many years ago there lived a man in a lonely little cottage. He was a man of very little importance, only a cabinet maker. But no finer cabinets could be found in all the land than what came from his hands. For the man took pride in everything he did, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem. He put his heart into everything he did; whether it was making a cabinet, tending his home, or even cooking a meal.

At times, however, he could be a very lonely man, for he had no one to share his life with. This is why he frequently took long walks in the woods. In the woods there was a world all its own. A world in which he could fit. He had always felt awkward and shy around people, but not so in the woods. Everything there took him for what he was and he never had to explain himself to anyone or anything.

One day, in the early autumn, when the cabinet maker happened to be out on one of these walks he chanced to hear a faint chirping from the bushes near the path. With great caution he moved some branches aside and there, to the breaking of his heart, lay a small fledgling bird injured and near death. It was not the prettiest or most colourful bird he had ever seen but for some reason it moved him like no other living thing had.

At once he tore a piece of cloth from his shirt and carefully wrapped the little bird so it wouldn’t hurt itself anymore. He then quickly made his way home with the poor little thing held under his loving arm. The minute he got home he made a safe, warm place for it to rest in one of his cabinet drawers. He lined the drawer with soft linens and placed the little bird inside. Once the little bird was tucked in and sleeping soundly the man turned to his workroom with a twinkle in his eye.

He worked long and hard, all through the night. Rarely had he been so impassioned, so driven. When dawn finally came the man stumbled out of his workroom with the finest cage anyone had ever seen. It was no bigger than it needed to be, but his attention to detail had been nothing short of perfection. Carefully placing the little bird within the cage, the man then spent the next several weeks bringing the poor little thing back to health.

Each day the man spent nursing the little fledgling back to health he marveled more and more over what a unique bird it was. It was not like any bird he had ever seen in the woods before. It was not much larger than a sparrow and certainly less colourful, but it had the most musically lilting song he had ever heard. Nothing could put him into bad spirits after he had heard that wonderful song. Some days the man would just sit and listen and watch the bird for hours at a stretch.

Soon the man discovered that the bird possessed an intelligence far beyond what one would normally attribute to a wild creature. That is not to say that he was able to talk to it in a way that is similar to how I might speak with you, but they did develop a certain kind of understanding. The bird was very curious and wanted to learn everything she could and the man, after listening to her sing for a while, was happy to sit and talk about people, places and things he had seen; or just read to her from one of his many books.

Things went very well for the first while, each enjoying the other’s company. But all too soon it came to be getting near the time that the man should let the little bird go back into the woods on its own. The man had been so lonely for a companion for so long, that he couldn’t bring himself to let her go. And so he put it off little by little until the snows came and then he told himself that he couldn’t possibly send her out into the winter storms by herself.

As the winter days progressed the little bird grew increasingly restless. This troubled the man deeply, but he still did not have the heart to let her go. Again, he went to his workshop. This time he was in there for three days. When he finally emerged he had a second cage, even more beautiful than the first. It was much larger than the original, and even had a real potted bush in it. To the little bird’s surprise, however, the man did not move her into this new cage but instead added it on to her existing cage with a short but intricate connecting piece.

The little bird was very happy with this and things went on very happily again both sharing in each other’s company. After a while, however, the bird once again grew restless. She did not know why, but she longed to be out. Out in the world. Again the man grew distressed an went into his workroom. Almost a week passed before he emerged with the product of his labours. Once again it was another section of cage, still more beautiful than the two before. Inside was its crowning glory, a hand carved bird bath in the shape of a sleeping cat. The bird thought this was exceedingly funny.

Once again things went well, for a short while at any rate. Then, as had happened before, the bird became restless and the cabinet maker retreated again into his workshop. This pattern repeated itself all through the long winter and into the spring. Each addition becoming more splendid than all those before it. The man imported rare plants for her to perch upon. He gathered the rarest of seeds and insects for her diet. But, sadly, nothing would help for long.

Finally came the warm spring day on which the man had to admit to himself that although her songs were the most joyous melodies he had ever heard, she could not be truly happy there with him. He wanted with his whole heart to tell her than he loved her companionship and wished she would stay, but he could not bring himself to do so. For surely, he thought, the place for a bird is in the woods and not in a cabinet maker’s hut.

And so with a heavy heart he took the little bird from his house in that first small cage he had built for her and at the spot where he had found her, he let her go back into the woods from whence she had come. With laboured steps he then turned to home and upon arriving at the cottage’s small porch, he crossed the threshold and closed the door on all that he had truly loved.

The little bird spent the next few years in the woods not far from the cabinet maker’s home. She eventually found others of her kind and took in with them. For a long while she was very happy in her new life with her new friends, but then that restless feeling came over her again. This time, however, it was somehow different.

She asked the others if they might know what it was that she was feeling. You are going through what all creatures go through, they said. It is time for you to fall in love and choose a mate. But, the little bird did not know what love was and the other birds could not explain it to her. She had heard the man mention it on several occasions. She remembered that he seemed to get uncomfortable when it came up and never explained to her what it was.

As the feelings grew stronger she became more desperate for an answer. She asked all manner of creatures, but none could tell her what love was. Eventually she concluded that to find out what love was she would have to go back to the man.

It took her some time to find her way back to the cottage, and when she had, she was not altogether sure that she had found the right place. The lawn and garden had grown wild. The cottage looked shabbier than she remembered. The doors and windows were boarded up. The little building was nothing like she remembered.

After a short search she found a crack in an upstairs window that she forced her way through. Everything inside the cottage was much the same as it had been, even the cages, but there was no sign of the man anywhere. In fact, there was nothing to show that he had even lived there for a long while.

The little bird became very sad. Now she would never know what love meant. She didn’t know what else to do. As she resigned herself to leave she passed by the first cage the man had built for her that autumn so long ago. The cage in which he had nursed her back to health. It made her stop. For the first time, she really saw it. She looked at it in a whole new way. Until now she had only known of it from the inside, but now she was seeing it from the outside.

It was then that she saw a second cage, one with a broken pot in it. Then a third cage, this one with a cat-shaped bird bath. It was then that she began to see all the cages, each more beautiful and elaborate than the last. Everywhere she turned, everywhere she could see, there was cage upon cage lovingly and wondrously connected. There was barely enough room for a man to walk between them. Only then did she realize that all of the furniture had been pushed back into a small corner of a back room. In all it took up a space too small for any human to comfortably live in. It was little better than a cage.  If this were not enough, when she entered the cluttered workroom, she saw the beginnings of yet another bird cage left undone. In that cramped house and the cage of his own making; and in that final abandoned work and the opening of her gilded cages, she finally knew what true love was.

That small cottage still stands today, though not very well. It is a place known to many and used by all of them. You see, people go there when they are feeling sad or need to be alone. For when the wind blows through the cracks and chinks in the walls, some say, you can hear a bird song so sad, so lonely, that the house itself seems to weep.