Bitter

There once was an old man. In his youth he was blessed with a gifted craft. He made beautiful furniture from the wood he found on his daily walks through the forest. His craft gave him immense joy and he spent all of his free time creating gorgeous pieces with wonderful intricate decorations. His home was full of the fruits of his talent, and anyone who came to visit looked in awe at the chairs, tables, shelves, large bowls and even child size benches. ‘You must make me a chair’ they would say. Some even suggested he rent that workshop which had recently become vacant in the market square. ‘People would come from far and wide to buy your furniture’ they would exclaim ‘for they truly are the most exquisite pieces’.

But the then young man would brush off their sincere compliments with a wave of his hand. ‘Bah’ he would say. ‘I am no trained craftsman- anyone could make these things if they tried’. But not everyone could do so – no matter how hard they wanted, as not everyone possessed this wonderful gift. Other gifts they would indeed have, but not the gift that he had. His cumulative knowledge of the local wood, and the possibilities certain tools provided him with together with his limitless imagination meant that his gifts were unique.

To earn his bread, the man worked in a coal mine. He did not like his work. The physical conditions were harsh. The darkness dampened his mood and could on occasion quash his creativity. The pay was poor and his boss did not appreciate the effort that was put in every day by his workers.

‘But you could earn so much more money selling your furniture’ his friends would say when Christmas came and the man hung his head in shame at turning up and the village celebrations empty handed because of his empty pockets. Every year the reply was the same: ‘But what if no one bought my furniture. What if …’

Family and friends of this talented man could see his spirits become diluted with every year that passed chipping away at the dark, hard coal. The difference between the man on a work day and one a free day was like night and day. In his home workshop he was alive. His wood spoke to him, every knot had a life. With every piece he created his talent blossomed further. ‘Why don’t you leave your work in the mines and sell your furniture instead?’ they questioned. ‘It is a tragic loss that your house is full of these beautiful pieces and no one except you gets to appreciate them.’ ‘People need heat. People need coal. If I don’t help give them coal then, why, they may as well burn my furniture to warm their houses’ was his reply. ‘But what about their souls? Will your gifts not warm them as much?’ But every time he would cut short the conversation with a gruff ‘bah!’.

As the years drifted on, so did his friends. No longer could they stand the dark moods, the refusal of invitations so that he could spend his free time doing the one thing that brought light in to his world. And so by the time the man was old and retired from the coal mine, he was alone. Finally he had all the time he needed to work on his furniture. Time that was now essential since he had to build a large barn to accommodate all the pieces he made and hid away from others.

One year, upon hearing of these lovingly crafted pieces, the king had sent for him. ‘Bah!’ grunted the man to the messenger ‘if my chairs are not fit enough for the cobbler, the baker, or even the priest, they are not fit for the rear of his Highness’. ‘But his Highness wants one of your chairs. His Highness thinks that your chairs are good enough for him’. ‘Bah…’

And so as the man spent his retired years making and staring at his furniture, bent double thanks to decades of chipping away in the dark mines, his soul began to dissolve. For while he had spent his life underground, his soul had gradually been chipped away, turning from light to darkness. And soon the old man could no longer love even his craft.

The one thing he had left – and which he had to continue with if he was to eat – was gardening. He planted the seeds with the tiniest piece of joy that he had rationed himself and almost half smiled as he watched them grow, but when it came to harvest time he waited and waited, just a few days more, ‘perhaps then they will be bigger, juicer, guaranteed to be ripe’; until the breeze brought the first signs of autumn. A slight chill in the air. A small shift from green to orange.

It was then he was forced to harvest the fruits of his labour. In his youth his favorite was rocket – a green plant known as arugula or ruccula in other lands. He carefully snipped away at the delicate green leaves and prepared a large plate of his garden’s gifts. He almost felt a tingle of pleasure as he lifted a handful of rocket to his mouth. But the rocket was now too old. It had past its best. It looked alive but it was bitter as hell.

For the first time in his adult life the man cried realizing that he had wasted his life in the mines while his home was full of furniture that was the real manifestation of his love. With the wisdom the years bring he could see that his ‘sacrifice’ was not even worth it. The coal he mined was now burned and forgotten. His gifts, however, would have lasted an eternity.

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