Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Fable

Once upon a time, in a green and fertile land forgotten by time, lived an honest old man and his wife and their three daughters.  They lived in a simple but clean cottage, tilled a garden for their vegetables, kept chickens and a few goats for meat and milk, and tended a small herd of sheep for wool.  The wife was particularly skilled at spinning and dyeing the wool and knitting it into beautiful sweaters, and the family never lacked exchange tokens on market day. 

It was an abundant and peaceful life.  The youngest daughter, though, was always in a state of discontentment.  She was named Rose, and everyone agreed that her name suited her particularly well—beautiful, yes, but full of thorns.  Rose hated feeding the chickens and weeding the garden.   Doing her chores always reminded Rose that she really wanted to be—and deserved to be—a princess.  She was certainly pretty enough to be a princess, and she had no use whatsoever for menial labor. 

What Rose hated most, though, was fetching water from the clear stream that bubbled along the side of their property.  She hated getting her feet wet, she hated the need to walk carefully so as not to spill the water, and most of all, she hated not having a servant to fetch the water for her.

One day, Rose was in a particularly grumpy frame of mind as she filled her buckets at the stream.  She had stubbed her toe on the protruding root of a tree and gotten a pebble in her shoe.  In her frustration, she spilled water on her apron and nearly lost one of the buckets in the stream.  Finally, the buckets were filled and she turned to trudge back to the cottage.  That is when she noticed the frog sunning itself on a nearby rock.  She wrinkled her nose in disgust—those green, slimy pests in her water—and stepped away from the stream bank. 

The next time Rose want to fetch water, she did not stub her toe or get a pebble in her shoe.  She couldn’t help but notice, though, that the frog was still on the rock!  She peered at it in curiosity, and then gave it no more thought as she carefully filled her buckets and toted them away, grumbling about the lack of servants. 

The next time Rose went to fetch water, the frog was still on the rock.  And the time after that.  It was this fourth time that Rose finally gave the frog serious consideration.  Then she remembered the talk of the wise women at the market, that some frogs were magical.  She looked at the frog carefully, noticed a ring of spots on the top of its head, and concluded that this frog was indeed magical—it was an enchanted prince.

Rose slowly and cautiously approached the frog/prince.  It sat looking at her, unmoving and unblinking.  When Rose reached out and touched it, it took all of her determination to not recoil in distaste.  The frog showed no objection to being scooped up and placed in the pocket of her apron. 

Rose spent every available moment of the next hours, days, and weeks tending to her frog/prince.  The first challenge was where to keep him.  There was no place in their tiny cottage that she could house him without her sisters discovering him, and she couldn’t bear the possibility that one of them might become a princess instead of her.  Rose did the best she could in a small gully on the side of the cottage that was overgrown with weeds.  She knew nothing about frogs, but the frog did not seem to mind the bumbling but sincere care of a princess-to-be.  She took great care to keep her unfortunate prince supplied with clean water, even if it meant extra trips to the stream.  She watched carefully when he ate and tried to provide him with his favorite insects.  And when she was certain no one could hear her, Rose would talk to her prince, complimenting him on the green color of his skin and his neatness in capturing his meals.  She would give him outings in the garden while she weeded and placed him on a nice, flat rock to sun himself while she hung laundry to dry.

Rose was so busy caring for her frog prince that she didn’t have nearly as much time to grumble about not being a princess.  And in her preoccupation with his care, she took little notice of her mother’s appreciation for her new diligence in her chores or her sisters’ gratitude for the kindness with which she had started to treat them.  She didn’t even notice the villager’s startled expressions when she issued unexpected compliments.

Meanwhile, Rose’s frog/prince was growing plump and content.  Rose overcame her disgust of his slimy skin and even came to enjoy stroking him under his throat.  The problem was that Rose couldn’t think of a way to break the enchantment and claim her prince.  She tried spells she had heard as a child, herbal potions, and ceremonial dances.  Nothing she could do or say seemed to make any difference in the state of her future mate.

One fateful morning, Rose was late in tending to her frog/prince.  Her elder sister had been ill, and she had helped her mother comfort the patient and had done her sister’s morning chores as well as her own.  When she arrived at the palace she had constructed for her frog, she was shocked to see that he wasn’t there.  She brushed aside all the weeds to be sure, but there was no doubt; her prince was gone.

Frantic, Rose began to search the garden and the area where she took the frog/prince when she hung laundry to dry.  Her search covered ever-widening circles of their property, to no avail.

Finally, Rose needed to suspend her search to fetch water for the family’s mid-day meal.  A glimmer of hope grew in her heart as she recalled the rock by the stream where she had first met him.  The hope was short-lived, though.  The rock was there, but her frog/prince was not.  In her grief, Rose forgot to grumble about the heavy and tedious task of filling each jug with water.  As she turned to go, she took one more glance toward the rock.  In surprise and delight, she almost spilled the water when she noticed her frog/prince ensconced on the rock, winking at her.  She dropped the water and rushed to him, scooped him up, and kissed him. 

Rose’s frog/prince sat in her hands, blinking up at her.  She couldn’t be sure that he was glad to see her; certainly, he was not as happy to see her as she was to see him.  Somehow, standing quietly at the stream with her frog/prince resting in the palm of her hand, she understood that he needed to return to his place by the stream.  She placed him gently back on the rock but left her hand outstretched for a moment in hopes that he would return to her.  When he jumped into the steam instead, she returned slowly and thoughtfully to the family cottage. She didn’t spill a drop of water.  For the first time, she noticed the bend in her father’s back from carrying heavy bales of hay and the wrinkles in her mother’s tired face.  She put the water down, put the kettle over the hot coals in the fireplace for tea and turned to retrieve the laundry before the impending storm broke. 

That night in bed, she listened to her sisters’ regular breathing inside and the pelting rain outside.  She wondered about her frog.  She didn’t think he minded the storm.  She wondered if he really was a prince.  Was he magical?  She thought about Market Day tomorrow.  If she helped feed the chickens and milk the goats, her father would be able to come, too.   And perhaps her parents would allow her to get one of the kittens that were invariably available.  She could care for it, and she was sure her sisters would love the fun a kitten would bring.

The beautiful quilt with the red embroidery that her mother had made for her last birthday warmed Rose down to toes.  Her thoughts returned to her frog/prince.  She finally realized that her frog/prince was indeed magical.  Learning to care for him had taught her to love. 

Rose had become a princess after all.  She was ready to be a child of the King.

Eternal life is not so much about what we do or who we are as it is about who we are becoming….