A Parable About Sharing
Came across this parable on Facebook today, and thought it was worth passing along. Not a big believer in heaven or hell myself, but I know, as we all do, the difference between suffering and joy. ‘Tis the season to focus on ways we can give to and receive from one another… though really, isn’t that every season?
In the spring we share our flowers; daffodils and tulips following the intrepid crocuses and bringing color back in our lives. We hunt morrels and saute asparagus, delighting in their freshness. We look up from the ground and start to see one another again, sharing glances, smiles and hellos that had been curtailed by biting winds and tricky ice.
In the summer we share tomatoes, and zucchini, and the other multitudinous veggies and fruits that threaten to drown us with their generosity. We open our windows and walk outside, passing along our sounds, our smells, and laughing in the warm sunlight. We spray each other with hoses, lay down picnics, exchange pie secrets, and buy lemonade from the neighbor kids’ stands. In the summer it is easy to be generous, to pass along a part of the bounty that the natural world has surrounding us. We walk together, celebrate together, leave out water dishes for dogs.
In the fall there are squashes and gourds, apples and pears, warm cider with cinnamon sticks. There are huddles in cold morning fog, shared umbrellas in inevitable drizzles and downpours. There are shared lap blankets and hay rides, thermoses of coffee and tea, homebrews and sweaters. And, of course, the trees share their last triumphant burst of color before going dormant, to gear up for another year.
And now, in the winter, when everything outside goes cold and silent, we turn to each other with warm muffins and cookies, hot chocolate and mulled wine. Whiskey and ginger. We hang lights and give gifts, exchange sweet sentiments and thank yous. In the best case, winter is the season when we look around without the distraction of abundance and see the bones of our lives, the unadorned staples of our being, and take a minute to appreciate them. The sources of our strength, the underpinning of everything else: Family, friends, community. Looking at what we have to be grateful for, we can see the potential for a new spring, another plentiful summer, a decadent fall. Winter, the time when many of us have the least to share, is the season where we remind ourselves of how important it is to share what we do have, to pay homage to our foundations. It is a time to listen, to give, and to receive.
In our most generous moments I can see the divine in each of us. I can see the potential for a more beautiful world. And that, for me, is the takeaway of this story.
Long ago there lived an old woman who had a wish. She wished more than anything to see for herself the difference between heaven and hell. The monks in the temple agreed to grant her request. They put a blindfold around her eyes, and said, “First you shall see hell.”
When the blindfold was removed, the old woman was standing at the entrance to a great dining hall. The hall was full of round tables, each piled high with the most delicious foods — meats, vegetables, fruits, breads, and desserts of all kinds! The smells that reached her nose were wonderful.
The old woman noticed that, in hell, there were people seated around those round tables. She saw that their bodies were thin, and their faces were gaunt, and creased with frustration. Each person held a spoon. The spoons must have been three feet long! They were so long that the people in hell could reach the food on those platters, but they could not get the food back to their mouths. As the old woman watched, she heard their hungry desperate cries. “I’ve seen enough,” she cried. “Please let me see heaven.”
And so again the blindfold was put around her eyes, and the old woman heard, “Now you shall see heaven.” When the blindfold was removed, the old woman was confused. For there she stood again, at the entrance to a great dining hall, filled with round tables piled high with the same lavish feast. And again, she saw that there were people sitting just out of arm’s reach of the food with those three-foot long spoons.
But as the old woman looked closer, she noticed that the people in heaven were plump and had rosy, happy faces. As she watched, a joyous sound of laughter filled the air.
And soon the old woman was laughing too, for now she understood the difference between heaven and hell for herself. The people in heaven were using those long spoons to feed each other.
Adapted by Elisa Pearmain from a Japanese and Chinese folk tale.
Cheers to all of you.