There once was a man who had plenty. He lived in a village that prided itself on balance. For many hundreds of years, this great village had enough. They managed their resources in good times to be prepared for bad times. And though there was sickness and hurts that arose from time to time, there was no suffering for the people who lived for each other and in service of the divine.
But this man who had plenty saw the sicknesses, and he saw the hurts. And he saw death. In his heart, the spark of fear arose. He came to one of the elders one day and said, “Are you not fearful that we do not have enough to keep sickness away.”
The elder turned to him and said, “There is nothing that can keep sickness away. Sickness comes when it chooses.”
Unmoved from his meditations, the elder replied, “But hurt will come one way or another. It is life.”
“And death? Do you not fear that death will come if we do not have enough?” the man who had plenty protested.
“There is no stopping death no matter how much you have.” Then the elder looked at him. “I see the seeds in you that would be the death of our humble society though. Do not water them further with fear. Be at peace dear friend and enjoy our life here.”
The man who had plenty nodded in agreement and left, fearful of further reproach, and in that fear, that seeds continued to find nourishment.
Then one hard year, there was little food, and there was much hardship as what was shared was meager. Some of the elderly grew sick and died. Some of the young could not survive. There was a time of much grief. Yet there was more than any truly knew because another sickness had sprung up in the man who had plenty. Even as the first person was wavering towards death, he decided to take an extra apple for himself. With that one move, the balance had been tipped.
Later on after the famine had passed, he continued this habit until the elders one day noticed that he was growing heavier than the rest and some of the food seemed to be missing. Another elder commented, “I see that you are quite well-fed, more so than the others.”
There was no question in the words, but a question was implied.
“Yes well, it’s been a good year.”
The elder did not smile, but merely said, “You will come before the circle.”
So it was, and after much questioning, the man who had plenty admitted to taking more than his share and having additional food hidden in his dwelling.
“That is not how we live in the balance with our world,” an elder said.
But the man persisted. “I will not sit around so that sickness and death can overtake me. I am not going to die doing nothing.”
“But what you have done to preserve yourself has brought less to others. You have taken more than you need. You are breaking the balance.”
The man would not hear it. Though he felt shame arise, he would not relent. Then the elders saw the depth of the sickness.
“You have gone mad, dear friend, and you must be healed of this madness before it spreads,” an elder woman said. She stood up to look him full in the eyes, and what she saw sparked fear in her–thus the sickness of fear in him began to infect even the wisest. In his eyes, she saw the turbulent future. Though she knew that this future must come, it grieved her to see the end of the balance and harmony of life in their world. “You must be banished,” she said, but in her heart she knew this would do no good. “Go and do penance to God, and if you are sincere, then return to us. You must now learn to be in balance with the world on your own.”
With that, he was cast out. The first ever to have been banished. Many grieved the loss of one of their own, and he was known as the insane man. Where once he was appreciated for his ability to harvest, hunt, and discover plenty, he was now an outcast and see as only self-serving.
He went away grudgingly. Anger rose up in his heart. He began to curse the elders and plot a way to get back at them. He gave up one of his stashes, but he’d created others, which he secretly took with him. The night before leaving the village, he also stole from one of the storehouses. He was long gone before they noticed, and while some of the elders had a sigh of relief to send him away, the wisest knew that there a deeper treachery was already afoot. They knew that the seeds of fear and greed had a way of spreading.
And so they did.
In time, he continued to gather more and more, and during hard years and famines, he lived on in greater and greater luxury and abundance. Others in the village began to whisper, “Perhaps he is not so insane. Perhaps I should start keeping more for myself.”
Soon different villagers began to hoard instead of share. Others who were less able to find food and take care of themselves suffered greatly. Those who still shared freely felt the bitter hardships of lean years more keenly. Over time, the village of humanity broke apart. The ways of community and harmony were forgotten.
Now when disease or death struck down someone, it was considered a matter of not being able to get enough or have enough. It was no longer considered something that simply was. The gathering of food and supplies turned into the gathering of money, and the greater the gatherer the more esteem he or she also accumulated. Empires sprung up. Cruel malicious dictators fought and struggled to have the most resources, and they mercilessly crushed those that got in the way of their goals even though they had no use for extra resources and lived well beyond their means.
The elders were now considered insane for sharing and helping one another freely. Their ways were viewed as naive and juvenile. All the while disparity grew greater and greater between those who had plenty and those who did not.
It seemed that the greed that had grown like a poisonous vine had squelched the life from the human family.
Then one day, a little girl was found in a basket at the doorstep of one of the elders. The elder was now ancient and the last of her kind. She was the watcher; the last one who was charged to live on until one who could help bring balance back to the human world returned. When she looked upon the bright-eyed little girl, she knew her time had come.
Thus she began teaching and guiding the child until one day she would be ready. She taught the child how to sew and play and dance and sing. She taught her all the old songs of joy that brought the community together. She taught her songs of remembrance. She taught her how to sew quilts of community to re-shape the fabric of human life. She taught her the dance of love and joy, and she taught her the play of death.
This last one was the most sacred of all the tools that she gave to the child as it taught the child how to enjoy the coming of death and to accept it, not fear it. It was one of the greatest tools ever created, as it removed all fear of loss and the end of life.
But it was not yet time to let the girl return to the world, for it was not time for the man who was insane to see the error of his ways. So the ancient elder waited many decades until the last days of her life were almost spent.
“It is almost time,” she said to the child who was now fully embodied as a wise woman, teacher, healer, and professional player.
“Don’t go, dear teacher. I love you so. I would play with you and dance with you some more,” the wise woman said.
“I would love that too, but now it is the time for me to enjoy my play with death. I have waited long for this.” With that she smiled to embrace this new game and slipped from her body.
And the wise woman did not grieve. She saw the elder slip from her body, and she saw her melt into the great fabric of the universe, sewing her soul back into the great interweaving of the divine. In seeing this, her heart lifted with joy, and she passed her final initiation.
Then she went to find the insane man.
It was not hard to find him. His mansions and houses were numerous, but he never had gone far from the village. He had not thrived as he had thought, however. He’d grown increasingly miserly, sick, prideful, hurt, and malcontent. The joy he had as a child was gone. The dances were gone–his body was too broken by fear and greed to know a lively step, and his hands could only tear things apart, not sew things together. The luxury he had sought had not brought love and joy. The safety he had found had turned into its own cage.
He too was on his death bed, but he did not know the play of death. So he was deeply fearful and immediately felt threatened by her.
“Have you come to kill me?” he suspiciously asked her.
She shook her head.
“Have you come to rob me.”
She shook her head.
She held out her hand.
She left her hand out to him. It was a simple gesture. It was a gesture back to connection and community that he had forgotten long ago and that he had broken when he took that first extra apple.
“What?” he demanded, feeling his fear rise up in his chest.
But she knew that she could not do this for him. Even as the pitiful man whose seeds of fear and greed had ruined millions of lives lay there, she did not pity him. She saw him for what he was, and she knew the path of penance that lay before him.
And so did he. Which is why he began to sob. “Go away. Go away. I do not need you.”
But she was relentless and stern and loving. She had been taught well. Her hand stayed out just as persistently and stubbornly as he had persisted in his fear and greed with the elders long ago. In that loving persistence, the last of his hatred and fear could not withstand. At last, he feebly wiped his eyes and reached back to her. He reached, and he reached until he saw the truth.
And then he died.
But his insanity did not die. It lived on. It had spread far and wide like a plague, and her long years of work had just begun.
But she continues to reach her hand out.
It will only be up to the community at large if they reach back to her offered hand and re-sew the quilts of community, dance the dances of love and joy, and play with the inevitably of death. Perhaps then, the sickness that spread from an apple taken instead of given will be healed. Until then, her hand will persistently and stubbornly and lovingly be offered out for all who are ready to take it.