THE KING AND THE BEGGAR'S GIFT
A difficult or unwanted thing can turn out to be a great gift. Frequently, we receive unknown gifts in disguise. There is a wonderful old story told of a young king who took over a kingdom. He was loved before he became a king and his subjects were delighted when he was finally crowned. They brought him many different gifts. After the coronation, the new king was at supper in the palace. Suddenly there was a knock at the door. The servants went out to discover an old man shabbily dressed, looking like a beggar. He wanted to see the king. The servants did their best to dissuade him but to no avail. The king came out to meet him. The old man praised the king, saying how delighted everyone in the kingdom was to have him as king. He had brought the king the gift of a melon. The king hated melons. Being kind to the old man, he took the melon, thanked him, and the old man went away happy. The king went indoors and gave the melon to his servants to throw out in the back garden. The next week at the same time, there was another knock at the door. The king was summoned again and the old man praised the king and offered him another melon. The king took the melon and said goodbye to the old man. Once again, he threw the melon out the back door. This continued for several weeks. The king was too kind to confront the old man or belittle the generosity of the gift that he brought. Then, one evening, just as the old man was about to hand the melon to the king, a monkey jumped down from a portico in the palace and knocked the melon from the old man's hand. The melon shattered into pieces all over the front of the palace. When the king looked, he saw a shower of diamonds flying from the heart of the melon. Eagerly, he checked the garden at the back of the palace. There, all the melons had melted around a little hillock of jewels. The moral of this story is that sometimes in awkward situations, in problems or in difficulties, all that is awkward is the disguise. Very often at the heart of the difficulty, there is the light of a great jewel. It is wise to learn to embrace with hospitality that which is awkward and difficult.
My father was an accomplished stonemason. I often watched him building walls. Frequently, he would choose a stone that was completely round. A round stone is useless because is cannot be bound into the structure of the wall. Yet with a little tap of the hammer, my father could transform the stone. Something that looked unformed and awkward would fit into the wall as if it had been made specially for it. I love, too, that image of Michelangelo's: that in every stone no matter how dumb, awkward or blunt there is a secret shape waiting to emerge. Michelangelo's wonderful Prisoners in Stone illustrates this. The human figures have almost emerged from the stone, yet from the waist down they are still trapped in the dull unformed stone. It is an incredible image of release which is arrested. Very often in difficult work projects there is a secret shape waiting to emerge. If you concentrate on releasing the hidden possibility within your project, you will find a satisfaction that will surprise you. Meister Eckhart speaks beautifully about the way one should be towards what one does. If you work with a creative and kind eye, you will bring forth beauty.