Friday, May 28, 2010
Feathers-A Retelling of a European Folktale
This is one of my favorite stories; the message it carries is one we all need to remember from time to time.
There once was a woman who loved to talk about other people. It did not matter if what she said was kind or true; she loved to talk just for the fun of it, and to stir up excitement in her neighborhod with her stories. One day she told a friend that a certain neighbor was a thief. Of course, that story soon spread through the neighborhood and it was not long before people began looking at the man with distrust, unwilling to give him work or allow him to visit their homes.
The neighbor was so upset about the ruin of his good name that he went to see a judge, claiming that the woman had libeled him. The judge called the woman in front of him.
"Did you tell someone that his man is a thief?"
"I might have, I really can't remember. I say so many things, you see."
"Do you have any proof that he is a thief?"
"Oh no, I have no proof, I just thought perhaps he was. He lives well for his earnings."
The neighbor protested, "Your honor, I am frugal and spend carefully. That is why it seems I live well. I do not waste my money."
The judge thought for a moment. "So, you have no proof that this man ever stole anything?"
"No," the woman admitted. "I have no proof. It was just a good story to pass along."
"You have ruined this man's good name with your idle gossip. How do you plan to repair the damage you have caused?"
"Oh, well." The woman shrugged. "I will simply aopolgize to him, and I will tell my friends it is not true. That should fix it."
"Here is what you will do," the judge ordered. "You will get a feather pillow and take it into the market square. There you will rip the pillow open and scatter ALL of the feathers to the four winds. Then you will gather all the feathers, put them back in the pillow, and bring the pillow to me."
"How silly!" exclaimed the woman. "I will do as you say, if it makes everyone happy."
The woman did as the judge instructed. She carried her pillow out to the market square and ripped it open. Feather flew into the air as she grabbed handsful and scattered them into the wind. Some feathers landed in the river and floated away; others blew high into trees and lodged in the branches. Others drifted inside windows and doors, or were blown into fires where they were quickly burned.
Try as she might, the woman could not collect all of the feathers. She raced around the square, grabbing at the floating wisps of white. She waded into the river, climbed trees and knocked on doors. Feathers fluttered away from her grasp and at the end of many hours she had only a few feathers in the pillow to show for her work.
Wet, tired and bedraggled, she returned to the judge.
"I understand why you had me scatter the feathers. My words are like these feathers. Once spoken it is impossible to ever call our words back again. I am truly sorry for what I have done and from now on I will mind my tongue and speak only what I know to be true.
"My friend," she said to her neighbor, "I cannot repair the damage I have done to your name, but for the rest of my life I will say to my friends that you are a true and trustworthy man."
And so she did, speaking only good of her neighbor and of others, and refusing to listen to idle gossip for the rest of her days.