The Parable of the Goldpanner

 

The parable of the goldpanner

 

Once upon a time there was a young man who ran away to seek his fortune.

 He had heard that men could get rich by mining for gold and so he travelled to the gold fields only to be told that the mines were all but exhausted of gold but he could still find gold by panning for it in the streams that flowed from the mountain.

Much gold still remained inside the mountain; indeed, far more remained than had ever been taken out but it had become too dangerous and expensive to go any deeper into the mountain and dig for gold and so men contented themselves with the gold that washed from the heart of the mountain. Indeed, this gold was known to be purer and need less processing before it could be used. In ancient times, the nuggets were simply taken and washed before being skilfully beaten and shaped into rings and cups of astonishing beauty. Now, gold that had been mined had to be crushed and heated and treated with dreadful chemicals to extract the pure gold and by the time the finished product was ready it had cost almost as much to produce as it was now worth.

On his first day the young man stood knee deep in the icy waters that rushed from the heart of the mountain and panned and panned till his back ached and his feet and legs became numb with the cold. All the while he squinted into his pan and every so often he would shout out with excitement and pick out something and stuff it swiftly into his leather pouch. At the end of the day, he ran, tired and cold as he was to the Valuer’s tent and poured out his day’s finds expecting to go home to his family that day, rich beyond belief. A long silence followed that was followed by a low rumble of laughter, first from one man and then from all the men present.

Why are you laughing?” he asked, bewildered and angry that they should mock him so.

Because all you have found here is Fool’s Gold,” said the Valuer, wiping his eyes of tears of mirth. “Every man here did this on his first day. Until you know what gold really looks like, you will think that this mineral here is it. Let me show you.”

The older man pulled from his pocket a small leather bag and extracted from it a small rough lump that shone like the morning sun rising above the hills. It was brighter and somehow purer in colour than the iron pyrites that he had shown the Valuer, and instantly the young man knew what it was he was actually looking for.

The old man who taught me gave me that lump so I would know what I was looking for and not be misled by fakes and forgeries. And now I am giving it to you because sometimes when the winter sun fails to shine and you are cold and miserable, you will need to look at the true gold so you can remember what you are seeking,” said the older man. “And one day, you will pass this nugget onto someone else so they too know what they seek.”

So the young man returned to his icy stream bed and began again. Sometimes he would see a gleam that made his look again but it only took a second before he knew he was once more looking at Fool’s gold and he would sigh and carry on.

Weeks passed and then months and all the time he carried on looking, his small reserve of money dwindling each day that passed until one day he had no money left to buy food. He looked at the gold nugget the Valuer had given him and considered whether he should sell that so he might eat that day, but after looking at it, he realised that he would maybe one day forget what true gold looked like and be led astray once more. So he put the nugget away and carried on swirling the water and sediment in his pan and suddenly, like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, he saw first one and then another tiny lump of pure gold. All that day he worked and when he trudged back to camp, he had enough gold to sustain him for weeks.

As the years passed, the young man accumulated gold, and slowly and steadily he grew richer and older until one day, standing knee deep in the water of his stream, his bones started to ache with cold and tiredness like they had never done before and he waded back to the banks of the stream and sat down.

All I have had of this stream, I have spent and enjoyed so very little,” he said to himself. “I have bought food and only the necessaries of life. Maybe it is time I began to enjoy the gold I worked so hard for.”

So packing up his kit he walked back to the camp, which by now had become a small town, and went to the Valuer’s tent to say goodbye to his old friends.

I’m going back home,” he told them. “I have enough now that I can support my parents and maybe even marry my sweetheart and start our own family.”

As he started to leave the tent, a second young man came in. His eyes were filled with feverish excitement that the first young man recognised at once.

I’m rich, I’m rich,” shouted the new arrival, pouring out on the Valuer’s table the spoils of his first day’s work.”

The laughter that had seemed once so mocking now seemed friendly and rueful, the recognition of a mistake the men had all made in the past. The new youngster’s face became red and angry and he seemed almost in tears with frustration.

I’ve never seen gold before,” he admitted, sweeping his pile of Fool’s Gold to the floor in his disappointment. “How am I supposed to know if no one has ever shown me?”

The first young man, no longer so very young or so very foolish, went over to the other man and put his hand out.

Here,” he said. “This might help.”

In his hand was the gold nugget he had once been given to help him know what true gold is.

But don’t you need it any more?” asked the newcomer.

No,” said the first young man. “You see, after all this time, I think I will always know gold when I see it. And I have found enough gold of my own now to be able to be sure I will always know how to find more if I need it.”

And so our not-so-young man walked away, and went home to his family richer and dare I say, wiser than when he had set out years before.

© Vivienne Tuffnell November 15th 2008

 

The Fable of the Very Tall Woman

The Fable of the Very Tall Woman

 There was once a very tall woman. Even as a baby she was unusually long but it was only when she began walking that it became obvious she was far taller than other babies the same age. All through her school days, she was the tallest in her class. School photos showed the same thing each time; relegated to the back row and in the very middle to preserve symmetry, she stood out like a flagpole.

 As a child it didn’t seem to matter too much as there were advantages to being taller than the others, such as being able to see over adults at the cinema but as she grew up she grew taller each year until her mother had to have her school uniforms specially made.

By her teens it was becoming a problem. Not only would no nice fashionable clothes ever come in her size, but also no boy would go out with her. The few taller boys refused to go out with a girl as tall as they were; they preferred shorter girls who had to look up to them. When she left school she was the tallest in her year.

As a young adult, the woman began to feel lonely and depressed and utterly despairing of her height. She had to have her clothes specially made and even when the latest fashions could be scaled up to her height, they looked all wrong on her. Her few friends complained constantly that they had to tilt their heads to be able to speak to her, even when she was sitting down with them. Strangers in the street would shout things at her, such as, “What’s the weather like up there?” and maddeningly obvious things like, “Ooh, you’re very tall aren’t you?” She had to duck to get into most houses or she would bang her head on doorframes. She even had to get a special bed to sleep in because ordinary ones were just too short.

 One day, a friend said to her,

“Why don’t you bend down when you walk and then you wouldn’t look so tall?” and so she started to walk with a stoop and with her eyes looking always at the ground. This made her almost short enough to have a conversation without the other person getting a neck ache.

She found that if she walked with her knees bent, she would look even less tall. But people still stared at her in the street. She was very seldom asked out for a date and never for a second one, even though her face was as pretty as that of any young woman in the bloom of life. And one morning when she got up, every bone and joint in her body hurt her.

“I’m getting old without ever having been young,” she said to herself and miserable and in pain she went to the doctor, expecting him to diagnose arthritis.

After she had explained her symptoms, the doctor was silent for a long time. “Stand up for me, will you?” he said eventually and she did so, maintaining her usual posture.

 “Hmm,” said the doctor. “That’s very interesting.”

 He walked all round her, looking at her and then he put his hand on the curve where she bent her spine and gently made her straighten out.

 Then he put a hand to her knees and made her legs straighten out too. She stood there in an agony of anxiety, expecting him to comment on her immense height. She screwed her eyes shut to fight back the tears of humiliation at being discovered to be so very tall.

When she opened them again she saw the doctor was smiling at her and she noticed for the first time that the doctor was himself a very tall man and they were eye to eye. For the first time in her life she was able to look another person in the eye without having to bend or have them stand on a chair.

 “It’s not easy being tall,” said the doctor gently. “People think it must be but they don’t understand what it means. It’s not just being able to see over the heads of everyone else, or being able to change a light bulb without a chair. It’s very lonely being tall, isn’t it?”

Blinking back tears of relief the tall woman nodded.

 “But pretending to be shorter doesn’t solve it,” the doctor continued. “It makes your body hurt, and everyone can see you look strange and different. It makes you look deformed and weird if you keep hunching up just so people don’t see how tall you are. They just notice how strange you look. Better just to be tall and be proud of it.”

 As she left the doctor’s surgery, she caught a glimpse of herself in a window and immediately tried to minimise her height before remembering what the doctor said and then threw back her shoulders and walked tall for the first time in years. She may even have gone on to buy her first ever pair of elegant high-heeled shoes.

 Bespoke, of course.

 ©Vivienne Tuffnell December 5th 2008