(An ancient tale for Mariana Shea, high school graduate and Gertrude Mary (Shea) Bergeron, late, great teacher and a woman with a wonderful heart)
One day a young man stood in the village square and proclaimed that he had the most beautiful perfect heart in all the land. A great crowd gathered from all around. They came to admire and confirm that this heart was indeed perfect. They noted that it did not bear any marks or scratches. It was just perfect.
All agreed it was the most perfect heart they had ever seen. All except for one old man who drew near and said: “ Your heart is not nearly as beautiful as mine.”
The people were surprised at this statement, as was the young man. They all studied the heart of the old man and observed that, although it did beat regularly and with great strength, it was covered in scars. Worse than that, there were areas of the old man's heart where pieces had been removed and replaced in a slipshod, higglypiggly manner. There were angles and edges that did not seem so perfect.
Worse still, there were actually spaces where chunks had been removed and never replaced. This repelled the crowd which let out a collective shudder. The young man responded with a chuckle.
“You must be joking,” he said. “How could anyone even compare my perfect heart with yours? Why yours is a mess, it's covered with wounds and marked by pain.”
“That is true enough,” acknowledged the old man. “Your heart beams with perfection, but I beg you to look more closely before you compare. Look, every scar of mine tells of a person to whom I have given my love. I pulled off pieces of my heart to give them to everyone I have loved.
“Many have responded in kind, provided a piece of their own heart, which I placed in the space that had been left open. As the pieces were not equal, the edges were irregular, but I revel in those defects, because the edges remind me of the love we shared. There were times when I gave a piece of my heart to someone, but that person did not offer a piece of theirs in exchange. There empty gaps were left.”
The young man and the crowd around him were moved by the old man's words. They listened intently as he continued.
“To give love is to take a risk, but in spite of the pain that these wounds caused me leaving the open scars, they remind me that I keep loving some people and feed hopes that someday they may return and fill the spaces they have left in my heart.”
After a short pause, the old man asked in a measured tone, “Now do you understand what is a truly beautiful heart?”
The young man stood silent as tears coursed his cheeks. He approached the old man, pulled a piece from his beautiful heart and offered it to him. The old man took it and put it in his heart. The old man then pulled an old, tattered chunk of his own heart and with it, he put it in the space that had been left in the young man's heart.
The piece fit quite well, but not perfect for they were not identical. Irregular edges could be seen on the young heart.
The boy studied his own heart which was not so perfect anymore, but he felt a rush of great joy because the old man's love flowed in him.
(with thanks to Rosario Gómez of Chile for sharing a version of this tale with me years ago)