Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Happy Man's Shirt

The long, difficult labor took its toll on the queen.  The birth finally produced a beautiful baby boy, but the poor woman felt her strength failing. The king was summoned and sat by her side as the baby was cleaned and wrapped in cotton. The doctors said their queen’s prognosis was not good. In her last breath, she whispered to the king that he should care for their child, it would be her gift to the king. “I will,” he replied.
The king kept his word. His son was his great joy, the light of a life that was otherwise blessed. His kingdom was small but prosperous. His palace was situated by the sea and the waves lapped the thick honey-colored walls of the king’s home. The kingdom’s orchards were filled with every sort of fruit tree, from lemon and orange, apple and plum, to more exotic produce.    From the palace windows, the widower king could see the humble fishing fleet casting their nets till they were filled with the day’s plentiful catch. But though the king cared for his precious son, the boy was never happy. No matter what his father did, the boy never seemed contented. As the years passed, this worried the king greatly. He finally sought the wisdom and counsel of his sages. The wisest of these considered long and hard. “The solution is quite simple, Your Highness,” said the old man. “You must search your kingdom until you find the person who is always contented, always happy and full of joy.
“Take the shirt of that happy subject,” he concluded. “And put it on your son and he will be happy, too.”
So the king summoned his servants to the throne room and instructed them in the task at hand. They set off and combed the kingdom, interviewing everyone they could find who seemed to be happy. But as hard as they tried, they could not find anyone who was truly happy, all the time. The king finally resolved that this was futile and fell into a great melancholy.  Then, as he often did when he felt sad himself, he took a late afternoon stroll along the pier where the fishing boats were moored, the fishing folk tending their nets for the next day’s catch.
As the king, reached the end of the long wooden dock, he suddenly heard something incredible: the sound of someone singing with an unearthly voice of a joyous clear tone. Half dazed, the king rushed to the place where the boat was moored and inside found a poor, humble fisherman in a tattered jacket, sewing his nets. The fisherman did not notice the king and just kept singing.
“Excuse me, fisherman,” the king said, taking the man from his musical reverie. “But you have the most beautiful voice I have ever heard.”
“Your Highness, thank you, I sing to cheer my spirits,” the poor fisherman explained. “The more I sing, the happier I feel and I sing every day of my life.”
So this was a truly happy man. The king stood in awe and asked. “Could you please do me a favor?” the king asked with a tremble in his voice.
“I would do anything for my king,” replied the fisherman, who like all the king’s subjects, was faithful to their liege. “What do you need from me?” The king approached the fisherman and unbuttoned his old jacket, fully intent on the shirt he needed and what did he find?
The man had no shirt.
(This is my version of a tale which I think was told by Joel ben Izzy, but it has gone through a lot of revising in the oral tradition process.)

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