This post is long for a blog. However, it is a parable and needed time to grow. This parable is written especially for those who have ever spoken in anger and later regretted their words, those who have been hurt by actions against someone they love and/or those who have ever been a part of a blended family. Oh! And anyone who has ever lived with cats.
The Artist: A Parable About Forgiving
Once upon a time, in a cottage lined with pink roses and happy yellow daffodils, there lived an Artist. This Artist was not an ordinary sort of Artist. When salesman came knocking on his cottage door attempting to sell their ordinary paints and ordinary brushes, the Artist kindly explained that he did not need their products and he would send them away with smile. The Artist, you see, did not use synthetic colors commonly eyed upon the shelves of the local market. No! Instead, he made his own paints so every color and stroke of his brush was original. Different. Exceptional. Like nothing anyone had ever seen before! He spent the early morning hours picking flowers, when the sun filled the fields behind his cottage with illuminated applause. As the sun highlighted the reds and blues and whites and greens, the Artist lifted nature’s palette into a wicker basket under his arm and thanked God for His creativity.
Once the Artist picked every color from the field, he returned to his cottage and used the hues from within each flower’s soul to create his paintings. He stood for hours, every day, in front of his canvas. His arms waved about the rough material, sometimes with a frenetic pace that made passerby’s who did not know the Artist whisper to one another, “Look through the window at that man. He is dancing in his living room! What a silly man!” His brow often filled with shiny beads of sweat that smiled as they ran down the sides of his face—they were keenly aware that their front row seats to his newest creation were worth more than anyone could ever pay.
The Artist did not live alone. He lived with his beautiful wife, with the golden hair, and their two cats. His best cat, named Sophia, was mostly grey but for the newly forming patches of white hair splattered about her body—they made her look as though the Artist had dipped his brush into his fragrant Gardenia White paint, but really her white spots were simply nature’s way of explaining to the world that Sophia was growing old. The other cat, Emma, was nicknamed “Tiny Devil” by all the little children who had ever come to visit the Artist and his wife. Tiny Devil was black with white spots. Her white spots did not indicate old age but, instead, the town’s people rumored that her spots were nature’s way of warning the world that Tiny Devil’s heart was cold as the darkest winter’s snow. These two cats each had the gift of speech but chose not to lower themselves to the humans’ level by actually employing their gift.
The Artist, his wife, Sophia and Tiny Devil all lived together quite peacefully, completing their tasks by day and sitting around the glowing fireplace at night regaling one another with stories, playing games and sometimes laughing with visiting friends and family. The laughter that filled their cottage often overflowed the walls of their home and filled the center of town like waves that had overborn their boundaries.
As the years rolled through their lives, like a red wagon being pulled by a child, the walls of the Artist’s cottage began to fill with his paintings. There were so many representations of the sun, the moon and the stars displayed in his paintings that even when his Wife turned all the lights off at night, the room still glowed with a whispering yellow light. One day, when every wall in their cottage was filled from top to bottom and side-to-side the Artist decided that he would like to share his paintings by offering them as gifts to those he loved most. The recipients of his works of art would have to be chosen carefully as parts of his heart would surely be given to each of those to whom the paintings were offered.
Upon returning from the field of colors the next morning, the Artist sat his wicker basket down on a weathered wooden table, his wife gave him a cup of coffee whose steam was curling like ribbons beneath his nose and he sat before his paintings wondering, “To whom shall I give my paintings?” Quickly, his decision was made! I will give them to those I love the most!
The first painting was offered to a young princess who lived in the next town over. The princess was quite beautiful. She was fair of skin, which made her dark eyes and even darker hair stand out among her features. She was tall and slender, like a ballet dancer, and her hands were delicate as wisps of smoke cascading from her body. The town’s people often commented on her beauty, saying, “She is the most beautiful of all the women in our land.” The Artist loved this princess for as long as he has known her, and this time was long, indeed. He had known her from the moment she came crying into the world!
Excited to offer his gift to the princess, the Artist clothed himself in his finest shirt and hat, and after looking into the mirror for approval asked his wife, “Am I presenting myself well?” His wife answered, “You are the most handsome man, inside and out.” Confidently, the Artist sent word to the princess that she could come to his cottage to choose any of the paintings on his wall to have as her own. As he waited for the princess to arrive, the Artist stood looking at his work. He imagined which one the princess would choose. “Perhaps she will choose this one. The ocean seems to move under the moon, as though the water might trickle off the painting and onto the floor. No. No! I wouldn’t want the princess’ floor to get wet! I will discourage her from choosing this one.” As the Artist looked at each painting, trying to choose the best one, he finally asked Tiny Devil, who was sitting on the back of a chair next to a window. “Tiny Devil, which painting will she choose?” Tiny Devil rolled her eyes at the Artist, hissed and then ran away. Left alone, the Artist was filled with anticipation and delight. He waited.
As the shadows on the hard wooden floor beneath him crept across his feet and grew long, like a witch’s fingernails, the Artist grew sad. Just as night bowed to the earth like a gentleman welcoming a beautiful woman, the wife joined the Artist in front of his paintings. “Do you think she forgot to come?” she asked. The Artist lowered his head, “Perhaps.” The Artist’s wife felt her heart fill with heaviness, like a pupil’s school bag over-laden with books. She loved the Artist and she hated to see him disappointed or sad.
Just then, Sophia jumped into the Artist’s lap and lowered her head into his hands, which had been folded neatly. Tiny Devil glared at the three of them from the far corner of the room and eerily licked her paws, from top to bottom.
A knock on the door! The Artist jumped to his feet, sending Sophia scurrying to the floor and toward her food dish. “She came!” exclaimed the Artist. “She did!” smiled his Wife. The Artist tucked in his shirt once more. Then, he made sure his hat was balanced on his head and he answered the door. “I have come to bring you this letter from the princess,” said a man whose face was long and sinewy. As the man spoke his mustache moved up and down and the Artist could see little specks of the man’s breakfast, lunch and dinner in his beard. “Well, take it!” the long-faced man said as he jutted the letter out before the Artist.
As the Artist read the letter, he tried to tie the knot that grew in his throat. The princess explained that she heard other town’s people call the Artist an “amateur” and a “phony artist.” She wrote, “All of the friends with whom I lunch and tea and skip through the streets speak ill of you, therefore, I will not come to your cottage.” The Artist re-folded the letter, put it back into its envelope, still wet with sweat from the long-faced man’s hands and said to his wife, “She doesn’t want my paintings. Perhaps I am not a good Artist.” With that, the Artist un-tucked his shirt, removed his hat and went to bed.
The Artist’s wife sat quietly by herself, surrounded by the Artist’s paintings. She was proud of him. She loved him. The Artist’s hurt heart made its way to the air on the slippery spheres of tears and his tears conjured tears of her own. “He is a good artist,” she whispered as she stared at his work for the next several hours. When the hours got too deep to wade in the Wife made her way to bed, as well. On her way to the bedroom, Tiny Devil tried to trip her by running just beneath her feet. The Wife stumbled just a bit. As she did, Sophia meowed, smiled a comforting smile and purred, “Good night.”
In the morning, the Wife and the Artist sat on their back porch with their steaming coffee overlooking the fields behind their home. The sunlight played upon their faces like a concert pianist composing a winsome melody. The Wife could see that the Artist felt sadness in his heart. She wanted to fish for the sadness and see it plucked away from his heart like a trout wriggling on the end of a hook. “What will make you happy, Artist?” The Wife smiled her biggest smile.
“I feel sadness, Wife, that is true. But there is much to celebrate, too. The fields are shining with the gladness of the sun, our coffee is warm and we enjoy good health. I will smile for the Good that surrounds us.” The Artist smiled, and the Wife felt glad.
As they sat smiling and enjoying the morning, Sophia batted at a butterfly, playfully tickling its belly. Her tail jumped in delight as she purred her greetings to the small, winged creature. Tiny Devil was there, too. She busied herself with a mouse that had innocently scurried up to the porch from the field. Tiny Devil tortured the mouse with her claws, chewed it with her white, shiny teeth and spit the blood of the mouse onto Sophia’s tail. “Kids,” Sophia thought and she went back to playing with the butterfly.
After breakfast, the Artist once again wore his best shirt and then he carefully placed his best hat atop his head. Then, he wrote a letter to the second person with whom he wanted to share his paintings. When his letter was complete, he left his house and greeted a messenger in the street. This Messenger was a young boy whose eyes were weakened from birth. The Artist said to the young messenger, “Please deliver this letter to the prince who lives at the top of the hill to the east.” The young messenger pushed his spectacles to the top of his nose and cheerfully answered, “Yes sir!” Off the messenger went.
As the Artist and his Wife waited for the Prince from the Hill to the East to come to their home so he could choose whichever painting he wanted to have, they busied themselves with cleaning the cottage, feeding the cats, pulling the weeds and baking a batch of cookies filled with oats and chocolate chips. They sang songs as they completed their tasks and they talked about which painting the prince might choose. The Artist loved the prince very much because he had known him sense he was born and he was a lot like the Artist in many ways. They had often spent time working in the fields together, in the Artist’s younger days, as well as playing games, reading books and talking into the wee hours of the morning. The Artist loved the prince very much.
Dusk began to rap lightly on the door of the earth and the Artist began to wonder at the prince’s whereabouts. “Will he come?” he asked his Wife. “Of course he will come!” she said with a smile. “Let us enjoy our dinner and by the time we have eaten the last bites, I am sure he will come.” The Artist, his Wife, Sophia and Tiny Devil all sat down at their plates. Sophia and Tiny Devil had their plates on the floor, of course, because the Artist and his Wife would not dream of allowing cats on the table! As they all chewed and sipped and swallowed, the light outside the window grew darker and darker. As their forks clinked their plates for the last time, there was a knock on the door!
The Artist jumped from his seat, wiped crumbs from his mouth, re-tucked his shirt and ran for the door. “Wait!” called his Wife. “You forgot to straighten your hat.” She straightened his hat, kissed him on the cheek and the Artist opened the door.
“Hello sir!” said the young messenger holding a letter in one hand and pushing his glasses up with the other. “This letter is from the prince—oh!” he squealed with distracted delight. “I have never seen your paintings, sir! I have only heard of them!” The boy continued to extend his neck and strain his eyes over the Artist’s shoulder. “Those are pretty. I like the one with the dog on it.” Tiny Devil rolled her eyes. The Artist, not yet knowing what the letter said and still filled with hope invited the young messenger to come into the cottage and take the painting of the dog. “Thank you,” squealed the young messenger. “Just remember,” said the Artist, “You can’t return the painting of the dog. You have to keep it forever.” The young messenger held his painting under one arm and with his other hand pushed his glasses to the ridge of his nose, “I will gladly keep it forever!” As the young messenger went into the night with his painting, the Artist tore open the envelope.
“I will not come for a painting, today. I am too busy. Maybe I will have time next year.” The Artist squinted his eyes and swallowed hard. Then, he wiped the corner of his left eye.
The Artist’s wife stood before him, not knowing what to say. She knew that her words could not heal his hurt so she simply put her head on his chest and hugged her husband. They stood this way for a long time—until the Artist tired of his struggle for dry eyes—and then he decided to go to bed. He un-tucked his best shirt, removed his best hat and disappeared into the shadows of the bedroom.
The Artist’s wife stood staring at the Artist’s paintings. “They are priceless,” she whispered. “I only wish the princess and the prince could see their beauty, as well.” Sophia rolled over on her back on the floor and purred a sweet purr that sounded like the wind chimes hanging over the Artist’s back porch. As she rolled around and purred, Tiny Devil peeked around the corner of the room. She watched Sophia rolling around and quickly devised a sneaky plan. Moments later, Tiny Devil leaped from around the corner, landing squarely on Sophia’s tummy. Sophia let out a shriek and Tiny Devil laughed a maniacal, silent laugh and then turned and walked slowly out of the room, looking over her tiny shoulder at Sophia, only once.
As the Artist’s wife remembered her husband’s delight in sharing his beautiful paintings with the princess, the way his face brightened with anticipation and joy at the thought of seeing her and then fell into disappointment when he realized she would not come, she began to grow angry. She did not like to see her husband, who was beautiful inside and out, feel sadness. Then, the Artist’s wife began to consider the freshly born sadness that rested in her husband’s heart this very night. “The Artist,” she thought, “loves the princess and the prince to the east with all his heart. Why did they not come?” Just then, her anger began to grow. “What shall I do to ease my anger?” the Wife wondered. “I will try to protect my husband’s heart so that it will not hurt again.”
With a decision tucked into her heart, the Wife tiptoed toward the bedroom and fell quickly to sleep.
The next morning, a bird with a yellow bill hopped upon a windowsill outside the cottage. Sophia sat behind the glass and dreamed of what the bird would feel like against her fir. “Soft and cozy,” she dreamed. Sophia’s paws kneaded the windowsill. Tiny Devil was used her claws to unscrew the cover on the vent just beneath the same windowsill. All at once, she heard the Artist padding from the bedroom into the kitchen, which was very close to the windowsill. Tiny Devil stopped, dropped to her belly and looked bored until the Artist was out of sight. Then, Tiny Devil removed the cover from the vent, crawled through the air duct and out into the sunlight, where the bird with the yellow bill was singing a song that sounded a little like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Tiny Devil jumped into the air, tackled the bird, and plucked all its feathers with her teeth. The bird with the yellow bill, now naked and cold, hopped away from the cottage, covering all her private areas as she went . . . Sophia watched the entire scene in horror. “Kids,” thought Sophia. And then she threw up on the floor.
As the Artist began to sip his coffee—the steam from which looked like the swirls of smoke that dance away from camp fires—he stared at his paintings, which covered all the walls of his cottage, except the spot where the dog painting used to hang. There was sadness in his heart and he thought of the princess and the prince on the hill to the east. The Artist said to his Wife, “If only they would have come, they could have seen that my paintings are good paintings.” The Artist was right. The colors of his paintings made their cottage beautiful—much more beautiful than any other cottage in the entire town. It wasn’t only the colors, the shapes or the textures that made them beautiful, it was also the heart of the Artist, displayed vibrantly throughout each picture that sang into the hearts of everyone who came to the cottage.
“Your paintings are the most beautiful paintings. And you are the most handsome man, inside and out,” said his Wife. “Come,” she said brightly, “Let us go into town and visit with friends!” The Artist said he did not feel like visiting but he encouraged his Wife to enjoy the day. “I am going to ask one more person I love to come and choose a painting for himself.”
“Whom will you invite,” the Wife asked, knowing the answer before she even heard it.
“I will invite the Prince from the Hill to the West.” Even as the Artist spoke of this prince, the Artist’s countenance began to brighten. “He will come and he will choose the most beautiful of all the paintings. Whichever he chooses will be the best, because he has an eye for art.” The Wife giggled, “This is a wonderful idea, husband! I know he will come! I will be home before dinner and we will invite him to stay for a meal once he has chosen a painting.” The Artist’s wife left for the town and the Artist tucked in his best shirt, balanced his best hat upon his head and wrote a letter to the prince.
The Artist went into the street where he quickly found a messenger. This messenger was old and could not speak. The Artist handed him the letter and asked, “Will you please deliver this to the prince who lives on the hill to the west?” The messenger smiled a crooked smile and nodded. The Artist watched the old messenger limp away and he felt grateful to the man.
As the Artist waited for the Prince from the Hill to the West to arrive he busied himself by petting the cats, washing the windows, baking the bread and whistling brand new tunes to himself as he worked. He could not guess which painting the prince would choose as the prince was always surprising! The Artist loved the prince very much because he had known him from the moment he was born. The Artist and the prince both loved art and often regaled one another with stories, both real and make believe, and the prince made the Artist laugh like no one else in all the land! The Artist was happy as he waited.
Just as the afternoon sun’s eyes began to droop and his head began to nod like an exhausted worker in the sky, the Wife arrived home. “Hello husband!,” she exclaimed. “Is the prince here yet?” The Artist, who was trying to keep his heart from sinking, said, “Not yet. Not yet.” The Wife said cheerfully, “Oh, then I have time to prepare the meal!”
As the Wife told the Artist about her day in the town, the people she had met and the things she found to buy, the Artist watched the light in the sky like a train conductor watches the time. The Wife banged the pots and pans, clinked the glasses, folded the napkins and clanked the silverware onto the table. The stars began to flicker and then shine.
The meal smelled delicious. The bread was soft and warm. The Artist and his Wife waited. There was a knock on the door.
The Artist looked a little pale. He stared at his wife. “Will you answer the door,” he asked. “Of course,” replied the wife.
When she opened the door there was an old messenger standing there. His limp was pronounced, even as he stood still, leaning a little to one side. Without words, the old messenger lifted his hand out to the Wife. She accepted the envelope with the letter inside. She noticed a sudden twinkling in the old messenger’s eyes as he noticed the paintings lining the walls of the cottage. “Would you like to choose one painting to keep for yourself?” He smiled broadly and crookedly and nodded. “My husband is the most talented artist in all the land. He would be happy for you to enjoy any of the paintings in which you see beauty.” The old messenger lifted a finger bent with years of use and pointed at the painting of the ocean. “You may have it,” said the Wife as she pulled the painting off the wall and gave it to the old messenger. He smiled and disappeared into the night.
As the Wife closed the door to the cottage she sighed. It was a hopeful sigh. “Perhaps he could not come today but he will come tomorrow,” she thought.
“Here you are husband.” She handed the letter to the Artist.
The Artist’s hands shook. Not with old age or fright. With hopefulness. “He will certainly come,” he whispered to his Wife. “He certainly will,” she answered.
As the Artist read the prince’s words tears fell from his eyes and splattered upon the paper. His head bowed and his heart beat slowly and methodically, like the ticking of a clock. The Artist set the letter on the table, un-tucked his best shirt, removed his best hat and went to bed.
The Wife stood over the table filled with the meal, which was growing cold, the bread, which was growing stale and the letter, which was too wet too read. She didn’t have to read the letter to understand what it meant. The Prince from the Hill to the West was not coming.
The Artist’s wife grew angry. The prince did not know how happy he made the Artist’s heart and how confident the Artist felt when he thought of sharing his beautiful paintings with the prince. The prince did not know how much the Wife loved him, too, and the number of smiles that had been spent on him, even in his absence. The prince did not know that the Wife, who watched the Artist’s heart fill with sadness so many times before, had made a decision to protect the Artist’s heart.
The Wife cleared the table to make space for a brand new sheet of paper. She wrote a letter to the Prince on the Hill to the West and let her anger pour through her hand and into the ink. She said the meanest, angriest words she could think to say. She hoped that her words would fly around the room and busily construct themselves into a wall of protection about her home—she made her words terrible so that no one would want to hurt the Artist ever again. The Wife ran into the night where she found a messenger. The messenger was a woman who could not see. The Wife gave the woman the letter and guided the blind messenger in the direction of the hill to the west and then hurried back into the cottage.
As the Wife lay in bed she thought of the princess, the Prince on the Hill to the East and the Prince on the Hill to the West. She thought of Sophia, who was sleeping at her feet and Tiny Devil who was drinking water out of the toilet. Mostly she thought of the Artist. She pondered his heart. She remembered his tears. She suddenly grew cold with the memory of the angry words she sent up the hill with the blind messenger. “Oh no. What have I done? I wish I had not spoken in anger,” she thought. Then she tried to go to sleep. Her eyelids were heavy but her heart was sounding an alarm like a rooster crowing the dawn.
“In the morning I must ask for forgiveness,” she thought.
Half a moment later the Wife arose from her bed, spread a new sheet of paper on the table and immediately began to write a new letter to the Prince on the Hill to the West. The letter began, “Please forgive me for speaking in anger.”
–Jill Szoo Wilson