Gratitude catches up

We must be willing to be surprised. Human life never stops being a sequence of unlikely scenarios. It is never endlessly tragic nor tediously ludicrous. Through the lens of poem or parable, we learn to detect the extraordinary beneath the ordinary, to find a link between pathos and humor - like friendship in a boxing ring, or freedom in a prison. It is not enough to observe these paradoxes. It is enough to find that they stir in us the warmth of winter thanks. Thus, caricature becomes poetry.

And there is nothing sweeter than the discovery that gratitude outstrips grief.

Once upon a time, there was a poet who set out to write a poem. On the way he got lost. After several valiant efforts to find his way he sat down on a rock, exclaiming, ''Why me?''

''You're lost,'' a voice said to him.

''I know that!'' cried the poet, throwing up his hands, ''but where am I?''

''Somewhere in your own poem,'' answered the voice.

''Help!'' sobbed the poet, ''this is like a prison. Where did I go wrong?''

''Look over there,'' came the voice softly, ''you see that little boy in tears close to the old oak?''

''He's suffering so,'' observed the poet, ''but why does he have to curl up in such a way and hide his face?''

''You did that,'' said the voice, ''you forgot to preserve the difference between chastisement and accusation. He is the fruit of your own confusion.''

The poet began to correct his thinking instantly.

''What have I done to you, lad?'' he said to the boy, putting his hand on the huddling shoulders, ''I have added injury to injury by rebuking you instead of your mistake.''

''It's all right now, sir,'' the boy said, looking up slowly and smiling through his tears. ''I just thought you didn't care about me.''

All at once, gratitude had caught up and was shining now in the faces of both poet and boy.

Then the voice led the poet along a path he hadn't noticed before. There by the wayside was a woman wringing her hands.

''Oh no!'' said the poet who was beginning now to feel a little like Scrooge being led by the spirits of Christmas, ''I know that woman. She's someone I once tried to help.''

''Yes,'' said the voice, ''but you made no distinction between personal sympathy and Christly compassion. Instead of awakening her responsibility, you invited her remorse.''

''What kind of poem have I been writing?'' the poet asked himself as he approached the anguished woman. ''Do you see what I see, dear lady?'' he said, rousing her out of her self-pity. ''I see the dignity and poise of womanhood moving in you quite untouched by this sense of injustice and bitterness. Hadn't you noticed?'' There was a pause. The woman quietly straightened to her full height, the beauty of her self-respect fully restored.

The voice drew the poet on. ''I think I'm getting this whole thing worked out ,'' he thought, the gratitude growing inside him.

''Wait a moment,'' corrected the voice. For all at once at a turn in the path they came across an old man shouting loudly at a babbling brook.

''You're wrong, you're wrong!'' he kept shouting, his hands sweeping wide.

''I remember him,'' said the poet, ''he came complaining to me once about the King.''

''That's right,'' said the voice, ''and you agreed with him. Instead of planting an insight, you confirmed his prejudice.''

The poet came now between the brook and the old man and said to him, ''Friend , I was wrong.''

''You mean when you agreed with what I said about the King?''

''Yes.''

''That means you thought I was wrong, then, all the time!''

''Don't you see?'' began the poet, planting an insight. ''It's not our seeking what's wrong that's going to help us. Do you want to help that brook?''

''Certainly.''

''And the King?''

''Well . . .''

''You know, I've been thinking. It's not the ugliness of self-will that actually vanishes, but only our sense of distortion. Looking for what's wrong with our King fetters our own hearts - but finding what's right with him sets us all free.''

Now two leaves fell into the silence between them. And together they discovered what was right. . . .

As he left the old man, the poet found himself on a path that was familiar. He wasn't lost anymore. Yes, gratitude catches up - outstripping both grief and confusion. For the poet never gets outside his poem once he finds his way in it.

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