The Spring ~ a parable

The Spring
A Parable

Brown. Dry. The sky hung over the landscape heavily. Like a great sack of leaden balls ready to burst and rain down death. A very little light glowed from the earth and sky, but it was an unhealthy, rotten luminescence.

Across the scorched plains a few animals could be seen. Scarecrow cattle gnawed at fence posts or scuffed the crackling turf with their hoofs. A small pool of dark water gleamed in the distance. On the water’s brink, animal bones lay scattered. One skeleton of a cow stood as if it died with its muzzle in the pool. A vulture hunched on its shoulder bones.

A town of sorts was drawn out in a shallow valley. There was a small store on one end of town. Its porch was the local Parthenon. Men from all over the valley gathered there to talk. Upon close inspection, the men had a strange and forbidding aspect. like the closed door of a tomb. On each of their faces was the mark of death. Oddly enough, the town had an air of frantic gaiety to it. Several saloons were operating at fever pitch and people streamed from one to another, laughing and shouting. Inside, gamblers cheated and robbed the people of their money. What little they had left, they spent to drink great quantities of the brews and distillations the saloon keeper sold at exorbitant prices. They all seemed desperate to forget their condition. As if they could forestall the coming of the dark shadow on the horizon by incessant merriment.

Back on the store porch, the men were more sober. Discussing their plight in dejected tones. They glanced at each other from corners of their eyes and witnessed what destruction had been wreaked upon their bodies by the plague. The bones of their faces jutted against the skin and their eyes peered hollowly from the sockets. They attempted light banter, but eventually came back heavily to the more obvious topic.

In the street, a small group followed the bearers of a coffin. The watchers on the porch looked briefly and resumed the debate. It was too common. The cemetery held greater numbers than could be counted among the living.

Behind the houses and in the shadows, dark things were done. Often and often a scream would rise and a body would slump out into the street; dead from some blow or cut. The prison was filled with desperate people waiting for death or release–which was much the same thing.

For many passages of time this state continued, and it all grew more frightful by the year.  One day, there came to the streets of the town a man. He was a stranger to all, but was curiously attractive. He made his way through the dust of the streets and came to the store and its porch. 

The men turned their faces to him and he smiled. They looked at each other in question for the reason of his joy. When they looked back again, they beheld how different he was. His face was full and glowed with health. His body was straight and the muscles of him pushed against his clothes. He seemed at any moment ready to laugh for joy.

The leader of the group stepped down before the man and held out his hand.
“Sir, we welcome you to our town and bid you good health.” The stranger threw back his head and shouted with delight. “You wish me health? Why, man — and all of you — that is why I have come. For your health.”

So saying, he held up a glass. In it was the clearest water any of them had ever seen. It fairly danced of its own in the cup. The man tilted his head back and drained the liquid. He held both hands in the air and drew deep breaths as if savoring some precious moment of life.

Great amazement came over the watchers on the porch. Their leader spoke again.
“Good sir, what is it you have? You seem so alive and so…well. We would know your secret.”
The man seemed to glow as he replied.
“Ah, it is no secret at all, but free for all to know. I have just recently found a great treasure. Something that you must see and taste for yourself. It’s a gift. I was on a long journey across the plains in search of a cure for all of this … this death. Many days I walked and the shoes had worn from my feet. The last day was the worst. I had used all of my food and was so weak that I was forced to crawl. The shadows of vultures had begun to make circles on the sand around me and there were times when I had to stop for several minutes to regain my strength. I had just reached the crest of a hill and knew I wouldn’t make it through another hour. Suddenly there appeared what I thought was a hallucination. In the middle of nowhere, a tree was growing and its branches made a canopy of shade. I half rolled, half crawled down to its shelter. I think I fell asleep. Next I knew, I was on my back on a carpet of thick, cool grass, looking up through the branches of the tree. I rolled over and saw the most amazing thing. Right out of the roots of the tree was a spring of water. It flowed into the grass and watered the whole circle. I had no idea who had dug this fountain out, if any man had, but lost no time in falling on my face and drinking great draughts of it.”

The men on the porch had ceased their whittling and were leaning over the rail to hear. The man continued.

“Now, before I drank of the water, I looked and felt just like you do. My skin was withered and I was weak. My hair was slipping from my head. Each day I felt myself moving closer and closer to the final thing. I don’t know what happened at the spring exactly. All I know is that everything changed the moment I drank from it. Immediately I felt life flowing back into my arms and legs. The edges of death melted away from my vision and I was strong. I spent a day or so there under the tree. Soon I realized that it wouldn’t do for me to enjoy this alone. I climbed the tree and looked over the plain. I could just see the smoke of your town. I made haste and filled my canteen with the water for the walk. It took me just a day to come here. The water you saw me drink is the last I had with me. I wanted to come and tell my story so you will go back with me and drink for yourselves. I know it will still be there and I’m sure you all can be free of this horrible plague. As I said, I was at least as sick from it as any of you are, and look at me now!”

Several of the men came down into the street and felt of the stranger. They walked around him and marveled at the difference between him and themselves. He seemed impatient to be off and began to move back the way he had come. The leader stopped him.

“Sir, you tell a good tale. You seem to have great news for everyone. How do we know that you weren’t already a healthy man who came to mock us and lead us out into the desert to our death? Moreover, it sounds too good to be true. Look around you. Everyone in this town has the plague. All of our fathers and mothers and their parents had it. How is it that less than a day’s journey away is a stream that can magically cure all of our ills, yet we never heard of it before? I like the looks of you, but your tidings I cannot receive. I do not know what these men will do, but I will stay here. I despise the plague but have never known anything else. At least I will not perish for lack of food while I stay close to this store.”

The men looked at one another. Most of them nodded agreement to the words of their leader. Only one, the oldest in the group, stepped forward.

“I will go. There is nothing I have to lose. My wife and children have already died and I have maybe a year or two left. All my life here has been miserable. Every day I have looked at the horizon and have seen the shadow move closer to me.” He held up his arm. “Look at this. I am old and useless. If even half of what this stranger says is true, I may live the last days of my life in health.”

The stranger half turned and smiled. He beckoned with his hand. “Come then. Let’s be going.”
They started off, the young man supporting the old man.

It had happened. The old man went back to his town and spread the news. He was like a new person. He stood straight. His old, dull eyes sparkled with life. He didn’t talk about death anymore.

After that, it went like wildfire. Every town had several who journeyed to the spring. Some people filled casks with the water and carried it back to their cities for those too ill to travel. Everyone who drank the water was healed. They grew strong and happy. As many as came, there was more than enough to go around. Still, many refused to drink. They said it was all too easy. It didn’t cost anything, they didn’t have to work for it, and it didn’t make sense anyway.

Soon, groups began to form so that the water could be administered efficiently. They found that they could put the water in bottles and carry it over great distances to help those in need. This was good. More and more people learned of the cure for their ailment and drank. The groups grew more organized and developed names for themselves. They even began labeling the bottles of water with their brand names. This was still not a problem, because the water itself was undiluted. Everywhere it was poured the grass grew green and life sprang up.

The brand names became more defined over time. Each group with its brand had a favored path to the spring. The groups often argued bitterly over the correct route and some even went to war against the others, attempting to protect their particular path and to force the others to use the same. Some groups thought to sell their brand of bottled water for money. Inexplicably, the effectiveness of the cure was lost in the process.

Most groups just continued to give away the water; grateful for the chance to share what had given them a new life. Years went by and many associations built great structures in which to store their brand of the water. They would meet there and talk about how they had found the cure. According to the charters they were to bring people who had not yet drunk so that they, too, could be cured. Over time, many people had heard about the water and many had been cured. Fewer came to the storehouses who had never before drunk.

Still they bottled and labeled the water. Somewhere, at some point, someone added something to the water before bottling it. They thought it would taste better or help more. In fact, almost every group whose purpose it was to distribute the water began to mix their own special blend. For awhile, the water still did what it was supposed to. The groups were very cautious to keep the ratio of pure water to private potion high.

As most things go, the mixtures began to contain less and less of the pure essence of the spring. It became very important to the organizations that their members use only their brand, and that their brand be distinct from the others. They formed committees and made elaborate rules. Still, the spring flowed out and watered the grass beneath the tree. Few ever ventured directly to it for a drink as it sprang from the ground. In fact, most of the groups tried to ensure that people simply came to their storehouses instead of making the trip.

Two or three generations passed. The children and grandchildren of the people who journeyed to the spring had never been there. The elders tried to make sure their heirs made the trip, but eventually it came to pass that they took a final journey — happy and healthy. Almost all of the children and most of the grandchildren continued visits to the storehouses. The problem was that the water of most groups eventually contained little or none of the real thing.

Sickness began to creep back in. Some felt more at home with the people who had never drunk of the water. They would visit the dilapidated saloons and sit on the porches of stores with other victims of the plague and wonder why they felt so ill. Wonder why all the bottled water they drank didn’t seem to make them as happy and healthy as it had made their ancestors. Wonder why they felt the shadow creeping up from the horizon toward them. Wonder why they bothered to visit the storehouse and drink the mixtures now at all.


——————————————————————————————————————–

An old man strode into the town. He stopped before the store and lifted his hand in greeting to the people gathered there. None of them recognized him. If their grandfathers were still living, they would have known the light in his eyes. They would have remembered the first time he came and drank a glass of liquid crystal before them. But these people didn’t know him. They only saw that he had a special aliveness to him, and they envied him that. He had what the leaders of their respective storehouse groups said was possible to have.

He smiled at the pitiful assembly. The spirit was gone from most of them. Many looked just like the people who never left the saloon for a drink of the spring. The shadow was in their eyes. He spoke.

“My children. I first came to this town many years ago. Most of you weren’t yet born. I had just had my first drink from the spring that flows not a day’s journey from here. I was young and strong, and my life had just been given to back to me. There are no words to tell you what joy each moment was, and is. Look at me. All these years, and I still bear no marks from the plague that I once had. Let me say to you, ‘the spring still flows free’. I have walked through these streets and watched many of you going in to the storehouses where the water of the spring is kept and dispensed. I have stood in the doorways and watched you drinking your different brands. Over the years I have seen less and less of the spring find its way into your bottles. Many of you are wondering why the spring water has failed you. I want you to know that the spring has not failed. I was there just this morning and drank again with my face buried in it. You may see the drops of it in my beard still. I took a young friend with me this morning. He was sick. He had the plague so that he was soon to die. I had to carry him to the tree. When we got there, he crawled the last two or three feet and plunged his whole head in. He isn’t with me now because I last saw him running back to his town to lead his wife and children out to the spring.”

The sun was setting behind the old man. His white hair glowed with the orange rays and became a golden crown on his head. He seemed to grow translucent, as though to fade into the light. Soon the only thing that was visible was his arm. It was shining with a stunning brilliance as it pointed the way back toward the tree with its gushing spring. His voice sounded once more as the light faded.

“My children, the answer lies not in all the mixtures and bottled water. Nor will you be satisfied by trying to ignore the plague and its slow death. The answer for you is in the spring. There you will find life and health. I go now, but I will be watching you. Go to the spring. Go to the Spring.”

The sun blazed out with its last glory. Long shadows spread from the branches of a distant tree, and a close observer could see the sparkle of water beneath.

 

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8 Responses

  1. Gorgeous!

  2. Thank you for sharing this with me, Jacob! Beautiful work!

  3. Well done, Rowdy Jacob.

    Peace,

    AEB

  4. Excellent Jacob very well done!!!

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