Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tales for the journey: The coat - (self reliance)

It was a large warm coat that wrapped me in its folds, and within which I felt safe.  It was given me by my mother, who said nothing about it to me at the time, but I came to understand that it would keep me warm against the cold winds that often blew, and so I wore it always.  There were pockets on the outside, and also secret pockets in the inside. In fact there were so many pockets that I sometimes couldn’t find what I wanted unless I searched very hard and for a long time.

In the beginning it was smooth and soft.  It blew in the wind and fresh air wafted around me within the folds.  I soon found the pockets useful. They were large and there was room for all kinds of treasure in them.  I went about collecting treasures, and hid them in my pockets until they were all filled.  People saw me in the coat and said “Look how she is growing!” and I stood tall and proud of being big, but in my secret heart I knew that I was much smaller than my coat.

When I wanted a comb, there was a comb in my pocket, ready for use.  When I wanted some bread, sure enough, there was bread.  It was good to know that I was never in want, that everything I wanted was there, in my coat.

Then I saw some small thin people who did not have a big coat like mine, and I gave them some of the bread out of my pocket to help them grow strong. 

It made them happy and I knew that they would never be hungry if they always had bread in their secret pocket, so I taught them how to find bread for themselves.
 “You can have everything you want, just when you need it!” I told them. “Just make sure that you keep some ready in your coat, and you will never be hungry again!”

I gathered up more bread and put it in my pockets, and so did one of the small thin people.  There was some for me and some for the other people who may need it.  My coat grew larger and larger, and heavier and heavier, and soon my little friend didn’t look quite so small.  The wind didn’t blow around my legs any more and I felt stifled and hot, but I needed my coat.

Sometimes I tried taking my coat off, just to feel cool, but I found I couldn’t manage for long without it, for I felt very vulnerable to the cold winds that might blow.  Again and again I took my coat off, and gradually I began to like the lightness and freshness of being without it.  Yet I always put it on again when the wind blew a little cool.

I wondered why I wore such a heavy big coat and other people didn’t.  So I asked a girl who was quite small, but not tiny, and who carried a coat on her arm and didn’t seem to have to wear it unless it was really cold.
 “Why do you not wear a coat?” I asked.
“I have one ready for the winter,” she replied, “but I don’t need to wear it today.  Today it is not cold.  Why are you wearing yours?”

“I always wear it.” I replied. “It is useful, because there are big pockets, and I can always have what I want straight away and so can anyone else who needs it.”

I offered her some bread, but she refused, saying she wasn’t hungry.  I suggested that she put the bread in the pocket of the coat that lay over her arm, in case she was hungry later, but she refused again, saying she could always get some later if she needed it.

I felt so sad that this girl who was thinner than me should not take some of my bread. I found myself thinking about her all day long, wondering if she was hungry, and wondering if I ought to go and find her and make sure she hadn’t changed her mind.

The next day I met a large strong man.  He was very tall and he wore no coat.
“Why do you not wear a coat?” I asked.
“I don’t need one.” He said. ”If I get cold I move about and do things, and I’m soon warm.”
 “What do you do without pockets?” I asked him.
“I don’t need pockets!” he cried. “I know where I can get what I need.  Why should I carry a lot of stuff about with me that I don’t need?”
“What if you find someone who is hungry?” I asked.

“It is better if you teach them how to make their own bread, for then they can be fed for life.  If you give them your bread, they will just come back for more, next time they are hungry.  Why should you fetch bread and carry it for them to eat?”
I felt hurt and misjudged by this. “It’s better than nothing.” I replied.
“But better still is fresh, good bread,” the strong man said. “Why don’t you teach them how to make their own bread?”
“But I don’t know how.” I said, and I knew then that I didn’t know who to make my own bread, and had always relied on what I could pick up that no one else wanted.

He looked at me and asked, “What have you got in your pockets?”
I was so glad to have the chance to tell him. “ Everything!” I cried, and I pulled out of my pockets all the treasures I had collected.  I proudly laid them out on the ground.  It took a long time but when all the pockets were empty, I could see how much I had collected over the years.  Then I looked carefully at what was there and did not feel quite so proud.  How dirty some of the things now were!  How stale and useless the bread was!

I wondered if the strong man thought me rather small and insignificant without my coat.  At least with my coat on I was easily seen in a crowd and everyone knew I was there, but he looked at me without the big pockets and said, “Now I can see the real you under all that stuff.”
I felt strange, but it was good to know that the real me under the coat was at least visible, and it would seem from his reaction that I was acceptable, even though I was a lot smaller than I first might have appeared.

As I stood there in the gentle breeze, I felt the air stir around my legs, and noticed how my coat was distorted by the pockets that had been stretched out of shape by having too much stuffed into them.  I felt again the initial lightness and the soft feel of the coat around me, and thought about the day I had first received it from my mother and wondered why she had told me to wear it always.  Surely she had known how heavy it would become in the heat?  Surely she could have guessed what I would do with so many pockets?  I became very angry, and decided to ask her why she had burdened me in this way.

I went to her bed, where she lay dying.  I wore the coat but the pockets were empty. Seeing her so small and thin there on the bed, I asked her, “Mother, why did you give me this coat?”

She held the soft folds of the garment for a moment as if she were remembering something very special. “I gave you this because it was the only way I knew how to keep you warm,” she said. “I knew no other way, because my mother gave me a coat like this to wear when I was a child, and I wore it always in obedience to her will.  It was hard and I always wondered what it may have been like if I had taken the coat off when I grew older, but I never dared to do it.”

All at once I knew that I could take off my coat, for there was another way to keep warm, and the strong man had told me how.
“Would you mind if I took the coat off now?” I asked my mother.
 “If you can be safe and warm without it, of course you can,” she said and she smiled at me a loving, warm smile.

I took the coat off, and placed it around my mother’s ageing shoulders. “This will keep you warm,” I said. “ I don’t need it now.”
“What if the winter wind starts to blow?” she asked me anxiously.
 “Then I shall weave myself a blanket to wrap myself in for the winter, and I will make it out of all the wisdom you have given me.”
“And what about pockets? Won’t you need them?”

“I will go and find my small thin friend and together we will ask the strong man to teach us how to make bread.”

And so it was that, leaving my mother snug and warm in her bed asleep at last, I set off to find my friend, and felt the warm wind upon me as I walked.

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