There once was a village chief with three sons. Each of them had been given a special gift.
The oldest knew all about raising olive trees. The people of the village traded olive oil to passing peddlars in exchange for tools and cloth. With the eldest son's knowledge and love for the trees, their orchards thrived and the village prospered.
The second son was a shepherd. If the sheep became sick, he knew better than anyone else how to make them well again. Under his care, the village flocks grew healthy and numerous, and the wool they produced was much sought after for its fineness.
The third son was a dancer. When the villagers were down on their luck or bored from the tedium of work, he could raise their spirits better than anyone else. He loved to dance, and when he danced the joy of the dance filled the people and refreshed their weariness.
Now the village chief had to go on a long journey, so he called his three sons together. "My sons, the villagers are depending on you. While I am gone, see that you use your gifts as wisely and well as you can, so that when I return I will find our village even more happy and prosperous than it is now." With these words he embraced his sons and confidently departed.
For a while things went well, but when the cold winds began to blow, the village fell on hard times. No one could remember such a bitterly cold winter. The buds on the olive trees shrank and cracked. Seeing them, the first son knew that it would take the trees a long time to recover.
Eventually it got to the point where the villagers had no choice but to go to him.
"Please. We beg you. We have no wood for our fires. Cut down the trees."
At first he would not hear of it but finally he relented. "Very well. You cut them down." He knew it would be foolish to save the trees only to lose the village.
Now, the ice and snow made it impossible for traders to travel on the river or get through the mountain pass, so the villagers hadn't enough to eat. "Please. We are starving. Our children go without food. The sheep must be killed."
"I am a doctor to your sheep. How can I bear to have them killed?" But they pleaded and pleaded with him. So finally he consented and gave the sheep to the hungry villagers, for he knew that the only purpose of healing sheep was to help the village prosper; and what good would it do to spare the sheep only to have the villagers perish?
In this way the villagers got just enough wood for their fires and food for their tables. Nevertheless, the bitter winter had broken their spirit, so they began to think things were worse than they really were. They lost hope, became desperate, and family by family they deserted the village in search of a better home.
Just as spring was beginning to loosen the cold grip of winter, the village chief returned to find smoke rising from only one chimney - his own. Astonished and troubled, he rushed into the house, surprising his three sons. "What have you done? What has become of the villagers?"
"Oh please, father, forgive me. I have forsaken my gift. The people were freezing and they begged me to cut down the trees, so I did. I am no longer fit to be an orchard keeper."
"Don't be angry, father. It grew so cold that the sheep would surely have frozen anyway. And the villagers were starving, so I gave them the sheep. My gift went for naught, for I had to send the flock to slaughter."
"My sons, don't be ashamed. True, the village is not happier and more prosperous than I left it, but you did your best to make it so. And you did use your gifts wisely, for you tried in the only way you knew to save your people. But tell me, what has become of them?"
"Welcome home, father. We had so little firewood and food while you were away. It hardly seemed proper to dance during such suffering. And besides, I wanted to conserve my strangth so that when you returned I would be able to welcome you with my dancing."
"Then dance, my son. For my village is empty and so is my heart. Fill it with joy and courage once again. Please, dance."
But as the third son went to get up, he grimaced and fell. His legs were so stiff and sore from sitting that they were no longer fit for dancing.
With so much sadness in his heart that there was scarcely room for anger, the father went over to his son. "Ours was a strong village. It could have survived the want of fuel and food, but not without hope. And because you failed to use your gift, our people gave up what little hope they had left. Now the village is deserted and you are crippled. Your punishment has already befallen you." And with these words he embraced his sons and wept.
by William C. Davis