The Shepherd and the Beggar
Posted here for December 20, 2021.
The road back home
The shepherd found a good-sized, reasonably level rock, sat down upon it, and sighed. He put his staff down beside him and looked out across the green fields that stretched off into the distance. His sheep were wandering about aimlessly, some straying far away from where they ought to be.
The shepherd shifted his sight to the nearby dusty road. Someone was walking toward him. He watched with curiosity as the man approached. Who could this man be, and what was he doing on a dusty road, with a chill in the air and threatening clouds overhead?
The man called out to the shepherd, "Good tidings to you, sir" he said cheerfully.
The shepherd waved, but did not reply.
The man looked disheveled, his clothing was shabby. He carried a small, gray sack over his shoulder. He approached the shepherd.
"Can you spare a coin or two for someone who has not eaten in more than a day?" the man inquired. "I would be humbly grateful."
"Were I a rich man," the shepherd responded, "I would indeed be willing to contribute to the needs of a beggar such as yourself, but I'm barely able to attend to my own meager needs. Now, go on your way and let me be."
The beggar smiled, set down his sack, and found a rock for himself to rest upon. "I'll pause but briefly," he said, "but let me catch my breath." He continued, "You seem to have a fine flock of sheep, my good man. You are truly blessed."
"The numbers have dwindled," the shepherd said. "I had a much larger flock last year. Before the big storm set in. I lost more than a dozen and a half sheep to that terrible February blizzard. It was the worst storm I've ever seen."
"Have you a family?" the beggar inquired.
"My wife died six years ago this November. During childbirth. It would have been my third born."
"So you have two offspring then. Are they boys? Girls?"
"Both boys. And I'm proud of them. But I wanted at least four children. Maybe five. Even six. A father needs a big family. He needs help with chores, with tending the sheep. A pair of sons does not constitute a big family. And now as the wind picks up, look up at those clouds overhead. The rain can't be far behind. And look at my herd. It's scattered all about, some surely out of sight. It will take me more than an hour to round them up. My bones are too old for this. These times are so hard. Life is such a burden."
The beggar looked skyward. "Ah, yes," he said. "The cycle of life continues in its relentless way; each new day with its challenges and disappointments. Each new day, life must be confronted. But each new day comes with its own opportunities, its own rewards. If one reaches for them. If one searches for them. If one strives for them. Each new day contains hope for something new, something better. The chance of success, fulfillment, joy."
The beggar continued: "You told me of your wife's tragic death, but you spoke not of the years of her companionship, her devotion, her love. You acknowledged your two fine sons, yet lamented your offspring numbering but two. You mourned the loss of numerous sheep, but took no recognition of the fine flock that has survived. You cursed the hanging clouds, not knowing if they will deliver rain, or will instead yield to a brighter day of sunshine."
The beggar paused briefly, then added: "You are blessed in many ways, but it would seem you choose to focus on losses, failures, disappointments. And it would seem you choose to add together your setbacks as a summation of your fate in life. Has there been no contribution from successes, joys, achievements?"
The shepherd stared back at the beggar with a blank expression.
"Do you wish to characterize an entire life span," the beggar said, lowering his voice, "as simply an endless stream of calamities and woes? Can you not see your life as a collection of fortunes -- both bad and good -- that you've confronted and dealt with through the years? And you have survived! Even, I might venture, thrived."
The shepherd looked down at the grass before him. Then, he looked up and stared intently into the beggar's eyes. "I guess it's possible sometimes to be blinded with concerns. To be so blinded, that blessings are neglected, indeed completely overlooked. You have given me a great gift, sir. A gift I'm not sure I deserve."
"And look at me," said the beggar as he gestured to his meager clothing and his small bag of belongings. "Compared to me, you are a prince, with boundless wealth and good fortune. I beg for handouts. You live in relative luxury."
"Ah," said the shepherd after a brief pause, "indeed, look at you! Though your trappings may be humble, your wisdom knows no bounds. You have a wealth of insight and judgment that ranks with the best. And thus it is that you have bestowed upon me such a great gift. I am indebted to you, sir."
Then the shepherd smiled and held out his hand. The beggar shook it vigorously. "It's a beautiful day," the shepherd said.
"Indeed it is," the beggar replied.
"Come, my friend," said the shepherd, "I'd like you to join me at the table with my two fine sons for a good serving of meat pie, with carrots and turnips. And with rhubarb pudding for dessert."
"It would be my great honor to do so," said the beggar.