In a far corner of the world, in the land of Time, was a woman. This woman was not extraordinary by the methods and means of the world that surrounded her, but there was yet something extraordinary about her. As a child, she had about her a curiosity for the beauty of life. And the more she saw, the more beautiful she became to the world around her.
One day, at the ripe age of nineteen, she was walking in a garden that was far from her home. It was a garden of amazing beauty and amazing curiosities. In the garden was a serpent who could speak. The nineteen-year-old woman stood in amazement before the serpent. In her experience, men and animals of this kind had always been enemies, yet the serpent had honored her by speaking to her as if she was his friend.
“Young Maiden,” hissed the serpent, “You have entered my garden… is it not amazing?”
“It is indeed amazing Master Serpent,” replied the woman. “It contains in it the wonders of this world that I had only seen in the depths of my dreams.”
The Serpent wrapped himself around her leg gently, “I can give it all to you, if you will stay with me in this garden.”
The woman laughed in delight at the serpent. “Thank you Master Serpent for the generous offer, but how is it that I am to live in this Garden of Mystery and Delight when there is so much to see beyond it. My heart can not bear to rest in the dreams it has.”
The serpent backed away from the maiden quickly in disgust. “Young Maiden, you have offended me. Why would you not want to explore your dreams with me in this place? There are many here who stay with me, exploring this garden from their births to their deaths. They love this land, just as they love me.”
“Master Serpent,” said the girl, “Your offer is generous, but I cannot live to explore the garden when the garden is only part of the world. I am sure that there are many wondrous and curious things here in this beautiful garden, but what have I given to this garden and its inhabitants if I make this my world? The harmony of the entire world sings many notes, but if one note is made to be the melody when the true melody is already singing, than there is only discord. You have offered me the chance to explore a world of dreams, but in the end, dreams is all they are.”
“Dreams can carry a melody all their own, that is so intricate and expansive that you could live an entire lifetime in them. I am offering you life.” Explained the serpent.
“Life is more than dreaming Master Serpent. Dreaming to live is waiting to live. I can bring life to this dream, but this dream could never bring life to me. The only way for both to live is for me to bring life to the dream so that the dream may live in me as I bring it into a reality outside this garden.” After she had said this, the serpent looked her in her bright yellow eyes.
“You have made your decision young maiden, and it is one which I respect, but I know that one day you will rest here with me in this Garden.”
The maiden smiled at the serpent, “One day, I will bring my life back to this Garden and turn these dreams loose upon creation. We will then rest together when living and dreaming become one, and I will find joy in this garden, and you will once again find joy outside of your dreams.” At this the serpent hissed rabidly at her.
“You have something in you which I could not see before. Leave this place for you are not welcome here!” The Serpent paused and then smiled grimly, “Or stay at your own risk.” After he had said this, the Serpent slithered away angrily, hissing all the way.
Although the Serpent was gone, the woman spoke as if he could still hear her. “Master Serpent, you are well loved. I am looking forward to your company once more.” At this the Maiden smiled, and continued walking through the Garden.
Now the maiden was thirsty in the heat of the afternoon, and so seeing a fresh creek making its way through the shade of the trees, the woman approached it. She knelt down at the bed of the creek and looked into the blue waters. To her delight was her reflection smiling back at her.
“Hello young maiden,” said the woman.
“How are you today?” responded the woman in the creek.
“I have had a pleasant stroll so far through this garden of Wonders and Delight, however, the sun has been toiling the fields hard today, and I have become quite thirsty in giving my water to the sun who needs it for his work.”
“Would you like to take some of my water for your work?” asked the woman in the creek, smiling.
“Do you not need your water for the Garden?” asked the Maiden.
“I do not need what I am for the work which I do.” Replied the woman in the creek. “If I was giving you something other than my essence, like the log that floats in me, or the algae which grows in my stillness, or the rocks which guard my sides day and night, than I would need their permission… but what I give to you is who I am.”
The maiden paused for a moment to look at the various creature around the Lady in the Creek. “How do you know who you are, from how you live?”
The Lady in the Creek raised an eyebrow. “Do you mean from what you do, fair maiden?” she paused for a moment to think about the question, and then continued. “That which I am is not that which I do, although that which I do, is the means by which you see that which I am. I take care of everything around me not because it is something I do, but because it is who I am. The log, which floats in me, says to your eyes, that I move, yet I move not to float the log. The frog that is grown in my womb says to your eyes that I nurture, yet I do not nurture for the frog. Some may say that to take from me is to destroy who I am, but in truth, if the log did not take its motion from me, or the frog its nurturing, you would not know who I am. Therefore, the only way for you to know who you are is to allow yourself to be taken from, and know that they take from you because you are what they needed.”
“Lady in the Creek, you are indeed wise, but I have but one more question for you. Are you not worried that a person takes too much of you and destroys the essence of who you are?”
“Dear Maiden, Master Sun brought you to me in order that he may complete his work in this place. He took my essence from your sweat in his heat, and in due time he will return this to me. In this process, I am whole, though it appears that I am separated. Drink from me, and you will share in my completeness. Let another drink from you and they will share in your wholeness.”
“Lady in the Creek, it honors me to share with you in this.” At that, the maiden began to drink. She drank until she had satisfied her thirst, and when she was well rested for the walk with the Sun, she departed the Lady in the Creek with a smile. In making her way through the Garden, the Maiden came to a tree with fruit upon it that glistened in the heat of the Sun. It was not one singular color, but every individual fruit had varying shades and tints. This tree was in the middle of the Garden, and surrounding it were trees of varying fruits, but none so ripe looking as the tree in the middle of the Garden. The maiden smiled at this tree, and then went to the tree surrounding it, which bore upon it apples. This tree was not just any apple tree, but apples of different shapes and colors. The Maiden chose the apple with the deepest red and ate of it. Now as she was sitting underneath the apple tree, a caterpillar came up to her and began laughing.
“Fair Maiden, why do you eat from the apple, when it is clearly not the best fruit in this garden?” said the Caterpillar.
“Master Caterpillar, I was not aware that fruit is better because of how it looks.” Said the Woman.
“Dear child, I have eaten of all the fruit in this garden, and the greatest fruit is from the tree in the middle of it.” Retorted the caterpillar.
“Curiosity has lead me to ask by what system have you decided it.”
The Caterpillar stood upright and puffed, “It is because I have eaten it, and I know better. The apple is no middle fruit.”
The Woman laughed, “But it is an apple Master caterpillar… Why would I change what I know I like, for something that I may not like?
“Because if what you like is not as good as what you have, than what you have is not good at all.” Said the caterpillar.
“Master caterpillar, do you only eat the best leaves in the garden?”
The caterpillar paused to think about this question, and then pointed at the leaves on the tree in the middle. “Yes, I only eat of the leaves of the tree in the middle.” He said proudly.
“You have eaten of other trees, have you not?” she smiled in response.
“Yes, dear, of course I had, or I would not have known this to be the best tree.” Said the caterpillar.
“Master caterpillar, do you like the taste of apple leaves?”
“Yes, but they do not compare to the leaves of the middle tree.” The caterpillar motioned again.
“Master caterpillar, if the leaves of an apple do not compare to the leaves of the middle tree, than why do you compare them?” she asked.
The caterpillar stared at her for a moment and looked up. “What then young Maiden? Am I to eat a lesser leaf, when I can eat a better leaf.”
Master caterpillar looked agitated. “Certainly not Master caterpillar, eat what suits you best, but by your own admission, you do not believe the fruit of the middle tree to be comparable to the fruit of the apple tree, so then the apple is not lesser, just different.”
Wide eyed, the caterpillar looked the young woman in the eye. “Than I should settle for something that looks lesser than another, because it is actually equal and deserving of a fair tasting?” The caterpillar turned away from her in a snobbish motion.
“Master Caterpillar, looks do not always define the fruit. A pineapple does not look delicious, a grapefruit does not look sour, and a kiwi does not look sweet. It is not settling to appreciate each fruit for what it is. If you want to appreciate the middle fruit as your favorite, than please do what it is that makes you happy, but you should know that some will appreciate the apple just the same, and not think any less of the one who holds the middle fruit in such esteem.”
“Young girl, this is preposterous. What is ugly is ugly, and what is ugly is worse than what is beautiful. There is no in-between for the things that are, they are as sure as the rising and the setting of the sun.”
The young maiden took another bite out of apple and thought quietly for a moment, than opened her mouth to speak. “Truth is what it is, but one man’s truth can be another man’s ignorance Master caterpillar. I believe that an apple is just as valuable as the fruit in the middle, not because of how it looks, or even tastes, but because it is there. Its value is as a creation, not as an appreciation.” She held up the core in her hands and pointed at the seeds showing in it. “We have no idea what is planned for each individual creation. The apple might grow into a giant tree, or it might be laced with toxin and kill its benefactors. The value of the tree is found in its potential not to be one or the other, but to be both. Both the tree in middle, and the apple tree are to be respected the same for that potential, just as are you to be respected despite your tiny size and odd appearance.”
The caterpillar crossed his arms. “What does that mean, are you implying that I am not respected by those around me?!” His eyes furrowed in disgust.
“Master caterpillar, you are well loved for one day you will be something far more beautiful than you are even now.”
The caterpillar stood there for a moment in silence. The tears in his eyes began welling up. “You think I am beautiful, even though you see, my bitterness, and cynicism, my odd body, and tiny stature?”
“Master Caterpillar, you are beautiful and loved. I love you just as I love the decrepit apple. Although its beauty does not appear to compare to the beauty of the middle tree, I gaze upon it, and find that in its own beauty, it may surpass that of the tree which over shadows it, for its beauty and potential are hidden at its core, waiting for the moment to shine. The Tree in the middle has shown, and its days are merely numbered. Can you not see this Master Caterpillar?”
The caterpillar stared at both trees for a good while, and then looked at the woman in silence. After some time, he turned to her and shook his head in defiant tears, “I CANNOT!” he yelled. At that he hurried off into the bushes.
“One day you will Master Caterpillar.” She said into the wind. “On that day, I will look to the wind to find you.” At that, the woman stood up, and continued through the Garden.
The woman found in the Garden some leaves that had been sewn together as clothes. Next to these were skins of animals that had been burned together to make clothes as well. She looked curiously at these items. The woman herself walked through the Garden naked, just as she had walked everywhere. She saw by the structure of these clothes that they were made to cover up the flesh, but she had never seen clothes worn before. As she examined the clothes, a lamb was wondering by, and saw her. He walked up to her and prodded a question to her, “Why do you pretend to be me?”
The woman leaned down to speak to the little lamb. “Master lamb, I do not pretend to be you,” she noticed the lambskins that she was holding, “but it is others who are afraid, that would pretend to be you.”
The lamb was very concerned. “What am I that someone would pretend to be like me.” Said the lamb.
“You are innocent Master Lamb, for you do not know.” Said the woman.
“I have seen people pretending to be me before,” said the lamb. “It seems that they do not just want to be me, but they are afraid of something, for when they walk with their own skin, they hide from each other, yet when they are wearing my skin, they are hiding as well… I do not understand this. Are they not just as naked as before they pretended”
The woman smiled at the lamb. “Master Lamb, you are naked, as am I… but are you not afraid of something like those who pretend to be you?”
“No, ma’am. Though I am naked, my shepherd always loves me. If I were to be one lost in a herd of a thousand, my shepherd would leave them to find me. He sleeps in the doorway of the coral so that no robbers, or wolves might take me. What does it matter if I a naked, for I am loved.” The sheep looked at the woman for some insight.
“I have heard of these who pretend to be you. They claim that they know they are safe and loved. They believe that because they clothe themselves in the clothing of one who knows this, they can fool the shepherd into loving them as well, but a man in a sheepskin does not fool the shepherd. And neither are you.” Said the woman.
“Why does the human pretend to be sheep then?” asked the lamb.
“Because the human doesn’t think he will be loved as a human, flawed and naked, but he sees how the shepherd takes care of his sheep, and so he clothes himself in your innocence hoping to take some of your love for himself.”
The Lamb recoiled from the woman. “there was a time when I saw humans in their own skin, in their own herds. I had seen that they loved each other then, why can’t they love each other now.”
The woman smiled again, “They are not ready to wear their own skin until they can be sure that their herd will not leave them.”
The Lamb cocked his head, “ But even if the flock leaves, the shepherd will always bring one back to the flock?”
“It seems that man does not understand this Master Lamb.” She responded.
“Until they do understand they will keep pretending to be me?” asked the Lamb.
“Until my kind, understands trust and love, their shame will have them trying to be anyone but themselves… But you master Lamb, continue in your joy, for your shepherd, who pretends to be you by clothing himself in your skin will always take joy in you, although he will not take joy from anyone who offers it to him.” At that, the lamb bowed his head, and continued on its way. The woman dug into the earth with her hands and buried the clothes in the ground.
Crying a tear for them, she uttered, “May your death be more than a curtain to hide behind for the lives of those who wore you.” After she had paid these respects, she looked to the Sun, smiled, and continued on her walk.
As she neared the end of the Garden, the Serpent from before came to her. He slithered in front of her way so that she could no longer pass and said, “Young Maiden, you are still here in my Garden. Have you reconsidered my offer to stay with me.”
“Master Serpent,” the Woman started, “It is good to see you again. But I have not reconsidered leaving this place of wonder and mystery.”
“I had warned you to stay here at your own risk young child, and you have taken your time enjoying the cool of the Garden and using it to hide from the heat of the Sun. You have disregarded my warning, and now you must pay with your life.” Hissed the serpent.
“Master Serpent, I mean you no disrespect in my enjoyment of your garden, but I have not broken any rules that I can see. To break a rule, I must offend the proprietor of this Garden.”
“Dear Child, I am the proprietor of this establishment, and I am the one trusted with its running.” Replied the Serpent.
“Master Serpent, do we not all answer to someone else. Does not the ground allow you to slither across its surface, and does not the Lady in the Creek give of you her water? Do we not allow certain freedoms of all creatures? Does not the caterpillar eat freely of the leaves he chooses, and is not the Lamb free to ask what he chooses? The Lady of the Creek gives freely to all creatures, knowing that by giving she is truly the fullness of herself. How can you pass judgement on the garden, which you are an equal part of? How can you claim to be above the caterpillar, or the Lamb? Yes, you are a proprietor of this garden, but you are no more in charge than Master Lamb, or Master Caterpillar. All of you are trusted equally with its running.” The woman smiled at the Serpent, and waited for his response.
“Although one may be equal to another, he may still be greater Maiden, for it is not the equal potential which matters, but it is what is done with that potential.”
The Maiden began to chuckle, “Master Serpent, you are sly, but are you wise? Though one may use his potential more than another, he is still equal in potential. The balance of power is not maintained by willingness of a person to show his greatness, but by the willingness of a person to put that greatness aside for the sake of others.
Master Serpent, your greatness is well known for what it is that you do not do. You are well known for how you are sly, and how you do not have to work to live, how you do not have to question to know, or walk to move. These things do not amass to anymore than convenience. You are not like the Lady of the Creek, for she does not care that people understand her enormous potential for force, or the dependence that life has upon her. She exists to give, not to take, and she is given, though she never asks. You are not like the Lamb who questions to understand, rather than to prove. The lamb has more reason than you to demand an answer, and yet he demands nothing, not even the life back that is stolen from his kind, though you would demand what does not belong to you. You are not even like the caterpillar, for though he claims to like who he is, he shows remorse in his tears… this gentleness in his harshness will one day help him to shed his old skin and fly away beyond this land. But when you try to shed your skin, you remain the same, leaving about you skeletons of that which you hate in order to remind yourself how much you hate yourself. You and them are different, for they live to give, and you live to gain. But them and I are one, for I live to give as well… You see Master Serpent, I am not afraid of the Sun, for it brings me life as it does everything in this world, I give it freely just as I give it to you freely. If you want my life, it is yours.”The serpent looked her dead in the eyes and replied, “I know that I could take your life at any time, and this is enough satisfaction for me. Do not come back to this Garden again, unless you are prepared to stay here forever.”
The Woman smiled at the Serpent. “One day, I will come back to visit you, and on that day, we will enjoy each others company and appreciate Life together.” At that, the Woman stepped over the Serpent, and walked out of the Garden into the world of Time, where she was nineteen, and not so extraordinary, although somehow she seemed a little more extraordinary everyday.