The Traveler and the True Believer
a modern parable
Briseadh na Faire
A little girl picked wildflowers in the meadow one bright fine spring-summer’s day. It was not too hot, and not too cold, just the perfect weather for picking flowers. Off in the distance, a stranger watched. He wore a green cloak, pulled down to reveal his white hair, and carried a white staff with odd symbols carved in it. He stood silently as the girl chased butterflies and laughed and plucked another colored prize amongst the wild grasses.
She quite unexpectedly came across the stranger.
“Oh! Who are you?” she asked, taking a step back.
“Just a man, traveling through this beautiful meadow of yours.”
“Oh.” she said, and then her brow furrowed, “Are you a True Believer?”
“I don’t know. What is a True Believer?”
“Well, if you don’t know if you’re a True Believer, you can’t possibly be a True Believer.”
“Because a True Believer would know if he was a True Believer.”
“Ok. You’ve got me there.” the stranger sat on a tuft of grass. “I do have certain beliefs, but I am a stranger to these parts. I do not know what you mean when you say ‘True Believer’.”
The little girl thought about this unexpected response for a short while. The stranger seemed kind, and his sitting cross-legged in the grass set her at ease.
“A True Believer” the girl began, then she hesitated, the words of her teachers all flowing into her head at once, and at once became an undecipherable jumble. Slowly they sorted themselves out. “A True Believer believes in the One True Interpretation of Everything.”
“Oh” the stranger replied, “in that case, I am a True Believer.”
The girl breathed what appeared to be a sigh of relief. “Then you believe that God is good and people are bad and the only way to get to heaven is to believe in God?”
“Who told you that?”
“My teachers.” the girl fidgeted, obviously uncomfortable with the question.
“And you trust your teachers, don’t you?” the stranger’s blue eyes seemed to hide the knowledge of the truth.
“Of course!” she stood up, indignant at the suggestion that her teachers might have deceived her.
“Of course.” the stranger stood, as if to turn away. “But….how do you know your teachers know the One True Interpretation of Everything?”
The little girl sat down as hard as if she had just been struck in the forehead.
The stranger smiled one of those reassuring smiles that seemed to tell the little girl that she didn’t have to answer his question. “Of course, you believe your teachers. All children trust and believe their teachers.” He paused, and watched the child as she relaxed, reassured.
“In my travels,” the stranger continued, “I have learned of many different beliefs. Beliefs about God, beliefs about people.” The stranger paused.
“He is not a True Believer.” the little girl thought. The warnings of her teachers clamored in her head like the bell at the fire department ringing the alarm.
“Your teachers have taught you certain things.” the stranger continued, “Undoubtedly they have taught you that anyone who challenges their teachings is to be distrusted.”
The little girl was stunned. How did this stranger know what her teachers have taught her?
“Look here.” The stranger directed her gaze to a spider’s web. A butterfly was ensnared, and faced certain doom. “Is the spider evil?”
“Yes,” the girl replied without hesitation, “it’s going to kill that beautiful butterfly.”
“Ah, but the spider must kill to survive. Today it is this butterfly. Tomorrow it may well be a moth whose offspring would destroy crops, or a mosquito that spreads disease. So, is the spider evil?”
“Well, I guess it depends.” the girl was thoughtful. “If you were the butterfly, you would certainly think it was evil.”
“and the moth, the mosquito, or anything else that happens to get caught in its web.” the stranger added. “But the spider has a part to play, a job to do. It lives by destroying lives.”
The two sat silent for awhile. This was something her teachers had never taught her – that in Nature, things that destroy – can also be good. A shadow of an eagle flying overhead broke her thoughts.
“Some people,” the stranger finally spoke, “are like this spider. They are good, or bad, depending upon whether you are caught in the web, or grateful the spider got rid of a bug that would later harm you.”“In everything there is either growth or death.” the stranger continued. “We say that things that help growth are good, things that cause death are bad.”
The little girl looked down at her bouquet of wildflowers. Suddenly she realized that in picking the flowers, she killed them. She was bad. But she didn’t mean to be bad. She felt horrible.
“What if,” the stranger continued, “what if we got rid of the notion that people are good or bad?”
The little girl looked up.
“What if we accept that people are people, that they do the best they can at any moment of time?” The stranger plucked a nearby blue flower and handed it to the little girl. She looked at him, a puzzled look in her eyes.
“Yes,” the stranger said, as if reading her question, “some people do horrible things. They hurt and even kill other people. But are they not like the spider?”
The girl looked again at the spider’s web. The butterfly was struggling. The spider was approaching. She took up a twig from the ground and with a whip of her wrist she tore through the web. “BE FREE!” she exclaimed, as the butterfly flew away.
The stranger stood. She looked up at him. He smiled. She slowly got to her feet. He was peering intently into her eyes.
“What?” she asked.
“And now you know.”
“That it is not a matter of good or bad. That it is a matter of living…of helping….of loving.”
Overhead, the eagle cried.
“Of loving?” the girl asked.
“Yes. For you so loved the beauty of the butterfly that you chose to set it free.”
And a flood of thoughts overwhelmed the little girl. Her teachers were wrong…her teachers were right… but…. here was a stranger who understood….understood good and bad…in a way her teachers didn’t. And a calmness settled over her.
“It’s not really about being a True Believer, is it?” her eyes had tears in them. “it is a matter of living…of helping….of loving?”
She blinked up at the stranger as her eyes watered up. She rubbed her eyes. When she removed her hands, the stranger had disappeared, but the butterfly circled around her head.
© 2014 Briseadh na Faire