by David Norris 8/2/17
It was a sunny summer day and the children were playing in the field. In the distance they saw an old man with a cane, struggling to walk in the noon day heat.
As was the custom and courtesy of those days, the children invited the old man to sit with them under the shade of a great willow tree. They offered him water to drink and what simple food they had with them, some fruit, and bread, and cheese.
The old man was grateful for their friendliness and the refreshments. His new acquaintances were so lively and curious, that he felt it only fitting to pay them in return for their kindness with some stories that he would conjure up specifically for them.
The children gathered around him in a half circle as he straightened his back and sat upright against the trunk of the mighty tree. He rested his cane in his lap, closed his eyes, cleared his throat, paused, and then began to speak.
For a long time he shared one great tale of adventure after another, covering subjects such as history, philosophy, science, and religion, all in a language that the children could understand and appreciate.
He shared tales about many things, fools and kings, cabbages and rings. He told them about Gods, monsters, and magic from ancient civilizations around the world. The children were captivated, their eyes wide with wonder.
Their school teachers had never talked about these things the way the old man did; he brought the subjects to life.
Eventually the sun began to lower and the daylight waned, the children knew it was time to head to their homes for supper. The old man stood, brushed himself off and thanked them again for their company and kindness. They asked if he could come again tomorrow with more stories, and he was happy to oblige them.
This is how the long hot summer proceeded for the children and the old man; each day before the sun had reached its highest point, he would arrive, making a seat for himself at the base of the willow tree, where they would be waiting. They would share whatever foods they had brought with each other, and after a while, he would wipe his face with a handkerchief, straighten up against the tree and begin to speak.
As each day came to an end, the old man would encourage the children to read more on their own time, they could read more about what he had talked about so they could verify what he said, and make the learning go deeper, that life was all about learning, and that the more they learned the richer their lives would be.
He would also ask them two questions at the end of every gathering, the same two questions each time. Not for them to answer him in that moment, but to, as he put it, “ponder over the summer.” His twinkling eyes, and broad smile suggesting that it might make for a good conversation sometime later.
All summers come to an end, and this one was no exception. The days grew shorter, and the nights began to cool. Soon school would start again for the children, and their time would not be their own. They gathered at the willow tree on their last day of summer, but the old man never appeared. They talked amongst themselves, snacked, and dozed under the shade of the tree. They wondered if they would ever see him again.
Fall arrived, shortly followed by winter. Now and then, two or three of them would walk past the field to see if there was any sign of the old man.
In the spring a few of the children began to gather at the willow tree, recounting the tales he shared with them, and even writing some of them down. When summer arrived more of them showed up under the tree, this time they had brought books to read and note pads to write on. They had discussions, and told stories of their own. As time passed, their friendship and understanding deepened.
Now and then, one of the children would ask if anyone remembered the questions the old man used to ask them at the close of each day during that magic Summer?
He asked them “What is it that holds every living thing, including you and I, together?” Then he would scan their little faces, and looking at them directly in the eye he would say, “What is your question?”
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