“Hey buddy. How was school today?”
Mother’s intuition was not needed to see that something was wrong. After the dishes had been cleared from dinner Jimmy remained at the table with his chin in his hands.
“I’m never gonna do anything great” he mumbled.
Myra dried her hands and walked over to sit next to her troubled twelve year old. She wanted so badly to ruffle his messy brown hair like she had done when he was younger, but knew it would only arouse his ire.
“Why do you say that? I think you’re great right now.”
He let his hands drop and cocked his head to the side. “You only think that because you’re my mom.”
Myra held back a chuckle and tried to sound unbiased.
“Today was Field Day at school and it made me realize that I’m ok at a lot of things, but not great at anything. It was the same with the science fair. It’s the same with everything! I’m destined to be average.”
The sadness in his voice hurt his mother’s heart. It was her job to teach him that his destiny was not yet written. She thought for a moment before she remembered something that her grandfather had taught her as a little girl.
“Can I tell you a story. It’s something that my grandpa shared with me as a little girl and I have never forgotten.”
Jimmy crossed his arms and sighed before muttering, “I guess.”
“A long time ago there lived a king who had a beautiful daughter. He was a fair king and devised a test to find a suitor worthy of her hand. Every man in the kingdom would have an equal chance.”
Myra watched her son intently as she retold the tale. Her son was doing his best to look uninterested, but she knew that he had a weakness for a good story.
“A great crowd gathered in the courtyard of the king’s castle to hear about the challenge that would determine their future king. A great hush fell over the crowd as the king appeared to reveal his test. He said, ‘Within these walls there lies a great scale. On the day following the next full moon any man can prove his worth by bringing a stone to place on the scale. Whichever man places the most weight on the scale shall have my daughter’s hand.’ The crowd cheered with delight.
Eleven days passed and the people gathered once more in the courtyard on the morning after the full moon in anticipation of seeing their future king. It did not take long for a great sound to be heard in the distance. Gasps and laughter surrounded a small basket maker as he walked into the courtyard carrying a stone no bigger than his own head.
Cheers rumbled in the distance announcing as each new contestant neared. A blacksmith came with a great rock upon his shoulder. A knight staggered into the yard. In his arms he carried a stone as large as goat. Sweat poured from his brow as he struggled to bear the weight of the stone he hoped would win him the princess. Man after man disappeared into the castle to measure their great strength.”
Jimmy had barely moved, but his eyes danced as the story unfolded in his mind. Myra leaned in a bit closer as she continued.
“As the sun set the people waited for the king to come onto the balcony with his daughter and the man who had won her hand.
Accompanied by guards who held torches high, his majesty appeared escorting his daughter. He walked slowly to the railing and looked down upon the crowd. His voice boomed loud enough for all to hear when he asked, ‘Would you like to meet your champion?’
The crowd roared. But their cheers quickly turned to silence and confusion as the basket weaver appeared and took the hand of the princess.”
Before he could stop himself Jimmy blurted out, “What!?”
Myra could not hold back her laugh at his surprise. Having already broken his composure, her son continued, “That doesn’t make sense! The knight had a bigger stone.”
“I said the very same thing when I first heard it. Let me finish. The king explained what no one else had seen. He said, ‘Good people, I have given every man in the kingdom the same opportunity, but only one took full advantage of it. Those with great strength thought only to bring the largest stone they could carry. There is one, though, who has brought a stone each day since hearing my declaration. It is he who tipped the scale with the greatest weight.’ And so the small basket maker lifted more than the strongest men in the kingdom and became a king.”
Silence hung in the kitchen after Myra finished the story. Her son’s eyebrows scrunched together as he stared down at the table. There was still confusion in his eyes when he looked up at his mom and said, “I don’t get it.”
Her nose wrinkled from an embarrassed smile.
“Can I tell you a secret? Neither did I the first time I heard it.”
Jimmy chuckled and before long they were both laughing. When the giggles finally subsided Myra made sure she did not let the moment pass without her son understanding the important lesson at the root of the story.
“But now that I’m a bit older I do. It’s a lesson in worth. Some people are born with amazing gifts or skills, like the strong men in the story, that allow them to do some great things. But everyone can do something of worth. Everyone can show kindness or help someone in need. And here’s the secret…”
As she said this Myra leaned in and began to almost whisper.
“The value of our lives comes, not from those rare feats that are recognized by others, but from the total weight of our actions. The small things that you do to make someone smile or help them out, add up and become far more valuable than that single great act that you see people applaud.”
She waited for an answer but her son only nodded and hopped out of his chair. A moment later the thud of the front door closing echoed through the house.
Myra tried to shake off the feeling of failure from his quick exit and went back to washing the dishes. She never could tell the story as good as her Bubba. The hot water on her skin and task at hand was a welcome distraction.
After drying the dishes Myra turned around just in time to see her son walking away. She had not heard him come back inside, but before she called out to him she noticed something strange. On the table, where her son had been sitting, sat a rock.
A smile of pursed lips hid behind the hands that had risen to her mouth. She walked over to the table and for the first time saw a small piece of paper beneath the rough stone. She picked up the rock and stooped over to see what had been scribbled on the note. Tears quickly joined her once hidden smile. Myra held the stone in her hand as if it were made of gold. Wiping her tears aside, she read her son’s words once more.
Thanks for dinner and the story. They were both really good.
Copyright © 2012 Adam Drake