THE WISDOM OF INNOCENCE
A modern day Jack and the Beanstalk
Once upon a time there was a grown up. He’d listened and learned from his parents, his teachers and the media and following their expert advice he’d done well in the big wide world. He’d started a company, worked hard every day, and built himself a good little earner. He knew how to navigate the terrain of business, of finance, of trade, in fact he excelled. After a while he had enough money to buy his ‘castle’. He bought the very best penthouse at the top of a very high building overlooking the city he worked in. He clapped his hands as he realised he’d ‘made it’. He had the home, the fine furniture, the car, the swimming pool, the hot tub, the view…. This was his domain. What an accomplished man he was. A success. A man to be looked up to. A man to inspire.
A little while later he found the missing part of the jigsaw puzzle – the wife. She was beautiful, intelligent, elegant. She was a great conversationalist, an excellent hostess and the perfect partner. They travelled the world in style, visiting every capital city and even extending their visits to incorporate all the top ancient sites. All around their apartment were photographs taken at the top of the Eiffel Tower, the top of the Shanghai Tower and even at the top of the Burj Khalifa. Other photographs were displayed of the couple at the top of Uluru, the top of Machu Picchu and the top of Table Mountain. He even paid a guard to look the other way while they climbed to the top of the Great Pyramid on Egypt’s Giza Plateau to see the sun rise over the horizon.You see he was a man who insisted on getting to the top of everything.
He wasn’t the most tolerant of men. His quick thinking left many trailing in his mental wake and he had little patience for those who were slower-witted than himself. He could understand a problem in the snap of the fingers, point out the fault line, and instigate a plan of action.
After sampling the delights of every country in the world, after triumphing in every business deal, after trying every kind of cuisine, after realising he could do anything he ever wanted, the colour of the sky began to dim, the taste of the food on his expensive plates began to wane, the touch of his wife’s silky skin began to pall.
Even his bright young son’s light diminished in his eyes and in his heart.
You see his son flummoxed him. He’d wanted a boy who was a ‘chip off the old block’, who would listen to his father, absorb his wisdom and grow to be a powerfully successful man just like him. But the boy showed no interest in his fathers words or his business. He preferred to gaze out of the window as the clouds drifted by and watch raindrops trickle down the glass. Sometimes he found his son sitting by the pool on the roof terrace sharing his morning toast with a tribe of birds. He didn’t know the boy wondered why his parents never spent time out there with him enjoying the fruits of their success.
One weekend morning Jack was sitting out by the pool sharing his toast with the birds, when his Dad came out still in his pyjama’s. He had a big bowl of coffee from which the steam spiralled up and then slid away on the warm, light summer breeze.
‘Mind if I join you?’ he asked his son with his usual polite and distant manner.
‘Of course Dad, be my guest,’ Jack replied.
His Dad pulled out a chair, sat down heavily, placed his coffee bowl on the table and gazed blankly in to the distance. The birds retreated to the wall edging the terrace and Jack tore up the last of his toast throwing the crumbs towards them.
“Can I ask you a question Jack?’
‘What do you like about your life?’
It was a very unusual question coming from his Dad. He normally asked him if he’d done his homework or how well he was doing at school, if he asked questions at all. Thinking about it his Dad was more the sort of person to tell you things rather than ask you things. So he paused before he spoke because he wanted to make sure he did the question justice.
‘I love the feel, the smell and the taste of the wind. I love the feel, the smell and the taste of the rain. When I smell and taste them they tell me where they’ve been and I can see the places they’ve flown across like the ocean or the mountains. I love their ever changing personalities and when they come here together, well, we have great conversations.’ He paused for a moment to take a quick look at his Dad who sat transfixed with a crease across his forehead staring at his son as if he was some strange unknown creature. Jack knew this was going to be hard for his Dad to hear but he was going to share his heart come what may. After all, the breeze had whispered to him to share the warmth of his love for life with this man who had become more steel and stone than heart and bone.
‘I love the smell and feel of soil in my fingers. I love learning how well it loves to grow things like flowers and herbs. I love bringing seeds to life watching new flowers crawl and climb out of the soil to share their beautiful shapes and colours with me. I love the way herbs grow to help heal us and when I rub them between my fingers the scent makes me feel so well and happy.’
‘When do you do all that, Jack?’ asked his Dad.
‘Look around you Dad. I grew all of this….’
As if for the first time his father looked around the terrace and saw planters and pots all overflowing with life. Tall sunflowers nodded their proud heads, geraniums radiated their reds and oranges, small fields of lavender shivered in troughs. Among the colours were shrubs of thyme and oregano.
‘What about you Dad? What do you like about your life?’
There was a long silence but Jack knew to wait.
‘I have it all Jack. Look around you. I created all this. With the money I’ve made I’ve bought the best and most expensive of everything. We want for nothing.’ He paused again, shook his head and looked sad. Jack thought how little life flowed through his father. When he looked at his plants, or at the little birds who shared his breakfast, he could sense their aliveness vibrating through every tiny cell of their being. But when he looked at his father he was like a lion without his roar, a dragon without his fire, or even a champagne bottle without its cork.
His Dad leaned forward putting his elbows on the table and lacing his fingers together propped his chin upon his thumbs.
‘I have conquered every challenge Jack. There isn’t anything left for me to do. And I have found out this awful truth. That for all my striving, and all my success, when you get it all, life becomes a dry and dismal desert. And all the things which cost a fortune seem to have no value whatsoever. You have disappointed me too Jack, because I wanted you to be like me, but you refused. Now I realise that I have forgotten how to see the world and I need you to remind me how.’
‘Okay,’ said Jack
‘What do I have to learn son?’
‘You have to unlearn Dad. So tell me why you became a business man?’
‘My teachers and your Granddad told me that what I wanted was impossible. I’d never be able to have a good life if I did what I really wanted. So I decided to show them that nothing is impossible. I thought when I became successful I could do what I wanted which was have a great home, a cool car, a beautiful wife, travel the world, buy whatever I wanted whenever I wanted and have a son to carry on the business…..’
‘Of course I wanted all those things but I think there was something else I can’t quite remember…’
‘Yes you can Dad,’ whispered the boy
His Dad sniffed. Frowned. Looked around. And as if for the first time noticed the air was laden with the scent of flowers and herbs and the buzzing of bees. He looked strangely shy for a moment before saying, ‘It sounds silly but I wanted to look after bees and photograph them.’
“Let me show you something Dad,’ said Jack and taking him by the hand led him around a corner from the pool to a little hidden space.
And there was a bee hive…
‘But how did this happen?’ asked his astonished father.
‘I heard that if we lose our bees then we can’t survive. So I thought I better try and save them. Trouble is although I’ve managed to set up the hive, get a swarm of bees, I’m worried about the next steps even though I’ve read all I can on the internet.’
For the next few hours Jack and his Dad sat cross-legged discussing and sharing everything they knew about bee-keeping and honey production. Over the weekend out came the camera and his Dad took photo after photo of the bees as they busied themselves among the greenery. By the time they got to Sunday evening, the pallor of his fathers face had been replaced by a blush from the sun and a surge of life-force.
Jacks Dad realised that his son was a ‘chip off the old block’ after all!
Over the next year they worked side by side every moment they could and eventually collected their first harvest of honey. They called it Roof Terrace Honey, made a logo and filled glass jars with the golden nectar rich in nutrients and imbued with their love. Then they gave it away to people in their block of apartments, to Jacks Dad’s employees as well as to some of his Clients.
What happened next was a big surprise. It seemed that Jacks Dad’s business empire was built on very shaky foundations and all of a sudden the whole enterprise collapsed and he lost everything. The company closed, the apartment had to go, the flash cars were taken away and they were left with very little. Hundreds of people lost their jobs. His face was plastered across the news and for a while he was ‘public enemy number one’.
‘Son, I’ve messed up badly. We’ve lost everything. I am so sorry. I don’t know what to do.’
‘But Dad, we are still alive, we have air to breath, water to drink, photographs to take and bees to look after.’
‘That is never going to be enough…’ came the gloomy response. Jacks Dad had changed quite a lot since doing what he’d always wanted to do. He was less tyrannical and far more open but right then had lost his ability to think on his feet, no quick solutions had come to stop the catastrophe and he was shackled by shame.
‘It’s going to be okay Dad. We have each other and we’ll get by I’m sure of it.’
And for some reason the innocent words of the boy touched the grown up’s heart and he felt a teeny weeny bit lighter.
They found somewhere else to live. A small house with a garden not far from the city. The mother, no longer simply a symbol of Jacks Dads success became the mother and wife she’d always wanted to be. Father and son brought all the plants to their new garden as well as the hive and carried on with their united passion, pouring their hearts and souls in to the little buzzing colony. While Jack was at school his father communed with the bees via the lens of his camera and some extraordinary images emerged.
What happened next was a big surprise. They received messages that their honey was curing people of their hay fever. It was a very bad year for hay fever, but their honey was doing the trick. Before long a local newspaper ran the story and a TV crew came and interviewed them. They were the only bee-keepers for miles and became a local sensation. Local artisan shops and health food stores begged for their product, art galleries begged for the bee photographs and before they knew it they had a thriving honey industry and had to buy more hives for their extraordinarily productive bees. Jacks Dad realised that he had conquered something new – failure! And he also had everything he’d ever wanted. His shackles fell away and the colours and textures of life returned in abundance.
Of course they had to change the name of the honey as they no longer lived on top of the world. Following their hearts come what may, they’d tapped in to the collaborative essence of nature and discovered that nothing is impossible. So they decided to call their beautiful healing nectar Happy Heart Honey – and it was as good as its word.