Parable for the Short-sighted
There once was a king who had three beautiful daughters. The first daughter was tall, dark-haired and witty. She spent her time in the stables, laughing with the stable-hands, and riding around the king’s large garden on her favourite pony. The second daughter was shorter, blonde and gentle. She spent her time in the stables, grooming the ponies, and wandering around the garden watching the birds. The third daughter was also tall and dark-haired, like the first, but quiet and studious. She also happened to be short-sighted, and liked to spend her time with her nose in a book or lying in the garden watching the ants.
Now, the king was getting older and perhaps a little foolish. He decided to test his daughters’ love for him. They were summoned to his throne room to sit at his feet. He told them that they must go into the garden and bring back the most precious thing they could find, to show him how much they loved him. The first daughter rushed off immediately, knowing exactly what she was going to bring back. The second daughter left next and headed for the orchard. The third daughter sat and thought for a while.
Here is what they brought back.
A black, scented rose:
A late apple blossom:
“Our garden is so fertile that the apples blossom twice. No other kingdom produces so many delicious fruits, father” said the second daughter. The king was very pleased and he sniffed delicately at the blossoms.
“Without the unseen and unthanked earthworms, our garden would not be so beautiful or fertile, father” said the third daughter. The puzzled king looked down at the cold, squirming creature that his daughter had placed gently in his hand. He recoiled and dropped it. Then he swelled with rage and sent everyone scurrying out of the throne room.
That evening the third daughter found herself being escorted to a carriage. She had been banished. There had only been time to pack a small bag and she wasn’t allowed to say goodbye to her sisters. Tears flowed quietly down her cheeks onto the ground. Perhaps it was these salty tears that did it but no-one really knows why; that evening the worms started to leave the garden as well. Slowly, slowly, unseen and unthanked.
Well, the years turned, the king grew older and died, and the two princesses took over the kingdom. The first daughter was well-loved by the people and was always seen out-and-about visiting all four corners of the kingdom. The second daughter was also always out-and-about, helping the sick and the needy. Everybody agreed that the two princesses were doing a wonderful job. Nobody noticed that the apple trees in the royal garden no longer blossomed twice and that there were no more black roses. At least, not at first.
One day, when the princesses had almost-grown children of their own, the first daughter thought back to the day that the king banished her sister. It was something that she had tried to forget. “How could my sister have been so foolish?” she thought, but then she looked out at the garden and was shocked. The soil was packed hard and dust blew around the skeletal bushes and trees. There were no flowers or fruit this year and she had hardly noticed. The palace staff had worked hard not to let the shortage affect the princesses and their families.
Soon after, a carriage pulled up outside the cottage where the third daughter had made her home. When she heard her sister’s request she quickly packed bags for herself and her three daughters. “We’re going to visit your aunts,” she told them. She bundled them into the carriage and hurried into the cottage for one last thing. “Can’t leave without this,” she told the driver, and held up an empty box. The driver was even more puzzled when she bent down and scooped a handful of earth into the box. He could have sworn he saw something wriggling in there before she closed the lid.
[Note added 16/01/14: A friend was bothered that the king never got to see his error. That is one of the main points of the parable – the ecological impact of our actions often affects not us but our children and our children’s children.]