I love simple stories that teach, especially analogous ones. They last so much longer in the memory and therefore so does the lesson at the heart of them. This is one of my favourites.
I dedicate it to Soz, myself and anyone who needs to hear it right now:
A donkey was going for a walk on his farmers land one day and unfortunately fell down a dis-used well. The poor donkey was only slightly scratched but was in shock and fairly distressed because peering up into the shaft towards the light some distance above, he could see that climbing out of the well was not going to be an easy task.
The farmer had heard his pitiful wailing and came to see what had happened. His worried pacing up and down had not pacified the donkey as he could tell that the farmer could not decide how to get him out and he cried some more. Eventually the farmer decided the best thing to do would be to simply fill in and close up the well to avoid any more accidents and rather unfortunately for the donkey that meant sacrificing him to get the job done. Like most animals he was a lot smarter than the human gave him credit for and he had worked out what the farmer had decided to do.
The donkey yelled out in fear and distress to all the other other farm animals who heard him but although they were very sad they stayed put. Their various hands, paws, wings and hoofs were metaphorically and physically tied and they could do nothing to help. The farmer had rounded up some farm hands and they began shoveling earth down onto the frightened animal. He cried and cried as the earth rained down on his back. The terrified screeching and beseeching continued as he begged the stupid farmer to help him get out. The noise was horrifying…and then it stopped.
The farmer and the farm hands continued filling up the well with shovels regardless.
Some time later the farmer peered into the well to see how much more there was to fill and he was met with a great surprise. The donkey was still alive and although a little dusty had managed to climb to the top of the well. He watched some more and noticed how he had done it.
With every loaded shovel of dirt the donkey had shrugged it off his back and then climbed on top of it.
The next batch rained on him and he would do the same, shrugging each shovel full of dirt off his shoulders. When the donkey reached the top he climbed out of the well then relieved himself on the farmers boots and sauntered off…
Okay I added the last bit about relieving himself, but you get the picture.
Of course the moral of the story is that with every piece of crap that hits you, you must square yourself to shrug it off and rise above it. What happens to each of us is not nearly as important as our chosen reactions to overcome each problem. I don’t want to sound twee. Some of life’s unwelcome challenges will be harder to apply this to…but ultimately, if one is to continue to go on in strength it has to be applied…eventually.
It is a simple message. Use every difficulty as a stepping stone, shrug it off and step up!
I love to draw although I don’t have a lot of time to and I found this rather wonderful site which teaches how to draw cartoon characters by Martin Berube. This is where the rather splendid donkey which I shall name ‘Bananas‘ came from.
One of the potential problems of modern life today is the constant access to instant gratification. Sure we all love to get what we want RIGHT NOW! But that erodes the ability to be patient. When we are not patient we tend to do rash things and rash is an opposite energy to gritty determination. The pioneers of yesteryear had both the patience and the determination to build things that have stood the test of time. Simply put, patience is indeed a virtue and without it we lack the determination to succeed at things of substance which also stand the test of time.
Here is one of my favourite stories about such simple determination and patience.
May Savidge lived in a little cottage in a town called Hertfordshire in the UK in the 1950′s. She had bought it in 1947 at the age of 35 and as a self taught home improvement enthusiast was slowly restoring it. She had used a builder to repair the roof, but everything else such as the brick laying, carpentry, glazing and stripping of the plaster she had opted to do by hand.
Then, one day the council informed her that they were going to demolish her house to make way for a road – a rash decision that would not be taken today as historical properties are now listed and protected.
Whilst Ms Savidge was renovating she had uncovered a lot of evidence that she was living in a home that dated back to medieval times, such as Tudor fireplaces and the floorboard wood work of medieval carpenters. It had been recognized as such by the architectural historians May had brought to see it. So she could not bear the idea of destroying such an important part of the national heritage.
The Lioness was awoken.
She dug her heels in and refused to move whilst she fought the council for the next 15 years! Then she came up with the impossible idea of relocating the whole house lock stock and barrel elsewhere. To get started she decided she would number each wooden beam and every pane of glass so that the whole building could be reassembled like a jigsaw puzzle. Because of her inexperience she used greasproof paper and crayons to trace over samples of brickwork so she could determine how thick to lay the mortar.
As the house was slowly dismantled she still had to remain in it, sleeping in the freezing cold, under the wintry sky exposed by a gradually disappearing roof. She would say, ‘ I just won’t have such a marvelous old house bulldozed into the ground. I’ve got nothing to do all day so I might as well do it myself.’
As more and more people got to hear of her story they would send her money to help her out. She eventually found a new place in Norfolk, in the east of England and began the arduous task of transferring the house literally brick by brick. It took a large lorry 11 round trips to carry every part of the house.
Once relocated to Norfolk, she stayed in a caravan with her beloved dog whilst the house was being rebuilt. It was desperately cold but she refused to give up stating that she was brought up on the maxim that there was no such word as ‘can’t.’
A whole two years later the framework was fixed to the foundation by a local carpenter and May had started on the brickwork. She had no experience of brick laying but was determined to fit each brick perfectly. It took a further eight years of May’s tortoise-speed building before the place could be made water tight and the roof added.
When she was in her 70′s she finally was able to move in and continued to build her cottage, climbing the scaffolding day by day despite her age. The Queen having heard of her endeavour and recognizing her strength and British Bulldog spirit had invited her to the palace in 1986.
As she got older, the work started to slow somewhat as she could no longer handle the heavy lifting. When she died aged 81 in 1993 the walls were up, the roof was done and it was her niece who put the final touches to her aunts dream with money raised from selling May’s valuable hoard of memorabilia. She had succeeded in moving her house across Britain, brick by brick so it would not be destroyed and it still stands today as a little bed and breakfast outlet run by that same niece.
To make a potentially unkind comparison, I had a friend who had wanted to explore renovating houses, selling them, then finding a new property to renovate buoyed by the profit of the previous sale and so on. As we chatted about the process and what would be involved, it became clear that some kind of caravan would be needed to sleep at the properties when the houses were not of commuting distance and my friend and his pals could then return home at weekends – or indeed any time they needed to…
That simple realization brought the plans to a screeching halt. The comparison is of course that my friend was a strapping man who would have had the camaraderie and support of his pals throughout the job, compared to a lone woman who started the incredible move in her fifties. A modern caravan would be warm and dry, with easy access by car to travel home to warm hugs, showers, tea and biscuits, or potentially the property being renovated could be also lived in, as opposed to 25 years of single handed building with little respite.
It is our tendency as modern day folks to focus not on what we want to achieve but how difficult it might be that separates us from the pioneers or the May Savidge’s of the world.
Like most things in life, achievement is a matter of simple choice. We can opt to be the folks who can always splutter out 20 reasons why everything is impossible, or we can be the ones who persist and insist on only seeing the end goal.
The words above are from me. The pics and the original story is from ‘Miss Savidge Moves Her House,’ by Christine Adams with Michael McMahon.
I have placed an affiliate link to Amazon below for those of you interested in pursuing this very interesting story. It is first time I have gone to Amazon and read a sneak preview, then found myself squeaking petulantly with great disappointment when the excerpt finished far too soon. P.
This story never gets old:
A business man was on vacation on a beautiful island. The pace was slow and the people seemed easy going and… well… simple. One day he hired a local fisherman to take him out on his boat. The scenery was incredible. The fishing was plentiful and the island was undisturbed and quiet. Recognizing opportunity, the business man turned to his guide and said, ‘With all this at our disposal I could really change your life.’ ‘Really?’ the fisherman replied. The business man said, ’Yes, why we could catch and sell fish by the boat loads. Nobody comes here so there is no competition. With some creative marketing we could do something that could change you and your families lives for generations.’
The fisherman could not think of what could change that would make him happier or affect his family for the better but he he took the bait and enquired some more.
The businessman began to lay out how they could create a large fishing export company and make lots of money for him. The Fisherman replied, ‘Then what?’ The businessman motivated by the fisherman’s continuing enquiry said, ‘Well, we’ll grow the fishing business into a large company and then we can create a wholesale fish exchange.’ ‘Then what?’ enquired the fisherman, ‘With tailored marketing and my business contacts we can bring in other fishermen to work for you.’ He answered, ‘Then what?’ ‘Well, perhaps eventually, for a season you would probably have to move to the mainland while we developed the business side together’. ‘Then what?’ ‘Well this is where it gets really good,’ said the businessman, ‘After a few good years of growth we can take the company international, go public and then put the company up for sale and make a whole load of cash out of it!’ Still seeking clarification, the fisherman asked yet again, ‘Then what?’ ’Well,’ the businessman said, a little exasperated, ‘Then I guess you can retire and move somewhere remote and spend your days kicking back, doing the fishing that you love, taking siestas and enjoying your life’. Grinning the fisherman asked, ‘Oh, Like now?’
Like the fisherman, I like my life to be a life in constant review. Open to new ideas. Open to challenging previously accepted beliefs and open to making sure that I allow enough contemplation time to decipher that I have not become a dog pointlessly chasing my own tail or I am not just mindlessly performing societies required daily rituals without assessing if they are resulting in the desired lifestyle for me and most importantly ensuring my freedom and keeping me happy. Because of this you can ask me at any point about the purpose of what I am doing and I can reel off a million reasons and explanations…with diagrams too if you would like.
I do not find this to be a common trait.
I often ask people who come to me for advice after getting into a spot of bother, why they did what they have chosen to do that brought them their troubles and I am regularly met with an eternal blank expression and a senseless shrug.
The complete opposite to mindful living.
So feel welcome to take this opportunity, as I have done again whilst writing this piece, to ask yourself:
Is what I am doing everyday likely to bring me the results that I have always wanted?
Do I still remember why I’m doing what I’m doing?
Like the fisherman’s tourist, am I already surrounded by everything that I TRULY need and yet cannot see it?
Am I still in charge of my life and the direction it is taking? If not, what can I do to bring it back on track?
Like the fisherman’s tourist, am I seeking tons of money or in fact happiness? And have I confused the two?
I’ve always liked this story. It’s a simple tail (cough!) and child-like but it makes it’s point well.
I also thought it was fitting as the UK burns with riots…
A mouse looked through the crack in the wall and saw the farmer and his wife open a package. “What food might this contain?” the mouse wondered. He was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap! Running panicked to the farmyard, the mouse shouted: “There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!” The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said “Mr.Mouse, I can tell this is of grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it.”
The mouse turned to the pig and told him “There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!” The pig sympathized, but said “I am so very sorry, Mr.Mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray. Be assured you are in my prayers.”
The mouse turned to the cow and said “There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!” The cow said “Wow, Mr. Mouse. I’m sorry for you, but I’ve got a busy schedule making milk.” So, the mouse returned to the house, head down, feeling isolated and dejected, to face the farmer’s mousetrap alone.
That night there was plenty of commotion in the house. The mousetrap had clamped down on its prey. The farmer’s wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she did not see it was a venomous snake whose tail the trap had caught. The snake bit the farmer’s wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital and she returned home with a fever.
Everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup, so the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup’s main ingredient. But his wife’s sickness continued, so friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig. The farmer’s wife did not get well and she died. So many people came for her funeral, the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide enough meat for all of them.
The mouse looked upon it all from his crack in the wall with great sadness. So, the next time you hear someone is facing a problem and think it doesn’t concern you, we should all remember that when one of us is threatened, we are all at risk. Today, what happens in other countries, cultures and even private homes and communities affects us all…eventually.
We are all inter-connected and involved in this journey called life. Each of us is a vital thread in another person’s tapestry.