Once upon a time a young farmer was going to travel to the big city to buy some supplies. His father reminded him of the supplies they needed. His mother told him not to forget to be careful and watch out for thieves and avoid the taverns. His wife asked him to buy her a comb but, knowing her husband had to remember many things, pointed to the crescent moon and told him that looking at the moon in the sky would remind him of the comb she wanted. The farmer spent several days in the city to gather the supplies he needed and, finally ready to return home, found that he forgotten what his wife had asked for. Then he remembered to look at the moon which, by this time, was full and round, and he remembered that his wife had asked for something the shape of the moon. Entering the nearest shop he asked the shopkeeper for something round like the moon. The shopkeeper offered the farmer a mirror saying, “just as you requested, as round as the moon.” The farmer, never having seen a mirror, was very impressed and was certain that it would please his wife. When he presented his wife with the mirror she was disappointed that it was not the comb she had asked for. But, worse than that, when she looked into the mirror, she saw the face of a pretty young woman. She was shocked and outraged that her husband had returned from the city with another woman and she ran to her mother-in-law saying, your son has brought home a young woman from the city!” The mother-in-law looked into the mirror and said, “you are mistaken, it is not a young woman he has brought back but an old woman. What is he thinking bringing that old crone here?” The wife said, “she is no crone. She’s young and pretty.” The mother-in-law protested and put the mirror on the table while she and her daughter-in-law argued. The farmer’s son came into the kitchen and grabbed a rice cake to snack on and, seeing the mirror on the table, saw a young boy eating the very same rice cake. He shouted at the boy, “hey, don’t eat my rice cake! Give it back.” But the boy looked angry, kept the rice cake and seemed to be yelling back at the boy. The boy’s grandfather came into the room to see why his grandson was upset. His grandson cried, “grandfather, there’s a boy there who is stealing my rice cake.” The grandfather picked up the mirror and, seeing an old man staring back, was shocked to see that it was his own father returned from the grave.” He put the mirror down and bowed to the spirit of his father and asked forgiveness for his rudeness. The farmer entered the house to find his entire family crying and upset. “What has happened here?” he shouted. Everyone spoke at once. “Why have you brought home a young woman?” his mother shouted, “how dare you waste your money on that old hag!” His father looked stricken as he bowed low on the floor and his son was crying with a rice cake in his hand. His wife grabbed his hand and, holding the mirror in her other hand, dragged him to the local magistrate with the entire family following. The wife placed the mirror down in front of the magistrate and began to explain what had happened. The magsitrate picked up the mirror and was shocked to see a new government official in the robes of office and said, “finally, my replacement has shown up and I can leave this town.” He called to his servant to begin packing. Everyone reached for the mirror at once and it was knocked off the magistrate’s desk and smashed into a thousand pieces. Everyone was puzzled as to what had become of the person they had seen. “Good riddance,” said the wife.
Thursday, February 25, 2021
Saturday, February 20, 2021
Once upon a time in a land where marriages were typically arranged and it was not uncommon for the betrothed to meet only on their wedding day, there was a young woman who was the pride of her village. She was much beloved and respected for her kindness, intelligence and beauty. So when she learned that her betrothed was not only intelligent but also considered the wisest person of his village, she, her family, and her community were all quite excited. As the bridegroom’s party arrived in the bride’s village for the ceremony, excitement rose. Everyone, and especially the bride, was excited to meet this young man about whom they had heard so much. The groom entered the wedding hall and a gasp of shock went around the room. The wedding guests were shocked to see that the groom was twisted and deformed – his back was hunched over and there was a great lump on it and one of his legs was twisted in a most unnatural way. Before anyone could say anything, the groom held up his hand and said, “Yes, I know my appearance is shocking and for this I beg your patience. I have only one request: that I be allowed to speak with the bride privately for a few moments. After that, I will abide whatever decision she makes without complaint.” Though strange, this nonetheless seemed a reasonable enough request and many of the assembled hoped that, indeed, the groom would be headed back to his village before long. The bride and groom went to one end of the hall where they sat facing each other ata respectful distance and spoke quietly for some minutes. No one could hear what was said. They could see that the bride looked away often from the sight that was before her. After some time, they stood and approached the assembled.
Thursday, February 18, 2021
“My king, please do not be angry with me. When I learned of your command, I flew over the world to see what marvels there were. I flew over oceans and deserts, forests and fields and gardens, homes and farms and cities. I have seen the earth teeming with life. And I have learned much. Now I know that you like riddles and that your Queen, who has asked for a palace made of bird beaks, is a master of riddles. Would you grant me asking you three riddles? And should you be unable to answer even one, might you spare my life?” The hoopoe looked past Solomon to see the queen standing and listening.
The birds gasped to hear the hoopoe dare to bargain with the king. But Solomon admired the hoopoe’s boldness and said, “ask your riddles.”
The hoopoe said loudly for all to hear, “Who is it, my king, who was never born and never will die?”
Solomon smiled and said instantly, “ Why the Lord of all creation, blessed be he.” And then Solomon remembered quietly that it was the Lord that had created all creatures to be free and who had also given him the power to speak the language of all animals. Aloud Solomon asked, “What is your second riddle?”
The hoopoe took a breath and asked, “What water is it that does not rise from the ground nor fall from the sky?”
Solomon looked over the assembled multitude to see each and every one listening with fearful anticipation. A strange feeling came over him and he said, “A tear. It does not rise from the ground nor fall from the sky but from an eye overcome with sadness.” And Solomon could see much sadness in front of him as the birds awaited the sacrifice of their beaks. A tear from Solomon’s eye splashed on his hand. “Ask your third riddle, Hoopoe.”
The small bird trembled and said, “What is it that is gentle enough to feed a child but strong enough to pierce the hardest wood?”
Solomon, looking out over the multitude of birds, said quietly, “A bird’s beak, of course.”
Many birds dropped their heads. And the hoopoe bowed its head and said, “You have answered all three of my riddles. Punish me as you see fit. I am at your mercy.”
When nothing happened, the hoopoe looked up to see Solomon smiling. “Dear hoopoe, my wisdom is known throughout the world and yet you have shown me that even one as wise as I can yet be foolish. There will be no palace of bird beaks. Rather…” said Solomon as he summoned his advisers and charged them with fashioning a crown like his own for the hoopoe. To this day the hoopoe bears this gift as a reminder of his courage and wisdom that saved the birds.
The hoopoe bowed to the king. He then bowed to the queen who bowed in return and smiled.
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
Photo from Mural on the War Resisters League building. Source.
Monday, February 15, 2021
Once, long ago, Akbar, ruler of the Mughal Empire, was out hunting when it came time for midday prayer. Akbar dismounted and, laying out his prayer mat, knelt down. As he prayed, a woman anxiously searching for her missing husband came running and, failing to notice the kneeling Emperor, tripped over him. With neither a backward glance nor apology, she scrambled to her feet and dashed away, carrying on her search. Akbar, while annoyed by the interruption, remained silent, observing the rule of speaking to no one during the namaz. As Akbar finished his praying, the woman, having found her husband, returned only to be startled to see the Emperor. Trembling with fear, she immediately bowed and made her husband do the same. Akbar looked sternly at the woman saying, “you rudely interrupted my praying. Explain yourself or be punished!” The woman stood up and, still trembling with fear, faced the Emperor and said, “I was in such a panic searching for my husband that I did not notice that you were in this clearing. I barely noticed falling and getting up again. But, if i may ask your majesty a question: how is it that, in your namaz, absorbed in the One who is infinitely more precious than my husband, that you noticed me?” The Emperor fell silent. Later Akbar summoned his chief adviser and said, “Today I met a woman who was neither a scholar nor a Mullah, but who nonetheless taught me the true meaning of prayer.”