Greatness: A Parable

There was a man who lived next door to an artist’s studio. The artist was a scupltor who made fine, exquisite porcelain figurines. Every day the man walked past the artist’s studio on his way to work, and often the artist would ask him to stop by and look at the figurines. The man always refused, though, thinking they wouldn’t suit him.

Then there came a day when the artist succeeded in persuading the man to come in, and the man found the figurines delightful. They were gorgeous, crafted in such minute detail, and they captured his attention.

Alas, the man was a clumsy man, and even as he was appreciating the fine artwork, he fumbled one of the figurines and it fell to the floor, shattering. The artist, in spite of her pain, insisted that the man not apologize–after all, it was clearly an accident–and thanked him for his appreciation. She asked him to come by again the next day, and see her new piece.

The man came back again, and again, through his clumsiness, he broke a priceless figurine. Frustrated, he left and went on his way.

It took time, but eventually the artist convinced him to come back again. He was careful, oh so careful, but in spite of himself he turned too quickly, or stepped away from a shelf and bumped another shelf, and this time he shattered a dozen pieces.

The man loved the artist’s work, but every single time he visited the studio he left behind him destruction. He finally determined, for the sake of the artist and her figurines, never to visit the shop again. Time passed, and sometimes he missed the delicate little pieces (and sometimes the artist missed his praise), but he always remembered all the broken bits, whenever he visited, and so he was able to stay out of the shop for many years.

Then there came a time, much later, when the man had grown older and more careful, and as he was passing the artist’s studio he caught the artist’s eye, and decided to stop by. To apologize for all the broken fragments, and look on the beauty of her artwork once more.

She was so excited to see him that she came rushing to him, and led him here and there all through the shop, showing him all the fine work she had made in the years he was gone, and talking to him again about all the work he’d seen before, and as she led him here and there, weaving among all the pieces, he grew more and more frantic, desperate not to do as he had done before.

But there was nothing for it. In his whirlwind tour of the artist’s studio he tripped, or pulled up short, or turned to go (or leaned closer for a look at a particularly wonderful piece), and with a loud crash, and then a quiet splintering, another priceless treasure was destroyed.

He squeezed the artist’s hand, then, and carefully backed away, toward the door. He offered his apology again, assured her that he would come back by when he could, but his eyes lingered on the fragments on the floor, so familiar.

And when he stepped outside, he felt a strong relief, even letting go of something he cherished, because it wasn’t worth the cost. He couldn’t take the responsibility of so many beautiful things shattered, and he would not make the artist suffer it anymore (not even if she begged it of him).

And so he left the studio, and stayed away. The end.