Hope That Works
King Theo had just conquered the invaders who tried to plunder his kingdom which was renowned for its riches. The king cut a majestic figure with flowing black hair, brilliant blue eyes, and a close-cropped dark beard sitting astride Zeus, his magnificent white stallion. His army followed him faithfully, believing he was invincible. Having defeated the pillagers, he focused his attention on his kingdom.
With his sonorous voice he addressed his citizens: “We are a glorious country. We have many reasons to be proud of our peacefulness and prosperity. I am deeply troubled, however, that some of you are poor while others are rich. It is unfair and unacceptable. You are too devoted to business and take advantage of one another for profits. I want you to treat one another more compassionately and regard one another as equals.” Some citizens clapped, others shook their heads.
He convened his council to seek an answer for his hopes. Together they decided to increase the taxes on the rich. The money his kingdom collected would be given to the poor. He and his council reasoned that the wealthy would continue to have plenty to support themselves, and now the poor would no longer have to suffer. As the condition of the poor improved, they would become more equal with the wealthy. Consequently, all would treat one another more benevolently.
The king and his council imposed the taxes. In the following months he witnessed the consequences. When taxed, numerous wealthy citizens lost their good feelings from voluntarily helping the poor. Many quit giving to charity because they now felt no need to help the destitute. Countless citizens complained that the people selected for subsidies were not the needy they would have chosen.
Some citizens, who considered themselves poor, complained about not receiving any of the money. Many citizens who were receiving money complained it was not enough; while others said receiving tax money cost them self-respect. The king observed that some people lost their incentive to work because they were given support. Some even quit their jobs to qualify for support.
When reconvened, the council members reported to the king. One said: “Numerous citizens have lost their drive to work hard. They say it is not worth their effort because the more they earn the more their gains are taxed away.”
Another councilor stated: “Citizens who resisted paying the taxes have been fined or sent to jail. Many people are now hiring tax advisers and lawyers to help them skirt the laws.”
The king was distraught. When a council member reported that new plunderers were gathering at the border, he seized the opportunity to lead his formidable army against them. Mounted on Zeus and commanding his troops, King Theo felt powerful. He subdued the marauders. He spent the next three months marching his soldiers in all directions to search out other pillagers. Finding none, he reluctantly returned to the strife in his kingdom.
Contrary to his hopes, nothing had improved. In fact, the cost of mobilizing his vast army had put his country in debt. The Finance Minister reported that there was not enough gold and silver in the treasury to cover the expenses. The council balked at further increasing taxes since the citizens were already near revolt. The people had learned it was not just the rich, but the middle class as well, who were taxed a third of their incomes.
Anguish tormented the council. The Finance Minister rose from his chair. “I have a plan to save us from bankruptcy,” he announced.
“Thank the Lord,” the King muttered.
“We will issue paper money called dollars. We will print enough to pay all our debts.”
“But we don’t have enough gold and silver to redeem the dollars,” objected a council member.
“We will pass a law declaring the dollar is legal tender, compelling all creditors and citizens to accept them or go to prison.” The Finance Minister smiled.
The council rose and clapped their hands. They immediately passed the law, and then printed enough dollars to pay the kingdom’s debts. Word of the new law spread rapidly when a grocer refused to take dollars for the fish he sold and was promptly jailed.
Inflation resulted and prices rose as more dollars now chased the same goods. Bread, wine and all merchandise became more expensive. Forced to trade in dollars, the citizens protected their wealth by hiding their gold and silver coins.
The Finance Minister reported that the economy had another serious problem: “New businesses are not being created. Entrepreneurs are complaining that after paying their taxes they have no savings with which to start a business. Jobs are disappearing.”
Most distressing to the king was his observation that the rich and the poor now regarded one another as adversaries. They were not treating one another with more compassion, but with greater animosity.
The king and his council took no responsibility for their excessive spending. Instead, they called the rich unpatriotic and stingy for being unwilling to pay still higher taxes. These accusations unfortunately resulted in greater class warfare.
King Theo’s plan had failed. Everyone felt financially threatened. As the prosperity of his kingdom diminished and the people became more divided, he convened his council to seek further advice. His councilors were as perplexed as the king. Some were rumored to have given their friends favors from the tax revenues. Even Queen Isabelle, prized for her gorgeous green eyes and her flowing golden hair, was criticized for her lavish parties and her dresses embroidered with pearls. Throwing up their hands in despair, the council recommended to the king that he consult a sage named Lydan, who lived in the mountains and was renowned for his wisdom and healing powers.
King Theo immediately mounted Zeus and rode off for the mountains full of hope for help. He carried with him a box filled with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds to reward the sage provided he proved helpful. He rode into the valley, enjoying shade from the oak trees and relief at leaving the city. He forged his way across the river appreciating Zeus’s stamina to overpower the current. Riding through the heat and dust of the foothills he was pleased to reach the mountain and cooler air. Zeus was surefooted finding his way up the rocky trail.
At the top of the mountain King Theo found Lydan sitting on his cottage porch which was bordered with fragrant gardenias. He recognized Lydan by the compassion in his brown eyes and the warmth of his smile. His white hair contrasted with his tan robe and leather sandals. The king sank into the comfortable chair facing Lydan. In spite of his tiring journey, he wasted no time in telling the sage the details of his problems. As he talked, Lydan listened attentively to every word.
After hearing all the king’s complaints, Lydan replied: “If you wish your people to treat one another with equal respect, you yourself must treat everyone with equal respect, the rich and the poor alike. Treat your citizens as individuals not as classes of people. All poor people are not alike, nor are all rich people. Some of those you deem as poor may consider themselves rich, and some you label rich may see themselves as poor.”
King Theo’s brow furrowed as he listened.
“Reduce the taxes of your government and your people will not feel so burdened nor become so cunning. Live less extravagantly yourself and your people will not be so interested in profits and possessions. Reduce your interference in the lives of your people, and they will stop treating one another as objects to be controlled, instead of persons to be respected. Stop forcing unredeemable paper money on your citizens and live within your means and your people will live more moderately with greater gratitude for their abundance. Rid your Court of all favoritism and corruption and your people will show greater respect for the laws and treat one another more compassionately.”
“But what about the unfairness that some of my citizens are rich while others are poor?” protested the king.
“Life is not fair,” replied Lydan. “All people have value in God’s eyes, but no two are born equal. God gives us freedom not fairness. What one man considers unfair another considers just. Furthermore, when we try to impose fairness aren’t we playing God?”
“But isn’t it selfish of the rich to refuse to share their wealth with the poor?”
“Is it selfish for any man to rule how others should live by enforcing his values?”
The king grimaced.
“And is it selfish to pay your debts with paper money not backed by gold and silver?”
Lydan’s advice unnerved him, yet the king found it wise. Before leaving, he presented the sage with the box of jewels. Lydan took them, looked at them carefully, and admired their beauty. He then returned them to the king. “I thank you for your generosity, and I am flattered by it, but I have no need for precious jewels. They will only bring robbers to my door. I would appreciate, however, sharing with you some of the bread you brought.”
Lydan brewed lavender tea for the king and brought out golden pears and homemade chevre cheese. He cut the pears in half and sprinkled them with cinnamon. The aroma of lavender and cinnamon relaxed the king and eating the pears, the bread, and the cheese soothed him. Watching the king unwind, Lydan smiled. “It is obvious that you are well-intentioned and thoughtful, and I would enjoy helping you. If you would like my assistance in fulfilling your greatness, you could visit me each month. I know this would mean you must make the arduous journey.”
King Theo contemplated the offer. He did not relish such travel. “Even though it is a difficult journey,” he replied, “I am willing to come, especially if you will help me accomplish all my hopes.”
For many months King Theo visited with Lydan. He told him first about the problems of his kingdom and then about his troubles with the council. Finally, he complained about Queen Isabelle’s spending and her failure to teach their children the value of saving.
The king was surprised at the patience with which Lydan listened to every word. Their conversations were unlike any he had known. Each of them was able to complete whole thoughts in several sentences before the other responded. Consequently, the depth with which they spoke was unique to King Theo.
When the king ran out of things to say, Lydan encouraged him to pray. Subsequently he taught him the art of meditation. It was difficult for King Theo to endure the silences even though he enjoyed the songs of the birds, the rustling of the leaves in the wind, and the perfume of the gardenias. He felt, however, like he was wasting time. He reminded himself how painful a journey he had made, only to find himself sitting silently with the sage.
Lydan attempted to comfort him. “The road to peace is difficult as is the way to self-fulfillment. We find it only through unburdening ourselves rather than taking on more, through stillness rather than through activities, and through developing patience rather than racing against time. We must let go of unrealistic hopes rather than encumber ourselves with new ones.”
“I don’t understand,” responded the king. “I came here with great ambitions to fulfill myself. I had high hopes to improve my kingdom by ridding it of all evils. I hoped to make my people share their wealth, so that they would respect one another as equals. I wanted them to care for others, not just for themselves and their profits. Now you tell me I should give up my hopes, and stop my rush to accomplish my ambitions. I am confused how your advice will help me.”
Pain swept over Lydan’s face. He had experienced many times the difficulty of explaining to men truths they find difficult to comprehend. “I am sorry I have confused you, for that was not my intent. I must admit that what you have said likewise confuses me.” He opened his palms toward the king. “If equality and compassion are invisible things, how can you hope to accomplish them by visible means? How is it possible to enforce compassion and equality on people, when these are feelings within people that cannot be legislated or enforced? When you force people through laws and taxes to create equality, that is not true equality but only its superficial appearance. When you sacrifice freedom to produce material equality what have you gained? What is more valuable than freedom? And how can anyone make people care for others when the idea of coercing care is a contradiction?”
He leaned closer to the king. “If your people have nothing more to care for than profits and possessions, is that not a symptom of their poverty which inflicts its own punishment?”
King Theo nodded yet he clenched his right hand. “What about my hopes and great ambitions,” he protested, “what is going to happen to them?”
“Is it our hopes and ambitions that make things happen,” responded Lydan, “or do they happen when we align ourselves with eternal truths, like the law of cause and effect? If you tax or penalize hard work, for example, you will get less of it. If you reward unemployment you will get more of it. We reap what we sow.”
The king cradeled his head between his hands. His voice rose. “If you do not live for hopes and ambitions what do you live for? If you do not wish to rid the world of evil, and to do what is right, what sustains you? It is obvious that you do not cherish material possessions, and yet you appear content.”
Lydan glanced toward heaven, then back to the face of the king. “If you live for hopes, you live for tomorrow, but not for today. I do my best to live for now, for this present moment, which means I must accept all that is, both good and evil, even though I prefer what I consider good.” His eyes engaged King Theo’s. “If you are going to work for change you must first accept what-is, which is the greatest change of all. I am content when I accept life as it is. I must continually grieve and absorb and expand inwardly to digest life’s losses and injustices, if I wish to replace wrong with right, or hate with love.”
Lydan’s eyes took on a brilliant glow. “As to what I live for, I hardly know what to call it, even less how to explain it to you. For want of a name I call it the life of the Spirit. It is the understanding that transcends reason. It is the golden light that may enter into a man’s heart and elevate him somewhere between heaven and earth. It gives him vision where before he had just sight.”
King Theo leaned forward. “You’re describing what I’ve been seeking! How do I find it?”
“If you can sit quietly in silence,” replied Lydan, “if you empty yourself sufficiently so as to give up your self-importance and your expectations of others, if you can accept and be just who you are, then one day you will awaken from the dream to enter a new and wondrous world. Your life will become eternal, as it has always been. You will live in infinite space beyond the confines of dimensions. You will never again experience reality for what you once thought it was. Your body will no longer live in fear of death, and your soul will become immortal. You will understand mysteries you never before knew existed, and you will stand in awe of mysteries you could never before allow yourself to know. As you give up your wish for power and greatness, you will realize that you are one with all of life, with every creature and every presence in it from the greatest to the least. There is nothing that you are not, and nothing that is not you. The life you have sought outside you has forever been within you.”
King Theo trembled as he listened. After reflecting for a moment he said: “I’m afraid if I give up my hopes and ambitions and learn to accept who I am, I will stagnate and stop changing.”
Lydan smiled. “On the contrary, what could be a greater change? Is that not why we all resist it? We ask God to make us into someone different, not to be who we are.”
The king nodded slowly. “I’m also afraid if I don’t work to change my kingdom the people will consider me selfish and accuse me of doing nothing.”
The sage laughed. “What others think of you is not your business. What you think of yourself is most important. You cannot do anything that violates your self-image. Besides, two of man’s great illusions are to think that demanding others change is selfless and doing something, and to believe that changing oneself is selfish and doing nothing.” Lydan leaned forward and looked the king directly in the eye: “Change yourself and you will change your kingdom!”
The king sat back. “You mean that changing myself could be more powerful than commanding my army or creating new laws?”
Lydan nodded. “Changing yourself is mightier than the sword or the pen.”
After pondering for a minute the king asked: “Since the life of the Spirit is so important, why do you not come to the city to teach it to our citizens?”
“I have taught in the cities,” replied Lydan. “I learned that when the Spirit is taught it becomes real only through self-discovery. Those who have not experienced the Spirit have difficulty comprehending it. I have seen what happened to Socrates and to Jesus when men could not understand them. As I have grown older, I prefer to let people come to me. I listen to hear from each what he or she is ready to learn.”
“But that is so slow,” objected the king, “and sounds so ineffective.”
Lydan chuckled. “I know it may seem ineffectual. However, I know as well that many are called but few are chosen because few chose themselves. People change at their own pace through growth within. When any two of us touch in an encounter of our souls, it is like a pebble dropped into a pool of quiet water. The rings grow and grow as they spread across the surface, touching and creating yet new rings. How many will eventually be touched this way I will never know. That is not my concern so much as being helpful to each person I encounter.”
More time passed in further discussions and silences between King Theo and Lydan. The silences no longer seemed a waste of time to the King, but instead the beginning of relaxation, serenity, and inner peace.
One day, walking beside the pond near Lydan’s home, King Theo was enraptured by an experience he could not fully comprehend. He was lifted off his feet and spread through the sky watching the people below. The light of the whole world appeared before him. He saw the universe through the eyes of God. Everything was as it was meant to be. He experienced such peace he felt he had entered Heaven. Through this unfathomable experience, his eyes were opened for the first time to the real world. What he had previously taken for reality was an illusion. It was as if the flap of a tent had unexpectedly blown open. In that moment he had seen the Truth.
He was troubled that some of the people he watched were stealing and others even committing murder. With reflection he realized that God does not create people who are perfect. Instead, each of us lives into our destiny daily. Each of us is faced with lessons to learn, and when we learn a lesson we advance to the next lesson. We choose every day whether to grow or not, whether to spiral up or spiral down. When we are bold we create more life. When we cringe we don’t. When we serve, we help others grow, which fulfills both them and us.
When he next sat with Lydan, King Theo said: “I’ve lost track of how long I’ve met with you. It seems like I’ve always known you.”
Lydan nodded, “I share your spiritual connection.”
“I no longer take myself so seriously,” said the king, “and I don’t strive so hard to implement ideas I once thought were right. I learned that trying to enforce equality on my people diminished their freedom.”
“Many rulers,” said Lydan, “have overlooked the costs when enforcing their ideals.”
“Most painful was my failure to bring people together to feel like equals in their hearts.” The king winced looking down.
“He governs best who governs least,” Lydan smiled.
“I have died and been reborn.” The king raised his head. “I lost my self and I discovered who I am and always have been.”
“You are an exceptional man.” Lydan’s eyes sparkled.
“I no longer feel I am so important to this world,” Theo responded. “Should I die others will carry the torch perhaps even better than I. The greater reality I have seen cannot be extinguished–it lives forever in the heart of man and cannot be silenced. The soul of man is eternal, as is the greater Truth.”
Lydan picked a blade of grass and held it gently between his forefinger and thumb. Looking at the king he asked, “How would you describe what you’ve learned?”
The king sat forward. “I’ve discovered my fulfillment does not come from fame or power or more possessions. It comes from the inward expansion in my heart so as to empathize yet more. The more aware I have become of myself and who I am, the better I appreciate and accept others.”
“Have you found that giving up your ambitions helped you to better feel the pain of others?” He bent the blade in his fingers.
“My desires kept me focused on myself. By letting them go I opened my heart and my insides to feel the pain of others. In the process I found peace with myself. I saw my brokenness in needing power and wanting to be admired.”
“So you learned it was enough to be you?” He straightened the bent blade to its full length.
“When I accepted myself I also accepted Isabelle, my children, and the people in my kingdom. I found I had no need for hopes, for what did I need to hope for? I felt neither hopeful nor hopeless. I am who I am.” He leaned forward to place his hand on Lydan’s: “I am in you, and you are in me.”
Lydan gave him the blade of grass and smiled. His smile of deep love used to discomfort King Theo because it embraced him so totally. “You have awakened from the dream,” he said. “You have fulfilled yourself and have become a most fit ruler for your kingdom. Now all happenings in your kingdom will be affected by you, yet no one need be dependent on you. Your influence will be there to sustain and support all things, yet your people may not appreciate your contribution until after you are gone.”
The king nodded. “I’ve grown more patient. It took me years to appreciate that changing myself was the way to change my kingdom.”
Lydan placed his hand firmly on the king’s. “You are a delight! It’s been my pleasure to help you and my joy to see you fulfill yourself.”
They laughed in unison.
The sage nodded: “Being a humble leader, you stand under your people not over them–which is the true meaning of understanding.”
The king’s heart swelled.
Lydan’s eyes glowed. “You are indeed right that you have no need of hope, so now you may let others rest their hopes in you.”
Five years passed. The kingdom flourished as the king and his council relaxed their efforts to control the people. The king and the queen lived more modestly as the taxes diminished. New businesses sprang up. Jobs became plentiful and the poor now had work. The citizens felt optimistic instead of fearful. Greater benevolence flourished among the people irrespective of their wealth. The rich gave generously to the needy. Churches and temples took care of the poor. The people came together as one nation.
As was their custom, King Theo and Queen Isabelle strolled through the marketplace on Saturday afternoon. He greeted and thanked his people for their hard work and caring for one another. There was a stir in the crowd as a man whose head was covered with a black hood except for eyeholes shoved his way through the throng. He darted forward and plunged a dagger directly into the King’s heart. He shouted: “In the name of God and the people!”
King Theo collapsed to the ground. Isabelle took him in her arms. The warmth of his blood spilled from his chest onto her sleeves and hands.
Their eyes met.
He muttered, “I love you with all my heart.”
“Don’t leave me!” She wept and pulled him closer.
“Watch over our children and our people,” he murmured.
Tears coursed down her cheeks. “We will endure. You have shown us how to live and govern.” She savored his smile. She would never forget it.
“I forgive the attacker,” he muttered as his blood oozed. “He’s ignorant. God is love, not violence.”
His eyes closed. “I’m going home,” he whispered.”
His head fell back. His body grew limp. She kissed his lips and smoothed back his graying hair.
He was gone. He will never be gone.
His assassin was quickly captured. He jeered at the King’s guards waving his hands, his eyes wild: “I’ve saved the country! I killed a king who turned his back on the poor! He favored the rich by reducing their taxes. He failed to make his citizens equals!”
* * *
Lydan had just picked the largest apple he had ever grown in his garden. He held it to his nose to relish its sweet fragrance.
Suddenly, a messenger arrived at full gallop on his horse slathered with sweat.
Still mounted he blurted: “The King’s been murdered! Stabbed by a mad egalitarian! As though assassinating the king will create equality!”
Lydan’s eyes filled with tears. He pictured Socrates drinking the hemlock, Jesus on the rood, and King Theo being stabbed.
He said under his breath: “I am still in you, and you’re in me. Relationships are eternal.” He wiped his tears from the apple. It shone bright red.
A black snake with glowing yellow eyes slithered into the garden. Rearing his head, he spoke to Lydan: “I will make you the King if you just follow me.” Opening his mouth he darted out his tongue. Lydan thrust his giant apple deep into the snake’s mouth. Even his separate lower jaw could not stretch open enough. He could neither swallow the apple nor spit it out. He writhed and slunk away.
Lydan knelt beside the apple tree: “O merciful God, teach us to appreciate goodness when we experience it. Educate us to recognize Truth. We cannot have both freedom and equality. We must choose one or the other. Forgive us when we harm and abuse one another in the name of our ideals. Comfort us when we foolishly kill one of your sons or daughters. Awaken us that all things change but nothing dies. Not love, nor relationships. Even our ashes may blossom as apples.”
©Doug Welpton, M.D.