The small village was situated in a fertile landscape. One side of the village was lined by woods and the rest of the village was surrounded by meadows and fields. Each morning the people of the village would begin their day, with joy at knowing they were doing something that would benefit the whole village.
The Woodcutter, whose cottage was on the north side of the village, would head out whistling as he went. He loved to join the singing birds each daybreak. His wife who cared for many of the children in the village would open the gate and cottage door, and throw open the shutters on the windows. She always loved to hear the chatter of the children as they made their way from their homes to hers for the day. She would teach them to read, sing, clean house, which of course was one of her favorite things to teach. She also taught them the history of their village and families. This joyful arrangement was also helpful to the other villagers who had daily tasks to accomplish.
The Baker and her husband worked joyfully together. They would make the most delicious foods each day.
At the edge of town near the fields was the Miller. He was a steady and diligent worker, and enjoyed the detailed work of his craft. His wife would weave and spin fibers into the most beautiful cloth and yarn for the seamstresses to make into garments.
Each person in the village had a task, and they were satisfied in their work. There were hunters, builders, farmers, and shepherds. They would share what they had with their neighbors. The village was a strong community.
At the end of each week the villagers would gather together and share their week with each other. There would be tables full of foods, games to play in the meadow, singing and dancing, classes featuring a skilled task, and many different instruments to play and learn.
The news of this happy village traveled around the countryside. Soon, people from surrounding villages began to come to the gathering. They were welcomed with open hearts. The gathering grew. There were new trades being taught, new songs, new instruments, and new friends. Some would come with gifts of food or tools, and others would come with gifts of art and knowledge. Some would come and really have nothing to offer but their willingness to learn.
Weeks went by and the gathering continued to grow. It was, most certainly, appreciated by all who had been there. People were considered equals. Their experiences and knowledge were shared and respected. The villager's joy of knowing that what they were sharing was being sent out to other communities only made the satisfaction in their work more treasured.
One day a man who was small of stature entered the village around gathering time. He looked almost like the troll that came from under the bridge. His hair was scraggly, and his beard was matted. He had a foul smell. His clothes were unkempt and raggedy. He was dirty from head to toe, of which you could tell because he wore no shoes.
He came boldly, almost defiantly, but it was obvious that that was a ruse. He was afraid that because of his presence, he would be rejected. His attitude was that of a man scrambling to prove his worth. The villagers, without even a thought, included him as a guest just like the rest. He was treated no differently than the others.
The rumpled little man had felt so accepted that he decided to move to the village. He bought a small cottage, and began to explore where he could be most useful. He tried working in the fields. He sat with the children, and learned how to read and write. He worked with the shepherds, and miller, and hunters. It seemed that wherever you turned he had been or was there.
At gathering he was working on something different each week. He would serve food, help the skilled tradesmen present their trade, and even run the games. He would dance and laugh. He even tried to play the fiddle once, but decided to beat the drum instead. He thought he would wait until he had studied the fiddle a little more, since the squeaking caused all the dogs in the village to howl in agony.
But some of the guests didn’t think that such a person, not concerned with his appearance, should play any role of leadership. He was unskilled, he was unlearned, and well, the stench. These guests began to discuss their displeasure throughout the week at their own homes and villages. It seemed that each week, at gathering, the attitude of equality was lowered.
They began to make snide remarks if the little man made a mistake. They began to say that his worth was directly linked to his presence. Oh, the murmuring of the crowd when he tripped and spilled the barrel of grain during the Miller’s presentation. Or the time he caught the centerpiece on fire when he put the lantern to close.
Some of the guests decided to start their own gathering in their own village. They said it was easier for the elderly in their village to stay closer to home. In private, though, they really thought that they could make a better gathering. Some of the guests decided to discuss their displeasure with the villagers. They came into town saying that they wanted to buy some extra rolls for a special dinner they were having with family in their own village. While they were at the Baker’s shop, they waited until they saw the Miller come in with bags of flour.
Their conversation quickly changed from pleasantries to one of pointed, although unsolicited advice. They said it was out of concern for the reputation of the village. They said that they were concerned that such a wonderful program was now being talked about with disgust in other villages, and the word was even traveling to far away villages. They said that to be equal one must try to keep themselves presentable. They threatened to leave if nothing was said to the little man about trying to be a little nicer on gathering day. He needed to take better care of himself. It was for his own good, by the way.
The Baker and her husband, and the Miller were saddened by this news. Things had been going along so nicely. They simplicity of just sharing knowledge and experience with others, had now been turned into a program. They had not seen that happening. It just crept in so slowly.
They needed time to work this over in their minds. They decided that nothing should be done right now, but that each one should go home and think on it.
The Miller was very sad that night, and of course, his wife knew something was wrong. The two of them talked for many hours into the night. At the Baker’s she and her husband felt like a huge burden was dropped on their shoulders. They tried to sleep, but only a fitful night lay before them.
As the Baker walked her young son to the Woodcutter’s cottage the next morning, she tried to keep her countenance light. When the Woodcutter’s wife saw her, she just embraced her dear friend, and cried with her, not even knowing why. Without a word, as to the source, the sadness spread through the village.
At gathering that week, the murmuring continued, and now sadness was brought to the table with the foods. Even the little man had lost the pep in his step. Some of the guests thought that he must have been reprimanded, because he had lost his flamboyance. They still wondered at his filth, and ragged clothes, but they thought to give it time to straighten out.
The guests that had brought this supposed issue to light, decided not to come back to the gathering. They felt they had shared their gift of proper program management, and they were obviously needed in the newly established gatherings in other villages.
The Baker and her husband, and the Miller and his wife continued to meet and discuss the changes that had occurred since the unwelcomed visit from the guests. But they were committed to not change anything in how the gathering would continue.
Week after week the gathering continued to decrease as guests stopped coming. The villagers continued to come to gathering, and the sadness began to lose its grip. Joy filled in after the grief moved out. Very few guests came to gathering anymore, but the villagers did not mind. They continued to share new experiences and knowledge with each other. They raised their children with the knowledge of equality instilled deep in their hearts.
Not one of the villagers had left during the time of sadness. This was their home. They did not choose their home based on the success of the gathering, but on the people they shared their life with. The people hadn’t changed, they had just entered into a new phase for a time. The villagers came out of the sadness stronger than before. They realized that the sadness had been a gift.
The little man found his place. He was a helper. He carried straw for bedding down the animals, he took the children into the woods to learn about what was edible, he hauled bags of flour, and he planted flowers along the streets. He studied the fiddle, and was even able to play a few notes without the accompaniment of the village dogs. He found that he really liked the drums.