02 February 2012

Jacob and the Jar

(A fable.)

There once was a man named Jacob, a sculptor, who was decent enough at his craft to make a living. One day, while up a ladder working on the head of a tall figure, he fell and broke his leg. Luckily, the doctors mended him up fine, and in a few weeks, he went back to work. But he found his leg would give him pain from time to time, sometimes so great that he couldn't work. He went back to the doctors, who were only puzzled and shrugged and said it would go away. But it didn't. The pain grew, worsened in its severity and frequency. The doctors were still puzzled, but they were less interested in his pain than the other patients coming to see them. Jacob gave up.

On his way back home, he passed a sign he had passed often in his time. It simply said "Wizard" with an arrow pointing up a winding mountain path. He never saw a wizard, or anyone, walking the path, and so he always assumed there was no wizard; but his pain had gotten so bad, he thought it was worth a short trip out of the way. The path was easy and short; before long, he stood before a door cut into the rock of the mountain. There is a wizard after all, he thought. He knocked on the door and a wizened old man opened it and let him in.

Jacob described his pain to the wizard, who took one look at the leg and claimed there were evil spirits living in it, and that the pain was caused by the goodness of the soul fighting them. Jacob didn't believe this, but he was willing to try anything to relieve the pain. The wizard handed Jacob a jar filled with gumdrops which would do just that. "Chew one a day," said the wizard, "until the pain goes away for good. Then, destroy the rest of the pills. You won't need them anymore."

Jacob nodded and took his first dose. The pain went away almost instantly. Jacob was relieved, and thanked the wizard profusely. "Don't forget to destroy them when your pain goes away!" said the wizard as Jacob hurried down the mountain back to his house.

It was a good thing Jacob found his cure when he did, for a whole slew of orders came in for statues and carvings. Indeed, Jacob was busier now than he'd ever been in his life. Messengers were arriving from distant cities asking for his work and paying commissions up front. He could hardly contain his joy as he tirelessly worked from morning until twilight, finishing order after order. In a week's time, not only was Jacob feeling his good fortune, but his pain went away. On the morning of the eighth day, for the first time in a while, he woke up without the excruciation in his leg. He held up the jar the wizard had given him, but felt it was too soon to destroy it yet. He thought he should wait at least a day, just in case the evil spirits come back.

So Jacob went to work, but as he was working on one of his many orders, messengers started arriving to cancel some of them. Jacob asked why, but the messengers didn't know. He had to pay back some of the advances he'd received, and, regrettably, destroy some of the work he'd already done. It was a huge blow to his self-esteem, and he took the rest of the day off.

The next day, there were no new orders. Jacob had finished the last of the remaining statues and sent them off. He also got a strange idea. He thought, the orders had only come in when he was taking the wizard's gumdrops. Perhaps the success he was having was a side effect. He looked at the jar. Would it hurt to try for another day, even though the wizard had told him to destroy them after the pain went away? It couldn't hurt, he thought, and he popped a gumdrop into his mouth. Not five minutes later, there was a knock at his door: a messenger, there to place an order for a cathedral being built in a distant city. Jacob looked at the jar. He felt no ill effects, and yet the gumdrop seemed to bring him work almost instantly. He went back to work.

After another day, he was back to a full work load. The orders were pouring in, as was the money and prestige. His sculptures started winning awards. Scholars and scribes came to ask questions and learn more about his craft. Six days passed where he took a gumdrop daily, and still he felt no ill effects; far from it! The people who came to place orders or ask questions all looked at him in wonder and awe. On the seventh day, Jacob took his last gumdrop. As he chewed it, silently, he wondered if the wizard would give him more. He could pretend to still have the pain. Besides, with the way everything else was going, how could he not get what he wanted?

It was, again, a short walk to the wizard's mountaintop home. Jacob practiced his limp all the way there. Villagers avoided him on the way and whispered to each other. Jacob smiled at the power of his fame. The wizard once again let him in, looking surprised to see him, and asked if the gumdrops had worked. Jacob told him what he had rehearsed: that they were working fine, he just took his last one today, and he would probably need more. The wizard eyed Jacob for a long, silent time. Finally the wizard said, "The pain went away ten days ago, did it not?" Jacob was astounded and asked what made the wizard say such a thing. After another pause, the wizard slowly reached for a looking glass and put it up to Jacob's face. A hideous creature stared back at him, with horns and red eyes and flared nostrils and melting green flesh. Jacob contorted his face in horror, making the creature look even more fearsome. "Why do you show me this illusion?" asked Jacob. The wizard replied, "This is no illusion, young man. I told you to destroy the gumdrops when the pain went away, did I not? Their magic is powerful enough to take pain away, but also powerful enough to seduce a man and turn them into this." The wizard held the looking glass closer to Jacob's face. Jacob screeched and shattered the glass with his horns, then, though the wizard tried to stop him, he ran out of the house and threw himself off the cliff.

"Poor young man," said the wizard to himself sadly as he swept up the broken glass.


And the moral of the story is...?