Sunday, December 26, 2010


An Inside Job

You know how you get a song stuck in your head? No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try – there it is again, and again, and again, the same tune floating in your head, whistling between your teeth, seeping out under your breath. It would almost be meditative in it’s mantra like quality, if it also wasn’t driving you BATTY!! And, I guess it’s because I am a storyteller, that not only ditties llike “All the Single Ladies” by Beyonce, or the Hawaii Five-O theme song sometimes play in an endless loop in my head, but tales get lodged in my busy little brain as well.
Sometimes the folktales that take over my mind are ones I am working on, sometimes they’re ones I’ve heard another teller perform well, and sometimes, like the one that is presently presenting itself 24/7 in my life, they are ones containing a lesson so immediate, so relevant to my personal experience of the moment, they are my best chance of ever expressing my feelings adequately. And that is why, since returning from the impoverished, devastated, but remarkably joyous country of Haiti, the tale of “The Happy Man’s” shirt is almost always on my mind.
Basically, it goes like this. A king has a young son, who, no matter what his father, or anyone else does is sad. The king gathers together his top advisors, and they tell him that the only way to cure the prince of his depression is to dress him in the shirt of a happy man. The king, thinking this would be a simple cure, goes first to the home of a pious priest, whom radiates happiness and peace. But when the priest jumps at the king’s offer of money and comfort, the king realizes that the priest isn’t TRULY happy – for if he was, he wouldn’t be so quick to want to change his life.
The king journeys to a nearby land, and meets with a sultan, who is known for his joyfulness. “Oh yes, yes!!”, the sultan tells the king. “I am COMPLETLELY content!! I want for nothing, every day is a gift to me, and I would not change one single detail of my life!!” Hearing this, the king’s heart begins to soar – here is the happy man, whose shirt he can use to save his son!! But, just as he is about to ask the sultan for a shirt, the other man leans in and whispers, “There are times, though, where I worry, that all I have will be taken from me, and that fills me with fear.” The King stand to leave, for in this statement of fear, the sultan revealed that he was not totally happy.
For weeks, the king wandered the countryside searching endlessly for one completely happy man – but he found none. Exhausted from his travels, the king was making his way back to his kingdom, when he heard singing – joyous, jubilant singing. The king followed the sound to a grove of trees, where there he saw a man radiating happiness as he danced and sang. “My good man,” said the king. “You seem to be happy – the happiest man I’ve ever seen – are you, dear fellow, as happy as you seem?”
“Happy??? Happy??” the man replied, between fits of giggles. “Why yes sir, I am COMPLETELY content, I am full of joy. Every day is a marvel to me, I have no worries, and I would change places with no man.”
Hearing those words, the king began to dance almost as jubilantly as the man. The two men whirled, and laughed, and sang, until they were breathless. Finally, when the king found his composure, he turned to that happy man, and asked for his shirt.
Again, the man began to laugh uncontrollably. “My shirt?? My shirt??” he said, between gales of laughter.
“Yes, my friend,” said the king. “Your shirt!”
“Oh my,” said the man, smiling broadly. “I’m afraid I cannot do that!”
“But why??”
And it was then, that that happy man, that completely happy man, opened his jacket, and showed the king, that he had no shirt.

The lesson that joy is within us, and that material things cannot give us happiness, is one that is oft spoken, but is sooooooooooooo difficult to live, but whenever I need a reminder that money can’t buy love, peace, happiness or joy – in short, all the really important things in life, I think of the joyous people of Haiti, how they, like the happy man, have little – except that which is most important – joy. I remember their glowing faces, as they chanted, danced, and laughed with us amidst more destruction, poverty, and filth than I could ever possibly describe to you here. I remember how the parent’s lovingly encouraged their children to play, and most of all I remember how joyous I felt – being of service to my fellow human beings. It was a joy that came from deep within me, proving to me, once and for all what the happy man in that old folktale seemed to instinctively know, that joy is an inside job!!!

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