"The Ancient One" is an inspirational story warning us about the seduction of technology, leading us away from nature and our community. From the book "Silent Ripples: Parables for the Soul."
Once upon a time on the other side of the Great River, there was a town. Now this town was a happy town, and the peals of laughter of both old and young alike would drift over the Great River to the land beyond, and all beings of the land would often stop and enjoy this happy sound.
In the middle of the town grew the Ancient One, a large white tree with wide strong branches and wide set roots. And all around this tree grew the Grove of its offspring, varying in height.
All festivals and all major counsels took place in the shade of the Ancient One. No one knew the age of this tree, for it existed as a giant when the First People had arrived. Yet still it grew and the children of every family played amongst its branches, just as each parent had done growing up.
Life was simple in this town. No one went without and no one had far more than anyone else. The idea of having food to eat while another of the town went hungry was not even a notion that anyone could even think of. People worked for themselves to bring what they needed to their families and helped others to bring what they needed.
In truth, this town was a paradise.
On the other side of the Great River, far over the meadows and woodlands was a tall, precipitous mountain, shaped like a fang. And on top of this tooth a castle looked over the land and could just make out the town far down below. In this castle, its turrets as sharp as the mountain, watched the Sorcerer.
There came days, when the wind was just right, when the cries of mirth from the town soared over cliffs of the mountain and invaded his brooding, and then peering through his eyeglass he would gaze upon the town with great scorn.
Many goblins he had for his army and he was tempted to send them down to crush out that laughter. Yet, the Town was strong in its unity and the people were fit and steadfast, and there seemed to be a strong magic that came from the Ancient One and its Grove.
Then one day a thought crept into his brain as he sat and grimaced at the muted laughter:
Send them a gift, one that glitters and glows, and which flashes images to entice and entrance.
The Sorcerer smiled, and immediately began to apply his arcane skill to devise such a Box. And after a while, it was done. He sent a goblin servant with the Box one night who left it at the gate of the Town.
The next morning the town sentry discovered the black Box and quickly took it to the chief. He looked at it, shook it and then pressed a button. Suddenly, an image appeared on the surface. It was a little ball of light and it began to move around in patterns.
The chief pressed another button and sound issued forth, music like he had never heard before, loud and demanding his attention. Another button pressed and the ball changed colors. One more button and another ball appeared and the two balls interacted with each other in amazing ways. All those present gathered around the chief and gazed upon the images.
Pretty soon all of the town heard about this magic Box and wanted to see what was inside. It took so long to go from family to family that those who had seen it became anxious at the length of time they knew it would take before they had a chance to play with it once more; and those who had heard about its wonders kept coming to the abiding place of the Box and asking whether it was their turn.
People began to quarrel over whose turn was next and how long people were using it.
Then one morning a message was found posted on the gate. It was taken to the chief and he and the council members read the message. “For every tree from the Grove that is cut down and brought to the other side of the Great River a Box will be given to the town.”
At first those who read it were aghast at such an idea, of trading away that which was such an integral part of their community. However, when one of the council members suggested that giving a small tree would not be bad, and, in fact, might even help in the health of the Grove, there was consent.
And the first tree was cut down and sent over the river.
Now there were two Boxes. And the Council agreed that one of the Boxes would be shared amongst the others and they would share the other, for, after all, they were burdened with having to make such heavy decisions.
Yet, this did not set well with the others, for long they would have to wait. And besides, it was said that three balls of light could appear on the Council’s Box.
And the people demanded more.
No more did the children climb into the branches of the Ancient One. And no more would the peals of laughter drift up to the Sorcerer’s ears.
And the Sorcerer’s smile grew wider as he gazed upon the town, watching the piles of trees grow upon his side of the Great River.
In less than a year everyone in the town had a Box. Little conversations between people could not be heard anymore. No one ventured out into the meadows and woodlands, or dipped their feet into the cool waters of the Great River. When people did do the work that had to be done they did so with a Box by their side to give them pleasure during their breaks.
And now that work was seen as distasteful, for it kept one from the Box; people only worked to maintain their own needs and no longer worked for others.
And after a year Boxes started to break and new ones were demanded and more trees were felled.
Then a message came that the larger a tree felled the larger a Box would be given. Thus the larger trees of the Grove fell.
And now those who had little Boxes looked with envious eyes upon those who had larger ones. And the people began to steal larger Boxes. The Council started claiming trees as theirs, and posted guards, for these trees now represented future Boxes.
But no one dared to claim the Ancient One, not until the time when a special message came to the Chief.
“You shall be the greatest Chief of all time, for you shall have a Box more marvelous, larger and powerful than any could imagine. All you have to do is to cut down the Ancient One and upon its stump will be your Box.”
All that night the Chief tossed and turned, the phantom images of the balls of light danced in his mind to the loud music of the Box.
And the next day could be heard the chopping of wood. And for a moment all the Boxes turned off as the people gathered around the Ancient One and watched the Chief wield his axe. And a memory of climbing among the branches came to each and every one and tears began to spill.
Then one Box, and then another, as though on their own accord, turned on, and the eyes dried up as the people’s faces once again glowed with the light of a Box.
And they hardly noticed the shaking of the ground when the Ancient One fell to earth.
And not one of them could hear the Sorcerer’s laughter high above, save his goblins, as he watched the Chief place the megalithic Box upon the stump and began to build a palace around it.
Excerpt from "Silent Ripples: Parables for the Soul," by Janaka Stagnaro
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