The Boy and the Beggar-Man
Remember, the boy had a clubfoot. Now this young man, pleasant looking by the standards of the day, was gifted with a mind that was acute and particularly adept at music - playing piano to be precise. It was said that if his gift for music were to be properly applied he could become the "next great thing’ within the realms of popular music. It inspired feelings of awe in those who listened to it. His music was considered sublime as it explored the depths of the listener’s emotions. Indeed, all who heard his music could not but feel the depths of their very souls.
Yet this boy had a clubfoot and this physical defect made his gait unwieldy, and his posture askance; it was, people said, abnormal. He did not play the regular sports like other teenagers and was ostracised from participation in many such manly pursuits owing to his disability. He was teased unmercifully by others, as teens tend to do, which made him feel miserable and desolate.
"Why am I not like them?’ cried our young man. "Why do I have to have this disgusting aberration that causes me so much suffering? I wish that I was normal like all the others.’
Then, one night, as our young man wandered the streets in much confusion and sadness, railing against God for his affliction and feeling utterly dejected about life and its injustices, he chanced upon a beggar-man. At first he was assaulted by the smell and reek of the unwashed vagrant. However, there was something compelling about the beggar-man and he could not resist approaching him. A question formed in his mind as he approached the vagrant. It was, "What has made you what you are?’
The beggar looked fixedly into our young man’s eyes and said, "When I was young I was given two gifts. The first was the gift of words. I wrote such beautiful poetry and prose that I melted the hardest of hearts with my words. My writing was renowned throughout the country and I achieved much kudos and acclaim. The second gift I was given was this hand.’ He then raised his right hand to show a great deformity prohibiting any practical use of his gnarled and knotted extremity.
The beggar added, "I was very embittered, even angry at being born with this defect. I came to despise anyone who by nothing more than a lucky quirk of fate, had perfectlyfunctioning limbs and attributes. As I scorned and railed against others, they cast me out of their circles and friendships. I became an outcast and a bitter loner and over the years and years of anguish, I slowly lost those skills with words that I had been renowned for. Now, I barely remember that they ever existed.’
Upon hearing these words, our young man was aghast and stood staring open-mouthed at the beggar. Then the beggar asked him, "And what brings you out here on this cold night?’
But alas, words at this time failed our young charger; he was too struck by the magnitude of the vagrant’s circumstances and the similarities to his own.
And so our young man, after his encounter with the beggar-man, returned home in the small hours of the evening. Even though it was cold and his hands were frigid from the chill, he felt a deep inner peace and warmth within himself. The warmth that emanated from within felt profoundly like some kind of divine revelation from the depths of his very being.
When he arrived back at his lonely apartment, the fire had long since gone out and the expanse of his living room seemed even colder and less inviting than was normally the case. As he tended the fireplace to bring some welcoming warmth back into the room and take the chill out of his bones, he reflected upon each poignant moment of his experience with the beggar-man. A number of questions arose in his mind about this chance meeting with a man on the edge of society, bereft of friends and family, and seemingly mocked by fate and accursed by God.
"What compelled me to want to wander the street tonight?’ mused the young man. Well, the answer seemed relatively easy. "Why, it was my anger of course! My anger is palpable; it’s burning me up inside. But at whom or at what am I really angry? Is it my friends from whom I have become alienated? Is it my family, who have always supported me, but never really understood how I felt about my affliction, and were even less inclined to do anything about it? Is it the many doctors who for years have said that nothing can be done? Or is my anger really directed at myself while I manifest and blame others? Now these certainly were big questions, our young man realised.
"Does it really matter if I cannot play sport like other teenagers? Anyway, most of those jocks don’t know a flute from their fibula’, he mused. "I’ve had my share of girlfriends and my best friend Kate, is the kindest human I know. Those few girls who rejected me and went out with those jocks, well who really cares about them anyway?’ exclaimed our young fellow. "Hey, I’ve even heard that Sarah, who said she wouldn’t go out with a cripple, has three kids now and her husband has just shot-through with another woman. Life is ironic isn’t it?’ our young-man mused with a wry grin.
With these thoughts, he began unravelling the complexity and passion of his previously afflictive and burning anger. These considerations even had him to the point of realising life wasn’t so bad after all, that there were many things in his life to be eternally thankful for. His prowess with music was a prime example.
As the fire began to spring into life and the warm glow brought a pleasant feeling back into the room and movement came back into his fingers, our young man enthused by the positive feeling created by his thinking thus far, continued exploring the possibilities generated by his encounter with the beggar-man.
Maybe I should view these memories just as simple experiences and not as pits of emotional pain as I have done in the past. What if, every time one of these thoughts of painful memories arises within me, I were simply to acknowledge it as just another experience? Then I could say something like, "Thank you for coming ... but I don’t need you anymore’, and then I just let it go!
Not a bad technique, he mused. "At least it’s worth a try!’
Another interesting question exercising our young man’s mind was, "How did the beggar- man just happen to be there on that street at the very same time that I was passing by?’ This question put him in quite a quandary; it challenged all the things he didn’t believe in, such as fate and serendipity. At the same time, he couldn’t accept that meeting the beggar-man was just plain dumb luck.
As he pondered this question, he put his favourite CD on his player and the words of the lyrics made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. The words of the song were:
When I find myself in times of trouble,
Mother Mary comes to me,
Speaking words of wisdom, Let it be.
"The Beatles: Let it be”
Perhaps, he thought, there is no "chance’ after all. Perhaps a divine power or God is always there for us in many different ways. He then made a mental note to contact his old school music mentor from his schooldays who was very wise about many of these things.
All of a moment, despite it being three am in the morning, he was ravenously hungry and decided to make himself a snack and warm cup of tea. This small repast made him feel better and another question formed in his mind. It was: What choices do I now have?
This question struck him like a thunderbolt, for he surely did not wish to end up on the streets like the beggar-man. He loved music and it made him feel overwhelmingly beautiful to be gifted with the grace of being able to play his music so sublimely. The feelings he experienced when he played were something that he did not ever want to be without. There was also the self-satisfaction he received from reading and hearing people’s comments about the good feelings they gained from his music.
Despite the early hour with the neon from the streetlights still stark against the night sky, our young man sat down at his piano and began to play. He played as he had never played before by bringing the accompaniment and the melody together into one magnificent sonata. Tears cascaded down his face as if he was being cleansed of his fears, anguish and anger. He played until he had reached right into his soul and was oblivious to old Mrs Jones upstairs banging on his ceiling and yelling, "Shut-up! It is three o’clock in the morning’.
"Oh well’, he mused, when the noise finally registered, "I’ll take her some of those sugary treats she loves and apologise in the morning’.
When he had finished playing, he reflected on his sadness at losing some of his friends. The argument with James, his best school pal, really bothered him as it was over nothing much and their friendship was far too important to be lost over such a trifle. He decided to set himself three goals. The first was to repair the relationship with his best friend as soon as possible. Secondly, he would practise his music for two hours, at least three times a week. This he knew was profoundly important as he felt most abject about letting his practice go of late. His third goal was to gain acceptance into the National Symphony Orchestra and make the orchestra his career path. He knew applications were still open and decided to give it his best shot.
Our young man went to be bed feeling contented and thankful that the day (and night) had been so enlightening. He was comfortable with his choices and looked forward to a bright and fulfilling tomorrow, full of plans and possibilities for new direction.
By Stephen Chong M.Ed.
Excerpt from The Music of the Soul: The Music of the Soul: A Pathway to a Rich and Fulfilling Life, 2011, p.23-28, Sid Harta Publishers Pty Ltd