Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Wise Man, His Son, and the Camel

There is an ancient parable about a wise man who travels with is son and a camel through the desert on a long journey.  Being wise and kind, he estimates the sweltering heat will take a toll on his steadfast animal and so decides to unburden the beast for a short period.

My daughter is screaming.  She has planted herself on the ground in the middle of a shopping center, and dug her heals in.  She will not move.  After a day of disappointments she has reached her breaking point.  Overwhelmed by the helplessness of being a seven year old, she has decided to take control over the only thing she has left: her body.

My wife and I approach the situation cautiously.  Although our blood is starting to boil, we recognize a pattern of behavior that signals fatigue and probably hunger.  Our compassion is blunted by a repeated pattern that both of us know needs to be broken.  Even if her behavior has an explanation, at some point maladaptive actions need to be redirected into more mature coping skills.

People are starting to stare.

As with any journey of consequence, the wise man and his son encounter fellow travelers from time to time.   The first is a set of merchants, leading a caravan of pack animals lugging their wears from one port of commerce to the next.  They are men of few words but distinct opinions.  They shake their heads at the site of the two humans walking side by side with the camel unhindered by cargo.

"Such a hot day and these fools choose to walk instead of mount their animal"

We sit quietly next to our daughter and whisper calmly into her ears.  Our assuaging words are not having the desired effect.  She disagrees vociferously.  An older couple walking past looks down at us with disgust.  They don't speak, but their eyes say volumes.  They think it is unconscionable that we let our daughter treat us in this way.  In their day, a child only spoke when spoken to.  Adults these days have become so indulgent and have lost control.

My wife and I are all too aware of their opinions.  We feel the disapproval pitter-patter onto our backs like the first drops of what will become a torrential rain.  We try to tune the world out and redirect our attention to our daughter.

The wise man feeling the sting of disapproval  turns to his son and offers him a boost up onto the camel.  His son, already tired from the arduous journey, takes the reigns happily. 

Until they come upon a traveling gaggle of performers.  They are making the journey from one kingdom to the next to perform for some important prince or another.  They are clowns and acrobats, actors and comedians.  

Upon noticing the wise man accompanying his son perched atop the camel they shake their heads disapprovingly.  

"What of respect for one's elders?  The old man wears out his tired legs as his majesty, the spoiled child rides in luxury."

My anger is staring to grow.  We decide to change approaches.  We demand that my daughter get up immediately using our most stern and forceful voices.  She looks up at us and her crying gets even louder. She now is completely unhinged.

A small crowd has started to gather adjacent to one of the store fronts.  We can hear their whispers.  A  growing chorus of voices using distinct words but in hushed tones.  They feel bad for the poor child who is being harangued by her parents.  She needs patience and understanding, not anger.

Again embarrassed by the attention, the wise man switches places with his son and continues the monotonous expedition.  It is many more days before they encounter a group of smugglers brandishing weapons and overfilled casks of wine.

The smugglers appraise the wise man and his son and quickly realize that there is little to plunder or pillage.  They laugh as they pass at the ancient one.  Frail and old, he must rely on his poor son to lead him around on a camel.  

"Old man, old man, one step from the grave, use those wobbly knees while you still can!" they croon as they race by on their trusted steeds.

My wife finally gives up on negotiations and picks up my screaming daughter, and we walk quickly towards the exit.  Young and old see my daughters tears and make sweet comforting faces and wave in her direction.

The wise man jumps off the camel.  He stands beneath the animal, and with a great groan heaves it onto his shoulders.  And they finish their journey in this manner.  

They still encounter other people on the road, from time to time, who have a plethora of opinions.  

But now the passersby are too stunned to open their mouths.

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