Once upon a time, there lived a very young man who was, as they say, gifted. His gifts were diverse, and as he gave of them to others (for gifts are for giving) he found that they were most readily accepted and much desired. He began to regard his gifts rather tangibly after a short while, and soon the Courtesans of a nearby palace were teaching him how to measure and label them, and how to mathematically compute their value. After a short time it occurred to the young man that instead of giving his gifts, he might sell them. This idea better fit in with the new way in which he regarded himself. Soon his gifts were offered for sale all over the land.
Regularly, men would come to him or send for him, exchanging bags of silver coins that they had collected in order to obtain the young man's gifts. Now and then a tattered man would appear, begging to be able to obtain the young man's gifts for no silver at all, but the young man now only scorned these men, and sent them away with nothing but the memory of his bitter smile. Bitter it had become, for lately his sleep was being regularly disturbed by a terrible nightmare, so clear and real that he had become obsessed by it. It involved thieves coming in the night to rob his storehouses of all his silver and gold, leaving him with nothing. Nightly he would awaken, screaming with rage, "How dare they ! ! . . . To rob me of what is mine ! ! . . . Rightfully mine ! ! . . . Payment for my gifts! !" And so the young man set sixteen vested soldiers to guard his storehouse . . . horrible and cruel they looked with huge loaded guns that surely would have frightened away the devil himself. So frightening were the young man's soldiers that all of the townspeople never ventured near his home, often taking long detours to avoid passing, in order that they might not be mistaken for robbers and chased by the sixteen grotesque soldiers.
And in the town itself there came a new polite attentiveness to the young man whenever he went to the shops for fresh bread and milk. It was not the feeling of the many similar mornings of the past, when people called greetings to him glowing from the joy of receiving his gifts, eyes glittering with love, the young girls blushing and running away, soft laughing mouths singing in his praise - all this was now over-shadowed with fear - the people feared his soldiers. They seemed, to the townspeople, to be the materialization of the very opposite of all the various feelings that they had felt for the young man, "their" young man, whom they so loved, and just as the loving parents of a young one who deceives himself but refuses their anxious concern are agonized, so were the people of the town agonized that the young man had seemingly forgotten their never-faltering love, and thus . . . the deepest source of his gifts.
Clouds began to cluster over the town until the sun and sky could not be seen. They hung motionless for days, letting in neither sun nor moonshine, yet it did not rain and the wind would not come to move them.
The greyness of the days made everything look solemn, or in the case of the sixteen soldiers' visages, more horrifying than ever.
Soon the young man found that his lover had become ill, and lay in her bed unable to speak or smile or eat or sleep. The young man went to her in great concern, for she had adopted the still pallor of the skies. He offered medications and curatives to her, but to no avail. She remained almost motionless in her bed. On the seventh day of her illness the young man realized that the one thing that he had not tried was the one most obvious cure. His gifts! Surely they had cured everyone in the land of one thing or another.
He went to his lover in her chamber and commanded that no one disturb their communion for the afternoon. The servants were used to this order, although had they suspected that he intended to give his ailing beloved of his gifts, they most surely would have listened in at the keyhole.
The young man gave to her every facet, every subtlety and strength of his great gifts on that afternoon, and they seemed fin his own judgments never to have been more radiant.
After the presentations the beloved sighed deeply, got up out of her bed and walked, unsmiling, out of the chamber into an adjoining room.
The young man was knocked senseless with shock. She, still gray and unsmiling had LEFT him in the face of the greatest of his gifts! Suddenly a ghastly unreal wave of uncertainty and fear overcame him. If he had not moved his beloved, if she had not been eased or even CHEERED by his most brilliant efforts, then had his gifts LEFT him? Was he mad? Or was it she? Was she trying to torture him . . . was her sickness all a sham to lure him into buying her some new bauble she fancied? The young man writhed in the agonies of his misgivings, his fears, his anger. As if driven by demons tearing at his flesh, he stormed into the room where his lover stood looking out the window. Choked with emotion, he demanded an explanation for her cold, impersonal, seemingly unfeeling demeanor.
She seemed so calm, he thought, and new misgivings began to blend into his now thorough confusion. Also, he noticed, it was not really she who was gray, but simply the grayness of the day reflected on her face. This made him wonder anew if she had ever really been ill at all. His apprehension increased with each heartbeat, for his love for her had never seemed so desperately important, nor her approval so necessary for his mind to be once again at peace. His very life seemed to depend upon the words that were forming on her lips.
He felt suddenly exhausted, weakened, chilled, burning. His doubts and passions, raging unchecked, had disfigure and banished the once gleaming image that he had come to regard as himself, and now he felt only an overwhelming, light-headed emptiness, vague yet dizzying. He sank wholely into listening to her then, and this is what she said: "I have watched you learning an alien tongue, and I have listened to you measure the qualities o the rose and of other men, and of yourself. In the sighs of our love-making I have heard the analyzation of our gifts to each other, and because you had forsaken the act of giving, you cannot respect or desire me knowing that I am foolish enough to still believe in giving after you have told me that it is imprudent.
"I was sick at heart because of this, my beloved, and the clouds have come to the town because I am not alone in my sickness. For all the people of your village feel just as I have - they cannot really understand why you ask them to buy the gifts that were lovingly given to them no so long ago, and that the silver that they have paid you is guarded from only them by your grotesque soldiers. Yes, we have all felt the same sickness, my beloved, and the sky could not defy us, for we have been sincere in our grief.
"And, YES, my beloved, you have cured my sickness by giving."
The young man was jolted afresh by the simultaneousness of his lover's smile and the sunlight breaking through the clouds.
"But you did not react to my gifts, you did not show delight or even approval," the young man protested.
"It is not my nature to regard your gifts the same way I would a bouquet of roses, for the roses are a gift from your Reasoning mind, and I in turn can exclaim in delight about their perfectness and aroma, where the other is a gift from your soul and beyond - your essence, the pure flow of your Spirit - which, because my love for you is so great, I can neither accept nor reject, enjoy nor disapprove of. Your gifts reach so deeply into the silences of my heart that a word, an expression, a smile, a tear . . . none of these things could ever begin to describe their effect upon me; they would only seek to categorize what is not a wave but the sea itself.
"What can I say, what expression can my face adopt that can ever truly express how your beauty touches me? It is my unbearable burden that I may never be able to tell you of the stirring you have caused in my soul, of the feeling of movement there after centuries of stillness. But above all else I shall never allow myself to limit the expression of my love by names or superficial praise. I could never praise you, but I could contemplate you as a hymn of all-creation for all-Eternity. Do you see now, my love, that you have given your gifts to me and I am well. But what of the people in the town who still suffer? And what of the longings in your own heart? I am really a very small part of you, and need little protection, for I dwell in the armor of love, which knows no dangers of death or poverty or disfigurement.
"But you have a harder path to tread than I, my love. Who will quiet the aching in YOUR heart, the ache which you have quieted in mine? Who possesses the gift to free YOUR soul, just as you are in possession of the gifts that free the people of your village? Who can help you, beloved, and what will be the nature of his gifts? And what will be the price that HE will ask of YOU?"
The young man remained quiet for a very long while. His hands and breath were quiet, his eyes lowered in deep contemplation. Then, as the sun began to set, he and his beloved went out into the garden to await the coming of the moon.