Once upon a time a Master of Wisdom and his young apprentice were traveling through the countryside when they came upon a poor farmer’s cottage. The master instructed his apprentice to go to the door and ask for food. “But we have plenty,” protested the apprentice. “Just do as I say,” ordered the master.
The apprentice dutifully did as he was instructed and knocked on the door. He was met by the poor farmer who was dressed in dirty clothes that were worn and tattered. “Do you have any food to share with two hungry travelers?” asked the apprentice.
“We do not have much but we will share with you what we have,” responded the farmer. He went inside the little hovel and soon returned with some cheese and a crust of bread. The apprentice did not want to take it from the poor fellow but the thought of facing his awaiting master made him reach out and receive it.
“We have one great blessing,” said the farmer. “We have a little cow that provides us with milk that we turn into cheese, some of which we consume and some we sell. It is not much to care for my large family but it is enough to live on.”
When the apprentice returned to his master with the cheese and crust of bread and told him the tale of the little cow, the master was pleased by the generosity of the man.
“I want you to do one more thing,” said the master to his apprentice. “I want you to go and get that cow and bring her here.” The apprentice was puzzled by the request but did as he was told. Next the master said, “See yonder cliff? I want you to take the cow up there to the highest point and push her over the cliff.”
The apprentice was dumbfounded and protested but the master insisted. The young apprentice reluctantly did as he was ordered and the poor cow died at the foot of that terrible precipice. They then turned and continued on their way.
Over the years the apprentice grew in mercy and in wisdom. One day he decided to return to the poor farmer’s shack and apologize for that which he had done. His conscience would not let him rest. When he arrived at the place, instead of the poor farmer’s cottage, he found a great, spacious and beautiful villa. “Oh, no!” thought the apprentice, “my deed brought ruin on the family and they were forced to sell their farm.”
Curious to know what had befallen the farmer and his family, the apprentice knocked on the carved villa doors. When the master of the house appeared, well dressed and well groomed, the apprentice asked what had happened to the farmer and his family that used to live on that land. “We have owned this land for three generations,” said the man. It was then that the apprentice realized that the prosperous man standing before him was none other than the man who had once been an impoverished farmer.
“God works in mysterious ways,” said the now wealthy landowner. “We used to own a little cow that provided all we needed to get by. One day she fell over a cliff and was killed. My wife and I and our seven children had to find other ways to make a living and to provide for ourselves.
“We discovered that we had greater powers and abilities than we ever realized. We found new and better ways to provide and to live. Each of my children now has a villa of his own and all are prospering.”
I suppose the moral of this Brazilian folk tale* is that we can choose to be victims of circumstance or we can be masters of our own fate. But we cannot be both.
“Up to a point,” said Louis L’Amour, “one’s life is shaped by environment, heredity, and movements and changes in the world about him; then there comes a time when it lies within his grasp to shape the clay of his life into the sort of thing he wishes to be….Everyone has it within his power to say, this I am today, that I shall be tomorrow.”
(“The Walking Drum”)
*Paraphrased from Richard Paul Evans’ book, “The Walk.”