Simpletons and Fools (A Wing-Feather Fable)


First we sent our prayers on flags. We used swaths of blue and green, marked carefully with dragons, snowlions, horses, flaming jewels and mantras. We hung them in the proper order, so the wind could read our wishes, deliver our good fortune. But every breeze, capricious, just plucked at hats, ruffled leaves, and tossed the children’s kites.

Next, we tried Tibetan prayer wheels, bronze cylinders and printed scrolls. We spun them clockwise from their sticks, chanting as we pilgrim-marched, humming supplications to the sky. We wanted pots of gold and rainbows; we got a wide expanse of empty blue.

Grumbling, we stuffed our invocations into bottles and tossed them at the ocean. We watched our wishes float away and knotted up our brows at whimsy currents, fluctuations. Where was the order in the universe? Why wasn’t our diligence rewarded? The children danced in puddles as we scowled into the rain.

We turned our faces to the land and buried all our prayers in boxes, neatly tucked inside the earth. We expected worms to serve as messengers, but they were too slow, too penitent, too humble. Instead of gold, we tripped on seedlings, green shoots of apple trees, strawberries and beans.

Our resentment simmered as we burned our prayers in cook fires next, in bonfires and with single matches, held against the dark. Our begging rose as ash and spark, but fire didn’t heed us either. It gave us nothing but a glimmering warmth.

We had written our desires on cloth and wood, paper, bone and skin, and we had gotten no reward. Outraged, we shook our fists and snapped our teeth at wind and sky, water, earth, and fire, defiant. After such raging disappointment, no one but a child could hold onto devotion. The rest of us just walked away.

Stories reached us later — stories borne on tattered flags, as messages in bottles — but by then we’d gone too far.

Stories said the children hung up ribbons in the light. They chose the colors of the sun — yellow, orange and red — guessing that light would recognize itself, but, in the end, the colors didn’t matter. Neither did the words, because the children left them off. They didn’t write a single prayer, not one application. Such stubborn, naïve blindness!

Their luck was even worse than ours! They got no jewel or coin. All the ribbons did was  catch the light in waves that made the children blink and laugh and open up their arms. Simpletons and fools! They have nothing but the trees and fields, the skies and rain and evening fires. Humph! Every ripened peach and plum and stalk of wheat is a slap against our expectations.

Leave the foolish children to their fairytales and legends. We cannot put a story in a purse or lock it in a safe. We have no use for light. What good is light to us, since we have taken up the thick, dark thread and stitched our eyelids closed?

~ Photo by Brenda Gottsabend; Story by Lisa Ahn

Learn more about Wing-Feather Fables here

5 thoughts on “Simpletons and Fools (A Wing-Feather Fable)

  1. Like a favorite trout stream, your tale puts things in the right perspective; albeit for a brief interlude .

  2. I find that final line and the image it evokes – of thick dark thread and eyelids stitched closed – a provocative challenge. As an adult, in what ways have I closed myself off from my best childhood self?

Comments are closed.