The Flowers and the Forest -- a guest post

This year for the first time, I'm experiencing Christmas in a two-fold manner. For one thing, I'm in a Serbian church, where the old-calendar Nativity day has yet to happen. Eagerly I await it, even while enjoying our traditional doings with dear family and friends.

For another thing, life continues bringing me something I can best describe, in the words of a new family friend, as "light-giving." In 2009 this friend, Alex Titus, wrote the story below. He has graciously agreed to let me share it with you.

The Flowers and the Forest

There was a man who lived in the city. For a long time he had heard stories of wonderful flowers which grew in the forest, flowers which would beautify anyone in their proximity and grant them happiness and contentment. One day, the man decided to enter the forest in search of these flowers. It was not long until he discovered several of them scattered about the forest, each lovely in its own way, with its own unique shape and scent. He adored all of them equally.

However, the forest was frightening to him. It required him to endure hardships such as cold and hunger, necessitating the building of shelters and the hunting for food. Life in the city had of course not accustomed him to these trials. Therefore, deep in his heart he grew to hate the forest, and soon decided to go about plucking each of the flowers so that he might return with them and enjoy their beauty within the comforts of the city. Yet as he was about to do this, he gradually noticed that there were actually people living in the forest, some of them in tents and cabins, in small villages as well as individually; none of them were ever very far away from a flower. He also noticed that at the base of each of the flowers a spring welled up, from which the people drank. It seemed to provide them with a kind of inner light, the likes of which he had never seen within the city.

As this was happening, a village elder approached him and said, "Hello, stranger. You are welcome to bask in our flower's scent, drink from our spring, and stay in our shelters for the duration of your visit. However, please do not remove the flowers or the spring water from their resting places." At this, the man became angry, and in spite of their hospitality was filled with hatred for these people, not at all unlike his hatred for the forest in general. "Simpletons!" he thought to himself, "How could they be so selfish as to keep all of this power and wonder to themselves? I will take these flowers back to the city and allow everyone to benefit from their gifts!" So, disobeying the elder's words and with his heart full of resentment, the man quickly went about the forest gathering up each of the light-giving flowers, remaining under the cover of nightfall so as to avoid detection.

Upon his return to the city, everyone marveled at the beauty of the flowers. Their perfume was so pleasing to the nostrils and their colors so charming to the eyes, they were unlike anything the city-folk had ever experienced, especially compared to the dull concrete and poisonous smog of their normal lives. The man then agreed to put the flowers in public places so that everyone could bask in their awesomeness, and the people became happy and content, their inner turmoil and pain washing way from them like snow melting from a rooftop. The city soon became more beautiful than anyone could remember.

After a short while, however, the flowers began to wilt and lose their colors. Their scent was no longer as strong, and the people were no longer happy from seeing and smelling them. Eventually, all of the flowers turned black and died, and the city once again returned to the way it was formerly. In their disappointment, the people asked the man to return to the forest and see if he could bring back replacements for the flowers which had until recently beautified their city. Agreeing, the man did return to the forest, although thinking that the flowers would no longer be there, not to mention fearing how the forest-dwellers would react to his presence after what he had done.

When he arrived back in the forest, he was amazed to see that each of the flowers he plucked had grown back to its original state, and the people went about their lives the same way they had before. Even more surprising though was that upon seeing him, the village elders did not try to harm him or drive him away. Suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of biting shame, the man fell to his knees and asked their forgiveness. At this point one of the elders took him by the hand and said, "Please tell me what happened." The man then divulged his story, that is, how he wanted to use the flowers to beautify the city, but how the flowers he plucked had eventually wilted and died.

Sighing, the elder said, "You see, the flower requires the forest to survive; when you cut a living thing off from its roots, it dies soon after. As you have seen, we need the flowers as much as the flowers need the forest. That is why, although it seems strange to you, we have chosen to live here. In fact, there was a time when the whole world was covered by forests. However, a portion of mankind eventually took what they thought to be the easier life, and cut down the forest to make room for these great walled cities, not unlike the one from which you yourself have come; as you can see, in forsaking the forest, they have also forsaken the flower, and the flower is the lifeblood of all humanity. Please, come and live with us for a while, for it is difficult for me to explain to you things which you have only experienced peripherally." Beginning to understand, the man accepted the elder's offer.

At first, life was difficult; the man learned quickly that having to chop wood, make clothes, and hunt for food were all part of forest life. At the same time, however, he was also permitted to smell the local village flower, drink from its spring, and otherwise bask in its radiance. After a while, he felt the spirit growing within him, and life in the forest no longer seemed so difficult; in fact, he came to rather enjoy it. After more and more time had passed, he grew fuller in light and wisdom than he had ever been before. Eventually, he himself went on to become a village elder and acted as a guide for his community. He never again returned to live in the city, but only visited there on occasion, simply to inform the people what they had lost, and where it could be found again.