zebedee the stonecutter
To Fr William
‘This is a tale I heard from a devout priest who lived in a very remote village. The people looked to him as a judge, looked to him for happiness. Over tea and chess, among trees and Christmas moons, he told me this story.’
Once upon a time, for all stories must start as such, there lived an old stone cutter, Zebedee, who worked for an older stonecutter who sold his stone to the nearby hamlets that nestled hidden in the wooded valleys of the area. He was the happiest man in the world. He was very poor but everyday he would go to work cutting stone. Go to work cutting away at the stout mountains, the giants that he lived under. They were his friends, his work partners. He was happy and content. Everyday he would sing:
'O Lordy, pick a bit a cotton' O Lordy pick a bit a hay, O Lordy I am a mountain, O Lordy I grow a bit a day'
Then after forty years of such happy days, he was asked to do some work for a rich man, a very rich man. He was astounded by the wealth and comfort that the man lived in. The fire which the servants built, the silver cutlery placed upon the table, the plumbing so that the rich man might have a hot bath; all of this the stone cutter perceived and wanted. He became jealous and disgusted at the poverty in which he was living, he wanted to be like the rich man, be him.
That night when he was saying his prayers, he confronted God. 'O Lord' he said, 'all my life I have prayed to you, thanked you, sacrificed for you, glorified you. Every Sunday I have attended the mass. Why then am I poor, and the man I have been working for rich, who has not an icon of you in his house. Will you not make me rich?' God heard his prayer and because he was a devout man, he appeared as a voice to the stonecutter. 'Because you are humble and holy and live in faith, I will give you six wishes. Do with them as you will and may you learn much by it'
That very night the stonecutter wished into the wind that he could be indeed a rich man, a very very rich man. As soon as the words had disappeared into the silence, he found himself in such house the like of which he had never seen. Servants lightly running across the stone hall floor to make ready the duck for burning, to make up the goose feathered beds. There was that smell of incense and leather and food and big fires and most of all of money.
The stonecutter was happy. He lay in his bed all day ringing his bells and singing his praises to the Lord. He would not have to work ever again. The workers who worked on his vineyards would mind the income, while he would be able to enjoy himself, live the life of leisure. He soon found a lovely wife and had lovely children. He would go fishing on his river and shooting on his land. Money seemed to run through the walls. Yes indeed the stonecutter was very happy.
Then after 5 years of living thus he got a letter, saying the king, having heard of his wealth and reputation, was coming to stay for the weekend. Panic ensued, at least panic amongst everyone apart from the stonecutter who was determined to remain happy and untroubled. But then the king arrived and the stonecutter’s mind was troubled.
Here was the king. He entered and people bowed. After him a line of beautiful people, there to do his every bidding. Here was a man who had power over the richest in the country. To gather his thoughts Zebedee took a walk in the gardens. Lighting a cigarette he noticed shapes bucking in the gloom. Seeing closer he saw a hundred gold clad horses tied to the trees, beautiful black servants tending after each one. And to the biggest tree was tethered the mightiest horse, in shining silver silk and peacock feathers that rose from his brow. He wanted to touch it, to ride it. But before he could lay its hands on its arched back he felt a cold on his neck, a blade to his heart. ‘Touch the kings horse, and your life is mine’ a cold whisper ran through his ear. Backing away he looked around. There was no one there.
At the table of supper, the stonecutter could not take his eyes off the king. He was radiant with smiles, everyone one was drawn to him. Delicacies offered to him. Even his wife, who had not talked to her husband all night, would not leave the king alone. Surely this was true happiness, power and love, brought together under a ring of gold metal.
‘I wonder what his court must be like;
overflowing with full fountains and naked concubines,
wine rivers that never dry.’
Money brings a certain amount of happiness, but what is that next to the power of God’s anointed one. And then he remembered after five years the Lord’s promise to him. And that night, in its depths, his wife snoring gently beside him, he wished to be king.
And he was.
The bells chimed over the crisp winter’s day, ringing like a frost. A new king was chosen. Long live the king. Hallelujah! Children laughed down the city streets. No one was sad. There was food on the table of the very poorest to celebrate this very special day.
And yes the wine was flowing, concubines to fill a giant’s bed: ten to a bed and some to hang on the walls. He had soldiers to fly to the furthest points of the earth; Explorers who were willing to set sail to Singapore, to gather the rarest spices, risk execution on native fires. All for a shake of his royal hand. Princesses and queens from France and Spain would queue at the feet of the throne, begging for his hand in marriage, with eyes of green jewels, white as snow, some as black as marble. These were women that seemed to be carved by the ringed hand of Gods. Everything belonged to the stonecutter; there was nothing he did not own, and yes in his heart he was happy. No one had power over him, was richer than him, and to his mind was happier than him.
But the Lord had given him six wishes and six wishes for a reason.
One high summers morning, at that time when the sun is reaching the top of his cycle, his chariot arching the dome of the sky, around eleven hours of the morning, the king, the stonecutter sat in his garden throne. His concubines fanned him, and elephants stood tall, keeping him in shade. His queen fed him mountain water from an emerald cup. But heat does not travel in straight lines. It suffocated him, and sweat poured from him, seeping through his garments of silk and linen.
‘It is too hot! Someone do something; keep the sun from my head.’
He became angry, and sent his court away.
Storming around the garden, he finally sat down, fuming from his skin, under the mango tree. He thought:
So this is it. There are things in heaven and on earth, more powerful than I; things that I as a human cannot control. The sun is hurting me and I cannot make him stop. Under the mango tree the stonecutter made his third wish. He wished to be the sun.
And there he found himself, hung like a radiant orange, in the vastness of the Universe; the mighty tree, from which is born creation. He beat down on the earth, like the silver droplet of dew on the spider’s web, a tiny speck in his universal beam. He was the source of happiness, the source of life. With light the world turns in contented movement. He was the guardian of the nebulous star crusted way, and saw distant stars; his brothers fling themselves across the painted golden decked skies. He lived within a realm where his imagination had never reached, among the sacred colours of beauty. It was like, he thought, a mighty fire having just been put out, embers burning, vibrating eternally.
And there he reined all summer, in the centre of the galaxy, Jupiter, Mars, Pluto all paying homage to him and Zeus, the earth as well. He was all powerful, and so he was happy. He was the sun, the God of gods. He was all.
And then came the winter. Came the winter and the clouds, and his light, his happiness, his power was blocked. He could not reach the people of the earth.
‘What?! Here am I, sat on the heavens, I have reached the top, and now I find that I am on the bottom. The world cannot see me, they cannot feel me. Even the sun must bow before others.’
Zebedee the Sun, knowing that he had not yet found true happiness, as the night came closing in, wished upon a star.
Rolling and tumbling like great drifts of artic snow, he found himself as a cloud floating through the atmosphere. He had conquered the sun and now could feed the earth with his water.
He started at the ocean breaking, and as the wind blew him towards the rising mountains, he became fuller, then fuller, until bursting at the core, with the world’s water. Rising and rising until exploding, swirling crashing onto the cliffs of the land. And then came the rain, a torrent of water skydiving towards the earth, each droplet riding the waves of gravity, splashing into the rock pools of the gargling mountain streams. Fish rose as they do during such showers and the fisherman in their gum boots and their coats set out, braving the weather, to haul the catch; that later would cook slow over the fires, the rolly polley wives tending to the meal, the rain pattering upon the tin roofs of the houses.
And when he had done, when there was no more to give, the earth looked up to him, green and fresh, baptised flowers that were full in bloom, and praised him with nature’s song. But the stonecutter could not smile back. He did not feel fresh and satisfied or willing to let the light of the sun in to the world. He was not happy. Through the storm he had noticed the path of water running, being split, chopped and changed by the giant rocks that stood in the way. Even now he had not power over all. He had not achieved what he wanted. These rocks, and where they grew, were the judges on where he could go, where he travelled. They determined his route to the sea. Yet still he must change to find what he was looking for.
As a rock he stood for a thousand years. Time had little consequence, and was a shallow river, he himself having his roots deep in the riverbed. Kings came and went, forests were planted and then chopped down and floods arrived and were gone. Storms were angry at Zebedee, cracking him with a lightning wrath. But such was the rock of Zebedee that little was effected. He watched everything that passed him and gained much knowledge by it. But with time grew the advance of the human hand. And though the stonecutter stood in the most untouched region, a mountain range that no eyes had ever looked upon, one day he spied a lone tiny figure scrambling over the brambles and boulders panting with the determination of someone that needed to make a living (for the stonecutter a most far off memory). The man fell at his feet and lit a cigarette.
‘What is he here for?’ thought Zebedee. ‘What does he want from me a mountain?’
But having finished his break the man started working. Zebedee realised what he was here for. The little man started hacking away, picking away at the stone. So this man had power over him. He who had power over the rain, who had power over the sun, who had power over the king, who had power over the rich man, who apparently had power over the stonecutter, and what is power?
With his final wish he became a stonecutter; cutting away at the stones of the land to struggle to above the breadline. But when you’ve got nothing you’ve got nothing to lose. And yes he was happy. That night he realised that he had not prayed for over a thousand years. He laid out his rug, lit the incense, placed a statue of the Virgin Mary before him and bowed his head, and sat, silently holy for an hour.
That morning he awoke. And everything was as he left it all those years ago, before his time as the king and the sun and the clouds. Was it a dream? And yet if it was why could he still see the vibrating heart of the universe before him, the concubines and the elephants, the rivers and oceans of the world. These memories stood before him, vivid in his eyes.
And yes he had learned much by what the Lord had given him. He praised him everyday for his generosity and wisdom. Everyday for the rest of his life he would clamber up the mountains, look at the sun and clouds, wave at the rich men strolling through their gardens, celebrate the King’s birthdays, knowing that he was the happiest man that could ever live
'O Lordy, pick a bit a cotton' O Lordy pick a bit a hay, O Lordy I am a mountain, O Lordy I grow a bit a day'