Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Letting Go

Allow me to recall and retell a story I first heard when I was nine years old. It has stayed with me since then, and the refrain will at times run through my head inexplicably. I’m not so certain what the moral is, but there’s certainly a lesson here.

An elderly Greek man lay dying after a long and fulfilling life. He looked around at his devoted family assembled together at his bedside, then he gazed out across the beautiful scenery that characterized his home and all that he had known and loved throughout his many years. What wonderful memories he had accumulated, what experiences, what untold things he had learned! This was the island where his ancestors had lived and died. This was the place where he had spent his boyhood, met his true love, married, and raised his family. In that sea had he worked as a fisherman; through those mountains had he walked and pondered and grown old. He sighed with contentment and resignation, and with a final effort he let his right hand fall to the ground beside his bed. “This is Crete,” he thought, “and I love Crete, and I can never let it go.” So saying, he scooped up a handful of the cool earth and, pulling his clenched fist up to his breast, breathed his last.

And then he was standing at the gates of Heaven. Ornate and gilded, they marked the entrance to a kingdom no mortal has ever known. Upon them was the inscription, “Leave behind all traces of your former life, and then ye may enter into the realm of Everlasting Paradise.” The man moved to step forward, but the gates remained fixed and solid. Then realization dawned upon him, and he looked down at the clay still clutched in his hand. “No,” said he. “This is Crete, and I love Crete, and I will never let it go.”

And then the gates opened, and Saint Peter stepped through. “You have been a good man,” he told the Greek, “and you have well deserved your place in Heaven. But the laws are such that you must cast aside all earthly things before you are allowed to enter through this portal to Eternal Life. Now, free the contents of your hand and join me here.”

“No,” said the man. “If I cannot take it with me, then I will wait outside forever. For this is Crete, and I love Crete, and I will never let it go.”

But then a small boy slipped out from behind Saint Peter’s robe. The old man’s eyes widened in recognition, and then filled with tears. The child was the man’s grandson, who had died when he was only five years old. “Please, Papa,” he spoke. “Won’t you throw away that dirt and come inside to play with me?”

And the man loosened the grip in his fingers and the dust of Crete fell through, and the gates swung wide open, and there was a terrible and awesome light.

And when the man had stepped through and his eyes had adjusted, lo and behold, the island of Crete lay stretched out before him.


secret agent woman said...

This story, in spite of being about Greece, is very Buddhist. It's about attachment getting in the way of enlightenment.

Mozart said...

"You can't take it with you," is what I got out of it. I couldn't remember the details of the story--I first heard it from my fifth-grade Catholic school teacher, and for some time it's stuck with me. I think it's nice for putting things in perspective and showing what's really important.