This is a tale told in minute grains of whinstone and quartz, rolled smooth by a cold deep sea…
The lone chapel had few listeners for this tale. Cold winds and blowing sand kept all but the most loyal or well-covered away. The Lord-by-the-Sea came in his furs.
‘Let me have a cheerful tale about a man who has done well – like me,’ he said.
‘Certainly,’ said the Pilgrim Woman – and this is the tale she told:
Once there was a rich man who had everything that his friends could envy. He lived in a fine home with a beautiful wife, with children who did well – and surrounded by every luxury.
Yet he was sad.
He held parties that were spoken about for months. Everyone who came enjoyed the fabulous and inventive food, the well-sourced wines and the gloriously happy music. Oh, he was good at finding skilled musicians from all over the globe and persuading them to perform. They played so well that everyone danced without self-consciousness. Except the rich man. His feet tapped right enough, but he could not find it in his heart to join in.
Perhaps if he were a musician it would be different.
He joined choirs and and hired singing teachers – but not one note could he set free without feeling that the world listened and found him wanting. He persevered until he excelled technically – but there was no joy in it.
Perhaps the voice isn’t the right thing for me, he said to himself. Perhaps I should try an instrument.
He sent for renowned tutors and bought the best of everything. He learned to sight-read, to keep time and to tune with perfect pitch. But no piece moved him. Not one sound rang true inside him – it all seemed so hollow and pointless.
Perhaps this is not the kind of music for me – perhaps I should try different styles, he thought.
So Jazz and Swing, Ragas and Salsa, Klezmer and Zydeco filled the rooms of his mansion with their own colours – as strong as the smell of goat curry. Yet not one entered his soul. He strove, he smiled, he joined in but the stirring inside he so longed for did not happen.
One twilight in a thin, grey mood, he took to the road. He had no idea where he was going. He usually hired someone to take care of such things. He headed north – and at length found himself in a wide country of rolling hills. Sand dunes marked the edge of the land beside a fierce sea.
Tired and footsore, he rested beside the surf. The crunch of waves on the shore soothed him. He fell asleep – and woke with the tide out. The surf had dwindled to a soft murmuring. And among the sighs of the marram grass came the notes of a simple harp, threaded like dew.
A lassie sang a sad-worded song to a sparkling, jaunty air. She let it lie upon the wind and drift out to the seals by a causeway. Their calls ran over the rippled sand and stilt-legged birds added their piping harmonies.
The rich man’s ear were opened . Some sort of hardness melted. The clear notes trickled down inside. Freely given for such as cared to hear, the lassie’s song made the chords of muscle in his chest to tremble.
The rich man found he had a heart that could not be bought, but only given.