Once there was a young man who left his family. He was hungry. He was tired of feeling small. He had a feeling that there was something more for him, something calling, waiting, just beyond the thresh of his childhood. So he left, taking whatever his father had given him, which amounted to a headful of advice and a handful of gold.
First, this young man walked through the fields and forests, admiring the beauty of the earth and the animals. But soon this tired him as well, and the gold he carried itched at him, and he became hot to spend it.
He went to the city. There, he spent his monies. He gathered close to him many a company. When the shiny things were gone, and he was left alone, he went to the edge of the city and got work herding swine.
He didn’t necessarily hate this job. People left him alone with his swine and his thoughts. In fact, he was seldom happier than in those days, being the type of person who enjoys his own devices, and feels at home among them.
After a while, all of the advice his father had given him came back, bit by bit. And because advice is something queer like that- like a seed that may give you this or that fruit; that may sprout or not; that relies more on the soil it is planted in that any other seed- for all this and also for the irritation that it stirred in him- alike the irritation a clump of sand causes the oyster that granulates it- because and because he was who he was, the wisdoms which grew from his self were all rearranged and quite a bit different than what his father had once sewn in him.
Though nothing his father had entrusted him was lost or corrupted (for whether or not the young man agreed with his father, his love and respect for the man was unshakable), all of these maturities caused in him many questions to sprout concerning the nature of his father, and himself, and the differences that seemed to gape between them.
For the time being, however, he merely muttered and moiled over these things by himself, as he tended his swine and walked the steep hills on the outskirts of the city.
One day, when he no longer thought of himself as a young man, but a man plain and simple, his younger brother came to him.
‘You have heard of the two brothers?’ asked his brother.
‘Yes,’ said the swineherd, ‘I have.’
‘Then know that one of them seeks you. And know that father is on his deathbed. I am to receive his inheritance. He wishes to give you his blessing.’
‘I am blessed enough,’ the swineherd said to his brother. ‘But I will reckon with him, and say my farewells.’
When the brothers arrived at their father’s house, the swineherd entered his fathers room alone, to find the aged man lying still on his bed, appearing at once withered and abundant. It seemed as though the man’s soul shone faintly through his wrinkled skin, and the swineherd was brought at once sadness and joy by this sight.
‘Son,’ spoke the father, reaching out a weak and trembling hand. ‘Come close to me.’
‘Father, I need not your blessing.’
‘Then come and give your blessing to me, for I must receive a return on my investment ere I leave this world.’
‘Tell me what you know,’ whispered the old man, as he grasped the younger’s strong, callused hand. The swineherd answered:
‘I know that sons cannot be wise, that fathers must be forgiven, that brothers are mortal enemies and immortal friends.
‘I know that woman holds the wheel, that man wears the crown, that beauty and truth are never without each other. I know that perfection is accident, and work is redemption.
‘I know that mothers—’
‘Stop,’ said the father. ‘My investment resides in your voice. That is all I need to hear...’
A silence came into the room. A silence that made the lamps to flicker and the breath to become shallow. At last the father spoke again:
‘Will you then accept nothing from me, my son?’
‘I would have one thing from you,’ answered the son.
‘And what would that be?’
‘To listen to your heart beat.’
‘Then lay your head against me,’ said the father, taking his son in his arms.
At that moment, his ear to his father’s chest, the swineherd felt what he had felt a thousand times without realizing it. He felt his father’s embrace, and in this embrace, he sensed death. Death, and something bright, just beyond the dark, cold cloak of departure.
In that moment the man who tended swine remembered how to let go, let go completely, and he wanted to do this, more that anything, more than life and life’s living, more than love and love’s seeking. But something stayed him where he was, breathing and beating in the now lifeless arms the man who gave him his life.
Wiping the tears from his cheek, the son took his moistened fingers, shut his father’s eyes, and opened the chamber door. The night outside was as vast as it had been when he first encountered it.
And the winds were cold, but comforting.