The Glass Tree – an adult fable

The Glass Tree

There once was a federation of countries whose leaders decided on a scheme to celebrate their success in creating a whole from many different parts.  They had the notion of a stained glass sculpture; the colour and texture could represent the rich variety of the federation, and each country would contribute a part of the sculpture.  In turn, each country could sub-divide its contribution, amongst its own communities, and ensure that their many peoples, cultures and faiths would be represented in the grand idea.  A design was drawn up, and plans agreed, for a symbolic tree that would be adorned by fruits, and surrounded by animals, from across the federation.

In one small village, in one small country, there were two glass workers of different style but equal skill.  It was agreed that they should work together on a part of the sculpture that would be sent as their contribution, and the village council decided on making a small bird, of fabulous colour and miraculous song, that lived only in their country.

From the start the two master craftsmen were obsessed by their own idea of perfection.  While one was lost in the technical quality of the glass itself, its translucence, its refractive qualities, its strength and so on, the other was focused only on the brilliance and accuracy of the colour.  After many months they produced a marvellous thing, a bird perfect in every detail: iridescent, colourful, perfectly proportioned and so strong that it could be attached to the main sculpture by the tip of one glass feather, as if caught in the first instant of taking flight.

The two men were pleased, the village was pleased, the country was pleased; and so it was in all the other villages, towns, cities and countries of the federation as brilliant craftsmen and women put their own skills, and ideas of perfection, into their unique contributions.  And, when all the contributions were brought together in the designated place, and assembled, the federation was pleased too.

Came the day of the official dedication of the sculpture, all the leaders of all of the countries, their own civic leaders and their craftsmen gathered to witness the unveiling.  A golden cloth was pulled from the sculpture and there was great acclamation:  the sun shone brightly through the glass and the tree seemed to be alive and moving as magical coloured images flickered and danced in the light: however, although generally pleased, something troubled the designer.

She saw, remaining in the square after the crowds had dispersed, the figures of a small child, an old man, a cat and a dog.  The child said to the man “Please tell me what it is like, for although it must be very beautiful, my sight is poor and I cannot see it clearly”.  The old man described the tree in great detail and said “it is, indeed, very beautiful to look at, but there is a colourful little bird, high up on top-most branch the tree, which I cannot hear.  My hearing is poor, does it make a sound?”  The little girl listened, but there was no sound and she said, “I think you are right, the bird is silent and that cannot be right.”

Though it was not quite what the Designer had in mind, the cat, seeing what it took to be easy prey, stalked to the bottom of the tree and climbed up the sculpture, where it pounced.  The bird, dislodged, fell to the ground and shattered into a thousand fragments on the hard stone at the feet of the man and the girl.

The sculpture was imperfect but, as the shards scattered across the ground, the girl described the musical tinkling sound to the old man, and he was able to think of this as a song that seemed right for such a fabulous bird.  The old man, in turn, described the pieces of coloured glass and the girl imagined them as the bird’s bright feathers: between them they were able to fulfil the designer’s intent.  The dog, seeing only a cat and a tree, chased the cat off and, then, returned to lift his leg on the tree before trotting home for his tea.  Then, the Designer was satisfied.

And what is the moral of this tale?  We are not the Designer of our fragile tree, we are only craftsmen and women interpreting the design as best we can.  We are not, and cannot be, perfect in our interpretation.  We should not, therefore, expect perfection in the actions of others when they interpret their lives, or us, or what we do.  We should accept the gifts, however imperfect, that their lives bring to ours. 

 Such gifts, however destructive they may seem, allow the blind to see, the deaf to hear but, occasionally, the dog also pees on the tree.

© Andrew Gold