Once upon a time there was a young man, a boy really, who lived apart, with his wife and two small children. He spent his days in the usual way, working, playing, and learning about life through the various means available to young men such as he. One day while the young man was busy at his work he heard a call from across the way. Looking up, but not seeing from whom the call had come, the young man bent his head once again to his work. Oddly enough the call came again, clear as a bell this time, calling loudly and with urgency. The young man looked up but could see no indication of the source of the voice. Never one to ignore the obvious, the young man decided to investigate the call. He put down his tools and untied his apron, laying both upon his work, and ventured a little way toward the place from where the call had come. But the young man could see no one and no thing that might have made those calls. Hesitantly, the young man called out himself, toward the place where he thought he had heard the voice. But there was no answer. Frowning, and turning back to his place at his workbench the man was startled to feel a tug at his shoulder and a voice directly beside him that said, “Come.” The young man turned once more and found himself facing an old man who held a book and whose eyes twinkled with both mischief and knowledge. The old man said again, “Come.” And the young man did.
The young man traveled with the old man for a long time. The old man gave to him a book like his own and taught him to read its words and to reflect on their meaning always. This the young man did every day, reading the entire book cover to cover in a very short time. As he read he was filled with questions which he asked the old man daily. The old man smiled at his eagerness and continued to walk beside him answering, teaching, encouraging, and reminding. The young man grew while walking next to the old man also and the young man’s family grew as well. His wife and children now walked beside the old man and read from the book and they asked their own questions of him each day. The young man learned much in those days as did his family and they all grew older together.
But there came a new day when the old man told the now slightly older young man that it was time for their paths to separate. The old man had other young men to tend to and must now answer their questions and teach, encourage, and remind them daily. The old man told the young man that he had taught him all that he could and that if the young man was to continue to age as he should he had to move on to a new place. He directed the hesitant young man to go to a new place where his small family could find a larger family. They would be folded into this new family and welcomed as one of their own. The young man packed up his family’s belongings and they moved to the new place. It was as the old man had said. The new family was large and they welcomed the younger family with open arms. They ate with the young man and his family, they played with them, and they worked alongside of them. There were new old men in the large family for them too. The oldest of these was strong in the book and taught as well as he could to those who would come to hear. But most importantly the new old man loved all of his children. The other old men of the large family were younger and less forceful in their teaching but were all very full of mischief, humor, and love of their own. The young man and his family loved them all in return and they felt at home for a long time.
But as had happened before, a new day inevitably came. The old man of the large family told his children that it was time for him to go to a new place of his own. He told them that he heard a voice call him to a place far away and said that the voice told him he was needed there and had to leave. He cried as he spoke these words and his family cried with him because they would sorely miss him and because they were unsure of who would now be their teacher, encourager, and reminder. The large family sent him off as best they could, with joy and tears, and with lots of humor and mischief. But into his place there was no one to step. The slightly younger old men did not assume his position for they had heard no voice and felt inappropriately aged. One by one these men found themselves listening to voices of their own which called them to places apart from the large family and they too listened and left the large family and they did not ever return.
During all of this time with the large family the young man grew considerably. Although not yet an old man, he was no longer young. He was a man now and learning to stand upon his own feet and to teach his children as well as the children of others. He was sure of the voice he had heard that called him loudly and instructed him to work diligently at this new work.
The large family suffered badly after the ‘leaving,’ as it was soon called. The small families were uncertain without their old and aged teachers. They felt alone and unwatched. There was no encouraging any longer and no reminding. The book seemed to be neglected in favor of spoiling the children. Almost imperceptibly the awful began to occur. Small families of young people began to drift away from the large family. They were largely unnoticed at first and no one could identify just what it was that was happening to the whole. But over time the imperceptible became readily observable and large numbers of families began not only to drift away but to separate intentionally. The large family was being dismantled week by week, family by family, and still no one attempted to remedy the situation. With the ‘leaving’ it was discovered that the old men of the large family had left no other old men in their stead. The oldest of the remaining men of the family assumed the mantle of leadership and promised to bring in new old men. They worked feverishly for a long time but produced comparatively little for their efforts. They talked and spoke and directed the remaining families but they did not know how or care enough to love or encourage or teach. And they had never learned to be mischievous so the humor of the family disappeared forever.
The man who had folded his small family into the large family continually tried to stem the flow of the leavers and to help the large family. He called out to the drifting children and asked them to come home. His voice was heard but his friends did not respond. He was hurt terribly by the closest of the small families that were leaving him. He missed their friendship and he missed living and working with them. His family was hurt too as they watched their loved ones move away and waited vainly for them to return. The man persevered however and promised never to leave the family himself. He worked hard to save what was left. He loyally included his family in the business and play of the much shrunken large family. He offered to help when the holes in other’s work began to appear. He tried to step into the shoes of the vacating older men when he realized that there was no one else who would do so.
And he was hurt by this too. The young men who were now in the place of the old men did not see the young man. They were blind to his heart and his love, his mischief and his learning. They themselves presumed to know what was needed and pridefully insisted on pretending to be older than they truly were. They finally did select a new old man to become the oldest man of them all. This new man was not old however, but as young as the presuming new old men of the family. Although this man did teach and encourage and remind the family as he ought, and he did speak words of comfort and promise to them daily, his actions belied the truth of his words; for he was not able to complete what he had presumed to begin. He promised what he could not deliver. He encouraged but he did not love.
Still the former young man desperately wanted to help his family; he could not fathom their un-acceptance of him. He continued to offer his service. He cajoled the men. He confronted their obstinacy. He repented of his own arrogance and immaturity. He pledged his help. He served throughout it all, without notice and without support from above. And then, at long last, he was promised a place within the family where he could finally do his work to help the family recover what they had lost. He worked hard to take advantage of that promise and to be ready and old enough to do what it would require. But at the last moment, immediately before he was to begin to help in the best way he knew how, the men of his family and the new old man in particular, decided against him and asked another to do the work. The man was crushed and could not understand. He could not understand the men of his own family not wanting to rebuild and not wanting the help of one who lived only to do that very thing. Why did they not care enough to teach in love, to encourage all members, to love each and every family in the whole? Why did they not love themselves?
Discarded, the man returned to his small family and told them the news. A new day had come again, he explained, when they had to find a new home. He felt young again and that scared him. He felt as if he had lost several years and must begin again. He took his family to the only place where he knew he could begin again if that were indeed necessary. He took them back to his workbench in the old place; to the place he had first heard the call of the old man. They listen to the old man’s teaching once again, but not as his special disciples this time, but only as bystanders. They are not young anymore, and they have no family that will take them in.
In his heart the man’s larger family remains his own. He has not given them up, as they have him, but he waits for the day when the young men leading the remaining few will turn again and welcome him back into their fold once more. Meanwhile, he and his family listen, and if it be that they are not to return home, they wait to hear the call from a far off place that will tell them where they might go.