When he returned in the morning, he found the craftsman waiting at the door of his shop.
“I find myself in need of new materials today,” said the master. “I would like you to go into the forest and find a tree for us to fell for something I have been asked to make.”
With pride bursting in his chest, the apprentice set out immediately – for he considered this the first task of consequence the master had ever required of him. He ran until his heart thumped an awkward cadence and his thick breath clung inside his lungs, forcing him to rest at the forest’s edge. Once refreshed, he ventured into the forest looking for the most impressive specimen to mark. Passing the saplings on the outskirts, he wandered deep under the canopy until he came upon a copse of the largest oaks the boy had ever seen. He ran his hand over the bark of one, then another, slowly narrowing his choices. After surveying the massive trees, he stumbled upon a tree that seemed to reach to the sky. It was so thick he couldn’t wrap his arms around it. Taking the ribbon from his pocket, he marked his prize and ran back to share his discovery with the master.
“Master!” he cried bursting through the door. “I have found the perfect tree.”
The master rose from his stool and turned to face the boy with a cherub smile, “Excellent. Let us go and see this perfect tree.”
The boy fetched the long saw, hitched the ox to the cart, and encouraged the beast toward his prize. When they reached the forest, they dismounted the cart and the apprentice bound into the thick wood only to have to wait for his master, who was slowed by age. Gradually they made their way to the tree.
“This is it!” he declared proudly.
“It is large,” said the craftsman looking up to its highest limbs. “How will we fell a tree this large?”
This consideration had eluded the boy and he shivered at the enormity of the task. But ever-optimistic, he replied, “It may require more time, but we will saw it like we have done smaller trees near your cottage.”
“This tree is tall. In its decent it may push others to the ground.”
“Then we will have more lumber!”
“My boy, this tree alone will produce more than our humble shop could use in many years. Destroying more trees would make even more waste. The wood would rot before we could mill it.”
Dejected, the lad pulled off his ribbon and said, “Then I have chosen foolishly. This is the wrong tree.”
“This is not the wrong tree. It is the wrong tree for us. Let me tell you the story of this tree. Notice how straight this tree is. The grain inside its bark will also be straight and even because this tree has been protected from the elements by the other trees that surround it. Nature’s rains have fed it and made it strong. But her winds are absorbed by the broken and twisted trees at the forest’s edge. When its bark is taken, the wood beneath will be perfect; its grain will run long and true, but will lack warmth, character, and beauty. This is an excellent tree for a boat, or the cross beam of a palace or castle. I, however, do not make boats or castles.”
“I know that, master.”
“Yes, but what do you not know?”
The apprentice had no answer.
“You do not know what I am making with the wood you were sent to find, because you did not ask. You simply charged ahead without an understanding of our commission. In the future, you must first know what you are to build before you select the material.”
The master craftsman turned to go while the apprentice lagged behind.
“Master?” he called.
“What are we to build with the wood I was asked to find?”
The master stopped and smiled, “An excellent question, my boy. We have been charged to build a small table for the magistrate to hold his correspondence. If you look at this drawing, I have sketched its dimensions.”
They surveyed the specifications then continued their journey down the wide path. When they arrived at the edge of the forest, the craftsman stopped ran his hand over a gnarled, twisted tree.
“What do you think of this tree?” he asked.
Considering his previous rebuff, the apprentice chose his words carefully, “I think it is ugly from the outside, but I feel certain my master will find a quality within to appreciate.”
“Well spoken, boy,” laughed the old man. “Notice this turn where the tree shifts direction and points to the north. What do you think happened to cause that?”
“Does this not happen naturally?”
“No, it does not. Left alone, a tree will stretch high to the sky like the straight and tall trees in the center of the forest. A traumatic event happened at this point in the tree’s life to make this tree alter its course.”
“What could it have been, master?”
“Judging by the size of the tree and its height, I would say that its trauma was caused by the great hurricane that swept over this land when I was a much younger man. Do you see how the trees along the edge of the forest have all been marked by the event in their own way? They absorbed the force of the wind and took the brunt of the storm for the others within. They didn’t choose their fate – it was simply the misfortune of their location. The toll from that storm was great… devastating. We lost many friends and neighbors. In fact, the man for whom we are building this table became an orphan on that day.”
The apprentice considered what he had heard and said, “Then this tree has a special meaning and would serve nicely for his table.”
“That it does and yes it will. But before we harvest it, I want to teach you something very important. Like the magistrate who was changed on that day, this tree was changed through the trauma, also. Though they both endured the same storm, it affected each of them differently. The life of the tree shifted, but eventually it righted and pointed again toward the sun as trees are meant to do. It could never hide the blemish of the event that changed its course, however. The turn in its trunk forever marks that event.
“Yet my experience tells me that underneath this turn, where the exterior is rough and twisted, lies incredible beauty. We do not know the depth of it until we peel off the bark and it is revealed. Pain and suffering are but paving stones to purpose. Do you understand this, boy?”
The boy nodded. “Like the tree, the magistrate was wounded but recovered, as well?”
“A wise observation, my young friend,” encouraged the master. “The magistrate lived, but lost his entire family. The event shaped him in many ways. One never heals from such loss, it will forever shadow his path and mark his life. He could have grown bitter in its wake, but he chose to forgive the storm. Though he will never forget what it took, in time, it also gave back to him.”
“I do not understand,” said the apprentice. “How could something that took so violently also give?”
“His experience opened up a part of him that allows him to govern with compassion and concern for the people in his care,” answered the craftsman. “How could he understand the plight of the widow if he had not walked through loss himself? Why would he seek refuge for the indigent if he had not been forced to rely on the charity of others? Would this great man care for the orphan if he had not been one? While he would never have chosen the storm, he is a better man because of it.”
Moments of silent reflection meant the lesson had ended. The boy retrieved the long saw from the cart and the two set to the task of taking the tree. When their work was done, they began the journey back to the shop. Under the new burden of the tree’s weight, they travelled slowly until the master called for the ox to stop outside a small hut at the center of the village.
Click here to go on to part 3.
This is part two of the story. Click here to start from the beginning.