The Shepherd’s Flute

  One night when the skies were clear, letting the cold stars frost the ground, an old shepherd sat alone on the side of a great mountain. The cold of approaching winter reminded him only of his age, and sadness crept into his heart as he wondered of what value his life had been. “All my life I have roamed the mountain” he thought to himself, “and I have taken to myself neither wife nor friends. Only the sheep have shared my years.” And his sorrow prompted him to question whether his life had been of value in God’s sight.

Below he could see the lights of the villages, and he thought of the many kindnesses and good things he might have done amongst them; of the burdens he might have shared, or the many moments lightened.

His sorrow deepened as he looked back on the past, remembering the unshared wonder of his lonely nights. He remembered the nights when a mellow summer moon lit the drifting mists, making the trees and hollows beautiful and mysterious in the half light. Memories of the warm perfumes of the mountain meadows, on nights when the gentle movements of the sheep and the distant murmur of the streams filled him with peace and happiness. He recalled the music he had made with his wooden flute as he sat alone but for the sheep and the mountain.

But all of this he had done alone, with none to know the beauty of it all. Then, taking out his flute he held it gently in his gnarled hands. But the outdoors and the mountain life had taken away its music, and the old shepherd wept.

Yet even as the tears fell from his eyes on to the flute he began to hear a distant sound. Looking around he could not see from whence it came, yet all the time it grew in volume. As he looked wondering into the valley it burst upon him as a great symphony echoing up from below. So beautiful and so sweet was it, that his tears of sorrow became tears of joy, and he stood up breathless to look into the valley laid out beneath him.

As he stood transfixed by the wonder of the silver toned sounds that told of the mountain in all its various beauties God spoke to him and said, “Old shepherd, do you not recognise the music?”

Overcome and frightened by the voice, the shepherd fell upon his knees unable to speak. Then God came forward and touched him upon the brow, and in that instant he knew that the music was his own. It was a fragment of the beauty he had unknowingly planted within each heart in the valley. It was the sound of his flute as it had been heard in the villages on quiet nights. At this his joy knew no bounds, transforming his features, and in that instant he died to this life.

On the spot where they found him kneeling the villagers have raised a rude stone cross to mark his passing. And sometimes, on nights when the clear skies let the cold stars frost the mountain pastures, one can still hear the sound of a distant flute, and an old man’s happy laughter.

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