THE HEART OF GLASS
Once, many moons ago or under the light of the last new moon, in a land far away or perhaps not far at all….there lived a young gentleman, an Artisan who was known throughout the land for his blown glass works. Throughout the towns and the cities, his fine craftsmanship and thorough mastery of technique was known to all the people, but he lacked passion. What he created were monuments to his own skill with no soul.
Still, his work brought him accolades for its sheer quality, the way the light danced through small figurines and vessels, the delicate turns of the glass, and the spectacular colors. One day, a messenger sent from the Tsar appeared at his studio, handing the young Artisan an invitation to showcase his work in the palace. This was quite the honor, indeed! Greater than any other he had ever received. He meticulously packed up his finest work to showcase; wrapping, padding, and crating his delicate glass treasures.
He set out to traverse the many miles to the palace, crossing through mountains, over a great river, and through forests to the mighty gates. For a week, the Artisan worked furiously to unpack his work and find the perfect place in the great hall to display each piece. When he was finished, he looked over the room. As the light of dusk streamed into the court, every piece was kissed by the sun as it’s last rays fell into the court.
The doors to the great hall were opened to the public, and the entire court marveled at the exhibition. It was beautiful, and the Artisan stood back as throngs of people approached him, heaping their praises upon him. “Each work is so exquisite,” one would say. “You have a true mastery of your craft,” another would laud him with. Even the Tsar, a notoriously difficult critic appreciative of only the best, could find no fault with any of the Artisan’s work.
Finally, the Tsar’s daughter approached, a young woman of immeasurable beauty and insight. The Artisan, enraptured in the woman’s radiance, waited, full of hubris, for the praise she was sure to heap upon him. But she has seen through him. As she walked through the gallery, she could see sand through fire, light and curve. Materials with no spirit. From the lips he most longed to hear affirmation, he heard instead, “You will become a great artist when you find your heart.”
Devastated, the Artisan returned home, and locked himself in his studio. He wasn’t heard from or seen. Delivery boys dropped off food or supplies, but the man himself didn’t set foot outside of the doors of his studio. Smoke billowed from the chimney night and day. The villagers would murmur about it on the streets, and gossip about it at their dinner parties. Eccentrics make for wonderful speculation.
At the end of two years, the Artisan finally emerged. His hair was long and straggly, and a thick beard now framed his face. He walked silently to the local barber to make himself presentable, dressed in his finest clothes, and embarked once more for the court of the Tsar. There, he sought an audience with the grand ruler and his daughter. Now a curiosity such as this Artisan, who disappeared after his great triumph at the court, piqued the interest of the Tsar greatly. He was granted his audience.
As the Artisan stood before the Tsar and his Daughter, he spoke these words:
“My beautiful lady, two years ago today, you told me to find my heart. I am here to present it to you.”
And with that, he unbuttoned his shirt. There in his chest where his heart should have been was the most exquisite, delicate glass heart. It was luminescent, glowing in vivid reds, pinks, purples, and blues without a single beam of sunlight resting upon it. He gently lifted it from its cage, approached the beautiful woman, and lay it in her hands.
She was delighted. It was exactly the marvel of a work she knew him to be capable of. She was stunned with its beauty, and as she held it in her hand, she spun round the room with it. She began tossing it in the air. Yes, she was beautiful. Yes, she was perceptive. But the glass blower did not know that she was spoiled and careless, without a drop of empathy or compassion. When his heart struck the ground, it returned to the fine sand from which it was made, dust to dust. With a gust of wind…it was gone…lost to the night winds.
As the young woman giggled to herself, as the Tsar offered monetary compensation, as the court gasped and murmured, the Artisan turned and walked away in silence. He had no heart to even feel his loss. He had carelessly given it away, that which had taken him two years to create. Now, all that remained was the empty cavity that once held his magnificent heart. He set out in the world to find it again, to track down every grain of sand. He would rebuild his heart.
All night the Artisan walked until he came to the banks of the river. He knelt by the rolling waters, running his fingers through the fine silt lining the river like lace. In the morning, he thought, the first grain will be mine once more. He drifted off into a cold, fitful sleep, and awoke to the sound of the Ferryman whistling as he steered his boat towards shore. The Artisan stirred, and began combing his fingers through the silt, feeling for the grains of his heart. To the Ferryman, this must have been a very odd sight!
“Ho there, young man! What brings you to your knees in such muck on this morning?” the Ferryman asked.
“I am searching for my shattered heart. It is nought but dust now,” was the monotoned reply of the Artisan.
“This silt may or may not be your heart,” said the Ferryman. “These sands are like the waters that brought them here. There is always a bank, and there is always water coursing through it…but they are never the same grains of sand on the bank or the same waters in the river.”
The Artisan felt more hopeless than ever, and sat on the bank watching the waters flow. The Ferryman, seeing the man’s pain, tethered his boat and sat beside him quietly. He knew that sometimes a man needs to sit, needs to listen to the world. He knew that no words he could offer would replace a single speck of this man’s heart. Together, the two sat on the bank as the sun set…and rose…and set again.
On the next morning, the Artisan asked, “Where does this river carry the sand?”
“Why, to the ocean, of course,” replied the Ferryman.
“Would you take me there?”
“Aye. A man who has lost as you have…I will carry him.”
So the Ferryman untethered his boat, and the two men set off down the river. The Ferryman helmed the rudder while the Artisan looked down into the turbid waters carrying them down stream. The sun set…and rose…and set again until the water turned brackish and began to sprawl out into tall grassed marshes. The Artisan hopped out of the boat, and began wading through the muck, through the tall sea grass. Constantly, he stared at his feet, pacing…pacing…pacing.
A young boy of about ten saw him pacing….pacing…pacing, but he knew better than to disturb an adult who was so intent on being intent. So he waded over to the Ferryman to ask, “What’s he looking for?”
“Very special grains of sand,” said the Ferryman.
“I know. I know,” said the Ferryman in response to the young boy’s look of total bewilderment.
Then, the boy’s eyes lit up. “Mister! Mister! I know where there are special grains of sand!,” he called out to the Artisan.
The Artisan felt the slightest twinge of hope for the first time, and he followed the boy. Together they waded through the swamps towards the ocean. Soon their feet could no longer reach the bottom, and they were swimming further towards the open sea. “It’s here” said the boy, “Beneath the water. I’m gonna dive down, but I’ll be right back. Or if you can dive, you can come with me.”
Together, they dove down beneath the surface, swimming down, down, down. The Artisan couldn’t believe how long the boy could hold his breath, and as he was running out of air, turned toward the sky. At the surface, he waited for what seemed like an eternity. Minutes and hours aren’t all so different when your heart lies in the balance. Finally, the boy crested through the surface with a gasp. He thrust his small hand into the air to show…
With a small knife, he pried the gnarled shell open to reveal a beautiful shimmering pink pearl. Immediately, the Artisan’s heart rose and sank. Indeed, the hue, the shimmer…everything about the pearl spoke of his heart. But it was no longer sand. It could no longer be what it once was, be the earth turned to glass. It was now something else, belonged to something else. His chest was still hollow while beneath him lay beds of oysters radiant and full. The man and the boy swam to the shore to find the Ferryman waiting for them.
“No luck, eh?” said the Ferryman, for the results were clear in both generations’ wrinkled brows.
“No.” said the Artisan. And he sat on the shore.
The old Ferryman sat beside him. And the young boy sat down on the other side of him, snuggled his head under the Artisan’s arm, and wrapped his slender arms around the man. Together, the three sat in silence as the sun set…and rose…and set again.
As the light of dawn crested the ocean once more, the Artisan said, “Where does the sand come from? It ends at the sea. It is carried by the river. But where is the source?”
“That would be the mountain” said the Ferryman.
“Would you take me?” asked the Artisan. “You have done so much for me already. Been my steadfast company. Carried me down the river. You have been more than generous, and I shouldn’t ask…”
“Carrying people is what I do,” said the Ferryman. “Of course, I will take you where you need to go.”
The young boy gave them both hugs, and set back out into the marshes as the two men began their journey to the mountain.
Now a trip down a river is an easy voyage; the river does all the work. But going upstream is an effort, and the two men worked hard, driving their push polls into the bed of the river, slowly moving the boat towards the source. The further up they went, the more shallow the water became, from river to stream, from stream to creek. Soon there was nothing more for the boat to traverse, only mountain lay ahead.
“I have taken you as far as a Ferryman can. From here, set out on foot, and keep heading up until you reach the top of the mountain.”
“Thank you. You have given me so much. I don’t know how to repay you,” said the Artisan.
“You have paid me more times over than you know. My thanks to you. I hope you find what you are seeking.”
And so the two men parted with a strong hug, the kind of hug that men share when there is a true brotherhood between them. The Artisan began trekking through the forests. And over time the forests began to thin as branches snaked through rocks and boulders. Soon, rocks and boulders turned to cliffs, and the Artisan began to climb. His fingers bled, and every muscle ached as he scaled the wall.
The sun set, and still he climbed.
And it rose again, and still he climbed,
With the sun beginning to set again, the light of dusk turning the skies to orange and purple, the Artisan summited the mountain, sprawling out exhausted on its peak. There he lay, drained, broken, hollow. He was no longer the soulless young man. He was no longer the searching craftsman, he was no longer the hollow vessel. He was broken, body, bone, flesh and spirit.
And as the sun finally kissed the earth with it’s last tear streamed light, the night sky revealed itself. There before the Artisan’s eyes, he saw in the heavens what the Ferryman had seen, what he had missed along this entire journey. So long had he been looking down, scouring the earth, that he had not seen his heart there in the sky; a thousand points of light in the darkness for all the world. Those beams of light fell into the cavity of his heart until he was once again radiant. His heart was no longer his own, nor was he empty.
As the sun rose again, he scaled down the mountain, through the forest, and returned to the creek. There, he found a boat tied to the bank, empty. He untied it, and began to set off down the river where he traveled for many years, carrying people wherever they needed to go. Guided by the light of a thousand hearts.
And many years later, when he found a young man lost on the banks of the river, he drove his boat the shore, tethered it to the bank, and sat beside him.
“The atoms of our bodies are traceable to stars that manufactured them in their cores and exploded these enriched ingredients across our galaxy, billions of years ago. For this reason, we are biologically connected to every other living thing in the world. We are chemically connected to all molecules on Earth. And we are atomically connected to all atoms in the universe. We are not figuratively, but literally stardust.” — Neil Tyson DeGrasse
Craig, this is such a beautiful story. So enlightening, of a journey that each of us experience in our own way. So glad you shared it. It provides a picture of heartbreak, and then a healing of a heart that is stronger and even more loving. Brightened my day to read it!