This story is dedicated to my wife for her commitment to share troubles. That commitment has kept us connected to each other, and to hope. Thank you, Carol.
Long ago and far away in the Land of the Rising Sun, there lived a pair of mandarin ducks. The drake was a magnificent bird with feathers of colors so rich and beautiful that the emperor himself would have envied it. But his mare, the duck, wore the quiet tones of the wood, blending exactly with the hole in the tree where the two had made their nest.
One day, while the duck was sitting on her eggs, the drake flew down to a nearby pond to look for food. While he was there, a hunting party entered the woods. The hunters were led by the lord of the district. He was a proud and cruel man who believed that everything in the district belonged to him to do with as he saw fit.
The lord was always looking for beautiful things to decorate his manor house and garden. And when he saw the drake, with its magnificent colors, gliding across the surface of the water, he decided to capture him.
His chief steward, a man named Shozo, tried to discourage his master. “My lord, the drake is a wild spirit. Surely he will die in captivity.”
But the lord pretended not to hear Shozo, because although Shozo had once been his mightiest Samurai, the warrior had lost and eye in battle and was no longer pleasing to look upon. The lord ordered his servants to clear a narrow path through the undergrowth and place acorns along the path.
When the drake came out of the water, he saw the acorns. How pleased he was! He forgot to be cautious, thinking only of what a feast they would be to take to his mate. One by one he picked up the acorns in his beak.
Just as he was bending to pick up the last acorn in his scarlet beak, a net fell over him, and the frightened bird was scooped up, carried back to the lord’s manor, and placed in a small bamboo cage.
The lord was delighted with his new pet. He ordered a feast to be prepared and invited all the wealthy landowners from miles around, so he could show off the drake and brag about his wonderful feathers.
But the drake could think only of his mate sitting alone on her eggs, not knowing what happened to her husband.
As the days wore on, his crested head began to droop. His lovely feathers lost their luster. His once proud, wild cry became first a weary CRONK, and then he fell silent.
No matter what food the kitchen maid brought him, he refused to eat. “He is grieving for his mate, the girl thought, for she was wise in the ways of wild creatures.
The lord, who liked things only as long as they were beautiful and brought him honor, grew angry when he saw the drake was ailing.
“Perhaps we should let him go,” suggested Shozo, “since he not longer pleases you my lord.”
But the lord did not like anyone telling his what to do, much less a one-eyed servant. He refused to release the drake, ordering instead that the cage be put out of sight in the back garden so that he would no longer be annoyed by the bird’s sad appearance.
When Yasuko, for that was the kitchen maid’s name, saw that the drake had been cast aside, she determined to save his life. One night, when there was no moon, she crept quietly into the garden. Without a sound she opened the door of the cage and gently lifted the drake out. Since he was now too weak to fly, she carried him to the edge of the forest and put him on the ground. The drake shook himself, turned as if to bow to Yasuko, and blended quickly into the night.
In a great house, there are always those who delight in causing mischief. So it was that by noon the next day the news of the drake’s disappearance had reached the ears of the lord.
Now, even thought the lord no longer desired the drake, he was furious at the thought that someone else should take what he considered his own. Immediately he called for Shozo.
“Why have you stolen my drake?” Shozo simply bowed his head. He said nothing in his own defense. For although he had not done so, he’d often wanted to release the drake. To his honest mind, desiring to unlatch the cage and actually lifting the latch were one and the same.
the lord ordered that Shozo be beaten and stripped of his rank in the household. Although he had once been a brave Samurai–second only to the lord himself–he was now forced to haul the waste and scrub the toilets.
When Yasuko saw how he had been humiliated, she told Shozo what she had done and begged him to let her confess. Shozo forbade her to tell anyone saying, “Why should two suffer for one crime?” But he took great comfort in her concern.
As the days passed, Yasuko and Shozo grew to love each other, and their love shone so brightly they could not hide it. Eventually the mischief maker told the lord of their love, and Yasuko and Shozo were called into his presence.
“It is apparent to me,” he said, “that the two of you have conspired to rob me of my beautiful drake. Until now I have been merciful, but you have taken advantage of my good nature. Therefor, I must make an example of you to all who would resist my will. You are hereby sentenced to death by drowning.”
Since the lord’s word was law, there was no way to oppose him. He called to his guards, had the criminals bound, and prepared to march to the pond for execution.
But just as they were about to set out, two messengers arrived at the gate. It was obvious from their rich dress that they were persons of great importance.
“We have been sent by the emperor,” they told the lord. He has had a vision in which he was ordered to do away with capital punishment throughout the empire. Therefore, if there is anyone in your district under the sentence of death, you are directed to send him to the Imperial court at once.”
The lord was angry with this order, angry enough to kill the messengers who had brought it. But he knew he had no choice. He commanded his guards to march the condemned couple to the capital.
Now the march was a five day journey. As the days wore on, Yasuko and Shozo became weary and began to lag behind the guards. At the end of the third day, in the middle of a deep wood, the unhappy pair were so tired they could not walk another step. The guards yelled at them to hurry up and butted them with the ends of their spears. The truth was that the guards, who seemed so brave, were afraid in the dark woods.
As night fell and the darkness deepened, Yasuko and Shozo could hardly see one straw sandal step ahead of the other. Before long they realized that the guards had left them behind. They were alone, without food or drink, in the middle of the cold forest. They tried to stumble on through the blackness but soon lost the path.
“Aaaiee!” cried Yasuko. “See what I have done. If it was not for my foolishness, we would be back at the manor, safe and warm.
“Hush,” said Shozo. “It is not foolishness to show compassion for a fellow creature. Besides, what danger of the forest could match the cruelty of our former master?
“I wish my hands were not tied behind me,” Yasuko said. “I don’t think I would be afraid, if I could take hold of your hand.”
“Come here,” said Shozo. “Lean your shoulder against mine. Then we will not lose each other in the darkness.”
Suddenly, they heard a rustling sound in the bushes. The two stood as still as stone pillars, trying not to be frightened.
“Ah,” said a kind voice, “We have found you. Don’t be afraid. We will take you to a place where you can rest.”
“Who are you that speaks to us out of the darkness?” Shozo asked.
“We are the imperial messengers,” replied another whose form was also hidden by the thick night.
Yasuko and Shozo knew they must obey, but they couldn’t help being a little afraid. They could see nothing in the blackness, and the rustle of the messenger’s silk garments made a ghostly sound as they walked ahead.
Finally the four of them came to a tiny clearing in the forest. There in the moonlight stood a hut made of wood and grass.
The messengers took Yasuko and Shozo inside. First they lit a lamp. They they untied the ropes that bound them and gently massaged their wrists. Each of them was allowed a long soak in a great wooden tub filled with clean hot water.
When at last Yasuko and Shozo were dressed in fresh kimonos, a wonderful feast was set before them. The two servants ate gratefully, too tired to wonder how the messengers had come upon such delicious food in the middle of a forest.
After they had finished eating, mats and quilts were laid out for them n the floor, and they fell asleep at once.
In the morning, Yasuko and Shozo awoke to the smell of rice seaming and bean soup bubbling in an iron pot. But the messengers were no where to be seen.
“We have failed to thank them for all their kindness,” Yasuko said. They jumped up and ran to the door of the hut.
There on the path were a pair of mandarin ducks. The drake was a magnificent bird, with feathers so rich and beautiful the emperor himself might have envied it, while his mate, the duck, wore the quiet tones of the woods.
The pair turned and seemed to bow. Then lifting themselves into the air, they flew straight and swift as arrows fly, above the highest trees.
Yasuko and Shozo lived on for many years in their hut of wood and grass. They had many children who gave them much happiness–and a little trouble. But as they had learned years before, trouble can always be borne when it is shared.
(Adapted from “The Tale of the MandarinÂ Ducks” by Katherine Paterson.)
Nothing connects two human beings like a commitment to sharing trouble together. My wife taught me that as she shared the trouble my Dissociative Identity Disorder brought to our marriage and my career. If she had not shared my trouble I would have perished.The trouble we shared together in the end made our marriage and friendship stronger.
In an age of easy-in-easy-out marriages, so many would rather bail out than dig in, and our lives and society are the poorer. May this story encourage you to make a commitment to share trouble with your family, your friends, your spouse. And in that commitment may an unbreakable connection be forged!
If you missed the interview with Diane Eble about my book, The Cracked Pot: Finding Grace in the Cracks ofÂ ChildhoodÂ Abuse, you can listen to the replay at: http://www.askjimcyr.com/replay.phpÂ Many people emailed in thought provoking questions about healing from abuse and forgiving abusers.