Josef & the Wise Woman: From estrangement to embrace
Once upon a time there was a prince named Josef. Though a prince, Josef was also a very fragile man who had been deeply wounded as a child by a wicked, cruel stepfather king. His mother, though deeply concerned about this vulnerable child, balanced her affections with her power and prestige as the Queen of a large realm. As a young man Josef fell head over heels in love, and secretly courted a princess of a rival kingdom. Not only was she beautiful, she was everything to him – his other half, his very soul!
Their early courtship was full of delight and adventure, yet as time passed the princess became burdened with the way her prince found in her everything he thought he was not. Though she loved him with a passion she knew she could not be for him all he desired of her and knew that their life together was untenable.
With her heart breaking open, she told her prince that she must leave and return home. As they hugged each other for the last time, they both cried so many tears that the room began to fill as though it were a deep sea, and they all but drowned. Josef even willed himself to drown. However, for the princess, life’s call won over a death-like struggle, and she fled the room, never to return.
For Josef, no loss could ever be as great as the loss of the princess. In his grief, eyes never lifting from the ground, he wandered back to the castle of the king, caring not from that day what fate would befall him. So depleted was his state, and so little his personal care, that on his arrival at the castle gate, he was unrecognisable. Josef was flung into the darkest dungeon, alongside disdained subjects of the king who had lost all, including their sanity.
Josef remained in the dungeon for almost twenty years guarded by his gaolers. All appeared lost including his dreams, his meaning for life, and his identity. Eventually it seemed that he had even lost the capacity to feel. Even the accusing voices that had derided his inadequacies had fallen silent. Josef had simply closed down. Warders would tell anyone that showed interest in their work, though few did, that Josef had spoken to no one for many years, living in the silence of a world entirely his own. The princess of his dreams had fled. And now he, the prince, lay buried beneath the castle of his overwhelming grief.
It was coming up to twenty years when his fairy godmother and godfather thought again of him, their remembrances no doubt prompted by the death of the wicked king. Through means of a magic potion they traced him to the dungeon, and great was their shock upon their initial encounter of him. They moved this pale, shadow like creature, to a quiet secluded room of the castle. For many days this barely human form lay curled-up, facing the wall, and hardly opening his eyes. After five weeks he moved from the floor to his bed, and after another month, he would sit for one hour a day on a chair, but only after he had drawn the drapes to darken the room. Even then the chair would be in the darkest corner, always facing the wall.
The fairy godmother and godfather then saw no other improvement. In the midst of their concern, they heard tell of a wise woman from a far part of the realm. Though reported to practice no magic, she appeared to have powers of her own person that could draw sufferers from their morbid preoccupation and near-death ways. The wise woman was summoned and journeyed long to the castle. On arrival she rested. Before personally encountering Josef, the wise woman sought permission to spend three days and three nights in the dungeon that had been home for Josef for almost twenty years. Initially the fairy godmother and godfather resisted her request, as secretly they had hoped to wine and dine this wise person and learn of her special powers. They also considered such a request so strange it gave them goose bumps, and made them wonder about the real wisdom of this person.
The wise woman emerged strangely silent from the dungeon, her eyes blinking against the overpowering brightness of the light of day. Through gesture she indicated she would now see Josef, and walked slowly to his room. Josef, as usual for that time of day was sitting in his chair in semi-darkness facing the wall. The wise woman approached him slowly so as not to startle him, introduced herself and extended a quiet greeting. She then asked if she could bring a chair to sit with him. As he did not react negatively through gesture, she assumed his assent, and placed a chair near him, and sat in silence, also facing the wall. She remained for 30 minutes, and on leaving quietly told him she was deeply interested in him, in his life, and in his great sadness, and would like to return the following day. She repeated this for two weeks, just sitting with him, facing the wall. On the fourteenth day Josef turned his head slightly towards the wise woman, and said: ‘I like you.’
The wise woman continued to spend about thirty minutes daily with Josef. She was sympathetic, interested in him, warm, friendly, and accepting. She was not phased by his tears which seemed to flow readily in her presence nor fearful of his accounts of the darkness of his inner world. He responded steadily to her interest and efforts. It seemed that about every fourteen days he took a small step to embrace a little more of life.
After three months it became clear that, more and more, he was saying yes to life and moving away from the death that had embraced him for so many years. Within six months, he was spending a little time each day with the Protector of the realm learning his princely duties. It was being said of Prince Josef, that though he was not physically robust, nor much interested in the active physical and rather aggressive world of the knights of the court, he showed great understanding and compassion, and would hear of no action that was adverse to the little ones of the realm.
After six months the wise woman returned to her home, taking with her only her due wage, refusing all gifts and offers of a key position among the sages of the court. Josef had held her in a light embrace and had shed tears. Then both offered open hands letting the other go in complete freedom. When asked by one close to him what miracle had happened between him and the wise woman, Josef eagerly replied, but with deep seriousness: ‘The wise woman was just like a magnet – drawing me out of my darkened shell. She came to me and departed from me in complete freedom. She was not afraid. Through her presence rather than through her words she walked with me through the darkness. I simply could not resist her. The wise woman called me out of the house of fear into the house of love. Her hold on life was so much stronger than my hold on death. She connected me to something far greater than both of us. Somehow she enabled me to befriend the wound that for so long had both named and embittered me.’
Prince Josef lived on to participate actively in the royal court. His wisdom and his compassion deepened. Though still subject to brief occasions of darkness, the periods of peacefulness extended. His busyness in the court was always balanced with periods of solitude. He was always hospitable to strangers and called no one his enemy. Though one could not conclude that Josef lived happily ever after, one could say that he displayed considerable serenity, and when his death eventually came, all in the realm marvelled at his peaceful acceptance of it.
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