(an Arab folktale)
Once upon a time, a man named Aziz went out hunting with his second son, Anwar. It was a beautiful day, the air clear and crisp, the sky as blue as it had ever been. And Aziz thought this would be a magical day.
But as they were walking along, an ogre suddenly leapt out from behind a tree, grabbed Anwar and raced away.
Aziz chased after them, running as fast as he could. But the ogre was fast, and before long they were out of sight. Still, Aziz ran.
Sadly, just before sunset he came upon his boy’s lifeless body. The ogre had killed the poor child. Aziz sat down and wept. He knew his heart would always be broken. What would he tell his poor wife, Farida?
He wrapped the boy in a cloth. He somehow made his way home, carrying the child. As he walked into his house, he wiped away his tears and forced a smile.
“Farida,” he called, “I am home. I’ve brought you something special.”
Farida was happy to hear his voice. She had missed her husband and her son, and she worried when they were away. She rushed to the doorway and greeted her husband with a smile. “What is it? What have you brought home besides my cherished boy?”
Aziz felt his heart contract, but he knew he must somehow protect his wife. “I’ve brought you a gazelle,” he said. “A very special kind.”
“A gazelle?” Farida said, delighted. “Let me look, please,” and she reached for the cloth.
Aziz quickly pulled it away. “My dear, this gazelle is very different from any you have ever seen. It must be cooked in a special kind of pot.”
Farida was puzzled by this, but Aziz was wise, and she listened closely. She was sure he must know more than she about this gazelle.
“What kind of pot?” she asked.
“This dish must be prepared in a pot that no one has ever used for a meal of sorrow,” Aziz explained. “It must be pure of any sadness, any loss.”
Farida hurried to her kitchen and began to search through her pots, but each one she touched brought back a memory: Here was the pot in which she had prepared the soup after her father’s death; this was the pot she used to cook special potions to cure her children’s illnesses; another was a pot in which she had cooked lamb stew to take to her neighbor’s house after her husband died.
“Aziz, my love,” Farida said, “we have no pot that has never been used for a meal of sorrow. I will have to go to our neighbors to borrow a pot.”
Aziz nodded. “Go, then,” he said. “Hurry. I shall prepare the gazelle.”
When Farida had gone, Aziz cradled his son in his arms and wept until he thought he might never stop weeping. And all this time, Farida visited neighbor after neighbor. At each door she asked to borrow a pot to cook a special kind of gazelle.
“I need a pot that has never been used to cook a meal of sorrow,” she told her neighbors.
One by one, those neighbors and friends searched their pots, and one by one, they remembered tales of sorrow: This one was used when a baby died; this one was for the day a woman’s children grew up and moved away from home; in another a woman had prepared the sweets for her mother when she was dying; another was used for a meal when a dear friend died.
In house after house, Farida listened to these sad stories, to tales of families who had lost their beloveds to death, to illness, to departure. She heard stories of people who had lost fortunes and those who had lost friends. She listened as people spoke of lost brothers and sisters, romances that dissolved in sorrow.
Farida wept with her friends, and she walked home slowly. She hated to disappoint Aziz, but she found only pots that had cooked meals of sorrow.
When she opened the door to her home, Aziz ran to her. “My love,” he said. His face was streaked with tears, just like hers.
He opened the cloth, and Farida saw her son.
Her heart nearly burst, but now she understood why her husband had sent her looking for this pot.
Everyone has suffered sorrow. Everyone carries burdens. We are not alone in our sadness, no matter how alone we feel.
“I understand,” Farida said softly.
“It is the gift of the gazelle,” Aziz said, and they embraced and wept.
As time passed, they came to accept their son’s death as part of life — terribly sad, of course, some days too painful to bear.
But they did not feel alone.