(a Japanese tale)
Once upon a time in a village in Japan there lived a young man who worked as a stonecutter. Every day he walked from his tiny house to a quarry at the foot of a great mountain. There he carved out blocks of stone, and at the end of the day he would wheel his wagon to the market and sell his blocks of stone to masons for building chimneys and walkways, walls and roads.
The stonecutter was content with his simple life, but as he grew older, his work became more difficult. Some days he’d awaken and wonder what it might have been like to live a different kind of life.
One day as he was walking to the market, a beautiful palanquin passed by. Inside sat a prince dressed in magnificent robes. He looked so handsome and carefree, the stonecutter sighed.
“What must it be like to be so mighty that you have servants and maids wait on you?” he wondered aloud, and he began to imagine such a life. He dreamed of sleeping in a soft bed, of waking to a feast, of never having to work.
That night, just before he fell asleep, he sighed, “If only I were a prince, what a life that would be!”
To his amazement, a deep voice responded. “Your wish will be granted,” and seconds later, he was sitting inside a palace, surrounded by silks and fine weavings, by copper candlesticks and jewels and a beautiful bed.
A servant stood nearby and said, “Your highness, enjoy your sleep.”
The stonecutter was certain he was dreaming, but he climbed into the bed and fell fast asleep, and when he woke, he saw that he was a prince who no longer had to work. He began to wander through the palace and explore its beauty and treasures for many days.
But one day he woke feeling restless. “What should I do today?” he wondered aloud. He walked into the garden and inhaled the sweet scent of lilac and lavender. “The flowers are so beautiful. Everyone loves flowers. Surely I would be the most important thing in the world if I were a flower. How I wish I were a lilac tree.”
“You shall have your wish,” the same voice answered him, and before he had registered the sound, he had turned into a lilac tree, tall and majestic, bright and blooming.
“How lovely I am,” he said, and for a few days he was overjoyed. Everyone who walked to his side took a whiff and crooned, “The lilac is the true beauty,” but after awhile, he noticed the other flowers in the garden beginning to bloom.
“One day other flowers will take my place,” he said pensively. He looked up at the bright sun shining down and sighed, “If only I were as everlasting as the sun, then I would shine forever!”
A moment later that familiar voice said, “So you shall be!”
At once he became the sun, beaming down on the world, flashing intense heat. Before long he noticed he was drying up the rivers, parching the fields of rice, and wilting the flowers. This saddened him. He loved the flowers, and he knew the people needed their rivers to flow and rice to grow. He sighed. “If only I could be a cloud, I could be helpful and preserve my land.”
The voice answered his plea. “A cloud you shall be!”
This is how the stonecutter transformed from prince to tree to sun to cloud. He began to float across the sky, drifting, turning this way and that in the wind; and before long he felt so full he knew something would soon happen. Sure enough, he sneezed, and as he did, rain poured from his belly.
The rain fell and fell and fell, and soon the stonecutter who was a cloud saw that the cities below him were drowning, the rivers overflowing, and the only thing that was untouched by the endless rains was the stonecutter’s mountain that stood tall and firm.
He looked at that mountain and sighed, “Ah, if only I were that mountain I would be secure and happy.”
And the voice said, “So you shall be.”
And there he was, the stonecutter who became a prince who became a lilac tree who became the sun who become a cloud turned into a tall mountain, and stood there, proud and firm. The sun could not burn him; the rain could not drown him. Yes, as the mountain, he was indeed safe and strong.
“At last I have found peace because I am the mightiest of all, and no one and nothing can touch me!” he exalted.
For days he stood tall, proud of himself for ruling over everything and everyone.
Then one day he fell asleep, and he woke to a sound he did not recognize. He listened carefully and heard a rattle and a rap, a tap and tumble. After awhile, he began to feel pain at his feet, and when he looked down, he saw a stonecutter tapping away at his skin.
He wept at the sight and sighed, “That stonecutter is mightier than I am. I wish I were a stonecutter.” Right away the voice said, “So you shall be.”
A moment later the mountain became the stonecutter, and never again did he wish to be anyone else.