(a folktale from Romania)
Once upon a time in a village in Romania, a group of young people gathered together. The evening went on, with everyone laughing and joking and socializing, when one of the young people suddenly said, “Why do we need the old men?”
At first the others gasped, but then they began to talk about their fathers, who forever were giving advice; they complained about their grandfathers’ sagas, their uncles’ tales, their neighbors’ old-fashioned ideas. They all agreed: The old men were old and had lived their lives. Who needed to hear what they had to say? Surely the young people had ideas that made more sense in these modern times.
They decided to go to the palace to tell the young king of their idea — that it was time to get rid of all the old men.
The young king was young indeed, and he agreed this was a fine plan. The next day, he ordered his soldiers to gather all the old men in the whole country and to lock them away, so no one would have to listen to their stories or their advice or their ideas anymore.
The soldiers carried out the orders.
There was one young man named Felix who despised this new law. He loved his father and considered him the wisest man in the world. But Felix and his father were fearful of what would happen if they disobeyed. So they agreed that the old man would hide in the cellar, and they would visit each other only at night. No one would know.
That spring, the flowers bloomed, and fat, juicy grapes grew on every vine. Every tree bore fruit, and the young people celebrated their new freedom. But by summer, a drought had hit the land. The crops died. The trees withered. The animals suffered.
A severe winter followed the summer of drought. People shivered from the first to the last of the season. They had never felt such bitter cold. The fields were covered in snow and ice, and when at long last winter ended and spring came again, nothing grew.
The people were hungry, and they were afraid. None of the seeds grew because drought and freeze had killed them all, and the people were so worried that they could not think what to do.
The young king gathered his group of young wise men, but they were too burdened by worry to be wise.
One night, Felix visited his father as he always did, but this time his father looked at him and said, “I know something is wrong. I’ve never seen you looking so sad. What’s wrong? Has somebody died?”
“Oh father,” Felix said, “our land is dying. Our seeds have all died, and there is nothing to do but wait and starve.”
The father reached out and gently touched his son’s hand. “Do not be afraid,” he calmly said. “Take our plow and go to the city. Plow up the roads that lead into the city and the roads leading out. Don’t answer anyone’s questions. Just do as I say.”
Felix trusted his father. So the next morning, he harnessed his horse to the plow and set off. As he plowed up the main roads, he saw the earth he turned over was thick and moist, and, to his astonishment, he saw the seeds beneath this soil were not dried up or frozen or dead.
The weather was warm, the sun bright, and in just a few days, these seeds began to sprout and grow up from the tilled land. Quickly they grew tall — corn and wheat and other crops.
When people saw this, they began to ask questions: “What happened? What were you thinking? What have you done? Is there some magic here?”
Remembering his father’s words, Felix answered no questions. He just smiled and said, “We are growing food.”
The neighbors ran to the palace to report this to the young king, who soon sent for Felix.
“I have no doubt that your father is with you still,” the young king said. “I suspect it was he who advised you to plow up our roads. Speak the truth and I promise I will spare your life. Lie to me, and you shall die.”
Felix looked down. “It’s true, your majesty,” he said. “My father lives in my cellar. I could not bear to give him up. And it was he who advised me to plow up the main roads.”
“Bring your father to me,” the young king commanded Felix.
So Felix returned home, and the next day, he and his father traveled together to the palace. People gasped at the sight of an old man freely traveling in a carriage, and the whispering began. What could this mean?
When Felix and his father arrived at the palace, the young king looked the old man in the eye. “What is the meaning of the advice you gave your son?” he demanded. “Why have you destroyed our main roads?”
“Your majesty,” the old man said, “carts filled with seeds and corn pass through our village all year-round. Some of those seeds fall from their carriages to the ground, and the carts and plows and people tread over them. But those seeds that are left behind may grow if given a chance. That is why I told my son to dig up the dirt — to give them a chance.”
The young king was no fool. He understood at once that the old man was wise indeed. The young king quickly understood the folly of his ways. He understood that just as the earth stores nourishment, old people store wisdom.
That very day, he ordered all the old men to be set free. After that, with people old and young talking and giving advice, sharing wisdom, meeting together and listening to each other, life was much richer and more nourishing.