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    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
Submitted by Dave Free on 8 December 2006 - 5:42pm.

Now this is what Bentley told Jessica and Jacob as they rode on his back through beautiful Sharewood Forest on their way to the Swamp of Selfishness:

“My children, in order to understand the Swamp of Selfishness, you must first understand the secret behind Sharewood Forest. Jess, I have an itch between my shoulder blades, would you mind? Ahh just a little to the left. Up about a foot. Ahhhhhh, there, that’s it. Thanks for the rescue.

As I was saying, the secret to the beauty of Sharewood Forest is this: we share everything. In fact, I’m going to share this story about my friend, the stream. The stream comes into our forest from the Plateau of Lofty Thoughts, full of the cleanest, brightest water in the kingdom. I guess the stream could keep all of its water to itself, but instead all along the way it shares its water with the rest of us. The green grass that Spot was just eating is green because the stream gave of its water. The beautiful pink flowers that Jess was smelling grow only because the stream is willing to share its water with them. And Jake, those pretty, smooth rocks that you picked up off the streams bottom--the ones you so expertly aimed at yours truly--are pretty and smooth because the stream allows its water to flow so freely over them. Even these beautiful pine trees which provide a home for all of the creatures in the forest--and give shade to an old bear carrying two weary travelers who weight more than they ought-- are only able to grow because the stream gives them water.

“In fact, the stream keeps nothing for itself. None of the water that comes to it from the plateau is kept. Every single drop of water is shared with anyone who might want it and it gives what is left to the Swamp of Selfishness at the end of the forest. Now you would think, after giving away everything it has, that the stream would be left with nothing and would be sad and unhappy, wouldn’t you? But look at that stream. Does it look unhappy to you? Listen to it singing and gurgling. That is not the sound of a sad and dejected stream. Here, let’s stop for a drink. Look into the water, see how clear and clean it is? Have you ever tasted such refreshing water? Yes my friends, that is a happy, well adjusted stream. And why is it so happy? Because it shares all it has!”

The two travelers climbed back up onto Bentley’s back wiping the clear, cold water from their lips with the back of their hands. “Now think about the Swamp of Selfishness,” continued Bentley, “It shares absolutely nothing. Every drop of water it gets from our merry little stream, it greedily tries to keep all for itself. It lets none of the water go on to the Kingdom beyond and spends all of its time trying to keep others from using it. You would think by keeping all that clear water from the stream for itself, the swam would be happy, wouldn’t you? But it’s not. The swamp doesn’t sing like the stream, and its water is not clear and delicious to the taste. It is muddy and dirty and it stinks. Why? Because the swamp thinks only of itself and it is miserable!”

“I wish that were the end of my story. If the swamp would just be miserable by itself, we could all go happily on our way and just avoid it altogether. But nothing makes a miserable creature more miserable than seeing a happy creature. And so the Swamp of Selfishness wants you two, and every other traveler that passes its way, to be as selfish and as miserable as it is. Just as the sound of this stream makes you happy and willing to share with others, the stench of the swamp will make you want to be miserable and selfish. The danger of the swamp is not in the teeth of the creatures that live there, though they may want you to believe that, but the danger is in the desire to be selfish. No one has died in the Swamp of Selfishness, but many have lost their happy lives and never escaped from the selfishness and misery the Swamp creates.

A cloud covered the sun for a moment and Jessica shivered as she thought about the swamp. “How do we get through the swamp without becoming self, Sir?” she asked.

“Share,” replied the bear.

“That’s it? All we have to do is share?” asked Jake incredulously. “Easy, shmeasy!” he exclaimed under his breath.

That’s right, all you have to do is share. But it won’t be easy,shmeasy! Remember the swamp is full of creatures that want you to be miserable just like them. Don’t be fooled by their fangs and their claws. What matters is not what they do to you but what you do for others.”

“But sir,” interrupted Jessica, “what are we to share?”

“It doesn’t matter my daughters. Sometimes you may not have anything to share. But if you always want to share--and share when you can--you will always be happy.”

The travelers fell silent for some time thinking about what their guide and ride had told them. As Bentley trudged through the forest, they marveled at its beauty. Each pine tree seemed to be a perfectly shaped Christmas tree, the squirrels and chipmunks kept up a happy chatter, and every once in a while they would catch a glimpse of a beautiful red-coated deer, bounding into the bushes.

After some time, the silence was broken as Bentley spoke again.” Look up ahead, you can see the mountain that separates the forest from the swamp. The stream runs around the end of the mountain into the swamp but we will leave it here and climb over the mountain. There is a cave on the mountain which my embassy keeps stocked with food for travelers about to cross the swamp. We’ll stop there to eat and spend the night.” Hesitatingly he added, “Then you shall begin your journey.”

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