The man tried to look out of the tiny window in the tower where he lived. He stretched and strained his eyes, but could hardly make out any of the town below.
He had worked on this forbidding edifice for most of his life, carefully securing each stone in its place, until it was solid. There was no possible way for anybody to intrude on his space now!
The stones and other building materials were made from the wrongs and offenses against the man, starting when he was just a small boy. He collected and saved each one, naming it and reviewing the circumstances that created it. He could tell the story behind each rock with intricate details.
Many of the townspeople had tried to visit with him through the years. They would smile and greet him cheerfully, whenever he went to the martket. After numerous unsuccessful attempts, however, they had drifted away from him, tired of receiving angry, bitter replies when they offered him friendship.
Now, as he stood on tiptoe, trying to look out, he found himself experiencing something new. He wasn’t sure what to call it exactly; a gnawing pain within…a terrible emptiness. He felt as though he might cry, but the tears stayed frozen, just behind his eyes. The lump in his throat grew; his shoulders tensed and he began to feel a headache coming on.
“Maybe if I lie down for a while,” he thought.
After lounging for most of the day, his head felt better, but the gnawing emptiness within was twice as big as it had been earlier; in fact, it was so enormous, it filled the room.
“Perhaps a walk would help,” he thought, so he put on his hat and took his staff; then started trudging down the long flight of steps to the door at the bottom of the tower.
When he got there, the Emptiness Monster blocked his path.
“You can’t go out there,” it growled, “you have to stay here with me. I’m hungry and I’m going to eat you up!”
“No,” cried the man, “where did you come from anyway? I never invited you in here!”
“Yes you did,” replied the monster, “As a matter of fact, you created me and now, I’m going to eat you up.”
The man turned and ran back up the stairs. He was out of breath when he reached the top, but he kept moving, afraid to look back. When he closed the door to his apartment, he turned around to see the Emptiness Monster standing there, staring him in the face.
“Go away,” the man yelled, “I don’t want you here!”
“I can’t,” the monster said coolly, “I am part of you. If I leave, I die. And now, I’m going to eat you up.”
The man thought desperately. There had to be a way to escape this ugly thing. He sat down in his favorite chair and closed his eyes. Perhaps this monster will leave if he ignores it. When he looked up, however, the monster was standing over him, licking its chopps.
“I can’t decide if you’d taste better italian style or just with a little salt, pepper and ketchup,” mused the monster.
“None of the above,” shouted the man, “Go away!”
“I already told you, I can’t. Besides, I’m starving.”
The man was at his wit’s end. “Somebody help me,” he cried.
“I can help,” a small, soft voice said.
Startled, the man looked around to find the source of these words. At last, he saw a small, white bird sitting on the windowsill.
He laughed; then scoffed, “Who are you and what do you think you can do with this large, ugly monster?”
“I will help you to get free,” replied the bird.
“Stop making fun of me…get out of here!”
The man was so frightened, distressed, confused and undone, he didn’t know what to do with himself.
“If that’s what you really want,” answered the bird, “I’ll leave, but there will be no one else to help you.”
“You heard him,” roared the monster, “get out of here!”
At that, the man decided to take a chance. If the monster didn’t like this little bird, he had nothing to lose! Besides, he was desperate.
“No,” called the man, “tell me what you can do to help.”
“Ah, spat the monster,” that little thing can’t do anything! This is all a delay tactic. I’m famished; I’m going to eat you up!”
“First,” said the bird, “you must forgive your neighbor. You know, the one that didn’t speak to you at the market last week.”
“I…I can’t,” complained the man, “he hurt my feelings. I was just trying to be friendly.”
“You have hurt him many times,” replied the bird, “If you forgive him, this window will grow larger and that monster will lose a bit of size.”
AS the man sat, considering the bird’s exhortation, he noticed that the monster was looking through his kitchen for condiments and various utensils. He was humming a dreadful tune as he worked.
What did he have to lose? He could try this forgiveness thing or face certain death at the hands of this monster.
“All right,” he said abruptly, “tell me how to do that.”
The bird fluttered its wings and seemed to smile. “It’s simple enough. Just repeat after me: I forgive…”
The man repeated the words; then watched in astonishment as his window doubled in size and the monster lost both height and girth.
“Hey,” protested the monster, “what did you do that for! Bird, I told you to get lost!” He swung at the fine white creature with a spatual; but it broek into pieces before his very eyes.
The man found a glimmer of hope within. Maybe this bird could help him after all!
“Now what do I do?”
“Forgive your brother for his absence last Christmas.”
“I can’t do that,” the man stormed, “I had to spend the holidays alone! He could have come, even if it was just for a couple of hours.”
“Yes, he could have,” agreed the bird, “or you could have gone to his house. He did invite you first, after all.”
AS the man struggled with this, he noticed that the monster had gone back to his dinner preparations. He was humming that awful song again. HE also seemed to regain some of his size.
“Hmmm, there isn’t a pan big enough for you,” the monster said, “I’ll have to eat you a little at a time.”
“Forgive,” pleaded the bird, “do it now!”
“Quiet,” roared the monster as he threw a knife at her. It shattered into bits on the floor.
Now the man was very afraid.
“O-okay,” he whispered, “help me to forgive my brother.”
“And for the time he told you that you are a bitter man.”
“Okay, okay,” he cried, “I forgive him.
Immediatley, the tower became lower and a bit wider. The monster dropped the pan he was holding and screamed as he shrank some more.
“Now,” said the bird, ” forgive your friend for moving away.”
A searing pain shot through the man’s heart. “I still miss him,” he moaned, “how could he do that? He was the only one who ever came to visit.”
The monster seemed to be recovering a little. It seemed that time was of the essence.
“I guess I can,” said the man.
The tower shifted as it lowered some more. A new window appeared, letting the last of the evening light in. The monster’s shriek wasn’t nearly as loud this time. He was only half as big as he had originally been. He seemed weaker as well.
So the evening and night went: The bird challenged the man to forgive some more: Neighbors, friends, siblings, cousins, the government… Things were a little touchy when she got to his parents; yet he forgave with much coaching and encouragement from the bird. Each time, the tower became lower, bigger and more open; the monster shrank and weakened, until he was the size of a chihuahua.
Then, toward morning, the bird presented a challenge that the man found to be impossible:
“Now, it is time to forgive yourself.”
The man hung his head. “I can’t,” he whispered.
The monster lifted his head and grew a little. “That’s right,” it said weakly, “you’re bad. Shame is your lot in life.”
“Don’t listen to him,” The bird said earnestly.
“If you knew all that I have done, how right the monster is…” The man began to sob, something he had not done since he was very small.
“I do know. Most of the things you count as wrong aren’t. You were a child and not at fault. Later, you did things that were hurtful; you are responsible for those, but there is a way to resore everything. It starts by forgiving yourself.”
“Did you know that bird’s a liar,” the monster was now the size of a spaniel.
The man looked at it in horror. IT was growing again; yet he could not forgive himself.
“What do I do,” he whispered desperately.
“Forgive YOURSELF,” urged the bird, “that is the only thing that will defeat this monster for good!”
It was almost noon and the monster had grown to the size of a mule. It had tried catching the bird, spearing it with knives and other sharp objects, yelling at it, scaring it away and trying to convince the man to hold onto his guilt and shame.
Finally, with a desperate plea from the bird and lots of help, he did it: He forgave himself.
Instantly, the tower fell away, the monster shrank to a grease spot on the ground and the man found himself sitting in front of a pleasant little cottage that had lots of windows and open space.
The moral of this story?
Hold onto offenses, refuse to forgive and you will build a big, dark, stinky tower in which you will live. The monster of shame, self doubt, guilt and isolation will eat you alive.
Forgive, start each day with fresh hope and you will have an open life, filled with abundant love and light.