bengtsson

Vocation and Another

     

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     “It comes from the goodness that is the wood of the pipe, when the pipe is truly made,” said Felimid, “and that goodness is revealed when the pipe is blown by someone who has a similar goodness in his soul, as well as patience to seek out the secrets that lie hidden within the pipe.  But there must be no wood in his soul.”
      Faste’s scribe ran forward and, falling on his knees before Felimid, besought him to lend him the pipe.  There were tears streaming down his cheeks.
      “What do you want it for?” asked Felimid. “Can you play a pipe?”
      “No,” said the scribe. “I am a state official, employed in the department of taxes.  But I shall learn.  I wish to remain with you and play a pipe.”
      Felimid handed him the pipe.  He set it to his mouth and began to blow. He managed to produce a tiny squeak, but no more, and the Patzinaks contorted their bodies with laughter at his futile endeavors. But he continued to blow, his face pale and his eyes staring, while Felimid gazed earnestly at him.
     “Do you see anything?” asked Felimid.
     The scribe handed him back the pipe.  Shaking with sobs, he replied: “I see only that which you lately blew upon.”
      Felimid nodded.  “You may stay,” he said.  “I will teach you.  When I have finished training these girls, I shall make you good enough to play before the Emperor himself.  You may keep the pipe.”

- Frans Gunnar Bengtsson
   Book IV of The Long Ships

This scene comes near the end of the strange and wonderful viking tale of Red Orm and his luck.  Like the Odyssey, it is a tale that contains many extraordinary characters and stories within stories.  This one is particularly lovely – a high-strung state official on his way to deliver records to the Emperor hears a famous performer play the pipe in his camp.  Tears in eyes, the man is overcome with an urgent and honest change in his life, and falls to his knees in response.  But the complimentary part of this is the musician’s ability to see what no one else can see, namely the worthiness of the scribe.  Despite the complete lack of ability, and in the face of ridicule from the whole camp, the musician sees the “goodness revealed” in the scribe’s attempt, and says the man shall one day be good enough to play before the Emperor.  "You may keep the pipe,“ he says as his acknowledgment.  This whole exchange emphasizes how instrumental another person may be in helping us become who we wish to be.  Or how even when the goodness in our soul matches the goodness in our vocation, only a few may notice, and many may laugh.