The Parable of the Three Sailors

Kalon Kuday took his seat in the market square just as he did every week. After the children gathered, he told them a story. “Three men went down to the sea to sail,” he began.

The first man walked to his boat and climbed in. While he waited for someone to untie the lines and push him off, the man’s gaze never left the horizon. A breeze filled the sail and carried the man and his boat out from shore and onto a calm sea. The breeze remained at his back and shifted occasionally, also shifting the sail, so the man had no need to touch either the sail or the tiller. A short while later, the man found himself across the sea, entering a safe harbor, and lined up with a berth. A cheering crowd greeted him, tied his boat securely, and helped him ashore.

The second man, before untying his boat, studied the rigging of the sail and motion of the rudder. He then stepped aboard and, when others came to advise and help him, he thanked them. By this time, the gentle breeze had grown brisk and unsteady, and clouds gathered. Leaving the harbor required the man to steer and adjust the sail. Shifting wind and waves demanded constant adjustment to remain afloat and on course. No one noticed when he entered the far harbor, stepped onto the pier, and tied his boat.

In no hurry, the third man inhaled the sea air, felt the breeze pick up, and watched the clouds gather. When people onshore said it had gotten late and a storm was coming, he scowled and waved them back. As if to prove them wrong, and with no preparation, he took his place in the boat. The untrimmed sail snapped and swung; the lashed tiller remained immobile. When no one came to help, the man shouted, waved a fist, and cut the bow and stern lines. The misaligned sail folded in the wind and the boat spun, forcing the man to row in order to leave the harbor. The boat drifted and rocked, moving forward only when a wind shift caught the sail just right. When waves flooded the boat, the man cursed at his fate bailed water with a bucket. After many days, the boat grounded on a reef, and the man washed ashore. Locals to this day recount the odd man swearing and blaming everyone for his misfortune.

Kalon Kuday rested his hands on his crossed legs. The children waited for his first question.

“Which of the three men was most successful?”

Radib had his answer ready. “Easy. The first one, because he crossed the sea and didn’t have to work much.”

Anik agreed. “And everyone cheered when they saw him.” He paused. “And now everyone knows him so he can be the King.”

Tima shook her head. “The second man learned how to sail, so he did the most, and he’s the smartest.”

Anik protested. “But nobody saw him, so he didn’t get any credit, and his trip was wasted.”

Kalon Kuday stroked his thin mustache. “And which of the three would you say got what he wanted most?”

“The third man didn’t, but the other two did.” Tima bobbed her head.

A wide-eyed girl sitting in front spoke up. “No, everyone got just what they wanted.” Kalon Kuday smiled down at little Sibanya.

Radib frowned at his sister. “All the third man got was angry.”Sibanya held up her chin. “That was what he wanted—to be angry at everyone all the time. All three men got what they wanted most.”

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