The Cherry Tree: A Parable

September 06, 2011

I don't often write fiction, but this piece is fictional, my intention is for it to be read as a parable. Of course, I am not a writer, so I am unsure how good it is, but if you're so inclined, read it, try to understand, and feel free to draw parallels to your own real-life situation as you see fit.

There once was an old man. He lived alone in a big house with a nice yard. In the yard, there was a big cherry tree. Old as he was, the man needed help around the house, so he asked the kids in the neighborhood to mow the lawn for him, buy him groceries, and run many other errands he needed done. In return, he paid them a few dollars, but he also allowed them to pick cherries off the tree whenever they wanted.

The children loved it.

Sure, many people in the neighborhood needed jobs done, some of them promised to pay more, too, and the old man's cherry tree wasn't the only one either (in fact, many of the children had cherry trees in their own back yards at home). Still, they would always happily come back to the old man's house, either to help him out, or to eat some cherries off the tree, or sometimes even just for a little chat when passing by.

The old man was happy: Not only did the kids give him all the help he needed, he also liked their company. So he gladly spared the money for the errands and the cherries that the children ate in exchange for not being so alone all the time.

One afternoon, the children came by the old man's yard to get some cherries. To their dismay, the man had suddenly put a big fence around the tree. They couldn't get cherries anymore. "I have cherries at home anyway", said one, "I'll just go buy some with my allowance", decided another.

Disappointed and hurt, they walked off. Over the next few days, they tried to find out what had happened. The old man never said anything to the ones that worked for him during that time, but rumor had it that the old man had put up the fence after someone had taken a whole bunch of cherries, many more than a single person could eat. The man had gotten upset about it, the rumors went, and decided to only let the children get cherries now when they asked for them, and only when he felt like it.

Over the next few weeks, the kids visited the man more and more rarely. Some still ran errands for him, but they got them done as quickly as possible and went home. Hardly anyone stopped by for a chat, even the ones that didn't like cherries in the first place.

The old man was confused and a little sad to see how little the children seemed to care for him. Then finally the old man had the heart to ask one of the boys why no one would keep him company anymore. "Is it about the cherries?", he wondered, "But I'll still give them to you when you ask!" As the boy left, he just said: "It's not about the cherries, man, it never was."

The old man pondered these words for a long time while he looked at himself in the mirror. Then he finally realized it. The children hadn't come to him for the money he gave them for running errands--any other job around the neighborhood would do. They hadn't come because of the cherries, they could all get cherries elsewhere. They had come to him because he had trusted them. He had trusted them to run errands for him and not shortchange him along the way. He had allowed them into his home without fearing they might steal something. And finally, he had trusted them to pick cherries off his cherry tree, plenty but not too many, without his supervision or knowledge.

When he had built that fence after someone had taken too many cherries, he might have had the best intentions, to protect his cherry tree, their cherry tree! But it did not matter, because he hadn't just taken away their right to pick cherries, he had taken away the trust, and with that, the very thing that made their relationship special.

But it was too late. Now he was just a lonely old man.

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