The Legend of a Better Country
Long ago there was a village east of the big river. Most of the people living in the east village were farmers who grew rice. The more they grew, the more prosperous they became, the bigger their fields grew, the bigger they built their houses, the more they built up their storehouses, the more they decided they needed other people to do their work, and so they took the poorest people among them, and made them slaves. The people in the village east of the big river also fought with one another over who would buy up more of the land to grow more rice to have more money to build more storehouses and need more slaves. They were so concerned about themselves and their storehouses, they cared less and less about one another, about the people of the village. They ignored the people in the village so much so that when someone became sick, the most prosperous would shut themselves into their homes and their storehouses, and left the sick person on their own to fend for themselves, to live or to die.
In this village east of the big river there also lived an old man, a widower, whose wife had died long ago before they had any children. The old man lived in a small house by the river. He had a small plot of land on which he grew rice and other vegetables, just enough of what he needed to take care of himself. Every morning he would do his little bit of farming. And every afternoon he would go down to the river, carrying large rocks he found in the countryside down to the river and throw them in. He was trying to make a bridge of rocks across the river. But the river was very, very big, and he was very old, and so progress was slow. From time to time some of the villagers who were sick and had been locked out by the prosperous villagers would come to the old man’s house by the river. And he would nurse them back to health with fresh river water and rice gruel and care. One day an orphan from the village came to the home of the old man. A boy, whose father, a slave, was killed defending a rich person’s storehouse and whose mother died after the villagers ignored her illness. The old man took the boy in and cared for him. And every day the boy helped the old man first in his fields and then hauling big rocks to throw into the big river.
Sometimes wealthy villagers on their way to inspect their abundant rice fields, would walk by the river where the old man and the boy were working on the rock bridge,and they would stop and say, “Why are you bothering with the rocks, old man? Why are you bothering with a bridge? We have all that we need here on the east side of the river? We have land and rice and riches.”
And the old man would smile and say: “I have heard of a better country.” “A better country than this?” the rich villagers would scoff, and go on their way. Indeed, the old man had heard of a better country. You see, when he was a very young boy his mother told him stories of a country on the west side of the big river. A place where all people were equally regarded, all were fed, where if someone were sick they would be cared for, orphans became children of households, where strangers were welcomed into the community, where there were no slaves and there was a God who loved the people in life and death.
The old man had heard about this better country. But he had never seen it. And still he believed in this better country, and so he toiled every afternoon of his adult life together with the orphan boy who had become his son to throw more rocks into the river to build a bridge to the other side. As the years passed and the boy grew older, they made more and more progress on the rock bridge. Indeed, the bridge now reached more than 4/5ths of the way across the big river. And one day the old man became very excited as he stood on the end of the 4/5th bridge, for he could see in the distance the roofs of a few of the houses in the village on the west side of the river. “I can see the better country!” he shouted to the boy. But the next day, the now very old man became very ill, and as he lay dying, the boy cared for him, and whispered all that he knew about the better country on the west side of the river into the ear of the old man. Until the old man smiled, and said: “I can seen the better country,” and died.
After the boy buried the old man, the boy started back up working on the rock bridge to the west side of the big river. “Not you too!,” the rich villagers would taunt. “You don’t believe in those stories about the “better country,” do you?”
But the boy remained silent and just kept hauling the rocks, carrying them across the bridge and throwing them into the river. Until one day, a few years later, the boy, now a man, stepped off the rock bridge started by the old man of the east village, and stepped onto the banks of the west side of the big river, and walked toward the roofs the old man had once seen from the bridge.
“A better country, indeed!,” the boy/man thought as the people of the west village came out of their homes and welcomed him. They invited him into their modest homes—for everyone in the west village had a home--and they shared their food. They showed him throughout the west village where they had healers and caregivers for those who were sick or infirm. Where the old lived with the young, and the young with the old. Where there were no slaves, no violence. And where they believed in a God who loves them in life and in death.
“This is a better country, indeed,” said the boy now a man. “I will go back to the village on the east side of the river and teach them about the ways of the better country and that they believe and change the way they live.”
And so the boy, now a man, walked back across the stone bridge he had built with the old man, and went back to the village on the east side of the river and told anyone who would listen. “It is true. It is true. There is a better country where there is equity and care and a God who loves us in life and death.” At first, the people in the village on the east side of the big river didn’t want to believe him. But over the years, as more people from the east village crossed the stone bridge to the west village and saw how they lived in peace, and as people from the west village came over the stone bridge to the east and told them about their way of life, over time the east village took on the way of life of the west village, and the east village too became a better country. And when the boy, now a very old man, lay dying he smiled and said “Yes, I too can see the better country, right here,” and died. And the villagers from the better country on the east and the west buried him next to the old man from the east village who had started it all by throwing stones into the big river.