The Balinese are Hindu. But I first heard this story told by Zig Ziglar at the First Baptist Church in Dallas and have heard it several other places since then. It has great universal appeal.
A man asks to know heaven and hell. First, he is brought to a room with a great banquet of food and drink of every kind. But the people at the table have arms made of long fork-like poles and although they are able to spear the food, they are unable to bring the food to their mouths. They sit at the table in great angrish, crying and hungry. He is horrified by the scene and wants to be taken away. That, he is told, is hell.
Next, he is taken to a room that looks exactly the same. Same great banquet of food and drink. The arms of the people are also made of the same long fork-like poles so they cannot bring the food to their mouths. But there are no anguished cries. Instead there is laughter and joy. They discovered that even though they could not feed themselves, they could feed one another. This, he is told, is heaven.
What is the difference between these two places? Nothing. They are exactly the same in every detail. The only difference is some people realize they are already in heaven. And others do not. Those who recognize they are already there feed one another with joy and laughter. Those who do not, wail in anguish and hunger because they either do not realize they can feed one another, or they do not want to.
Assume someone in the room where everyone is being fed becomes indignant because they see someone who has caused great harm to others in their past. They refuse to feed this person and work hard to get others to do the same. Is that person who chooses to punish the “sinner” by not feeding him helping to create heaven? Or hell?
I found "Mrs. Warren’s Profession" at the library. I was reminded of it the other day, during the Sacred Space Bible Study, because the idea was brought up of choosing the lesser of two evils.
The play wasn’t exactly as I remembered it. It’s about Vivie, who has spent her life in boarding schools. She learns her mother was a former prostitute and now has her own brothel business which is how she can afford to send her daughter to boarding school.
When I first read the play in college, I was struck by the idea that a woman would choose prostitution because she views it as a better fate for herself and her child than the fate women typically were faced with in her time.
I found the short story of the necklace I’d been looking for on-line. (What a wonder the internet is!) It’s called “The Necklace” and was written by Guy de Maupassant in 1884.
I read this story over 20 years ago and see in it now something completely different than I did then. I’m sure at the time, I would have felt quite sorry for the young woman who feels she deserves more than what she has been given from life. I likely would have identified with her sense of lack, that she is stuck in her station in life, even though she is beautiful and sees herself as deserving so much more than what she has been given. I know the ending startled me. That’s why I remembered it yesterday. I know 20 years ago I felt absolutely horrified that this poor woman worked herself to the bone for ten years – all for naught.
But this time through, I didn’t feel sorry for the woman at all because clearly she refuses to acknowledge her reality. She’s caught up in how she thinks things should be, rather than accepting them as they are. When she loses the necklace and works for ten years to pay it back, she’s still caught up in how she thinks things should be.
The woman telling her that the necklace is merely paste and worth very little is reality. Sometimes that’s how awareness finds us – by slapping us upside the face with a dose of reality.
Such a wonderful story!
The story of the prostitute I couldn’t remember yesterday is George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession written in 1893. I read it my senior year of high school – 24 years ago! Funny how stories stick with you and are pulled forth out of no where during times of difficulty. Off to the half price bookstore I go.