The Honest Woodcutter (Part 2 of 2)

Then there was a long silence. The water spirit breathed a gentle but lengthy sigh. "You have lied to me this time. You are not the first to drop an axe into my pond, young man. Those men chose to lie when their greedy eyes laid down upon the golden axe in my hand. Yet you lied to me when I hold this haggard axe. Pray, tell me why did you not lie and claim the golden axe belonged to you, like all the men before you?"

The woodcutter looked to the ground before lifting his strong eyes to the spirit. "That golden axe could have given me the luxury many men craved... I could sell it in the village. Then I could stop cutting woods and live without having to think about money for the rest of my life perhaps."

He continued, "It is the nature of men to desire easy living. I find that there is nothing wrong with that. Who would enjoy living a life when you cannot afford to acquire the things that you want, or most importantly, the things that you need? What makes a man utterly ugly is when that desire is stronger than other more meaningful desires. It breeds greed and dishonesty."

"However, I admit that golden axe would have made my life easier," the woodcutter added slowly.

The spirit simply looked at him with gentle eyes and the woodcutter's weary eyes was on hers. After a moment's silence, she broke it, "But that is not what you most desire."

He nodded almost imperceptibly. The spirit posed more questions to him, "Why then did you refuse to admit the silver axe was yours? Did you not drop the axe into my pond?"

"I did drop that axe into the pond, lady, but it is not mine. I found it deserted in a mill and I took it. But that does not make it mine... I have yet to decide what to do with that axe, much like my life."

The spirit smiled and waited, as if she knew he would talk more if adequate silence was provided. Soon the woodcutter's voice echoed in the forest, "Like that silver axe, I hold my life in hand in front of me. But what shape I want my life to take form I do not know... And I am embarassed with that uncertainty. How could I claim that this life is mine when I cannot proudly proclaim what I want to do with my life? You have to decide to make it yours."

"Therefore, no, my lady, that axe is not mine!" he finished.

"I understand," she said softly. "But why did you lie when I presented the third axe," she lifted the axe higher. The blade of sunlight through the high canopy of the forest rested on the axe's head, giving it a fresh beauty of gleam. "- this worn iron axe that I hold right now?"

The woodcutter's face frowned in reluctance. His lips fluttered with a duality of preserving and breaking the silence of the woods. He made his mind up and finally said, "Perhaps I lied because I refuse to return to my life in the scarce cabin, spending time with no one but the animals."

"You are a very lonely man, are you not? And it pains you," her voice stirred the water around her.

"Loneliness is like barbed vines. They grow slowly at first without you noticing. By the time you realise its presence, your body and limbs are already twined - both your mind and heart encumbered down. The thorns cuts deep into the flesh of your soul and they only go deeper. With your hands numb and trapped, it is simply impossible to strike the vines down. Only a companion can save you from that suffering," he gave his answer.

He added, "Taking that axe back from you would mean that loneliness will consume me again and nothing will change. I would return home with my axe, continue to chop woods as I always do. I would chop and chop all day long. And chopping is all I have time for. To find companions, I would require time and opportunity. Both I do not possess."

The water spirit looked at him, while he looked at the ground near his feet with his head down. When she spoke, one could gather it was with compassion. "Tell me, my dear man. How would that lie help you achieve what you most desire? For dispelling that engulfing desolation is what you desire most, is it not?"

"Yes, I desire that more than anything. To have companions by my side - ah, that would deliver great joy to my heart! But I believe the lie and denial were nothing more than an initiation. In my contemplation, I realised that to change my life the first step was needed. Without it, there never will be any following steps forward and I will never reach new places. While I do not know how I will reach those places, I have first shattered the stasis."

A smile of gladness dispersed across the spirit's splendid face. In her mirthful voice, she said, almost songfully, "Then you have not told me a lie, but instead a beautiful truth. For your newfound wisdom and honesty, dear sir, I reward you with these axes." As she spoke, two more axes ascended from the deep blur of the pond and levitated on her right and left - the white glow of the silver axe and the yellow glow of the golden axe seemed to radiate warmth. She continued, "With these axes, discover how you will shape your life. With these axes, you will learn how to take the second step, and the next, and the next, until you reach new places. Return and may your virtues bring you fortune!"

She elegantly immersed into the water before the woodcutter can express his gratitude. Regardless, he softly said, "I thank you, my lady." He knew in his heart that the spirit could hear him.

And so the woodcutter returned home to his cabin and he eagerly told his story to the sheltering animals.


Once upon a time, in a large warm, cozy cabin at the edge of a quiet forest, there lived a wise woodcutter with his beloved companion. Living among affectionate squirrels, rabbits, and birds, the couple spent their life together in happiness. And of course, as a woodcutter, he cut woods.

- The End -
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The Honest Woodcutter (Part 1 of 2)

Once there was a woodcutter who lived in a tiny cabin that sat on the edge of a quiet forest, just a few strides away from the outskirts of a village nearby. His life was a lonely one and he rarely had anyone to talk to except for his animal friends - at least that is what he likes to think of them. He provided the swift squirrel and the chirpy pair of birds the occasional seeds. For the hoppy rabbit he gave her a small portion of his vegetables.

His friends seemed really grateful for the food - the woodcutter sensed this - and in return, the animal provided him the much needed company. Small animals scattering around the worn wooden cabin floor and birds perching on the window sill while chirping songs he wished he could understand gave him a little bit of chaos in midst of the stagnant stillness of his home cabin. He would talk to the animals about the same little things he did every day and yet his stories never seem to bore the animals. After all, they could not understand him.

Near the modest table where he ate his warm dinner was a somewhat aged axe leaning against the wall adjacent to the cabin door. One could tell the age of the axe based on the sturdy hardwood haft, in which dirt, stain and scratches painted the grip and the belly of the handle. Contrary to the haft, the axe head was cared for very well - the iron head was oiled to retard rusting and the blade had signs of daily sharpening. The owner of this axe must have held it dearly, as if his survival depended on it.

Before going to bed, the woodcutter would stare briefly at his pair of callused hands and then shifted his gaze to the lone axe glimmering faintly in the darkness. He would also think and finally letting a soft sigh escape from his nostrils before he lied and covered himself with a wool blanket that has kept him warm for the past five years. He did this every night.

One fateful morning, he decided to not cut woods. He had cut more than usual for the past two days and figured the profit he earned from selling the woods to a middle-man (who would then sell them at the village market) was enough to allow him time off for today. He decided to have a rest and just wander around in the forest.

He stood on the threshold of his cabin door and breathed in the fresh air of yet another summer morning. He looked down to his trusty axe by the right side of the door and thought. Finally, he decided to leave it behind. He said to it, "You deserve a rest just as I am resting for today."

Perhaps he meant what he said, but perhaps it is also because he wished to have nothing to do his axe or woodcutting, at least for a short while.

So off he went into the forest that he had known very well as much as he was familiar with his own name. He never went too deep; treading the bounds of the forest, akin to running a finger along the edge of a mug.

As fate would have it, he stumbled upon a clearing and in the middle of that clearing is a windmill that unmistakably looked abandoned. The windmill was tall and the sails rotated lazily in the slow air.

"I suppose no matter how well you know something, there will always be a part of it that you don't know about," muttered the woodcutter.

He explored the windmill and discovered a silver axe, among other discarded tools, instruments and basic furnitures. For some unknown reason, he felt compelled to take the silver axe and only the silver axe. He grabbed it by the handle and left the building.

He continued his pointless journey in the forest. Yet another surprise for him, he chanced upon a pond not much larger than twice the size of his cabin. The pond was encircled by five peculiar trees with roots that radiated outwards in all direction, extending somewhere between three and five feet away from the trunks before sinking themselves into the soft earth. The still water of the pond was magically pristine.

The woodcutter approached the water to have a sip after that long walk but tripped over one of the countless roots. The silver axe flew from his grip and into the pond with a silent splash.

He picked himself up and brushed off dirt from his meagre sleeves and pants. He looked up to find a beautiful lady standing in the centre of the pond. In her hand was a golden axe that shone with a brilliance that the woodcutter had never seen before.

"I am a water spirit and I reside in this pond," the lady said in a soft and graceful voice. "An axe has fallen into my pond. Is this your axe, dear sir?"

The woodcutter thought for a while as the spirit waited patiently for his reply. He finally said, "No, lady, that axe is not mine."

"Are you certain? This axe is really beautiful, don't you think? Just look at the gems notched in the cheek of this axe!"

He hesitated but said, "Yes, I am certain. That axe is not mine."

With that, she dived into the pond. Just when the woodcutter thought that she would not resurface, the water spirit appeared magnificently out of the restless rippling water. She was this time holding a different axe - one made in silver.

"Is this your axe?" she asked.


She tilted her head to the side as if asking for confirmation. "Are you sure?"


"Very well," again she sank into the depths.

The spirit re-emerged, holding a worn axe. The woodcutter instantly recognised that axe - how could he not! - as it has been his most valued tool of living. He was very sure he left it by the door. "Is this your axe, dear sir?"

He fought against his own natural instinct to answer immediately. Restraining himself, he thought for a long while in quietude. He thought and thought and thought. Never has he thought so much in his entire life.

His clear voice shattered the tranquil stillness of the woods, "No."

"Are you sure this axe is not yours, young man?"

There was a very brief silence. "Yes, I am sure. It is not mine, my lady."

(credits to publicenergy @ flickr)
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Less a human

Today I heard that someone left this earth,
that someone disappeared left no mark here.
Today I heard that someone just got up and left himself,
lying on the ground.

Today is quiet in my town.

Today two boys disappeared without noise,
and I wish that I was them flying somewhere overhead.
And tonight in silence, two lovers hate and find,
one is bored and one is angry,
but neither one of them is right.

Today is quiet in my town.

Today I heard the sound of birds,
and I wish that I was anywhere but here.

Today is too quiet in my town.

(Modified from the lyrics of "Quiet in My Town")


I came across an emotional song by Civil Twilight called "Quiet in My Town". The song reminded me of death to a certain deep level. Perhaps enough to silence me for the rest of the day while my heart was submerged in - for lack of better word - sorrow. I haven't had that many experiences of having people I came to love dying. Perhaps it was the very reason -  the lack of experience that birth the fear of loss - that drove me into mutism.

I remember a time when I was unadulterated with the immunity of death that I learn to develop over the years leading to the present. It was a time when even the thought of strangers dying sends a pulsation of grief to my soul, regardless of the magnitude. It was also a time when I had the realisation that whatever I was feeling must be magnified to a grand scale in the hearts of the stranger's loved ones. Sympathy and empathy, hand-in-hand.

It was partly the forces that got me into med school in the first place.

Looking back, it's simply amazing how one could evolve so much in a couple of years. The news of a stranger's death no longer shook my heart the way it used to be. They seep into my brain after entering my ears, then almost mechanically  the information is digested and transformed into words like "That's unfortunate - I feel sorry for the loss..." that is expelled from my mouth.

Am I less a human now? I'd like to think not. Humans develop immunity to things that they are exposed to ever so frequently. Being immune to the knowledge of death may help doctors to move on and concentrate on the living, so they would continue to save. Saying that they are less of a human doesn't seem very correct now.

However, it's also important to remember that there are levels of immunity. Some would agree that being completely immune and indifferent to death WOULD make you less of a human. I believe there is a delicate balance between preserving the acquired immunity and being susceptible to the grief of death at times. Unfortunately, the scale favours the immunity as doctors are ceaselessly exposed to death throughout their career. Perhaps having silent moments like I just had may help tip the scale back into equilibrium. At least it works for me.

Maybe it's a good idea to stop every so often and ask yourself: "Am I less of a human now?" Mirrors can do wonders to yourself.
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