The Handless Maiden

"The Pear Tree" Vincent Van Gogh

There once was a man - a miller who had been grinding the grain of the village for as long as anyone could remember. Everyday he worked so very hard, turning the millstone by hand and making the grain into flour. It was honest work. The miller was an honest man making his contribution to the village with the strength of his back. It was honest, but slow and very tiring.

Towards the end of one long day the devil appeared and says, "For a fee I will show you how to grind your grain much faster and with much less effort." The miller was intrigued and asked the price. "Only that which stands out back of the mill." Thinking the devil meant the old tree out back, something the miller thought was quite worthless, he readily agreed. Imagine, to get more work for less effort for an old tree trunk!

The devil brought his mechanical expertise and made adjustments showing the miller how to create a water wheel that turned the stone continuously grinding and grinding the flour. The miller was delighted as he considered what to do with his new found leisure. His wife became engaged in using all that extra income. Meanwhile, their young daughter remained unconcerned and continued her innocent life.

Some time later the devil returned to collect his fee, and the miller happily led him out back to the old tree, but was horrified to see his daughter standing in the yard. The devil claimed her as his price. They argued. The miller said she wasn't there when the deal was struck but the devil will have none of it. He would get the girl or he would take back his water wheel. The miller was desolated, but unwilling to give up his mill, so he agreed. The devil then chopped off the girl's hands and carries them away leaving her behind. The daughter did not object to her horrible fate.

For some time, the handless maiden was content with her situation and did not complain. After all, there was enough money now to have servants in the household and she no longer had to do the work that required her hands. In time, however, she became unhappy at her inability to do things and she grew more withdrawn, more distressed. Finally, she began to weep and was unable to stop.

She left home and went alone into the forest. There, in that dark and quiet place, she found solitude, and it brought her relief and a measure of peace. She stopped from crying. She began to journey through the woods.

She crossed through a thick and soupy bog growing in fear and despair but made it through to the other side. By chance she found her way into a garden, and not just any one, but the king's garden. Very hungry, she found a pear tree, so well prized by the king, that every single piece of fruit was numbered and catalogued. Somehow she worked out a way to eat a succulent pear without her hands and felt so much better. She went back to the woods to sleep in a leafy bower.

The next day, the king's gardener noticed the missing pear and informed the monarch. The king was angry at the theft, but he was a kind and just man. He decided he had to find out who was taking his pears and why. So he hid himself in the garden and waited. In time the handless maiden returned, hungry again. He watched her first with compassion and then with growing love as she struggled to feed herself. The king finally stepped from his hiding place and fed the girl.

The king took her home to asked her to be his queen. At first she refused saying she could not possibly be queen without hands. He assured her that she would have everything done for her and that she would never need hands. And so she consented to marry.

However it was awkward to have a queen without hands and in time he summoned his magicians. They fashioned for her a magnificent pair of silver hands which made her the delight of the court as she demonstrated her silvery grace. And for a time she was pleased with the hands, and the many compliments they brought.

A year or so passed and the queen gave birth to a baby boy. With all the servants to care for him things went well for a time. But unaccountably, the queen began to weep again one day and could not stop. She longed to care of her own baby, to cradle him in her arms, to smooth his hair with her own fingers. The king tried to convince her that the servants could do all that, but still the tears flowed. Her cold, hard silver hands could never convey the gentleness of a mother's love.

In desperation one day she took the child and fled again into the safe and secret forest. She lived with the child in seclusion existing on the simplest possible fare, and for a long while everything was fine again. Until the day the toddler fell into a stream and was in danger of drowning. Frantic the queen called for her servants, who are of course, not there.

In a moment of sublime strength she plunged her silver hands deep into the water to rescue her child. When she drew the boy from the water choking and sputtering, miracle! the baby was safe and her hands were restored to flesh and blood!

This story reminds me, funnily enough, of the name of a Dead Kenedy's album "Convienience or Death." Maybe, "Convienience and Death" would be a more appropriate title in light of this story!

Because, really, how many times during our day do we make the devils bargain. How many times do we choose to sacrifice our feminine tenderness, our heart, even our soul for practical, mechanical advancment or achievment. The soul is ebing undermined more and more in the modern structures of the developed world, because the spirit of a human being cannot serve pleasure seeking, consumerism or materialism it has become a liability to the economic system and is therefore disposable. Insiduously, and predominantly through the media, matters of faith, the soul and the sacred have been undermined and ridiculed. We need our ancient stories, our connection with nature, we need God in order to be fully human. Something is being taken from us, from our culture and our conciousness and it is something so precious no bargain is worth the cost.


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