The golden girl (as she came to be known) grew up as a favored child in the community, and for good reason. Dreary, rainy, unprofitable days at the market inexplicably became filled with laughter and joy when she toddled down the narrow streets. Every plain and ugly woman felt strangely beautiful when the young child entered the room. Men, young and old, stopped curse-words in their mouths, forgot what they had been arguing about, and spontaneously wrapped arms around fellow workers or playmates when she looked their way. It was a blessed time in the tiny Greek village.
But as she matured, it soon became apparent that all was not well with the golden girl. The golden hair was a special gift, certainly, but the gift had not been accompanied with a ready-made humble heart. All the attention that her blessed, shining head garnered had brought a small measure of prosperity to the Xrisomallousa family, the result of a grateful village giving out of what little they had. The young girl quickly became accustomed to the improvement in her family’s station, and developed a healthy appetite for the finer things in life. Before long, the girl would eat nothing but the richest of foods, and the day came when she insisted that her bedroom at the back of the house was too dark, not at all appropriate for a child of light. Her devoted parents, though uncomfortable with the child’s increasing demands, felt they had no choice but to give up their own sleeping quarters to the golden girl.
This burgeoning of pride did not go unnoticed. The elders in the village began to see the spoiled, demanding child as a curse instead of a blessing. The wise women, the ones who had heard the angels singing at her birth, shook their heads and clucked their tongues every time the golden child walked by, fearful of what terrible trial might be ahead for the gifted one. They did not have long to wait. One day the girl, bored with the sleepy village (for the universe seemed cramped to her), wandered into the forest much deeper than she had ever ventured before. It was not long before she lost her way. The forest, which was so familiar to her, suddenly became a strange and scary place. However, she soon convinced herself that there was no possible danger – she was a golden child, after all. She walked and walked for what seemed to be hours until she came upon a little, well-kept house. She skipped up the walkway to the front door and confidently knocked three times, thinking, “I’m sure whoever lives here will help me find my way back.”
When no one answered, she let herself in. There she found three pieces of furniture. One was a large chair. The second was a table on which sat a bowl of lentil stew, and the third was a modest bed in the corner. The golden girl tried the chair first, but she found it hard and much too rigid for her liking. “Hmm, I haven’t eaten since morning,” she thought, and made her way to the table. She tested a spoonful of the steaming stew, but spat it out quickly, for it had burned her tongue. By this time she was overcome with fatigue from her journey and crawled into the bed in the corner. In no time at all, she was fast asleep.
Nearby, the occupant of the little house in the woods was picking fruit. He put both arms around the tree above his head and drew it down as gently as a lover, bringing the choke cherries to his lips as if to kiss them good-bye. Then he let the tree snap back upright in the sky. Slowly he made his way back to the house, tree by tree, the uncaged progress of the truly free.
Upon entering his home, he was surprised to find the golden girl asleep in his bed. Unwilling to disturb her, he sat back on his fundamental butt, lifted his snout and shut his eyes (for he was a great big bear). The girl awakened then and with a fright, realised that she was an intruder in the giant creature’s house. Seeing that the bear’s eyes were closed, looking almost religious, she slipped from the bed and began to tiptoe towards the door. Just as she crept in front of his great chair, the bear opened his eyes. The girl gave a little shriek as a massive paw came towards her. “Someone has been sleeping in my bed,” he growled and wrapped both paws around her small frame.
“Please don’t be angry with me,” the golden girl pleaded. I was lost in the woods and very tired when I came upon your house."
“And you ate my food and sat on my chair, too,” the bear continued, seeming to know more than he should.
“And you entered uninvited, might I add.” The embrace of the bear tightened as he spoke.
“I knocked first,” the girl said, thinking it was a reasonable excuse, “but you didn’t answer.”
“Ah, yes,” the bear nodded. “I have often knocked at doors myself, but I do not enter until bidden.”
The girl thought the bear a bit naïve and possibly too kind. Because of this, she thought it would be easy to strike a bargain with him. “I see that you are a kind and polite bear, so you will not be offended if I insist on taking my leave of you now. I will have my father bring you a basket of fresh bread to repay you for any inconvenience I might have caused.” She struggled against the furry arms, but found no room for movement.
“You are right. I am indeed kind,” said the bear, “but I am also unyielding if the situation calls for it. Since you are keen to make a bargain, I will offer you one that is substantially more profitable, but it will cost you more than bread. In exchange for your freedom, I will accept your golden hair.”
As he said this, the bear stroked her head with his unsheathed claws. The girl shuddered at the gesture, for she believed that her hair was what made her special. She thought, “I can never part with my most prized possession. Without it, I would be like any other child in the poor village – without advantage.” She could not imagine life without her glorious halo.
“You ask for too much,” she replied angrily. “It is unfair.”
“It is the price I have set,” the bear affirmed. The golden girl pushed out her bottom lip in a pout and was silent. After a few moments, she felt the bear’s grip loosen slightly, and she suspected the creature’s resolve was waning.
She smiled and lifted her haughty chin towards him. “Come, I will have my father add a wheel of aged cheese and a flask of fine wine when he brings the basket of fresh bread. That should settle things between us, yes?” The bear made no response. “And I promise never to enter your house or bother you again. I can give you no more. Are we done?”
To the girl’s surprise, a giant tear began to slide down the great bear’s face. “No, my dear child, we are far from done. You see, my home is always open to wanderers, seekers, and those who are lost. In it they find refreshment, rest, and a hearty meal. And to the brave and humble, I also offer my company. But to those who are blinded by pride, they find only an uncomfortable chair, food that stings their palate, and a frightful beast. There is a way for you to enjoy my hospitality and see my true identity, but you must let go of your golden crown. It has become a hindrance to you and to others. If I let you return home unchanged, your village will begin to suffer greatly because of your selfishness. But if you give up your gift, you will gain something much more valuable. What will you do?”
As the girl listened, it was as if her ears were opened. She nodded ever so slightly and bowed her golden head.
This is a story I wrote (incorporating elements of text from 2 other sources) for a Theology class exercise.
the photo: a flower in my neighbourhood this summer