Once there was a young boy who lived a life of high adventure. He would rise with the sun and greet each day with its endless possibilities. In the morning, he would dream of being a trash collector and by the afternoon he was a famous artist or maybe a circus strongman bending steel bars with ease. He spent days flying on a dragon and chasing lighting. Even the rain felt more like the spray of the ocean stinging his eyes as he swung from the rigging of a pirate ship to rescue a puppy forced to walk the plank. Time was endless, as were the possibilities, the dreams and the joy.
In the field where he spent time discussing strategy with a colony of ants or sharpening a stick to hunt a dinosaur there grew a tree. Now some would say that the soil was too rocky for a tree to grow, or there was too much sun or not enough sun. The young boy knew nothing of these things and had no idea what made trees grow but there it was.
To the boy it was not just a tree, it was a shade against the alien sun when his ship crash landed while he was responding to a distress signal on a far-off planet, or a large troll threatening to use the wind to sweep away his army of action figure warriors. The tree would listen to the boy tell his stories and patiently pondered the boy’s endless questions. To the boy the tree was timeless and wise.
Everyday the tree grew a single apple that it gifted to the boy. Each day the boy picked the apple and enjoyed the crisp sweetness. It held the promise of dreams and filled the boy with joy. Each bite of the apple fueled the boys adventure and helped turn a bad day into a fresh challenge. Each bite revealed a quest for lost treasure hidden by knights from an evil wizard, and soon the boy was off again.
The seasons came and went and yet the tree gifted the boy with an apple every day. The boy enjoyed each apple and never bothered to wonder how it was possible, never wondered if the soil was too rocky, or if there was too much sun, it just was, and that was enough for the boy.
And so, the boy spent his days, eating apples and exploring, dreaming and living. Everyday full of wonder and awe, of questions asked and answers sought.
Slowly the boy grew. He spent less time among the stars and spent less time asking butterflies if they remembered being caterpillars. The boy still found the apple every day and still took the time to enjoy it. As he became a young man the apple became the only experience he had of his dreams, his only touch of the possibilities before time.
Each day the young man took the apple.
He tasted hope and savored joy, if only for a few moments, and that was enough for the young man.
The seasons came and the seasons went.
One morning the man decided that others should enjoy the crisp sweetness of the apple and experience the wonder and awe that was nourished with each bite. Each day the apple had fueled his dreams and he wanted to give the gift of dreams to the next dreamer.
That day when the man arrived at the tree he saw that instead of the single apple that he had collected each day there were numerous apples, each bright red and radiant in the morning sun. The man got a basket and collected the apples and they filled his basket to the top.
The man carried the basket of apples to the town square where he found a fresh new bench that had recently been installed. The street was bustling with the buzz of townspeople going about their way. Young and old, each on their own journey, walked past the bench. The man sat on the bench and placed the basket on his lap. It wasn’t long before the flow of people, moving this way and that, began to take notice of the shiny red apples.
The man handed an apple to a woman carrying an umbrella who had stopped to peek at the apples. She thanked him with a nod and she took a bite of the crisp sweet apple. The man recognized the light in the woman’s eye as she began to experience the apple’s joy. He quickly passed out all the apples and he was sure that he saw a noticeable change in the hustling and bustling of the crowd. They seemed lighter and he thought that he could hear the soft sound of laughter and awe within the buzzing of the crowd.
The man felt the same joy and wonder sharing the apples as if he had eaten them himself.
The next morning the man went to the tree with the basket in hand and again found the tree hanging full with apples. He picked them all and again the basket was filled precisely to the top. The man returned to the town square and saw that the bench was empty. The man sat on the bench with the basket of apples and took in the sights and sounds of the town buzzing to life. The man sat quietly and almost appeared to be a statue against the flow and crash of the crowd. The man found a dreamer for each apple and gifted each with the bright red treat.
The man returned to the tree each day and each day there were just enough apples to precisely fill his basket. The man found wonder, awe and joy, not in eating the apples but in giving them away, knowing that joy was being spread and that dreams were taking root. Each day he sat on the empty bench, a solitary contrast to the turbulence of the activity around him.
The years went on and the man never missed a day at the bench. Not everyone wanted an apple.
Some people asked
“Do you have any green apples? I do like the green ones”
“Do you perhaps have any oranges?”
“Do the apples come with a sandwich?”
“No? well then no”
“Not now, I’m too busy, maybe I’ll get one tomorrow”
Some people still took the apples but he didn’t seem to notice any twinkling eyes and the wonder and awe seemed to get lost in the bustling buzz.
One morning the man went to the tree without the basket, hoping that maybe there would once again be a single apple. Hoping that maybe he could again take a moment to enjoy the crisp sweetness and to feel the wonder and awe of his youth. Maybe he could again experience the ocean spray as he swam with dolphins. The man found the tree filled with apples and he returned with his basket. The apples once again filled the basket exactly.
How long would the tree provide apples?
How did it know how many would fit into the basket?
The man pondered quietly.
The man carried the apples to town and took his seat at the bench. The crowd crashed by and the man tried to sense the dreamers, to find those in need of wonder, to give an apple where it would give the most nourishment. The apples were taken, one by one, and placed in pockets or bags, disappearing into the swirl.
It had been many years since the man had an apple.
It had been many years since the apples fueled his philosophical debates with elves and games of tag with the wolves.
Could he even remember why the birds flew?
The man sat on the bench with his empty basket, all the apples gone to wherever they were. Maybe tomorrow I won’t go to the tree the man thought, maybe tomorrow I’ll sit and eat the apples myself. Maybe tomorrow the tree won’t have any apples.
The man sat quietly. He remembered flying through the clouds on the back of a dragon, battling the gobblin king with his magic bow and bending the steel bars of the cage that time he was captured. The man smiled. He knew that each apple, in its own way would find where it was needed most. He knew that each apple would spark the flame of adventure and joy and the seed of a dream would be planted. Somewhere, somehow…
Or so he hoped.
The next day he was at his bench, with his basket full of apples. The man passed out the apples with a smile and watched each apple disappear into the mass of arms and legs. The man knew that somewhere someone was biting into the crisp sweetness, somewhere a fairy’s wings began to stir, somewhere someone was filled with the wonder of flying past a comet. Somewhere a dream was bursting into light. The man returned home, walking slower than he remembered he walked with an ache in his back that he didn’t remember he had.
The next morning the man collected the apples. He had a pain in his shoulders that he could no longer ignore. He had told himself it was the weather; he had told himself it was a temporary strain. He had told himself many things for many years but the pain in his shoulders was always there. It didn’t seem to matter what he told himself, his shoulder, his knees, his body no longer seemed interested. The man walked slowly to the bench, his basketful of apples reminding him that his shoulders no longer cared for his stories. The man’s legs hurt, everyone always seemed to be whispering and everything seemed a bit blurrier than he remembered. It had been that way for several years now but the man continued to bring the apples to the square. The man’s heart was the only thing that didn’t seem to have faded over the years. Inside he was still filled with joy, inside he discussed the finer points of archery with the ladybug warriors he saw crawling on the bench. Inside he was still young, still swinging from the tree and chasing fireflies.
The man slowly settled on the bench, and achily lifted an apple from the basket. He slowly passed out the apples with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. He reached into the basket and found that he had one apple left. He slowly pulled out the apple and held it quietly in front of him. It had been many, many years since had tasted the crisp sweetness of an apple. It had been many, many years since he chased the pirate captain across the seas, since he had rafted with the otters. He looked at his hand, weathered and brittle against the fresh red brilliance of the apple. He didn’t remember his hand being so thin, he didn’t remember so many curled veins. How did he hold the reigns while riding through the air on a dragon with such frail hands? It seemed like such a long time ago but inside his heart it felt like it was only just this morning.
The man smiled.
Perhaps he would take his time and enjoy this one last apple. One last taste of wonder, one last dream fulfilled. The man closed his eyes and remembered, and lifted the apple to his mouth with his slow thin arm.
The man felt a tap at his knee and opened his eyes to see a small boy standing next to him. The boy said he was stopping by to get an apple, but he had no money and nothing to offer in return. The man asked him why he would like an apple, it was his last one after all. The boy said that he planned on visiting his friends who lived in a city in the clouds and he may have to fight an angry lizard on the way, or maybe he would rescue a princess since he was the strongest knight in the court, or maybe he would be a world famous artist, or a trash collector. The boy couldn’t decide since they all seemed so wonderful and he had so many dreams.
The man handed the boy the apple and listened to the boy’s laughter as he danced away, biting into the crisp sweetness of the apple.
The man slowly gathered his basket and pushed himself to his feet.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll have an apple the man thought.
Maybe tomorrow the boy will tell me how his adventures went, where his dreams took him.
The next morning it was cold and the sky was the color of a sad and lonely ocean. A single snowflake drifted down. The kind of snowflake that draws attention to itself because everyone knows that it is just the first.
The bustling crowd bustled.
The snowflake fell.
The old worn bench at the town square was empty.
The crowd murmured.
“I want an apple”
“what’s taking so long”
“I hope there are green ones today, I do like the green ones”
“There better be sandwiches this time”
“I want oranges”
“I’m too busy today anyway, maybe tomorrow I’ll get an apple”