There once was a young man, fair of face and long on dreams. He lived in a small town on the outskirts of a large city where lights glittered and dreamers chased after things he felt were passing fancy. What had caught his eye was in the small collectibles shop– a vase.
A vase of inimitable beauty, smooth and fair. It was finely painted with detail that delighted every passerby of the collectibles shop on the high street. At first the young man admired the vase from the sidewalk, too bashful to enter the shop, but one day he noticed that a trio of young men from his school entered, tinkle of the doorway bell sounding like a heavenly angel calling him.
From that day forward he visited the shop. He befriended the shopkeeper, asking all he knew of the origin of the vase. The young man at first dared not touch the fine porcelain, but in time he reached out to feel the smooth cool surface with a tentative finger. By the end of the summer he held the vase in his hands, his soft caress assured him that it was real, and for a moment, his.
As autumn approached and school resumed, the young man began his university studies. History was his major and he told the professor, in his favorite subject, of the vase and how it seemed to entice passersby toward the window where it was displayed.
“Tell me more,” the history professor said. As the young man described the vase, leaving no detail untold, the professor’s brows lifted. “This vase sounds like one worth a lot. One with a history that may entwine someday with yours.”
The vase continued to draw the young man back to the high street with the allure of a magnetic spell. One October day upon pressing through the collectible shop door, the shopkeeper called the young man to his station behind the counter.
“Why don’t you buy it?” the bespectacled and bent old man said, eyes sparkling from beneath the rims of his glasses.
The young man sputtered, not knowing how to reply. Surely the vase would be far dearer than his meager means might afford. “How much?” he asked, voice nearly strangled in his throat.
“For you, because of your continuing love and admiration, the vase is yours.”
The shopkeeper’s face blurred as the young man’s eyes filled with unbelieving tears. “Are you certain?”
“She is yours,” the shopkeeper said. Stepping out from behind the counter, he hobbled over to the display window, for the first time his crooked spine apparent.
The young man felt a twinge of guilt as he reached to take the vase from the extended hands of the bent old shopkeeper. Surely this old man could use the money such a beautiful vase would command. “I don’t know what to say,” the young man stared at the beautiful vase in his hands. He lifted his gaze to meet the shopkeeper.
“Love her,” he said, “Just love her. She is yours now.”
The young man nodded, trying to choke back the knot that rose in his throat. “I promise,” he said, turned, vase securely in hand, and left the shop.
A part of his home, the vase occupied a special place on the young man’s mantel. She was displayed, lovingly dusted, talked about to friends who visited, and cherished.
As one year slipped away into another, the young man became busier and busier earning his way in the world. He graduated university and won a job that required travel, but afforded him great prestige.
He now often forgot to dust the vase. He came to a place where he hardly noticed her anymore. She continued to grace his home and draw the attention of visitors. When a friend or colleague would comment on her beauty and preciousness, the young man nodded, glanced up at the vase and looked quickly back to his guest.
On occasion he would remember her, fondly clean her smooth surface and return her to her place.
One day the cat knocked her from her place on the mantel, a fine crack across her midsection the result. Oh, and a chip at her rim. “No matter,” the man said. You are still just as fine.” He returned the vase to her esteemed place on the mantel and ventured off on another of his business trips.
While he was away, he spent many hours wandering the streets of the new town to which his business took him. He peered through many windows of shops much finer than the small town collectibles shop. Some stores were exotic, holding goods so different from those of his hometown, so different from the soft smooth beauty of his prized vase.
A store in one town oft visited contained a bowl of extraordinary shine. It was deep blue like the sea, like a lapis lazuli polished stone. Only this bowl had been carved…etched by some fine artisan’s hand, with a border design so exquisite and exotic to his small town eyes that it mesmerized him much like the vase had those years ago.
He had to have her—the lapis lazuli exotic bowl so unlike the smooth fine beauty of the vase, yet so magnetic. He asked the store clerk the price of the bowl. ‘Gasp’, he tried to smother his disappointment as the clerk divulged the price.
Why this would cost me everything I have, he thought, smiling weakly at the clerk with a nod. “Thank you.”
He could only visit the shop to gaze at the bowl when his business took him to that town. He became more and more disenchanted with returning home. More and more eager to travel, to see other places, meet new people and not often enough return to admire the lapis lazuli bowl.
When at last he decided to sell what he had, to gather up the sum of his savings and venture to the town to buy the bowl, he felt a twinge in his gut. A wave of guilt and the memory of the promise he’d made his small town shopkeeper those years ago to love the vase. “Love her.” The shopkeeper’s voice echoed in his ear. “Just love her.”
The young man brought the bowl home but he did not display her. He kept her at first safe in his suitcase, He bought a safe for the bowl. No one must know he’d spent all his savings and sold so much to buy the bowl. People would think him not only foolish, but those few who knew of his promise to the small town collectibles shopkeeper, and truth be know, to the vase, would surely scorn him. Those who had witnessed his great love for the vase, what would they think?
He was ashamed. But the bowl was so exotic, so beautiful, so different than the vase. He stole a look at the bowl as often as he could in the privacy of his room, but he still kept the vase at her place on the mantel. She was still beautiful, if cracked and chipped. She still graced his mantel and warmed his home with her style and her warmth. He still loved to have her there. She was so familiar, so wonderful.
One evening the man returned home, tired and in need of rest, a bit of a lift. He went to the safe and carefully took out the bowl. It shone with the same magnetic loveliness he first remembered in the far away store. Setting it on the chest of drawers in his bedroom, he turned to get himself a cup of tea from the kitchen. His gaze fell upon the vase.
Anger filled him—an anger he did not understand. Why would the vase he’d loved for so long bring such anger? He glanced back at the bowl, turned to the mantel, grabbed the vase and threw it to the floor.
The sound of the shattering porcelain filled him with a combination of dread and satisfaction. Looking at the many pieces now scattered across the floor, he grimaced. “No matter,” he thought. “I still have the bowl, more exotic and precious than anything.”
He swept up the pieces of the vase, but could not bring himself to toss them in the dustbin. The voice of the old shopkeeper buzzed in his ears. “Love her.”
“Damn,” he said. Opening a glass mason jar, he poured the shards in. He placed the jar with the colorful pieces of the vase back onto the mantel. “I still love you,” he said to the shards.
There he kept the vase for years. He patted the jar most days thinking what a good old vase she had been and indeed still was. Had he the time and energy, one day he promised himself he would carefully glue her back together. He would get to that someday.
In the meantime he lived his life, traveled for his career and kept the lapis lazuli bowl stored away in the safe to steal a look on occasion.
One day many years later he read in the newspaper of the passing of the shopkeeper. How sad, the thought, a tinge of melancholy and guilt piercing his heart. He sat at his kitchen table reading the paper when the doorbell rang.
“Who is it?”
“The shopkeeper’s wife,” answered a cracked old voice from the other side of his door.
The man opened the door. “Yes?”
“May I come in?” she asked. The white of her braided hair belied her years.
“Of course,” the man said, opening the door and lifting his arm to welcome the old woman inside.
“Never mind me. It’s this letter I have come to deliver.” She extended a gnarled hand, letter in envelope. “You knew my husband.”
“Yes,” the man said. “He was kind to me.”
The old woman nodded, lowered her eyes to the floor and turned to go.
“Wait,” the man said. “Is there more to tell?”
“It is in the letter,” she said, turning an eye back to him over her shoulder. With that she left.
The man returned to his place at the kitchen table, knocking over his cup of tea as he reached for a butter knife to use as letter opener.
“Damn it!” he rasped, slicing open the letter.
Young man, the letter began, scrawled in a careful hand.
If you read this now I have died and you are left to continue your loving care of the vase I entrusted to you those many years ago. If she has weathered the years intact, I know she has brought you much love and satisfaction. If she be cracked or chipped with time and wear, I know you have loved her all the same. If she is broken, by your hand or that of any other disaster of life, do not leave her shattered, for a vase lovingly glued back together is stronger at the cracked places than ever she was as a whole. She will always show the scars of her brokenness, but she will love you even better than in the youth of her perfection.
Remember your promise and your true heart – to love her as much as she has loved you.
Tears filled the man’s eyes and drowned out the signature at the bottom of the letter, droplets splashing on the ink. Collecting himself, the man pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his nose.
“No matter,” he said, and turned toward his bedroom where the bowl lay inside the safe. As he walked slowly toward his bedroom door a great wave of grief crashed over him. He dropped to his knees and wept for the foolishness of his youth, for the time he’d spent stealing glances of the lapis lazuli bowl and for the manner in which he had taken the vase for granted. She was always there gracing his mantel. Always there, even though he had grown to hate her ugly brokenness; the brokenness he had caused when he cast her down.
Gathering himself back to his feet, he sobbed. He would honor the shopkeeper’s last wishes, glue her back together and get rid of the bowl. No longer did he long to see the exotic beauty of the blue lapis for he had finally realized the worth of loyalty, of perseverance, and of the true beauty of love.