Sometimes I like to tell Emma and Hannah stories. I ask Emma for a subject and then Hannah for one, and try to combine the two into a tale or song. On this occasion, just before Julie was to put them to bed, Emma asked for Joseph, as in the one with the fancy colored coat, and Hannah asked for sheep. As I take liberty with the story, the tale which follows has no resemblance to the Biblical Joseph save for his name. I hope you enjoy; the ending will have a question I hope you find insightful, and for which your comments are appreciated.
One day Joseph was out tending his sheep. He brought them to green grass which he had them eat, and to sparkling waters which he had them drink. (Emma and Hannah were sitting on the floor as I sat on the bed, and they were encouraged to bend to the floor to eat and drink as well. Feel free to do the same.)
One day as they were enjoying their normal day the sheep spotted a wolf in the distance. They were scared, and looked to Joseph to know what to do.
Joseph was a kind shepherd with a good heart; not only did he love his sheep he wanted all animals to live in peace. He brought two sheep in close to speak with them privately.
“I would like you two sheep to be very brave,” he said. “When the wolf comes I would like you to stand your ground and not run away. As he approaches greet him simply, and say ‘hello’. I will go and hide behind that nearby tree. If the wolf greets you back and is friendly, all will be well. If not, I will jump out from behind the tree so that he does not harm you. Can you do this?”
The sheep were afraid, but trusted Joseph. As the wolf descended the hill they stepped forward timidly, so as to be the first sheep he would come across in the flock. As the wolf noticed this, the rapid pace of his bounding slowed; it was not often the sheep would come to him.
“H-h-hello Mr. Wolf, h-h-how are you?” the sheep initiated nervously.
The wolf stopped, but gave no reply. His back legs coiled and his lips drew back revealing the pointed tips of his fangs. Just as he was about to spring upon his prey Joseph leaped out from behind the tree, catching the wolf in mid-air, and wrestled him to the ground. He took out his rope and bound his mouth and his front legs. As the sheep cheered, Joseph took a peg and tied the wolf to the stake in the ground, and each sheep went back to his grazing.
As the day progressed Joseph led the sheep to other pastures, taking the wolf along with them, and several hours later returned to the river to drink. The two sheep watched curiously as Joseph walked the wolf, still bound by the rope, everywhere they went. As he untied his mouth and allowed him also to drink, however, they could no longer hold their peace.
“Why are you taking that wolf with us wherever we go?” they asked. “He tried to kill us all, you should have left him bound, tied to the ground to die. Yet now you even loosen his mouth to give him to drink? Why are you helping him?”
The wolf raised his pointed ears as he continued to lap up the river water. “It is true this wolf tried to kill you, but we must show him kindness even so. It may be that if we do not treat him as he deserves that he will change and also be kind in return. You were very brave when you tried this at first; you must continue to be brave. But do not be afraid, I will not let him harm you. Tomorrow I will take him with us again out to pasture. I will even let him run freely, though he will stay connected to my rope. If he cannot change, I will take him far away from you, so that he will not bother you again. But this is something which we must try.”
The sheep nodded warily, and Joseph led the flock back into their fold. The wolf he pulled aside to put into a separate cage. As he closed the gate he looked sympathetically at the wolf.
“Tomorrow we will return to the fields,” he spoke as he untied the rope from his mouth and front legs, which had been reapplied after leaving the river. “I will even keep these ropes away from you, save for this long one around your neck. You will be with us and I will treat you kindly as I treat my sheep, but I will watch you closely. I will send you far away, back to the wild, should you try to harm them.”
The wolf nodded, Joseph left, and the sheep bleated in the distance. After pacing about his cage for what seemed like an eternity, the wolf went to sleep.
Tell me, what should happen next? Emma and Hannah were engrossed in the story, and I was thankful it was time for them to go to sleep themselves. To be honest, I had no idea where to go next. Should the wolf reform and join the flock? Should he lash out once more and be banished forever? More importantly, what lesson should be woven into this tale?
Up until now I have had no qualms with the implicit sermonizing. It is good to stand firmly, but friendly, against an oppositional threat. Once subdued, kindness must be offered instead of revenge. I will be very proud if my daughters behave this way.
Yet there are wolves in this world, and generally speaking, they do not change. If the story continues with a repentant wolf, will I be painting a false idealism which will set them up for failure and pain? Or, if the wolf resumes his attack in the morning – worse if he pretends to be reformed – will I confirm, to modify the metaphor, that a leopard cannot change his spots, and therefore we should always be guarded?
It is only a story, and it will fade from memory. Life teaches the best lessons. Stories, however, provide the interpretive context.
The next morning the girls awoke and immediately desired the conclusion of the story. Not knowing exactly what to do, I began by retelling the story from the beginning. Along the way, Emma provided the answer…
Part two will follow in a couple days. Until then, if you have suggestions for how the story should continue and end, please feel free to share in the comments.