In the Middle Ages, there was a famine in the countryside, so the young men went to the city to make a living. Three of them—John, Peter, and Paul—were from the same village, and they all found employment in the house-cum-studio of a great artist. They had not known each other before. The artist also had roots in their village, which was why he hired them out of the many hundreds who besieged him for any job at any wage—some even willing to work for scraps of food and a place to sleep.
The artist had risen from humble beginnings because of a combination of talent, luck, and hard work. Now he was famous across the continent, and even the Pope beseeched him to paint the murals in a great cathedral. He was resting at home and intended to take up that job when he was done with some paintings for which he had been commissioned.
He set the three youths to work immediately, and the hours were long. He bought small stones from travelers from distant countries in the East, and the young men were required to crush them with hammersuntil they became a fi ne powder, then soak the powder in a foul-smelling liquid, then drain and evaporate the liquid on sheets of muslin. He also gave them samples of plants and sent them out to distant hills to gather great quantities. They then had to crush the plants and boil the juice into a concentrate. From all this came pigments of rich color that the artist used in his work. He was creating a stockpile of materials he would need for the murals. John disliked the work, the smell, and the hours and only remained because he saw no alternative. Peter did not particularly like what he did, but he thought it was better than the hard labor that was the lot of a friend who worked at the blacksmith’s foundry, so he diligently did what he was supposed to do. Paul was intrigued by the iridescent colors that appeared from humdrum sources as if by magic and began to experiment. He paid attention to what the artist said, observed him at work, and asked questions. When he was not rebuffed, he felt encouraged and began asking questions regularly. That is how he knew the artist was looking for a particular shade of red, and he saw Happiness at Work a plant that he thought would yield such a hue when its juice was mixed with another, which turned out to be the case. The artist was mightily pleased.
When his commissions were fi nished, the artist wound up his establishment. John was dismissed. Peter was paid a small stipend— barely enough to keep body and soul together—to help maintain the house an keep it in good repair. As for Paul, the artist asked him if he would like to accompany him and be his apprentice. Paul accepted joyfully and, in time, became a noted artist in his own right. This, in a sense, is the choice you have every day. You can be an eagle soaring eff ortlessly in the sun. You can be John, essentially a laborer for hire. You can be Peter, essentially an industrious craftsman. Or you can be Paul, an eager creator of beauty who is curious about the world and actively engaged with it in a quest to make it better. Choose wisely.
be, in the words of George Bernard Shaw, “a feverish, selfi sh little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the
world will not devote itself to making you happy,” or you can
be an eagle soaring eff ortlessly in the sun. You can be John,
essentially a laborer for hire. You can be Peter, essentially an
industrious craftsman. Or you can be Paul, an eager creator of
beauty who is curious about the world and actively engaged
with it in a quest to make it better. Choose wisely.