[guest post by JVW]
I know that in our days of lockdown many of us have to one degree or another undertaken an effort to organize and clean out our domiciles. Though I have been lackluster at best in this regard, I have managed to go through my living room bookcase to sort out an unweildly jumble of books, magazines, newspaper clipping, and assorted bric-a-brac. I am pleased to report that as I am looking at it right now, the bookcase now has some semblance of order.
One of the items that I came across while cleaning up was a piece that I cut out from my parish newsletter over ten years ago. It’s a story that obviously resonated with me at the time, hence my feeble attempt at saving it, even though this was probably the first time I had referred back to it since. In any case, I read it once again and thought it was a great message to share in this time of pandemic, coming as it does in the confluence of Passover, Easter, and Ramadan.
There once was a king who had four wives. His fourth wife was his favorite, and he lavished upon her beautiful clothes and fine jewelry. He fed her the best foods and the rarest wines, and ensured that she could bathe regularly in scented baths and wear fragrant perfume.
His third wife was also one he loved very much. She was beautiful and refined, and he enjoyed showing her off to his friends. He jealously guarded her, fearing deep down inside that she would one day end up with another man.
He also deeply loved his second wife. She was supportive and loving, never failed him in his time of need and always had wise counsel for him.
His first wife, however, he largely neglected. When his conscience was guilty he might briefly pay attention to her, but otherwise he paid her almost no mind and she was shunted into the background.
One day the king took suddenly ill and was confined to his sickbed. The doctors all ministered to him but his health continued to decline and he came to realize that he was dying. Not wanting to face eternity alone, he determined that he would ask his wives to travel with him to the beyond.
So he called in his fourth wife. “You, my dear, I have loved above all others and we have shared so many delights together,” he told her. “Please, take this next journey with me.”
“I’m sorry,” she replied, “but that would be impossible.” And with that, she spun around on her heels and walked out of the room.
He called in his third wife. “Darling, I have always taken such great pride in you and you in turn have provided me great joy. Please stay at my side and come with me to the beyond.”
“I can’t go,” she bluntly informed him. “Instead, I will find another rich and powerful man and become his.” With that she coldly turned her back on the king and walked away.
The king, despairing, called in his second wife. “You, my beloved, have always been so patient and kind with me. I have valued your love so highly. Please be my companion on this next step.”
The second wife smiled sadly. “When you die,” she said, “I will ensure that you are properly buried. I will visit your grave, pray for you, and hold your memory close to my heart. But I can’t accompany you where you are going.”
A sense of abandonment and melancholy now set over the king. Suddenly, a quiet and weak voice was heard in the silence: “I have always been at your side and I will go with you.” The king, surprised, turned to see his first wife. It was only at this moment that he saw how malnourished and weak she had become. And the king suddenly felt a deep sense of shame and remorse that he had let her — who after all was proving to be the most loyal wife of them all — fall into that condition.
The fourth wife is our body. It provides us with great physical and sensuous pleasure. It is with us during our time on earth, but when we die it remains here. The third wife is our worldly goods. They can provide us with status and esteem during our life, but once we are gone they almost certainly end up the possessions of someone else. The second wife is our family and friends. As loving and supportive as they are in our life, they exist apart from us and will not follow us when we die.
The first wife is our immortal soul, which we so often neglect as we pursue physical pleasure, wealth, and relationships. But it is the only thing in our life that is truly with us from our first moment to our last and will continue to remain a part of us when our time here is up.