In the hardware store, I select a quart of interior paint from the brands on the shelf. Bright white, for household trim.
“My,” the cashier says, as she rings me up, “you’re quite the golden goose!”
“What does that mean?” I ask.
“Well … you look full of light, ready for whatever the day brings.”
I glance down at my frayed t-shirt and sweatpants, spattered with decades of old paint. This morning, until this moment, I’ve felt more arthritic and weary than “full of light.”
“Thank you,” I tell the cashier, heartened by her cheer. “You’re radiant, too! Why don’t we both lay some golden eggs today?”
“Sure thing!” she grins, with a silly wiggle of her tail feathers.
I walk out of the store with my paint, chuckling when I remember that it has an eggshell finish. Appropriate, don’t you think, for a goose?
* * *
As the story of “The Golden Goose” is traditionally told, the “simpleton”—or, as I’d prefer to call him, the “holy fool”—is cutting wood in the forest when a “little gray man” appears and asks for food. The fool shares with the gnome a portion of his burned biscuit and soured beer. The gnome rewards his generosity by pointing out the tree he should fell next. In that tree’s roots, the fool finds an amazing golden goose.
The fool tucks the goose beneath his arm and heads into town. Everywhere he goes, his fellow villagers see the wondrous creature in his possession, and are filled with envy.
If only I could have one of its feathers, they think, stretching out their hands. But as soon as their skin brushes against the goose (or the fool, or anyone else touching the bird), they stick fast. No matter how hard they try, they can’t get loose.
Soon there’s a whole crowd of people glued together, moving in an unwilling parade through the village: the innkeeper and his daughters, the parson, the sexton, some peasants, a multitude of children …
The princess in the castle on the hill has never smiled in her life. But, watching this spectacular procession from her window, she breaks into laughter. In true fairy-tale fashion, she eventually weds the holy fool and lives happily ever after.
* * *
The moral of this story is usually interpreted along the lines of “Be generous, not greedy.” But let’s give the tale a different spin, shall we?
Each of us has a golden goose—an infinite source of abundance, generosity, and compassion—hidden deep within us. Sometimes, though, we have trouble recognizing it. The goose might be tired, sore, and wearing old painting clothes. It might have injured a wing. It might have had all its feathers plucked. It might look a lot like a chicken.
No matter its disguise, the fairy tale tells us, the golden goose is alive and waiting “within the roots of our tree.” We just need an axe to set it free.
Where do we get the axe? Why, at the hardware store, of course; that place where we exchange what we have for what we need.
Inside the store we meet the cashier, the maker of change. Her tongue is the blade of truth that frees the goose living within our roots: “You who stand before me,” she declares, “are full of light, ready for whatever life brings.”
We walk away from the change-maker with the goose tucked lightly beneath one arm. Now we’re more aware of our own potential; we’re more prepared to splash our cans of color on the world’s house.
The golden goose beneath our arm can’t help but shine. Do you see its dazzling power? How it attracts the presence of others, not from envy but from gratitude and joy? How it binds us all together? How its radiance grows and grows?
Soon we’re parading through town, united not by force but by choice. Our collective light is so brilliant that even the royals in the castle scurry down the hill to join us “commoners.”
Holy fools carrying the golden goose—that’s what we are. Whatever life brings, we’re ready.
Don’t believe me?
Then what’s that golden plumage I see, sticking out from under your arm?