A son was born to the king, but as an infant, he was stolen from his cradle and taken far from his father’s kingdom. He was placed on the doorstep of a poor peasant couple, and there he was raised to young manhood, all the while knowing nothing about being a prince.
One day the boy was plowing in a field and unearthed a bundle of infant’s clothing, finely woven and laced with gold thread. When he took it home and asked his parents about it, they admitted that he was not their natural child, but had been left with them long ago. They had buried his clothes to hide his past.
The boy determined he would travel the world to learn the story of his birth. For years he wandered, showing the infant clothing to people in many countries, but he learned nothing. One day while walking in the desert, he realized he was quite lost and no closer to his goal than he’d been years before. In deep despair, and grieving over his lost years, he noticed in the distance a man sitting on the ground. Walking over to the man, who looked old and wise, the prince told the stranger of his quest.
The wise man said, “I’m familiar with some of this country. Perhaps I could walk with you while you search for your home.”
The prince welcomed both the companionship and the possibility of assistance, so he accepted the wise man’s offer. For weeks they walked together, taking turns leading and following, and they covered a great distance.
Eventually, the boy’s discouragement returned, and he wondered aloud if he would ever find the answer to his question.
“You’ve been very persistent. I believe you will.”
The prince complained about the hardships they encountered and began to doubt the benefit of the old man’s company. He criticized the paths chosen by the older man when he was in the lead. When the prince became particularly bitter in his complaints, the stranger said, “You are not bound to me. You can leave me at any time.”
“I’m just tired of walking,” the boy responded. “I’m tired of being hungry and hot and cold, and you haven’t made things any easier.”
“Were you better off before you met me?” asked the man.
The boy acknowledged that he hadn’t done any better by himself, so he stayed with the old man. One morning they came to a fork in the road, and the boy asked, “Which road shall we take?”
“Why don’t you pick one?” said the old man.
So the boy took the path to the left, and they walked for several days. The road came to an end at the ocean. The prince was angry at the time they’d wasted, and he blamed the old man.
“Oh, this has been very productive,” said the stranger. “Now we know not to take this road again.”
The boy didn’t think this wisdom was especially profound, and he grumbled all the way back to the fork in the road. Taking the other fork, eventually, they came to a large river and began to swim. Halfway across, the prince became tired and frightened. He grabbed the coat of the old man and pulled him back. The stranger immediately dove to the bottom of the river, pulling the boy with him, so the boy let go of the old man’s coat and continued gasping for air at the surface.
When the stranger came up, the boy was in trouble. The old man removed the rope from around his waist that he used as a belt and threw one end to the boy. The man swam ahead of the boy, pulling on the rope and encouraging the boy to kick with his legs. When they reached the other side, they were both quite exhausted.
“I was drowning,” said the prince.
“I could see that,” said the stranger.
“And you wouldn’t help me,” said the prince.
“I was glad to help you,” said the stranger, “but when you pulled on my coat, we both could have drowned. I dove so you’d let go and I could try something different.”
As they continued their journey together, they shared many experiences. When the journey was especially difficult, the boy complained about where the man was taking him. But as they traveled, the boy became stronger and made more of the decisions about which path they would take.
In time, the boy and the man became good friends. They made sacrifices for each other, sharing their burdens and their wounds.
One day they climbed over a mountain range and saw a beautiful kingdom below them. The prince paused for a moment and said, “This is my home.”
“How do you know that?” asked the older man.
“I can feel it,” said the boy. “And now I know who you are.”
The old man raised his eyebrows and smiled. “Oh?”
“You’re my father.”
“I am,” said the wise king, and the two men embraced for a long time.
“I understand now,” said the prince. “I understand why you led me as you did. I’ve learned much and grown strong.”
“You’re a king now,” said his father. And when the wise king died, his son was a wise and loving ruler. When his son was born, he stole him out of the crib and took him far away to the doorstep of a peasant couple.
I am the prince. I am also the wise man. And so are you.
We spend much of our lives as the lost prince, unaware that we’re heirs to kingdoms. We wander the earth looking for who we are, and many of us find nothing.
Some of us have the opportunity to be led by men or women who see us and love us. They become our wise men and women, our fathers and mothers, whether they are our biological parents or not. With their love and guidance, we can see the truth and find the joy in life.
And then we become wise men and women, kings and queens, to others who are lost as we were. As wise men and women, we can’t take the journey for another, just as the king couldn’t take the steps for his son. We can only lead people and love them and perhaps keep walking with them when they complain. As the wise man did with the prince, sometimes we must separate from those we lead when their lies and other Getting and Protecting Behaviors could drown both of us. And then when we have regained our breath and strength, we can throw them a line.
It’s no small thing to guide a prince or princess to the home that is his or hers, and we have the opportunity to do that every day.