December 4

The Mud Prince

December 4, 2006

Stress Management

Although the youngest child of the king had never been outside the palace walls in all his eight years, early one morning he discovered a passageway that led him to the streets of the town. Overwhelmed by all the new sights and sounds, he stepped without thinking off the stone curb into the street, where he was knocked to the ground unconscious by a large two-horse cart. The driver felt nothing more than the usual rough jostling of the cobble stones, so he drove on, quite unaware of what had happened to the young prince.

When the prince awoke, he had no memory of who he was. As he sat on the curb, confused and dazed, other carts came by and splashed mud all over him. He was wet, filthy, frightened, and alone. With no idea where he was or where he was going, he began to walk through the town.

Hungry and lost, he approached a well-dressed man coming out of a shop and asked him for food. Annoyed at the intrusion of this foul-looking boy, the man sent him on his way with a kick and a curse. The prince knocked at several doors, but each time he was turned away.

Finally, he sat by the side of the road, exhausted, hungry, and still covered with mud. A farmer on his horse stopped to ask the boy why he was crying, and after hearing the prince's story, the farmer took him home, fed him a meager meal, and gave him a place to sleep in the barn.

Of course, the farmer expected the boy to pay for everything he received, so the boy was required to work long and hard on the farm every day. His meals were scant and his living conditions the same as the horses he tended. It was a hard life, and he was always hungry and dirty. People laughed at him and called him The Mud Boy. Sometimes they picked up handfuls of mud and threw them on him. Although it was a miserable life, the boy didn't complain. This was the only life he could remember; it was the only home he knew. He was grateful for what he had, but he did often cast a longing eye on the food and warm house enjoyed by the farmer's children.

All this time, the king had been looking for his son. Soldiers had scoured the countryside asking questions and putting up drawings of the boy. The farmer was actually quite certain that the boy in the barn was the prince, but he didn't want to lose a free worker and he didn't want the boy telling the king how he had been treated while living with the farmer. So the farmer said nothing, and no one else recognized the dirty little boy in the barn.

One summer afternoon, as the prince was unloading wood at the market in town, he noticed two older children playing. Seeing something familiar in their faces, he crossed the square to look at them more closely. They stopped their game, returned his gaze for several seconds, and ran off down the street, yelling at the top of their lungs.

Puzzled, the prince went back to his work. Minutes later, a powerful horse galloped into the market, carrying an impressive rider. He dismounted, came straight to the boy, and knelt on the ground in front of him. With tears running down his cheeks, he took water from a bucket and wiped the mud from the boy's face.

The man asked for a mirror, and the two of them looked into it together. They had almost the same face. In that moment, the prince remembered who he was, and he knew this man was his father, the king. He remembered his brother and sister, the children playing in the square, and they all went home to celebrate their reunion.

*****

Most of us live a story like this. We're all princes and princesses, destined to become kings and queens. But we spend our lives ignorant of our identity. From our infancy, we rely on what we are told by those around us, and nearly all of them tell us in many ways that we are inconvenient and flawed. In other words, they describe the mud on our faces, and when we are particularly "bad," they rub even more mud on us. Because these people hold positions of such power—parents, teachers, and others—it's only natural that we accept completely what we are told about ourselves.

Fortunately, we don't have to stay lost and confused. We can find people who will see beneath the mud and will begin to guess who we really are. As we allow them to wash the mud from our faces, we can see who we really are, too, and in the process we become kings and queens.

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