The Statue and the Shadow

A man once carved a very heavy stone into a very beautiful statue. He took great pride in his work and enjoyed how the accomplishment made him feel. His community gathered around and praised him for his work. One person even pointed out that the statue was so well-crafted that even its shadow was beautiful.

There was another man, jealous of the first. He was not jealous of the statue, for he had no appreciation of art nor did he find virtue in work. But he was deeply envious of the esteem of the community.

The deepest cries of his heart’s envy reached dark places, and soon a demon appeared before the jealous man. He made him an offer: “I will give you a shadow that appears just as beautiful as the shadow of the statue, and I shall cast it in front of your home where all may see. Though you will have no statue, your peers will see the shadow and imagine that you do, and will praise you thusly. All I ask in exchange is that any time you would spend building in the future, you instead spend in service to me.”

The jealous man, who had no intention of ever putting in the work to build anything anyway, marveled at his good fortune and agreed instantly. True to his word, a splendid shadow stretched out before the man’s home as if a most glorious statue were hidden just around the hedge. And the people did indeed come and praised the jealous man, for they thought he must be a sculptor of great measure himself.

Soon, people began to ask if they could see the statue itself that would cast such a beautiful shadow, but of course the jealous man would not allow them inside his garden. The more people wanted to see, the more he had to keep them away, until soon he was friendless and isolated for fear that his secret would be discovered. The people from his community gave one last appeal: “Allow us in to see the statue itself on tomorrow’s first light or we shall not care for you again, for we tire of looking only at a shadow.”

Desperate to retain their esteem, the jealous man worked furiously all through the night to try to create a statue that would equal the shadow. But not only did he have none of the ability needed, every piece of stone he attempted to gather simply vanished, for he had already promised his labor to the demon, who had not forgotten.

In the morning, the jealous man was weeping alone in his garden when he was visited by the true sculptor. “Turn away,” yelled the jealous man. “Be gone from here!”

“I already know your secret,” said the sculptor. “I knew it from the first day.”

“How,” demanded the jealous man. “How could you know? The shadow was as beautiful as yours!”

“A true craftsman knows the difference between the statue and the shadow. Eventually all people come to understand it.”

“It isn’t fair,” cried the jealous man. “I have traded away years of my future for a shadow, and you got everything overnight.”

The sculptor laughed. “Overnight? I labored for years to move the stone, years more to carve it, and years before that to learn my craft. You simply weren’t paying attention yet, because work did not impress you, only the result of work. And so you tried to bargain for the result without the work, but one cannot chase both the statue and the shadow. We both gave years of our lives, but I gave them to my own future self, and you gave them away to a demon so that people would think more of you than is deserved. And now you chase those very people away so they don’t discover your fraud.” And the sculptor walked away, leaving the jealous man with nothing of substance, a slave forevermore to his bargain.

A statue will cast a shadow, but a shadow will not a statue make.

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