Once upon a time there was a small, unremarkable village that sat in the farthest reaches of a great kingdom. In this unremarkable village there lived a potter but, unlike his village, he was remarkable. He was remarkable because he had an amazing gift. As potters do, he worked with clay to make plates or cups or any number of other useful objects but unlike most potters his creations were always different and always perfect. They weren’t perfect because they looked beautiful, which they were, or because they never cracked, which they never did, but because they were always just what a person needed… even if they didn’t realise it. You see, the potter would get the villagers to bring him a piece of clay and ask for what it was they wanted. He would listen carefully to them when they spoke and then would make them a piece of pottery. Sometimes he made them what they had asked for, sometimes he made something completely different but whatever it was that he made, it was always just what was needed and his customer would go home happy. When the villagers asked how he always knew what to make he would smile quietly and say that he just listened well. He would listen to their words and he would listen to their hearts but most importantly he would also listen to the clay. ‘You see,’ he would say, ‘if the clay is happy then the pot will be happy, and if the pot is happy then you will be happy, and if you are happy then I will be happy.’ The people of the village loved their potter and he loved them.
Now, one day a stranger came to the village. He had stumbled across the village when he became lost in a great storm and he was almost at death’s door when he arrived but the people of the village took him in and cared for him, giving him food and medicine until he was well again. As he grew stronger he began to wander around the unremarkable village and he noticed how happy the people who lived there were. When he enquired as to why everyone was so happy they all replied ‘Because of our potter, bring him some clay and you will understand.’ So the man went to visit the potter, bringing with him a piece of clay as he had been told. ‘Please, potter’, he said, ‘make me a cup that I may have something of my own to drink from whilst I am in this village.’
The potter listened carefully, took the piece of clay from the stranger, smiled and said he would have the cup ready for collection in seven days. Seven days passed and the stranger returned to collect his cup. The potter handed over a plate. It was a very ordinary looking plate, unremarkable to anyone else who looked at it but the stranger smiled with delight. ‘This plate is perfect!’ he said. ‘Every time I eat from it, it will remind me of the kindness of the villagers who took me in and cared for me. Thank you!’ The potter smiled and nodded gently, pleased that he had made the stranger happy.
A few days later the stranger was well enough to travel home. It took him a month of walking from dawn until dusk, but every time that he would stop to eat, he would sit down, take out the the plate the potter had made and place his food upon it. Seeing the plate would lift his tiring spirits and so whilst for many it would have been a hard journey, for the stranger it felt as easy as a walk on a summers day. When he eventually arrived home his friends were delighted to see him and when he told them of the kindness of the village and of the remarkable potter many decided that they wished to travel to the village themselves. And so, the unremarkable village with the remarkable potter began to have visitors and each of them came to see the potter to have their clay turned in to a perfect pot.
At first the villagers enjoyed the attention their unremarkable village was getting and the money the new visitors brought with them. The potter too enjoyed the opportunity to make more people happy but it wasn’t long until people were coming from all over the kingdom to meet the potter and he soon became overwhelmed. You see, the potter needed time to listen, time to coax the clay in to each perfect piece but the new visitors did not understand and grew impatient. ‘Can’t you hurry up?’ they would say. ‘Why do you take so long when other potters work more quickly?’ The potter tried to explain that he could not give them a perfect piece if he worked quickly but the visitors wouldn’t listen and became more annoyed. Soon the villagers started to add their complaining voices as well. ‘You must work more quickly or the visitors will all leave! Stop being so selfish or you will ruin us all.’ Eventually the potter could resist the shouts of anger no longer. He stopped listening carefully to the visitors requests and he no longer listened to their hearts but worst of all, he stopped listening to the clay.
At first the visitors were happy that they no longer had to wait but it made the potter sad because he was not making the pieces that he wanted to. They were no longer beautiful, they were no longer unique and most of all he knew that they would no longer make the visitors truly happy. Sure enough it did not take long before the visitors complained because their pots were becoming chipped and broken and they did not seem to make them joy as they had been promised. The villagers too started to complain again. They were upset because the unhappy visitors were saying bad things about their village and about the potter. Nobody was happy anymore and they all blamed the very unhappy potter.
One morning the potter woke before the sun had risen and he sat on the edge of his bed. He thought about the day to come and he began to cry. He cried and cried like no one had ever cried before, tears rolling down his cheeks and gathering in a puddle on the floor. When he could cry no more he stood up and with a heavy heart he went outside and began to walk in to the woods. Where he was going he did not know but he knew he did not want to be in the village any longer and he knew he did not want to be a potter anymore. As the sun began to rise he found himself walking by the river and so he sat down on the bank to watch what he believed would be his final day begin. Whilst he sat there his hands rested on the mud at the rivers edge and slowly his hands began to move in the wet clay. It felt good to have the clay between his fingers and he gently scooped up a handful of the red earth and held it carefully in his hands. ‘Now I wonder,’ he said to the clay, ‘what would you like to be? I could make you in to a vase more beautiful than the flowers you would hold, a cup so true that any water poured in to you would taste as fresh as if it had just burst from a mountain spring, or perhaps a candlestick which would sit by the bed of a child at night, chasing away all fear of darkness so that they would wake afresh each morning rested and excited for a new day. Which would you like to be?’ As the potter held the clay he heard a quiet voice, barely above a whisper, say, ‘What about you? What do you want to be?’ The potter was taken aback because in all of his years of listening to the clay it had never once asked him a question! ‘What do you want to be, potter?’ the clay whispered again. ‘Well, I want to be happy.’ the potter replied. ‘And what makes you happy?’ asked the clay. ‘Using my gift to bring joy to people with the objects that I create for them. I love being just a potter.’ ‘Then I wish to be just clay.’ said the clay. The potter was confused and said ‘But you could be so much more than a lump of clay. You could be a vase so beautiful people would come from miles around to see you, or a cup that people would desire to drink from above all other cups or a candlestick that would bring restful sleep to a child everyday of their life!’ ‘But I would not be happy’ said the clay, ‘because that is not my purpose. I am your clay and what you need is for me to stay as a piece of clay. Now, lie down and sleep and tomorrow you will understand.’ So the potter lay down in the grass by the river bank and as he felt the sun’s warmth upon his back he fell in to a deep, restful sleep that he had not experienced since the visitors had started coming to the village.
The potter slept through the whole of that day and the following night and only stirred as the sun began to rise again the next day.
As he woke, his mind began to be troubled with thoughts of his work and of the village but when he opened his eyes he saw the lump of clay there in front of him just as he had left it the previous morning. It was now baked hard by the sun of the previous day and as he looked at the clay he began to smile and he realised it was perfect, just what he needed. Picking the clay up from the grass he walked back to the village, back to his home.
When he arrived there was a great commotion as the villagers thought they had lost their potter and the visitors were still waiting for their pottery. ‘Hurry up!’ they all said. ‘Make us our pots!’ The potter smiled as he held the piece of clay tightly in his hands, feeling his heart warm and strengthen in a way it had not felt for as long as he could remember. He took a deep breath and said, ‘I will make your pots for you but you will have to wait. I am a potter and to make what you want will take time. When I work quickly, none of us are happy but if you will trust me and wait for me to do my work well then we will all be happy again.’ The potter spoke with a strength and gentleness that made the crowd of people around him really listen and for the first time they understood what they done to the potter with their impatience. Over the coming weeks and months the potter once again began to make the perfect pottery that he was capable of, listening carefully as he had done before. People still came from all over the kingdom to the village but now they waited their turn to meet the remarkable potter with the amazing gift and when they received their object they understood immediately why it had been worth waiting for. As for the potter, he was happy again, truly happy. He was happy that he was making the visitors happy, he was happy that he was making the villagers happy and he was happy that he was making the clay happy but most of all, every morning, when he opened his eyes the first thing he saw was the piece of clay and he was reminded of who he really was, a potter, and that made him happiest of all.