Originally posted on December 7, 2007.
Cantueso has recently been posting some of Aesop’s fables on his blog. Last night, I read about a poor little frog whose brother was trampled and whose mother exploded. This is the type of story you read to your children to impart moral lessons, cause nightmares, and ensure that they’ll be really screwed up when they get older.
Anyway, it brought this to mind: In my angsty teenage years, I once came home depressed and dejected because I’d overheard some mean girls gossiping and saying derogatory things about me. I can’t remember the exact situation, but I remember being upset.
My mother listened to me lament for a while, then she told me this fable:
nightingale was sitting in a tree, singing a beautiful song. Along came an ugly old crow, who sat beside her and said, “What a hideous song! You suck! Listen to this.” The crow proceeded to screech and shriek and make horrible noises. Afterward, he declared, “See? I’m the best singer in the forest!”
The nightingale politely disagreed. “No, I’m best singer in the forest– everyone tells me so.” This began a lengthy debate. Finally, the crow said, “I’ve got an idea. See those pigs down there?” The nightingale looked down from her branch and saw several pigs wallowing in the mud below.
The crow said, “Let’s let them decide. Each of us will sing for them, and they can choose who has the most beautiful voice. The pigs get to eat the loser.”
So certain of her talent, the nightingale agreed. They flew down and asked the pigs if they’d judge the contest, and the pigs consented.
The nightingale cleared her tiny throat and began to sing the loveliest song she’d ever sung. As she whistled her glorious tune, the forest grew quiet, and even the flowers and trees seemed to be listening.
Next was the crow’s turn. He puffed out his chest and proceeded to shriek and squawk and squeal out his ugly song. Mice scampered away, and rabbits dove into their burrows to escape the sound.
With each horrible screeching note, the nightingale became more confident of her victory. But when the song was over, the pigs declared the crow the winner. As they began eating the nightingale, the crow saw a little tear, glistening in her eye.
“Why are you crying?,” the crow asked. “Is it because you’re dying?”
“I’m not crying because I’m dying,” answered the nightingale. “I’m crying because I allowed myself to be judged by pigs.”
I dried my eyes and hugged my mother. For decades, I’ve kept this story with me in my heart, and I’ve tried ever since not to worry too much about what others think of me. Unless of course, they’re nightingales.
To hear the sound of a nightingale, click here:
By the way, CuriousC has a great quote on one of her posts. It says, “To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves–there lies the great, singular power of self-respect. ” – Joan Didion