Saturday, March 15, 2008


Some stories are for the ages. The other night I was with my beautiful granddaughters, Sophia and Talia, from Portland, Oregon, ages 3 and 5, who said: "Ba Ba, Ba Ba (that's what they call me) please tell us that story again -- the one about the clothes..." "The clothes," I thought, and so I began, as all fables do:

Once upon a time, long, long ago, there lived a vain and arrogant Emperor ("arrogant," Talia and Sophia, "means an Emperor who believes that the Emperor knows everything") who cared too much about his clothes. So he hired two bad people who promised the Emperor the finest suit of clothes from the most beautiful threads and cloth. These threads and this cloth, the bad guys told the Emperor, are invisible to any one who is either stupid or not fit for his or her position. The Emperor is a little nervous about being unable to see the thread and cloth himself, so he sends 4 assistants (the people who the Emperor trusts to make his decisions) to look at the new clothes. They can't see anything but they tell the bad guys and, then, the Emperor how great these clothes look -- for they are afraid of losing their positions of trust if they tell the truth. When the bad people tell the Emperor everything is ready, the Emperor tells them to put the clothes on him and he will then parade through the town so everyone can see.

And, as the Emperor paraded through the town, almost everyone said, loud enough for the other townspeople and the vain, arrogant Emperor and his 4 trusted assistants to hear: "Look at the Emperor's new clothes, they're beautiful." But, two little girls, ages 3 and 5, named Sophia and Talia, who had no important jobs and could only see things that were real and important, went up to the Emperor's carriage and said: "The Emperor is naked!!" The 4 trusted assistants grabbed the two girls --"Foolish ones," they said, "Don't speak nonsense" and they pulled the girls to take them away, "We will remove your Ba Ba from his position of trust because of your criticism." But, suddenly, the girls' discoveries, which had been heard by the on-lookers, were repeated over and over again, first by a few and, then by more and more, until everyone cried out: "The girls are right! The Emperor is naked! It's true! It's true!"

The Emperor realized that the people of his Kingdom were right but he could not admit to that. That would mean the Emperor was wrong and weak. He thought it would be better to continue the parade under the belief that anyone who couldn't see his clothes was either stupid or incompetent or worse. So the Emperor stood on his carriage, while his 4 trusted assistants stood behind holding up his imaginary crown while his followers laughed and laughed.

"Baba, Baba," my beautiful grand daughters cried, "Why was the Emperor so silly and, why did you call him 'arrogant?'" "Because some Emperors just are, my darlings, they just are. They just can't help themselves. But, many are good and fair. As you grow up you will surely come to know the difference. And, once you know the difference, you must speak out"

Don't forget to tell this Hans Christian Anderson story to your grandchildren and children. It's a good one. (And don't forget it yourselves.)


No comments: