It was a dark and stormy night.
No, that’s not the way it starts.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
No, that’s not going to work.
There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.
No.. don’t think that’s it at all.
Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood.
No – that’s not it either. But closer, perhaps.
Once upon a time.
OK, that’s the best I’ve got. Let’s see how it goes. And, you know, the very best stories start ‘once upon a time’ – knowing that ‘once upon a time’ could even be now..
Once upon a time, there was a young man. Keen, impatient, ambitious – yet frustrated by being the second son in the household. Continually trying to make it in the world, he found himself always in the shadow of the older son, to whom would naturally fall the family business and the largest share of his father’s estate.
One day, unable to find another way forward, and determined to make his mark on the world, our hero asked his father for an unprecedented favour – to take his part of the estate so that he could make his way in the world – to have a chance of succeeding, and making it on his own. Although the thought of losing his son saddened his father deeply, he wanted to provide his son with every chance of success, to allow him to be his own master and live by his own rules in the world, and so he agreed, giving his blessing as his youngest child set off into the world, in search of his own destiny and hostage to no other. He travelled to a distant city, determined to make his mark without having to rely on his family connections, without having to look to his father for help – a clean start, an opportunity to find himself and to become the man hew knew he was, deep inside.
Somewhere along the way, however, his business venture failed. Dramatically. Irrevocably. He was unable to create a living for himself, and soon his lavish lifestyle left him drained of funds, down and out, and unable to sustain himself. From a high living, well respected position, he found himself destitute, abandoned, and without friends, without income, and without a family around him. His so-called friends who had fed off him and hung around his parties stopped returning his calls.
To stay alive he took the most menial and despised jobs available to him, just to feed himself. Life, for him, was at the lowest possible ebb. From a position of freedom and of success, from the high-roller lifestyle at the forefront of business, from dinners in high class restaurants and the company of beautiful women – to the depths of despair on the streets, forced to eke out a humble and menial existence.
Often his thoughts would return to his father, and his brother, living a life of comfort and of ease, wealthy and well regarded. Yet he had had his chance, and it had ended in abject failure – he had tried to create his own path, and yet he had been met with bitter failure.
One day, finally, his pride and his despair collided – unable to live like this any longer, he decided that he would ask his father if he could work as a servant in his old home – at least that way he would be able to eat, would have a comfortable place to sleep, and be able to afford clothes on his back once again.
And so, with a heavy heart and a deep, deep sense of failure, he set off looking for a chance to work for his living.
Yet as he approached his old home, his father saw him coming and rushed to greet him. Thrilled to be reunited with his son, he welcomed him back into the family, providing him with new clothes, new shoes, a hot bath, and a warm bed in his old room. So overjoyed was the old man that he restored him to his place in the family as if he had never gone away, and threw a lavish homecoming party for the young man, giving him back his rights as his son, and assuring him beyond all doubt that he was truly welcome, and that he always had a place in his home.
And all, it has to be said, ended happily ever after.
The story, of course, is the story we refer to as the prodigal son, or the lost son, from the Bible in Luke chapter 15. We usually look at it as a story of forgiveness, of love, as a story about a man who turned against his family, a man who wasted his life and yet was received back by a loving father.
And it is all of those things. And yet, it seems to me, that we have become so familiar with the story that we miss some things. And those things, I think, are actually maybe even more important.
But that’s a story for tomorrow.
(to be continued)