I have a friend called Gladney Oakley, a dear friend whom I knew for years before he died something like twelve or fifteen years ago. He was one of those quiet, deep people who are real-world mystics: in and of the world, but bringing a quiet gentleness to it, and working under the radar. The kind of person who never sought publicity or acknowledgement (as, sadly, I do), but just went about the business of improving the world in a calm silence. He is still with me and around me on a regular basis - he is, in fact, one of my favourites in my tribe of non-physical friends.
He's been hanging around me for a while today, and reminded me of a story he once told me when my daughter was a baby, so probably twenty years ago.
The story was of a man, and I always strongly suspected the man was him, but he never said so or gave the man a name.
The man was born, and grew up. He had a wife and a couple of kids, and ended up with a house, a dog, a garden, and a few backyard hens (okay, so he told me this story at some stage after I started keeping backyard hens).
He and his wife had the odd fight, but they rubbed up well enough against each other to describe the marriage as happy.
He got irritated with his kids occasionally and yelled at them unjustly, but the kids always knew that he loved them.
And the dog just adored him all the time.
All in all, he had every reason to consider himself a modest success in life.
The man had never been inclined towards mechanical maintenance, paying professionals to look after his car etc. In particular, he hated his lawn-mower. He was always running it over rocks and ruining the blades, or flooding the carby, or getting grass into the fuel tank when refuelling, or otherwise harming it. And the lawn-mower returned his lack of understanding with active malevolence. In particular it kept breaking down even when he hadn't neglected or harmed it, just out of spite.
As the years passed, he grew to loathe it more and more, until after many years he got a hold of an old-fashioned scythe and scythed the worst of the grass down. He also partitioned his land up into a number of very small fenced sections and kept his hens penned up in one section at a time until they over-grazed the section they were in, removing every trace of green from the ground before he moved them on. This lessened the amount he had to mow with the mower that hated him.
But much though he wanted to love his hens, he just couldn't look after them properly. Not being a very manual man, every chook-shed he built for them collapsed in high winds, just when the hens needed their shelter most. He neglected his fence-line, and his hens were always finding holes and gaps, squeezing through, wandering out onto the suburban road, and getting hit by cars. He had no idea, either, that you needed to treat them for worms and birdlice infestations, and they were itchy and sickly all the time.
Frustrated by these two areas of ineptitude in his life, he sat down one day when his grand-children were asleep and all was quiet, and lit a candle. He dropped himself into a trance, fronted up to his secret inner soul, and made a deep and serious promise.
He vowed a permanent and sacred vow that in his next life he'd get the small-machine thing right, and be able to maintain his mower and any other machines that came his way.
He grew old, as we all do, and as we all do, he watched his children and grandchildren grow into capable adults. There came a time when he was no longer needed in the world even by those who loved him, and his body was getting just too old and uncomfortable to live in any more. So one night, he put himself to bed, fell into his last sleep, and dreamt his last dream. He never woke again, and when his old wife was asked about it, she said she found him with a contented smile on his face, the smile of a man who had lived a good life, done what he had to do, and died a good death at the right time.
Somewhen, not very far away, a little baby boy was born. He grew up greatly loved - his young mother said that when she first met his eyes a few moments after the birth, he looked at her with the compassion and wisdom of a saint or a very wise old man. But after that moment, he was just a little baby boy, and did all the things baby boys did and none of the things they didn't do.
As he grew, he turned out to love first dogs, then all animals, then all of the world. As a young man he was sometimes selfish, but as time passed he left behind the friends and lovers who brought drama into his life, and stuck by those who were as peaceful as he was. In time he married, then bought a small house on a bit of land. He put up a shed in the backyard, and put a few laying hens there - he had wanted hens all his life, he didn't know why. He put up another shed, and put a lawn-mower and some tools into it.
He took an interest in machinery, and learnt to look after his own machines, repairing and servicing his own car, lawn-mower and so forth, even fixing things like toasters. Everyone in the neighbourhood started bringing him machinery - completely untrained, he still seemed to be able to fix anything no matter what. His special forte was lawn-mowers - he could take a rusted wreck and make it purr like a kitten as it flattened jungles into velvety lawn.
But his hens! The poor little things. He didn't seem to be able to store their supplementary grain in such a way as to dissuade the rats. He couldn't prevent them from growing ill, or escaping and being injured. He had the best of intentions, but although he was regarded as the nicest man anyone who knew him had ever met, he just couldn't have happy hens no matter how hard his tried.
But his lawn-mower was always perfect!