Happy Shirt – A King’s Quest

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An Italian folktale as adapted, retold and written by Storyteller Grace Wolbrink

Nearly sleepless nights followed nearly sleepless days. Hour after hour the king aimlessly paces palace floors. Not knowing what to do or where to go. What went wrong? What could he have done differently? Whose fault is it? Why doesn’t anyone know? So many unanswered questions swarm his mind.

In-ranged and outraged, steeped in life-sucking concern, agony and despair, the king watches. The king waits. His son, the prince, sleeps in late. Sits around the palace aimlessly staring through non-plate glassed windows. Refusing to leave the palace, one trance filled day follows another.

What is a king to do? It isn’t like he doesn’t have a kingdom full of advisers, what to be advisers and royal figure heads. Yet none are able to offer anything but aimless, non-effectual advice, while his precious son sleeps away the prime of his young adult life.

Something has to be done – but what? How?

The King sends word, calling together the wisest of the wise counsels throughout the land. Gathering them together he too provides them with a generous allotment of privatized pacing space. Here the wisest of the wise pace, murmur and ah hum. Following many restless hours, countless days and hole ridden heels, a decision is made.

“Go out into the world and bring back the shirt of someone who is truly happy. Take this shirt and put it on your son and he too will be truly happy,” proclaim the wisest of wise.

“That’s it! That’s all!” cries the king triumphantly!
“Yes,” they solemnly reply.

Promptly dismissing the wisest of the wise counsel members and disposing of his vast collection of self-helping reference books, the King gathers together his most trusted royal advisers. Calculating the approximate number of happy people in his kingdom, his neighbor’s kingdoms and his neighbor’s neighbor’s kingdoms; he figures his royal advisers will bring back enough shirts for his son to wear every day of the year.

Sending them off, the king anxiously anticipates their return.

Pah-pa-rah! Pah-pa-rah!
Pah-pa-rah! Pah-pa-rah!

Sound the royal trumpets.

With the sound of each trumpet, royal adviser after royal adviser arrived at the palace.

“My shirts! Where are my shirts!” cries the king.

“Well . . . hum . . .” stammer the royal advisers.

“Well what?” demands the king.

“Did you mean happy, as in truly happy?” inquire the royal advisers.

“Of course! What other kind of happy is there!” quips the king.

“OK,” reply the royal advisers.

Continuing on, one by one they tell the stories of their adventures and the people they met.

“Yes! Yes of course. Well almost, my parents really want me to become a Doctor. I feel so guilty . . . but . . . ” says a tradesman.

“Yes! Yes of course. Well almost, my boss would not give me that promotion I really deserved. He gave it to . . . They did not work as hard as I . . .” says a gardener.

“Yes! Yes of course. Well almost, we had to pass up our dream home because we could not afford it. It was all because of the economy. If my boss had given me that raise, then we could have . . .” says an administrator.

“Yes! Yes of course. Well almost, I didn’t get very good grades in school, so I can’t do what I really want to do with my life. My parents were right, it’s only the people who go to the good schools and get a good education that get a good job,” says an unemployed scholar.

“Yes! Yes of course. Well almost, I’d be a lot more successful in life if it wasn’t for my parents and my ex-husband. You know my parents, they just did give ma change in life. If they had been like my best friend’s parents, I would have turned out like the kids in their family,” says a farmer.

The list continued  without a shirt.

“Is there not one single happy person in this entire Kingdom or any other kingdom?” fumes the King. “Obviously I have mistakenly sent mere men to do the job of a king.

The next morning the King arrives in a small town. He asks an older man if he is happy. As if is he really, honestly, truly happy.”

“Yes, of course I am happy, why do you ask?” questions the old man.

“So you have all the money you need,” prods the king.

“Sadly know. If I could be like you with all the money in the world, then I would be truly happy,” replies the old man.

Thanking him for his time, the king continues on.

Figuring a happy person was a happy person and a happy shirt was a happy shirt, the king stopped a young woman along side the road.

“Are you happy, as in honestly, truly happy?” inquires the king.

“Of course, I am truly happy,” she replies.

Noting she is without a wedding ring and childless, the king asks, “Wouldn’t you like to have to be married and have a family someday?

Her eyes fill with tears. “Yes! Oh yes,” she cries. Then I would be really happy. I would be really happy. My whole life I have wonted nothing more than to be a wife and a mother.”

Thanking her for her time, he continues on his way. Walking along he meets person after person. Listening to story after story, they are always the same.

“Yes, if only . . .”

“Yes, when I get . . . ”

“Yes, someday I will be . . .”

Feeling faint from hunger and loosing all hope, the King pulls out his bow. Seeing a small rabbit, he aims. He fires. He misses. Well, nearly misses. It looks as if the arrow may have injured its right leg. Following the injured animal, he finds himself in a part of the Kingdom that he has not seen before. Looking out into the distance he sees a young man, wearing a simple coat, working in the field.

Seeing the smile streaming across his face, the king brightens.

“Hey you! Young man!” cries the King.

The Young Man stops. He turns. He looks up.

“Your majesty,” he replies.

“Young Man, are you happy? As in are you really, honestly, truly happy?” asks the King.

An even bigger smile flashes across his face. “Yes I am really happy,” the young man replies. His smile broadening. His face brightening as he spoke.

Cautiously, the King continues. “Yes, but wouldn’t you want to be a King someday and live in a palace ruling this fine land?”

“Me? Why? I love doing what I am doing. Getting stuffed in some glorified stone caveron is not on my list of most love to do life experiences.”

Ignoring the last part of his comment, the King continues. “OK, I get it. You’r happy right now. So what is your secrete to being happy?

“That is easy!”replies the young man.  Every morning, I get up and greet the day. Then I ask myself, “How many times will I laugh today? At night, before I go to sleep, I count how many times I laughed during the day. Then I laugh again because I remember all the things I laughed about during the day.”

“Interesting,” mutters the king.

Hearing the genuineness of his words and the experiencing joy in his heart, the King races over to the young man. Grabbing his coat, the king reaching inside. A look of uncertainty crosses his face. Again the king takes his hand and thrusts it inside the young man’s coat.

“Your shirt! Where’s your shirt? cries the king.

“In my closet,” replies the young man.

Until next time . . . Let Your Storyographer’s Journey Begin!

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