The Keeper of the Spring

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something I can do. ” ~ Edward Everett Hale

In an Austrian village along the eastern slope of the Alps, an elderly man had been hired many years earlier by a young town councilman to clear away the debris from the pools of water up in the mountain crevices that fed the lovely spring flowing through their town.

With faithful, silent regularity, he patrolled the hills, removed the leaves and branches, and wiped away the silt that would otherwise have choked and contaminated the fresh flow of water.

The village soon became a popular attraction for vacationers. Graceful swans floated along the crystal clear spring, the mill wheels of various businesses located near the water turned day and night, farmlands were naturally irrigated, and the view from restaurants was picturesque beyond description.

Years passed. One evening the town council met for its semiannual meeting. As they reviewed the budget, the Treasurer’s eye caught the salary figure being paid the obscure keeper of the spring.

“Who is this old man?” he asked. “Why do we keep him on, year after year? No one ever sees him. For all we know, he could be off golfing somewhere while he’s supposed to be ‘ranging the hills’.”

There was a murmur from the rest of the group.

“We need to vote on this,” the Treasurer said. “That money could really be used somewhere else.”

And so, by a unanimous vote, they dispensed with the old man’s services.

For several weeks, nothing changed, but by early autumn, the trees began to shed their leaves, small branches snapping off and falling into the pools, hindering the natural flow of the water.

One afternoon, someone noticed a slight yellowish-brown tint in the spring. A few days later, the water was much darker. Within another week, a slimy film covered sections of the water along the banks, and a foul odor was soon detected. The mill wheels moved more slowly, some of them grinding to a near halt. The swans left, and the tourists were less impressed, beginning to dwindle. Clammy fingers of ill-health crept deeply into the village.

Quickly, the embarrassed council called a special meeting. Realizing their gross error in judgment, they rehired the old keeper of the spring, and within a few weeks, the veritable river of life began to clear up. The wheels started to turn, and new life began to bloom once again, bringing fresh vigor to the little hamlet tucked away deep in the Alps.

Source: This simple but powerful fable about one individual’s ability to affect change was a favourite tale of the late Peter Marshall, an eloquent speaker and for several years the chaplain of the US Senate. As originally found at liraz.com.