One of my all-time favorite book series is the ten volume Squire’s Tales series by Gerald Morris. Some of my boys and I are taking a break from formal schooling to read through them. It’s been a few years, and I was ready.
Let me note here, at the beginning: this has spoilers. Personally, I don’t mind spoilers, because the pleasure for me is in the details of a book, in the turn of phrase and the witticisms, in the variety of characters. I don’t read the Lord of the Rings to find out if the ring eventually makes it to Mordor. Of course it does. But how it gets there is the reason to read.
But if your philosophy of spoilers is different, you might want to skip this post.
Book four, Parsifal’s Page, retells the story of the Fisher King, the injured king who needs healing.
In this story, the naive Parsifal has been told not to ask questions — it’s impertinent. So when he first sees the Fisher King, he wants to ask questions, but he doesn’t.
And so the king isn’t healed. He fails.
A year later, Parsifal has become exhausted, weary, embittered. He has little hope that he will ever succeed.
What should have been no more than a slight social error has become the defining experience of his life. Rather than joy in his various successes over the last year, all he sees is the single failure.
Then, with some help from a young companion — the one who taught him not to ask questions — Parsifal finally makes it back to the Fisher King, and asks the simple question that heals the king and the land.
So that is the story of redemption, sweet enough in itself.
But it gets better.
There were three who had set out many years before, hoping to find the one who was to heal the king. The king’s brother and sister, and his armorer. But they all, in the end, gave up the pursuit and settled down.
The king’s sister married and had a son. His name was Parsifal.
The king’s sister became a hermit. Years later, in the midst of his bitterness, Parsifal stumbled on the hermit’s hut. There, he learned to hope again.
And the armorer crafted a sword and raised a son. The sword became Parsifal’s fine blade, and the son became Parsifal’s companion.
Filled with joy, Parsifal set out to tell the three that all was now well with their king.
Two, however, had died in the meantime. Which seems, in the moment, bleak again. Can’t this Parsifal ever catch a break?
Then a character points out, “They set off, so many years ago, to find the one who would break the spell and heal their brother. They didn’t find him — they created him. Do not mourn these two; save your regrets for those whose lives serve no purpose at all.”
They didn’t find him — they created him. The earlier generation hadn’t lived their lives in vain. They hadn’t actually abandoned their purpose. And each of the three was vitally necessary to help Parsifal on his way.
This story hit me very hard this week. I had reached a point where I felt a bit like Parsifal, a year into his quest: weary, uncertain, frustrated with myself. After a two-week break from reading practice and vision therapy, I came back to remember that, yes, these things both remain very challenging for my son.
Yes, I can see progress. But it is slower than I’d wish.
But I also can look around and see the companions who have helped me on the way. For my mother who offers encouragement and good counsel. For Dr. Karen Holinga, for committing her life to helping children learn to read. For my husband, who listens when I emote, and doesn’t bat an eye when I go to take a needed nap. For all the children in my life who have never once teased my son for his different time-table for reading. For eye doctors, and glasses, and vision therapy, and the ways that hope stays alive, even when it’s not easy.
I suspect we all have seasons where we feel like Parsifal during that wearying, hopeless year.
If that’s you, my hope for you is that you also have help along the way.