The Story of Yes
Billy & Akaisha Kaderli
The bungalow was dark. The only sound was Papi’s rasp,
breath after breath. Salvatore knew his Father’s time was near, and he
was gripped with fear and anger.
“Come here, Hijo.”
Salvatore neared his Father’s deathbed with dread. It was just another
loss, another problem.
“Hijo, I have nothing to give you… The soldiers took my land, and killed
your Mother… All I have is a promise I have kept,.. and this I give to
you. It is a source of riches beyond description… Keep this promise, and
you will be rewarded.”
Papi explained to Salvatore that each week he was to bring a gift to the
Anciano on the neighboring mountain. It didn’t matter what, he was to
bring a gift. He was not to miss a week, not one, for any excuse. Then
Papi gently died, with a half smile on his face.
Salvatore was furious. If his Father had a source of riches, why didn’t
he share them? Why didn’t he use them to ease their miserable lives?
During the war, Salvatore and his family had escaped and relocated to
a scrap of land that he was desperately trying to cultivate. All he had
was this land, a handful of sheep, and now, his Father’s promise to
keep. It was
just another burden.
Salvatore began his journey up the neighboring mountain begrudgingly.
“Bring a gift, indeed. I have nothing but this water in my goatskin.
That old man will just have to accept my nothing.”
Every step along the way, Salvatore cursed. He resented the time it took
away from his land, and the effort it took to climb the hill. The whole
situation was a supreme bother, and he wished he hadn’t agreed to
continue this promise.
At last, he reached the place where the Anciano lived, and he threw down
the goatskin in front of him. “Why don’t you get your own water? What do
you ever contribute to the refugees below? Do you know how selfish you
are being? Do you know how hard this is for me to do?
I can’t afford the time away from my land, and my family! You‘re
worthless, Old Man.”
Anciano looks deeply at Salvatore, nods, and says “yes.”
Salvatore, frustrated, spins on his heel, and heads down the
Anciano takes the water that Salvatore has just given him, and places it
in a beautiful place in his meager garden. There he contemplates the
purity of the water. He thinks of the clouds forming, eventually
dropping their moisture. He sees lakes and rivers filling up with life-giving water, supplying villages and villagers everywhere. He considers
the goat, eating the grass also fed by the water, and about the
sacrifice of the goat’s life to make the very bag the water was carried
in. He thinks of the skill it took the craftsman to make the goatskin
bag water tight, so no precious drop of water was lost.
All of this he thought about with
respect, and his heart filled with
Meanwhile Salvatore continues down
the hill glad that he got the promise out of the way for this week. He
felt lighter for having told the old man what he thought of his laziness
and selfishness. Somehow, the exercise of going up and down the hill and
the sunshine on his back felt good too.
The Day of Promise arrives the next week before Salvatore realizes it.
Aggravated, he grabs some corn from a pile in the corner, just to
have something to bring. “What a bother,” he thinks as he labors up the
When he meets the lean old man, Salvatore once again offhandedly dumps
the corn in front of him. “My wife is sick. I should be there taking
care of her. Since she is ill, I have to do twice the load. You are so
selfish and worthless. You do nothing to contribute to us. Here’s your
Again, the old man looks meaningfully into Salvatore’s eyes, nods, and says
Salvatore, puzzled and annoyed, turns and heads down the hill.
Anciano places the corn on his small table and begins to think how the
corn was made. Again, the rain, the seeds that some man collected and
planted when the time was right. The soil which gave of its nutrients.
He thought of the time and patience it took for the corn to grow; days
of sunshine and nights of moonlight. He remembered the man who labored
to pick the corn, put it into a sack, and carried it up the hill for him
to eat. His heart swelled with gratitude, and he blessed the corn.
Meanwhile, Santiago, on his way down the hill, feels
lighter for having dropped off his sack of corn, and unburdening himself
of the troubles he carried in his heart of his wife’s illness. The
exercise he was getting filled his lungs with fresh air. His heart beat
strongly. The sun warmed his back and gave his cheeks color.
Week after week, Salvatore keeps his promise to his Father, and week
after week, he thinks he will get some riches from the old man. “Maybe I
need to give him a better present,” he thinks. “Then he will see that I
am worthy of his riches.”
Salvatore decides to give the Anciano a woolen blanket. It’s an expensive gift,
and labor intensive.
Arriving at the top of the hill, he gives the blanket to the old man.
Anciano looks at Salvatore, smiles a small smile, and says “Yes.”
“What’s the matter with you, Old Man? Nothing impresses you! This is the
best I have to offer, and you take it like it is of no importance! I
hate this promise. You are nothing but a weight to me.” Salvatore
returns down the hill.
Anciano places the blanket on the mat where he sleeps and considers how
the blanket is made. The soil, moisture and sunshine that fed the grass
that fed the sheep that grew the wool. The man who sheared the sheep,
and the woman who took the wool and processed it into yarn and wove the
blanket. Countless hours went into the making of this woolen blanket,
and Anciano’s heart filled to bursting. What a gift!
Salvatore, against his better judgment begins to realize that he enjoys
dumping the mental and emotional burdens he carries onto the old man. He
feels lighter inside; energized by the exercise, the release of his
anger, and the weights of his heart. He begins to notice the flowers
along side the hill, and the colors of the rocks that line his path. He
wonders why he has never seen them before.
Seasons pass, and weekly Salvatore brings his gifts to Anciano.
Sometimes it is fruit, or vegetables, firewood, seeds or nuts. Each time
he places the gift in front of the old man and tells him what a problem
it is to bring them to him. He tells him of the sacrifices he makes to
keep this promise.
Soon, he also begins to tell the old man of his worries for his family.
He speaks of his son who is just becoming a man, and how he fears for
him. Will he be able to make his way in the world? Will he have to join
the army and fight at the border of the neighboring country?
There are fears he
has for his wife; how hard she works, and he wonders if she will be able
to keep up this pace. He shares his concerns over his daughter. Will she
find a good husband? And what about his crops? Will there be enough
rain? Too much?
No matter what Salvatore says, or what mood he is in, Anciano
listens intently, nods thoughtfully, and says “Yes.”
Salvatore begins to realize that he
has never known anyone like this before in his life. The old man accepts him on good days and bad, and
with large gifts and small ones too. Soon, Salvatore becomes aware that
he is feeling much freer inside himself. His weekly visits climbing up
and down the hill and unburdening himself to this old man has made him
lean and strong. Clear headed. There is a deep change inside and he’s
not sure why or how it happened.
He begins to look forward to his visits with Anciano. Instead of his
fears and angers and resentments, soon, Salvatore finds that he speaks
to the old man of his hopes and dreams for his son, his daughter. He
excitedly tells of how he wants to expand his land and his home. Hiring
men to help him with his increased crop yield.
Anciano listens to it all. He smiles, nods and accepts everything
Salvatore gives him.
One day Salvatore arrives at Anciano’s hut and sees him on his sleeping
mat on the floor. Anciano is laboring with his breath. Salvatore becomes
alarmed at the prospect that the old man might die.
“Are you dying?! What will I do without you? What will become of me? I
need you, Old Man,” he says.
“Yes,” Anciano replies.
They sit together for another hour as the old man passes from this world
to the next.
Salvatore places his head on the old man’s chest and weeps for his loss.
An emotional storm rises and falls inside of him. When calm
returns, in his mind he hears the old man’s “Yes.”
He looks around and finds a peaceful
place in the back of Anciano's hut where he digs a hole. Lovingly he
places the old man in the earth and covers
him with dirt. He looks around and doesn’t know what to do. In his mind,
he hears the old man’s voice, saying “Yes.”
He cleans up the hut, waters a few plants, and returns
down the hill.
“My life has changed,” he says to himself.
“Yes,” he hears the old man say back to him.
Salvatore returns week after week to tidy up the hut, tend the few
plants, clear the gravesite of weeds. He continues to talk to the old
man at his gravesite, telling him of his hopes, dreams, and fears.
day, Salvatore knows that this ritual is no longer necessary. He has
been speaking to the old man on the other side now for a long time. He
knows the old man hears him whether he is at his hut or if he is out in
He decides not to return to the hut,
for it is no longer necessary. He carries the old man inside of him now,
wherever he goes.
“Yes,” he hears the old man say.
Salvatore returns to his family a profoundly changed man.
Seasons pass. Salvatore feels tired after working a full day with his
sheep and mending a fence, and he says “Yes.” Days come and go, weeks
and months pass by; horrendous winters, splendid springs, and to
everything he says “Yes.”
Salvatore’s inclination to argue has all but ceased. He says “thank you”
these days, and notices how his wife smiles more, his daughter is happy,
and his son strong. His fear, and all the closing it brings, all the
walls it builds, has fallen away. He observes this of himself, and he
He notices that his son looks up to him now, and seeks him out for
advice. His daughter blooms in the safety that he provides for her, and
she enjoys his company.
More seasons pass and his son grows
strong, marries a girl and gets a farm of his own. His daughter is sought
after by a young man from a neighboring village, gets married and has a
wife ages, the blush of youth vanishes, and is replaced by gentleness, loyalty and the
depth of understanding. His crops and number of animals rose and fell and
rose again. Some friendships have drifted away, and some have returned. To
all of this, Salvatore says an internal “Yes.”
When he feels pain, he sits with it. When he feels happy, he sits with
that too. And his heart fills with gratitude at the mystery and fullness
Neighbors and countrymen alike begin to notice his
strength, his wisdom, steadfastness, and calm courage. They seek him out
for his counsel. He listens intently to all that they present to him. He
gives guidance and insight. Some accept what he has to say and others do
not. To each, in his heart, he says “Yes.”
Life continues in this way, until Salvatore finds himself in his bed
having difficulty breathing, and he knows that his time for leaving the
world is near. As he no longer fears Life, he no longer fears Death
either, and has leaned to say yes to both. Waxing and waning, closeness
and distance, hellos and goodbyes, praise and blame. He sits with all of
these changes and feels satisfied.
Gratitude fills his heart as he realizes the old man is in
front of him.
“Is it time to go now?”
“Yes,” Anciano says, and touches his hand.
Salvatore exhales his last breath and whispers “Yes.” A half smile
remains on his face. His wife touches his hand as she
sees him pass from this world to the next. Maria, observing Salvatore
all these years, has learned to say yes to Life and to Death as well. Though weeping for her
loss, she smiles through her tears and gathers her family close.
“Where did Grandfather go? I’m afraid, Abuela. Will we be ok?”
“Yes,” she says gently as she kisses her grandchild’s sweet hair.
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