The Tale of the Jewel Merchants - a parable for our times

by David Gilbert

April 18, 2020

This parable was written a couple of years ago about the experience and expertise of Patient Leaders. It seems perhaps more widely applicable now.

Those of us, unfortunate, weakened, damaged and fallen from grace were banished to the harsh and arid Valley of Despair.

There, we crawled alone to find caves in which we could live our days and suffer through the cold nights.

We were changed, frightened and alone. What we had hoped to be, we could no longer be. What we could do, we could no longer do. Who we were, was no longer who we would be. We were refugees of mind, body and land.

Those of us that survived – many did not – did the best we could.

We eked out a life in the harsh terrain. We learned to be creative to survive the everyday bleakness – to forage for sparse and strange plants that bore orange bitter fruit, to bear the twists of our cruel minds that woke us at 3am to the bloody cries of wolves. And to do the best we could to adjust to the terrible blackness of the cave that was now our home.

Over the snail-like years, we came to explore the depths of our caves. We discovered broken stones around us – in the walls, around us on the floor. Our very brokenness led us to delve into broken things around us – we yearned connection, with ourselves, with others, with stones, with the world.

Some of us started tunneling. Some strange force kept us going, and kept us digging, exploring. We began excavating under the floors of the cave and unearthed more luminous and reflective objects. We could only go deeper

We began to polish the stones and were amazed to discover that the act of polishing changed their colour, they became reflective – we saw our own true faces for the first time in years – shaded in amazing hues of violet and gold. We glowed.

Maybe, after all, there had been something wrong, not with us, but the world around us.

Perhaps the banished had a story to tell, maybe we had found something secret that we needed to share. Could the jewels be precious to others, and not just us? If only the market dwellers in the citadels would see what we had to bring, then everything might change.

A few of us set off from our caves, excited and terrified. But our legs were weak, and our carts rickety. We were not able to get far. The heaviness of our load was almost unbearable, the horses we tried to harness would not pull in the right direction. There was no support from strangers

What kept us going? I am still unsure. We did not know where we were going precisely. The roads had changed. They seemed to loop around on each other. They were bumpy and led by treacherous ravines and up bleak hillsides.

Oh the many times we almost gave up! We fell into telling each other things would never change. And a few tried to get back to their caves, or threw out the jewels from their cart, despising their abhorrent erstwhile dreams as nightmares or fantasies.

And then one night, we camped close to a river. And a few of us fell to telling our tales and shared them under an elm tree. And more and more of us came – it was like magic.

We could see that the market dwellers needed us as much or even more perhaps than we needed them.

I wish I knew the ending of this tale. Many of us are still isolated and alone. A few of us have managed to set up stall, and a few of us have exchanged our jewels – albeit it at a lower price than their true value.

It is not easy. But every time we meet, we feel stronger. And our jewels glow more brightly. The Jewel Merchants are journeying as we speak. Let the jewels be shared.

(C) 2020 David Gilbert

This appeared as the preface to ‘The Patient Revolution - how we can heal healthcare’ 



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