(Reprinted from a flyer sent out by my union's chaplain)
One day a young man was standing in the middle of town proclaiming he had the most beautiful heart in the whole valley. A very large crowd gathered and they all admired his heart, for it was perfect - there was not a mark or flaw in it. Yes, after viewing it they all agreed it was truly the most beautiful heart they had ever seen. The young man was proud and began to boast even more loudly about his beautiful heart.
Suddenly, an old man appeared at the front of the crowd and said "Why, your heart is not nearly as beautiful as mine." The crowd joined the young man as he looked at the old man's heart. It was beating strongly, but full of scars. It had places where pieces had been removed and other pieces put in, but because the pieces didn't quite fit there were several jagged edges to be seen. In fact, in some places there were deep gouges where whole pieces of the old man's heart were missing. The people stared. They thought "How can this old man say his disfigured heart is the most beautiful?" After seeing the condition of the old man's heart the young man laughed and said "You must be joking. Your heart doesn't compare with mine! My heart is perfect, and yours is just a mess of scars and tears."
"Yes," said the old man, "your heart looks perfect but I would never trade mine for yours. Every scar represents a person to whom I have given my love - I tear out a piece of my heart and give it to them. Often they give me a piece of their heart in return which I fit into the empty space in my heart - but because the pieces aren't an exact fit I end up with rough edges, which I cherish because they remind me of the love we shared. The empty gouges you see represent the pieces of my heart that I've given away without the other person giving a piece of their heart in return - but that is the nature of love: giving unselfishly and taking the chance that no love will be given in return. These gouges are the most painful. They stay open to remind me of the love I have for these people, and in hope that someday they may return and fill the space I have waiting. Now, do you see what true beauty is?"
The young man stood silently with tears running down his cheeks. He walked up to the old man, reached into his perfect young and beautiful heart and ripped a piece out. He offered it to the old man with trembling hands. The old man placed it in his heart and then took a piece from his own old scarred heart and placed it into the wound in the young man's heart. The piece fit, but there were some jagged edges.
The young man looked at his heart - not perfect anymore but more beautiful than ever since love from the old man's heart flowed into his. They embraced and walked away side by side.
(Love means giving unselfishly, not expecting reward or acclaim but because it is the right thing to do. The person who is unafraid to love has the most beautiful heart of all....)