‘Happy Prince’ is more than a fairy tale

Published 2:00 pm Saturday, December 11, 2010

Column: Ann Austin, Live United

When I think about the meaning behind this season, I often recall one of my favorite childhood stories: “The Happy Prince.” The story is written by Oscar Wilde and takes place in a medieval town. The Happy Prince is a statue who has great empathy as he witnesses all of the sadness that exists in the world around him.

Ann Austin

Though he can see all of the people who need help, he is not able to assist them, because after all, he is a statue. But a sparrow visits on his way to warmer climates. The sparrow listens to the stories the Happy Prince tells him of those who are in need and vows to stay and help out as best he can.

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Each time the Happy Prince sees someone who needs help, he asks the sparrow to pluck out a stone from the hilt of his sword or his crown to give away. The sparrow stays as the weather grows colder and continues to be the prince’s messenger until the last gold leaf is removed from the statue and given away.

The story is about a small sacrifice for the good of many. Sparrows are a humble bird — they are not sought after for their beauty or their song. The choice of a sparrow in this story is significant; beauty is fleeting and true nobility comes from recognizing a purpose greater than ourselves. The small comforts of this world don’t mean much if we have no one to share them with.

The sparrow and the Happy Prince found friendship in their desire to help others. They chose to alter the world around them through simple acts of kindness. And they did their work without any expectation of recognition or appreciation from others; rather they were both sacrificed at the end of the story.

This holiday season, you may be inspired to share simple acts of kindness with others. And there is much to choose from!

A friend of mine has a tradition every year of asking his children to select toys for children who are in need and give them to the Angel Tree.

If your children have finally worn you down to buy a puppy — look first at the Freeborn County Humane Society.

Maybe your family loves to sing carols. Why not share your song at the Senior Tower during one of Semcac’s noon meals. Or you could also help deliver meals to older residents at their homes.

This year more than ever, there are families who are in need of energy assistance. You can help them by giving a gift to the Hometown Care Energy Fund offered through Alliant Energy.

If you aren’t traveling this year, take a trip across town to play cards, do crafts or just visit with residents at retirement communities.

Get your church group or a group of friends together to make sandwiches and snacks at The Rock.

Shop locally and get to know the people at the Albert Lea Farmers Market (homemade jam makes a great gift).

Send a card to someone you haven’t talked to for a while or someone you just met!

Bake an extra batch of cookies and give them to your neighbor

Shovel snow or find other chores to do for our older neighbors at Chore Services (Senior Resources).

Donate food to local food shelves (Salvation Army, Ecumenical-First Presbyterian, Assemblies of God or Alden food pantries).

Make a New Year’s resolution to mentor a child, get involved in a committee or start a movement that will help others for years to come.

And always read to your children.

Ann Austin is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.