Father and Son
The father supported his family by gathering medicinal herbs in the mountains.
The mountains were high and filled with danger. However, everyday, rain or shine, the father had to clamber the cliffs and comb every inch of the vegetation.
The year soon passed, and his son had grown up. The father asked his son to climb the mountains with him. He took out a rope and tied one end of it to his son and the other end to himself. He crawled in front and his son followed. The first time the father took his son to a cliff, he asked the young man, “Do you know the use of the knife at your hip?” “To dig out herbs.” “What else?” The son scanned the cliff and the lush vegetation growing over it, and then turned to stare at his father, perplexed. After a good while, he shook his head. “You’ll find out later.” His father said.
One day, they discovered a raised patch of grass on a precipice. The grass formed a tight circle with something in the center. It must be ginseng, a century-old ginseng plant! The father and his son quickened their upward climb. The father led the way and his son followed. Above them towered the sheer cliff, defying any attempt to reach the spot of the precious plant. Clinging to the rock face with hands and feet, they inched strenuously upward. The father got hold of a clump of brambles; the ginseng was within arm’s reach. All of a sudden, the father felt a downward pull at the rope around his waist. So strong was the dragging force that it almost made him lose his grip on the brambles. Then came his son’s desperate cry. Looking down he saw the young man dangling on the other end of the rope, swinging back and forth.
The son continued to cry in panic and confusion. “Help! Dad, help!” The voice resounded in the wide valley, leaving a succession of echoes lingering on for quite some time.
Making no response to his son, the father concentrated all his strength on continuing his upward climb. He was making his last effort to hold on to the bramble. But as he realized at that very moment, he had grown old: his fingers were growing weaker with every passing second and his grip was about to slacken. “No, I can’t give up! I must hold on!” he thought, “The very life of my son depends on it!” His mind was preoccupied with only one single idea: to climb upward, upward. Thankfully his arms eventually reached over the ridge of the cliff, and soon his whole body was up. Now he was able to gradually hoist his son up to his position an inch at a time.
In his struggle to safety, his waist badly hurt by the rubbing of the knife stuck in his belt, but he didn’t give a second thought to it. After that day’s ginseng hunt, the father went down with a serious illness, plunging him into a state of obvious decrepitude. However, the ailing father still insisted on going up into the mountains. As usual, they brought a rope with them, one end of which was tied to the father, the other end to his son. The only difference was that they had swapped position, the son leading the way and the father following below. The son tried to dissuade his father from climbing, but the father was persistent, saying he would be worried to death if he let his son take all the risks alone.
Coming to the foot of the mountain, the father repeated his question about the use of the knife. The son again stared at his father as if begging for an answer, but his father was as evasive as before.
Days went by, and their life continued. One day, they again discovered a big ginseng plant up a cliff, and began to edge toward it with all their might. Just as the son approached the plant, the father’s hands slackened and his body fell off the cliff surface, dangling helpless on the rope. Despite having taken firm hold of a clump of brambles, the son still felt an overwhelming downward pull from his father. His father was becoming heavier and heavier and would surely drag him down into the deep valley. “Heavens! What can I do?” the son yelled in panic. The father gave no reply. With much effort, he drew out the knife from his belt and hacked at the rope. Instantly the rope was cut: his knife was indeed very sharp.
Down fell the father. He fell headlong into the depth of the valley, until he hit a flat rock. After him a length of rope also fell, trembling and twisting upon him like a snake. Both ends of the rope were neatly cut by knives that must indeed have been very sharp.
If the father had been able to see the fallen rope, he would have given a knowing smile: his son had found out how to use his knife. When the father hacked at the rope, his son did the same. The son had finally come to see the true purpose of his knife.