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The happiest prince

High above the city on a tall tower, or so the story goes, stood the statue of the Happy Prince, gilded all over in jewels and fine gold.  And from this particular vantage point, he could see all the unhappiness and sadness unfolding within the homes far below.

You probably know how the story ends.  A beautiful swallow happens to alight upon the statue on his way towards warmer shores, but is delayed by the requests of the Happy Prince to remove his jewels, one by one, and offer them to the people of the town who needed them most. 

Whilst the story ends with the death of the swallow and the demise of the statue, this is Oscar Wilde as his best, both evocative and uplifting; helping us all to reflect on life as a form of continuous 'giving away'.

Once upon another time, I find myself sitting at the piano, playing songs from a children's musical I had composed 'back in the day', based on the same story of the Happy Prince.  Now, I have never counted myself as a true musician - at least not in the sense of being properly trained.  I have, though, enjoyed the opportunity to work, at several moments in my life, with children and to witness, first hand, the way in which music can bring these powerful stories to life, providing a context in which young people can wrestle with and reflect upon some of life's most important themes.  Each time my hands play out these simple melodies on the piano, I remember the children who sang for their friends, their parents and grandparents.  I wonder where they might be now, how life was treating them and whether they remember the Happy Prince.

Life as a forming of giving away. 

Stepping away from the piano, I am reminded of this simple thought and, if I'm honest, begin to feel a little sad.  I mean, there are all these fragments of my story - my life as it happens to have played out to date - that have each been meaningful, brought so much joy, and a strong sense that 'this is who I'm meant to be right now'.  But today these moments are relegated to grains of sand on a distant shore; dreams that, for one reason or another, got swept aside by the relentless current of 'real' life.

Now, tell me if I'm wrong but I don't think I'm alone here.  I believe that many of us look back and see episodes, themes, even whole chapters of our lives that seemed like gifts we could treasure and share with those around.  But, at one moment of another, they were gone.  We changed direction, took a different path, ran out of time or simply out of steam.

So, in the end, does everything end up the way of the Happy Prince and the dead swallow lying at his feet?

The more I think about it, the more I think the answer's "yes".  We are each born, covered with jewels and fine gold - each piece a gift destined to define and give meaning to a moment in our lives.  But here's the deal: it is only ours to give away and every day represents a ‘peeling away’ that reveals something of who we really are.  No I don't write children's musicals any more and I will surely never be a priest or academic, sitting in the shadow of Oxford's spires.  As a wise man once said, everything - yes, everything - has its time and there's no going back.

So the moral of the story?

The happiest prince (or princess for that matter) is he who looks back at the end of his life and enjoys the memory of what he had, not the regret of what he lost. 

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