How to eliminate stress in children: Joy Robbers

The following is an entertaining story for children ages 4-12 that helps them learn to take charge of their own emotions, have more joy in their own life, and become more considerate of others.  It also acts as a primer for the basic tenets of Psychoharmonics™.

The Joy Robbers

By Jack Thomas

©2009  All rights reserved.

It was such a beautiful day that Joshua and his sister, Laura, decided to walk to school.  They really didn’t like riding the clunky old bus anyhow because it went up and down a million hills and across ten million ruts before it ever took them to where they were going.  An added bonus to walking was that Cody, their petite mixed-breed rescue puppy, could go along with them.

They were both singing and enjoying the beautiful scenery as Cody chased butterflies along the woodland path.  They stopped now and then to laughingly shout hello to a squirrel, mock the crow’s call, or admire a wildflower.  So neither of them even noticed the ominous black cloud that was creeping across the sky.  Then, suddenly, Cody yelped and hid between Joshua’s feet as the swirling inky blob blocked the warm sunshine altogether.

“Hey!” Joshua exclaimed.  “Where did the sunshine go?  And look how the trees are bending over in the wind now!  We’d better run!  I think we’re about to have a really bad storm!”

Laura turned and, with Cody right on her heels, started to run back home, but Joshua quickly caught her hand and pulled her back.  “No, no!” he hollered above the wind that was now howling fiercely and hurling leaves and broken limbs through the air.  “We don’t have time to go back home – or to get to school either.  Come on!  We’ll get in the cave under the Big Flat Rock.  Remember?  It’s just over that hill.”

Holding hands and running as fast as they could, the frantic children reached the Big Flat Rock just as the sky exploded with a blinding bolt of lightning and a clap of thunder that sounded like a million-jillion cannons all firing at once.  Cody yelped and cowered down on the floor of the cave.  Laura screamed and covered her eyes with her hands.  Joshua put his arm around her and gave her a little comforting squeeze just as the bottom fell out of the sky.  Buckets and buckets of rain made it hard to see more than an arm’s length beyond the shelter of the Big Flat Rock.

Joshua and Laura had played many times in this ancient shallow cave that had given shelter even to people who had lived there long, long ago.  Scientists from the university had come many times and dug up arrowheads, and pieces of pottery. They had even found bones of animals that had been cooked and eaten there by Native Americans in the olden days.  The ceiling of the little cave was blackened from the smoke of many, many ancient campfires.

There were big downward-slanting cracks between slabs of granite in the back of the cave, and even in the wintertime when there was snow on the ground, warm air could be felt coming up from deep, deep within the earth.  On really cold days, the warm air was visible as little curly streams of fog.  The children huddled together near one of those mysterious cracks and watched the rain flooding the ground outside and stirring up an aroma of sweet forest scents.

As they continued to look at the rain drip, drip, drip from the overhanging rock at the mouth of the cave, before they knew what was happening, they soon were fast asleep.  Cody snuggled up on Laura’s shoes, let out a deep sigh, and began snoozing away himself.

“Wake up!” the thin, raspy little voice shouted.  “Wake up or you’ll be late!  You’ve got to get going now.  Joy’s a’wasting!”

Startled, and with Cody barking wildly, the children sat up straight and rubbed their sleep-filled eyes.  As they caught sight of the tiny creature that was poking at them with his teeny-tiny, but very sharp, finger, they both screamed and backed up against the rock wall as far as they could go.  Cody bared his teeth and growled menacingly.

“What’s the matter with you children?” the tiny creature scolded.  “Haven’t you ever seen a Gnome Person before?  You’d better control that mutt or I’ll turn him into a toad.  You wouldn’t like that, would you?  No!  You wouldn’t like that!”

The children turned and looked at the creature’s shriveled face and glowing green eyes as he stood blocking the only way out of the cave.  He was dressed in what appeared to be a suit made from the skin of a green frog.  In elf-like fashion, his little brown shoes were turned up on the ends and each had a tiny silver bell attached to it.  His huge broad-brimmed hat was fashioned from dozens of brown leaves.  It occurred to Joshua, as he examined the intruder, that if “the Gnome Person,” as he called himself, squatted down on the forest floor he would have been almost invisible.

“That’s right, invisible!” the little man squawked, his green eyes twinkling and shooting out tiny green sparks, and then cackled a frighteningly loud laugh.

“How did you know I was thinking that?” Joshua asked, feeling a bit braver now, buoyed by the realization that he was many times larger than this Gnome Person.

“Because I’m a Great Wizard!” the Gnome Person replied quite genteelly, his eyes taking on more of a blue hue and no longer shooting sparks.  “I know all there is to know that’s worth knowing.  And I’ll teach it all to you if you can answer one question.”

“And what question is that?” Laura asked, feeling braver herself now.  With her lower lip poked out and her nose tilted slightly up in the air, she looked straight into the little man’s eyes that now clearly were a sparkling sky blue.

“The question is,” came the reply, “what makes life worth living?”

“Before I answer any questions,” Joshua said sternly to the Gnome Person, “I think you should know that our parents don’t allow us to talk to strangers.  And you certainly are a stranger stranger than most.  We not only don’t know who you are, but we don’t even know what you are!”

The Gnome Person was silent for a moment, apparently taken aback by this 12-year-old whippersnapper’s reply.  Then, suddenly, a very pleasant smile morphed his face into an indescribably beautiful creation that would rival even a rose.  “Well said,” the Gnome Person finally answered in a most melodious voice.  “And a good practice it is to be cautious with strangers, m’lad.  Some strangers, of course, are just very good friends you haven’t met yet, but some…” and his voice grew somber and raspy again, “…are the world’s worst Joy Robbers!  Yuk!  Phooey!  Gag!”

“Joy Robbers?  What’s a Joy Robber?” Laura asked.

“Yeah, if somebody stole all your joy, that would be awful,” Joshua chimed in, his lips forming just the slightest wisp of a smile.

“If I couldn’t be happy, life sure would be a drag,” Laura continued.

“Yeah, it would hardly be worth living,” Joshua sighed, shaking his head.  “Having something wonderful to look forward to always makes me happy.”

“Yuk!  Phooey!  Gag!  Hush!  Hush!  Hush!” the Gnome exclaimed.  “From the mouths of babes!  I gave it away!  I gave you the answer!  And now you’ve given it back to me!  Joy is what makes life worth living.  Of course!  Of course! You win!  You win!  But I don’t lose.  No, sirree!  I never lose.  When you lose, I win.  When you win, I win.  Mine is always a win-win world.  Isn’t that marvelous?  Yes, it’s marvelous.”  Then he cupped his hand on one side of his mouth and whispered, “That’s one of the advantages of being a Great Wizard.  You figure out these things.  And if they don’t work out, you work them out anyhow.  Alfred G. Piggawilly at your service, m’lady, and my good man.”

“Piggawilly?” both of the children shouted in unison.  Then, glancing at each other and back at Mr. Piggawilly, they did their best to stifle their laughter, but to no avail.  Out it came in roaring guffaws and hee-hees and sniggle-snoggles that echoed around the cave.  Cody barked and danced about as though laughing himself.

“Yuk!  Phooey!  Gag!” Mr. Piggawilly shouted.  “Hush!  Hush!  Hush!  That’s not nice!  Are you trying to rob me of my joy?”

Instantly, the laughter stopped.  “Oh, no,” Laura replied with a sincere note of apology in her voice.  Even though she was only nine years old, she already knew manners quite well.

“I’m sorry,” Joshua added.  “We know better than to laugh at people, especially about things they can’t help, but…” and he stifled just a wee wisp of a smile, “…we’ve just never heard such a…such a…”

“Such a funny name?” Mr. Piggawilly said, continuing the sentence for him.

“Well, yes,” Joshua replied.

“Don’t worry about it,” Mr. Piggawilly chuckled, his voice melodious again and his face taking on its rose-like beauty once more.  “It is a funny name.  I laugh at it myself sometimes.  But we all must make the best of what we’re given.  And, if you’d like, you can just call me Mr. P for short.  And with what names are you lovely children blessed?”

“I’m Joshua.  And this is my sister, Laura.”

“And do you have last names, Joshua and Laura?”

“We do, but we don’t give them out to strangers,” Joshua replied, with a nod of agreement from his sister.  “And, although we know your name now, you’re still a stranger.”

“Right you are, sir!” came the cheerful reply.  “And I’m sure you’ve been taught not to take gifts from strangers, too, am I right?”

“That’s absolutely right,” Laura answered, nodding her head.

“Absolutely, positively,” Joshua agreed as he folded his arms across his chest.  “Our Dad says it’s an ironclad rule.”

“Ironclad rule, huh?  Ah, well, that’s good, but that’s too bad, too.  Since I’m such a wee bit of a stranger who couldn’t possibly harm you, however, don’t you think you could make an exception to the rule this one time?”

“We don’t make exceptions,” Laura replied, her lips poked out again.  “Sometimes strangers say that to children and try to get them to help find a lost puppy when there’s no lost puppy at all.”

“I know those kinds of people,” Mr. P said agreeably.  “They’re Joy Robbers First Class.  Well said, then.  Jolly well said.  When you have rules, you don’t break them.  Otherwise, they’re not really rules, right?  Right!  I’m always right,” he chuckled.  “It’s so wonderful being a Great Wizard!  But, since you’re such nice, polite, and very intelligent children, I’m going to help you with this dilemma.”

“What’s a dilemma?” Laura asked.

“A dilemma?  A dilemma?  You don’t know what a dilemma is?”

“I don’t know either,” Joshua chimed in, his brow slightly furrowed.

“Well, well, well, well,” Mr. P smiled as he paced back and forth with his chest stuck out and his fist on his little bearded chin, “Why, a dilemma is when you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.  You’re being pushed and pulled at the same time.  Your upsy-daisy is topsy-turvy!”

“What?” Laura shouted.  “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I’m talking about D-I-L-E-M-M-A, dilemma!” Mr. P sang out, making it into a little tune.  He continued in quite a nice, cheerful tenor:

“D is for Disturbing, for that’s what they are;

“Ideas that collide like a wild shooting star;

“L is for Lies that we then tell ourselves;

“E’s for Excuses that we take off the shelves;

“M’s for Mistakes that are really no fun;

“M’s also for Meddling, which you’ve already done

“And now I’ve run out of letters, but ain’t we had fun!”

Mr. P, who was barely ten inches tall, if that much, clutching his belly, rolled in the floor with laughter.

“That doesn’t make any sense at all,” Joshua replied, shaking his head with just a hint of a smile.  “You’re pretty silly for a grown man, Mr. P.”

“Yuk!  Phooey!  Gag!” Mr. P shouted, his rosy face morphing into a knotty mass of wrinkles again as red sparks flew from his now-reddish eyes that glowed frighteningly like hot coals.  “You’re robbing me of my joy!  Haven’t you learned anything?  Never, never, never, never, never rob people of their joy!”

“I’m sorry,” Joshua replied, almost in a whisper.  Just the slightest hint of a tear began to form in the corner of one eye as he recoiled from Mr. P’s frightening outburst of red-hot anger.

“Oops!  I did it myself,” Mr. P exclaimed.  “I’ve robbed you of your joy.  Sorry, sorry, sorry!  But I’m going to forgive myself and start over.  As a Great Wizard — First Class, I might add, I can do that.  You can do it, too, once you learn how.  I’ll consider that little episode to be a practical lesson for you.  You need to get good at this before I let you go on your mission.  Otherwise, you’ll be in a lot of trouble.  I mean a lot of trouble!”

“Trouble?” the children exclaimed together.

“Yes, trouble, trouble, double trouble, caught in a bubble,” Mr. P rambled on.

“What mission?” Joshua inquired, his voice revealing his fear.  “We can’t go on a mission.  We’d be late for school!”

“No school today,” Mr. P stated matter-of-factly.  “Not regular school where you learn ABCs and 1-2-3s and birds and bees and see those trees and such.  Today, you’ll be going to a very different kind of school where you’ll learn some very important lessons of life.  Look outside.  What do you see?  Speak up now.  Don’t be shy!”

Both children peered out over Mr. P’s head, which was not difficult to do since he was such a tiny person, and both gasped open-mouthed at what they saw.  “That’s sure not our forest trail!” Laura exclaimed in little more than a whisper.

“It sure isn’t,” Joshua agreed.  “Look at the trees!  They’re all silver with golden leaves.  And on the bushes – are those jewels that are sparkling in the sun?”

“Yep, rubies and diamonds and pearls!” Mr. P shouted with glee, obviously pleased with his presentation.  Then, in a feigned whisper, he said, “Don’t try to eat them, though!  They’re not very tasty.  But, not to worry.  Whatever you need will be provided for you as you go where you must go on your mission.”

“And where is it that we must go?” Joshua inquired, still looking in wonderment at the many fascinating creations in this mysterious kingdom.

“Why, that’s simple,” the little Gnome Person replied.  “You must go until you have reached The Logical Conclusion.”

“The Logical Conclusion?” Laura said mockingly.  What in the world is that?

“You’ll see.  You’ll see,” Mr. P laughed.  “But you must be on your way now.  So stop asking questions and listen.  You can’t listen with your mouth open, you know.  To learn and become wonderfully wise – like me – well, not nearly as wonderfully wise as I am, of course, but, anyhow, to be the best you can be, you have to close your mouth and open up your ears – and your heart.”

“I’m all ears,” Joshua smiled, flipping his ears with his fingers.

“And I’m ready to go,” Laura chirped.

“Fine, fine, fine, fine!” Mr. P said, nodding his head as he marched back and forth.  “Here’s your raison d’etre!”

“My what?” Joshua exclaimed, twisting his mouth in a frown.

“Your ‘reason for being,’ my fine, handsome, young, but obviously quite ignorant friend…and I don’t mean that in a mean way, so don’t let it rob you of any of your joy.  I’m talking about what you’re put here on this earth to do.”

“And what’s that?” Laura asked, twisting her mouth in an endearingly cute and flirty way as though trying to identify a strange-tasting morsel.

“To bring joy to others, my dearies,” Mr. P replied, a huge smile almost covering his rosy face as his eyes glowed blue and shot out tiny silver sparks.  “And not just to people others, but to all others.  Dog others,” he continued, reaching out to scratch Cody behind his ear, “and all other creatures great and small – as long as they intend you no harm.  That’s the lesson you must learn if you are ever to reach The Logical Conclusion.”

“And how far away is The Logical Conclusion from here?” Joshua asked.

“Oh, it can be as far away as the end of a rainbow, or as near as the tip of your nose.  It all depends on how well you travel.  But, that will all come to you as time goes on.  Time, you know, is the medium through which all matter must pass and, for that matter, we’re passing through time rather rapidly now, so let’s get on with the Task At Hand.  If you always faithfully attend to the Task At Hand, without even trying, you’ll eventually reach The Logical Conclusion.  Isn’t that nice?  I mean, what a joy, right?  Of course I’m right!  I am so clever!  I’m always right!”

Laura and Joshua looked at the Gnome with mouths agape and then looked quizzically at one another.

“Never mind,” Mr. P sighed, “you’ll get it sooner or later.  But since you can’t take gifts from strangers, which I knew before I even met you, of course, since I know everything worth knowing, being the Great Wizard that I am, you’ll find some bags outside that you can take or leave as you please.  It matters not to me.  My job is done.  I’ll soon be long gone, so they’re not gifts from a stranger, are they?  No, no, no!  As a Great Wizard, I declare that they’re not.  So, there!  They’re just…hmmm…”

“Hidden treasures, I hope,” Laura interrupted.

“Yes, hidden treasures!” Mr. P exclaimed.  “What a clever little girl you are!  Yes, they’re the greatest treasures you’ll ever find.”

“And what are they?” Joshua asked, his eyes radiant with excitement.

“Why, they’re Bags of Joy, silly boy,” Mr. P stated, shaking his head in feigned wonderment that these naïve but seemingly intelligent children didn’t know that already.

“Bags of Joy?” Joshua asked.

“Absolutely, positively, hallelujah, glory be!” the little man shouted.  “What else could it be?”

“And what do we do with these Bags of Joy?” Joshua asked, trying to look around the corner of the Big Flat Rock cave to see the Bags of Joy.

“Do whatever comes to mind, my dearies,” Mr. P laughed.  “And now you must be on your way – because I must be on my way.  Yes, I must be on my way,” he laughed, “because – look at me – I’m disappearing…”

The children and Cody watched in amazement as Mr. P slowly morphed into a puff of multi-colored smoke and then, after curling around for a few seconds, he slid into one of the cracks in the granite rock from which warm air always came.

“But which way shall we go?”  Joshua shouted into the crack.

A tiny voice echoed back the answer: “Go The Right Way…always The Right Way…follow your nose, wherever it goes, on tippy-toes, without repose…”  Mr. P’s laughter echoed from the crack in the rock and then slowly faded out into nothingness.

Frightened as they now realized they were alone in this very strange place, the children grasped each other’s hands and cautiously ventured out into this challenging new world.  Even the grass seemed to be made of slivers of silver and gold.  Outside on each side of the cave entrance, they each found a beautiful clear bag that was full of brightly sparkling objects that seemed to be swarming around inside like tiny fireflies.  Joshua was scared to touch his at first, but Laura rushed right over to the bag nearest her and picked it up.  “Wow!” she shrieked.  “It’s lighter than a feather!  It’s like it doesn’t weigh anything at all!  And I feel so…so…”

“Joyful?” Joshua continued for her, smiling.

“Yes, joyful,” Laura smiled.  “I feel so wonderfully joyful.  I feel like smiling and dancing and…and…”

“And doing kind things,” Joshua said, as he held up his own Bag of Joy and watched in amazement as the tiny sparkles danced inside.  “We’d better go,” he said, finally, taking Laura’s hand.  “We don’t know how long it will take us to reach The Logical Conclusion, but I feel like we must be late already.”

“I don’t think it really matters,” Laura observed with very mature self-assurance.  “No matter how long it takes, I know I’m going to enjoy the journey.”

Joshua smiled and kissed his little sister on the top of her head.  “That sounds like a plan,” he agreed.  “Are you feeling what I’m feeling?  I feel so much…so much…”

“Wiser?” Laura continued for him.

“Yes, wiser!” Joshua smiled.  “I feel good about everything.  I think I love everything.  Everything I see or think about seems to shine.  I think some of this joy is leaking out of my sack and seeping into my heart!”

“Me, too!” Laura smiled.  “Let’s go.  I’m not afraid anymore, are you?”

“Not at all,” Joshua laughed.  “Come on, Cody.  Let’s follow our noses.  You can help make sure we go The Right Way.”

Each carrying their Bags of Joy over their shoulders, the two joyful children and their obviously joyful dancing-along dog set off on their journey, knowing not where they were going or when they would get there.  Immersed in this spectacular world of wonderment, every step was an adventure.  The clearly marked path had many crooks and turns, meandering around trees and rocks and clumps of strange sparkling flowers.  Soon they reached a little wooden bridge arched beautifully over a rippling steam full of even more wonders – shimmering fishes, emerald green frogs, and jewel-like butterflies everywhere.

Totally engrossed in the show of unnatural nature, they did not notice the creature morphing from beneath the bridge until suddenly he sprang up in front of them and growled a terrible growl with long, sharp teeth glistening in his huge, saliva-dripping mouth.  Cody almost fell into the stream, but then barked and growled fiercely at the creature that ignored the little mutt and continued to change his shape.  One second he looked much like a wolf, and then he was bear, and for a while he even looked like some kind of human being.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he demanded of the startled children.

Looking back the way that they had come and thinking about running for dear life, Joshua pushed his little sister behind him and stood his ground with Cody pressed hard against his leg.  “We’re going The Right Way,” he squeaked finally, his voice quivering a bit.

“And what do you seek there?”  The demon’s voice was a bit softer now.

“We’re trying to reach…”

“…The Logical Conclusion!” Laura chimed in, her expression immediately giving apology to Joshua for interrupting him.

“Ah, you’re some of those, huh?” the creature replied with a tone of disgust in his voice.  “Well, go ahead, then.  See if I care.”

“Why are you so gruff, and why do you keep changing shapes like that?  You’re a Joy Robber, aren’t you?” Laura asked, standing defiantly with her hands on her hips.

“Oh, no, no, no!  I’m not one of those.  I’m sorry for my behavior, really I am,” the creature replied.  “As you can see, I’m just not myself today.  And I’m not sure who I am anyhow.  You see, I don’t have a driver’s license to tell me who I am.  And I’m very lonely.  I live under this bridge all alone, and so few people come by nowadays.  And most of the ones who do come by just run away when I speak to them.”

“Well, that’s no wonder!” Laura exclaimed.  “What do you expect when you come out and growl at people like that?  And make all those terrible faces.”

“Well,” the creature replied, gradually beginning to morph into a very pleasant-looking young man, “I lied to you just now.  I really was trying to rob you of some of your joy.  You apparently have so much of it, and I haven’t much at all.  But, it seems that the harder I try to take it from you, the less I have.  I’m now sadder and more lonely that I was to begin with.  Oh, woe is me – whoever me is!”

“You poor creature,” Laura said soothingly, reaching out her hand to touch the young man on his shoulder.  “Here, let me give you a hug.  And you are welcome to take all the joy you want.  We both have plenty of it, don’t we, Joshua?”

“Yes, indeed” Joshua replied.  “Here, take some of mine, too.  I would love to share it with you.”

“What wonderful children you are,” the young man cooed, almost in a whisper, his voice breaking up a bit as tears began to fill his eyes and run down his cheeks.

“Oh, dear,” Laura exclaimed.  “We didn’t mean to make you cry!”

“Don’t worry,” the man assured her.  “They’re tears of joy.  I haven’t felt any tears of joy for a long, long time, but I know what they are.  You see, I cry when what I think I thought is no longer the thought I think.  Know what I mean?  No?  I’m not sure I know either.  I mean, I thought I knew, but now I’m not sure I knew what I thought – mainly because I’m not sure who I am.  And if I don’t know who I am, how can I know what I think?  Oh, well, it matters not a lot.  But thank you so much for sharing your joy!”

“Thank you for letting us share,” Laura smiled.  “For some reason, I feel more joyful now, too.  And look at my Sack of Joy!  It’s even fuller than it was before we shared with you.”

“Mine is too!” Joshua laughed.  “What a funny thing that is.”

“We’d better be on our way, now,” Laura said, giving the young man another good hug.

“Yes,” Joshua agreed.  “We need to hurry if we’re going to reach The Logical Conclusion.”

“Don’t worry,” the young man said with a wink.  “I’m quite sure you’re going The Right Way.”

For a moment, the young man reminded Joshua of someone else he knew.  Who was it?  Oh, yes!  “Did you know you look a lot like another gentleman we met today?  His name was…”  Before Joshua could finish his sentence, though, the young man had hopped down from the bridge and disappeared from sight.

“…Mr. P,” Joshua finally said, peering over the side of the bridge.  “Nah, he was too big to be Mr. P.  He was a nice man, too, though, wasn’t he?”

“Yep, he was just running a little low on joy, I guess,” Laura smiled, obviously pleased with herself.

Joshua returned her smile and gave her a love peck on the shoulder with his fist.  At that same moment, he felt his Sack of Joy get just a smidgen larger.  “What a wonderment!” he thought to himself.

The children had walked only a few more minutes before they rounded a curve and, lo and behold, there stood a lady who looked exactly like Laura’s Third Grade teacher who had taught Joshua just two years earlier.  “Why, hello, Mrs. Thornton!” Laura shouted with joy, so pleased to see somebody she knew in this strange place.

“Why, hello, yourself, little lazy Laura!” the woman answered with her nose in the air and her mouth twisted in a snarl.  “And what are you and your stupid, ugly big brother doing out here in this horribly stinking neck of the woods?”

“Oh, dear,” Laura said, more to herself than to anyone else.  “You look like Mrs. Thornton, but you sure don’t sound like her.  You sound like a…like a…”

“Joy Robber!” Joshua screamed defiantly.  “You’re a Joy Robber!  Well, you’ll get none of mine, you ugly old woman!”  Finding nothing else for a weapon, Joshua took his Sack of Joy in both hands and swung it at the snarling old woman, barely missing her head and knocking off her hat, showing that her head was bald.  Much to his dismay, as the Sack of Joy hit the sharp point on the old woman’s hat, it burst open and thousands of tiny sparks of joy flew out and rapidly floated up into the air until they were totally out of sight.

“Oh, you horrible, horrible little boy!” the old woman cried out.  “Now look at what you’ve done.  Get away from here!  Take your joy and go to blue blazes with it!  You’re a stupid, ugly, selfish little imp!  The old woman then buried her head in her lap and began to melt like wax being heated on a hot stove.  Soon there was nothing but a puddle, and then in another moment, there was nothing at all.

For a moment as she was melting, Laura thought she heard her say something like “Have you reached The Logical Conclusion?”  And the voice was very much like that of…but, no, it couldn’t be.  She was much too large and much too mean and ugly to be Mr. P.

As the two children started on their way again, they suddenly felt very tired and their Bags of Joy, which now were no bigger than a head of lettuce, seemed very heavy indeed.  And somehow the scenery had changed, too.  The sun was no longer as bright as it had been.  The silver and gold plants and trees suddenly looked a bit tarnished.  And the few flowers that they found along the way were beginning to wilt.  Joshua remarked, and Laura agreed, that things certainly had gone downhill lately.

Trudging along, the downtrodden duo soon came upon a fox with one of its legs tortuously locked in a steel trap.  The fox was licking at the wound as he looked up at them with his big, glassy, pain-filled eyes.  “So, did one of you little twerps set this terrible trap for me?” he snarled.  “What’s the plan?  To make yourselves a fur cap?  Or maybe line a pair of bedroom slippers? Or maybe you just like to see poor creatures like me suffer – is that it?”

“Oh, no!” Laura cried.  “We don’t even live around here.  And we’d never do anything so cruel as that.  We love animals.”

“Here, let me see if I can help you,” Joshua added, squatting down beside the injured animal as Cody gave the fox a sympathetic whimper and stretched out beside him.  As Joshua reached out his hands toward the trap, the fox whirled and snapped at him, nipping the back of his hand.

Joshua jerked back and looked in disbelief at his own injury.  It was not serious, but it stung a bit as he spat on it and wiped away the blood with his sleeve.

“That was not a nice thing to do!” Laura scolded.  “Why did you do such a nasty, ungrateful thing?”

“Because I’m a wild fox,” the fox replied, his upper lip curled in disgust.  “That’s what foxes do.”

“Well, it’s not what a fox has to do,” Laura replied firmly.  “Now, you just behave yourself so we can help or we’re going to leave you here for the buzzards to eat.”

Joshua looked at his little sister with surprise and admiration.  “Way to go, Sis!” he laughed.  “That’s telling him.”

“I’m not trying to be mean,” Laura continued.  “But it’s very hard to be kind to a creature who bites the hand that tries to help him.  That’s more than a little…what’s the word?”

“Stupid,” Joshua volunteered as his already-small Bag of Joy shrank ever so slightly.

“You’re not being nice, either,” Laura said to Joshua in a half whisper.  “Don’t you remember Grandpa telling us that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar?”

“You’re flycatchers?” the fox asked, checking the children out more closely.  “Is that what you have in the bags – flies?  Don’t let ‘em out here!  I have enough flies and fleas and gnats and bees and…well, I’ve got enough bugs to do me for the season, thank you very much.”

“Oh, no, we’re not flycatchers,” Laura replied, smiling sweetly as her Bag of Joy began to expand like a balloon.  “We’re just lost children having a very wonderful adventure.”

“And we’re in search of The Logical Conclusion,” Joshua added, his voice a bit less testy now as his own Bag of Joy began to expand just the slightest bit and become ever lighter on his shoulder.

“Well, I’ll let you help me,” the fox finally agreed.  “But don’t expect me to be anything but a fox.  Even if you get this trap open, I might still bite your heads off.  I’m not promising anything.”

“Oh, I don’t think you’ll bite our heads off,” Laura chided.

“And even if you do, we’ll love you anyway,” Joshua added, surprised himself that he was saying such a nice thing to such a disagreeable creature.  Then he noticed that his Bag of Joy was almost back up to its original size and was still growing.

Encouraged, Joshua knelt down, studied the trap for a moment, and then pressed down on the trigger with his foot as he pulled the sharp jaws apart with his hands.  In a moment, the fox jerked his foot loose and he was free.  Without another word, not even a thank you or a goodbye, he immediately limped away and disappeared in the forest.

The children stood silently for a few moments, looking at where the fox had gone, and then they looked into each other’s eyes and burst into laughter.  “Well, he was true to his word,” Joshua chuckled.  “He was a nasty-tempered wild fox to the last, and so there’s no reason for us to expect him to be anything else.”

“And what’s the lesson there?” called a tinny voice from overhead.

Looking up in a nearby tree, the children saw a beautiful jet-black crow sitting on a limb and grooming his feathers with his beak.  “Well, speak up, little ones.  Did you learn anything there?”

“Well, yes,” Laura replied.  “I guess we learned that what Grandpa used to tell us was true: You can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear.”

“And does that bother you?” the crow asked, smiling as well as he could with his rigid beak.

“Not really,” Joshua answered.

“No, we forgive him, and love him anyhow, don’t we, Joshua?” Laura asked.

“And how do you do that?” the crow asked, hopping down to a much lower limb.

“You ask very hard questions,” Laura snapped back.  But as soon as she felt the slightest increase in the weight of her Bag of Joy, she corrected herself and added, “but they’re very good questions to ask, don’t you agree, Joshua?”

“I do, indeed,” Joshua smiled, “but I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that one.”

“Then I’ll give it to you, m’darlings,” the crow said, cawing several times in his own language.  You tried to make the fox something that he wasn’t and something he didn’t want to be.  You were trying to set goals for him.  You know what goals are, don’t you?  Of course you do.  But, alas, setting goals for somebody else is impossible to do.  All that does is frustrate you and rob you of your joy.  But when you cancelled that impossible goal and quit trying to force it on that poor fox, what happened?”

“Our joy increased!” the children answered in near-perfect unison.

“Right you are!  And if you remember that, you’ll always be going The Right Way.”

“Hooray!  Hooray!  We’re going the Right Way!” the children sang out together.

The crow said, “Maybe soon then you’ll reach…”

“The Logical Conclusion!” Joshua shouted.

“Right you are, the crow said, actually smiling now as his face morphed ever so slightly and he flew away high above the treetops.

The children stood looking into the sky for a moment and then looked back at each other as smiles overtook both their faces.  “You know who that was, don’t you, Laura?” Joshua asked.

“It sure looked like him for a second there, didn’t it?” Laura replied.  “Isn’t this a wonderful adventure?”

“Yes, it is,” Joshua replied.  “It makes you want it never to end, doesn’t it?”

“Maybe it doesn’t have to end,” Laura surmised.  “We might not always have a forest of silver and gold or fascinating creatures that talk to us and help us to learn…what did Mr. P call it?”

“Lessons of life, I think,” Joshua replied.

“Yes, lessons of life,” Laura agreed as the two continued down the trail.  “But as long as we have these Bags of Joy, everything still will be wonderful!  Isn’t that a lovely thought?”

Before Joshua could answer, he looked up to see a little toll booth with a gate blocking the path.  A sign hung on the gate that said “The Logical Conclusion.”  Straddling the gate was none other than Mr. P, himself.

“Greetings, m’dearies,” he said with a cheerful laugh.  “I’m so glad to see you made it through the forest.  And, look!  You have more joy than you started out with!  I’m delightfully happy for you!  But that’s redundant all over again, isn’t it?  But I can say that, can’t I?  Of course I can!  Anyhow, if you’ll just give me your Bags of Joy now I’ll let you pass and you can go ahead to school.”

“But we’d be very late, now!” Laura exclaimed.

“And we don’t have a note from our parents,” Joshua added.

“Not to worry,” Mr. P cooed with a tone that was warm and assuring.  His eyes glowed brightly now, but they were not green or red, but again were a brilliant sky blue that sparkled in the sunlight and now shot out no fiery sparks at all.  “Although where you come from, time is the matter through which all matter must pass, here time flies so fast that it doesn’t matter at all.  It’s whatever time we want it to be.  So, now, I want it to be 7:30 in the morning, so you’ll have a full half hour to get to school.  Isn’t that wonderful?”

“Yes, that’s quite a trick,” Joshua agreed, “so will you open the gate now?

“Not quite yet,” Mr. P firmly replied.  “First you must show me that you have reached The Logical Conclusion.”

“But it’s right there!” Laura said, pointing at the sign on the gate.

“Ah, yes,” Mr. P smiled, “but what is it?”

“I know what it is!” Laura whispered to Joshua.

“Tell him then!” Joshua whispered back.  “Tell him so we can get back to where we belong.”

Pacing her words very slowly, Laura began speaking: “The… Logical… Conclusion… is… that the more joy you give to others, the more you have for yourself?”

Joshua’s mouth fell open in amazement at Laura’s brilliant answer.  Almost immediately an idea popped into his own head as if out of the blue: “And nobody can rob you of your joy unless you let them,” he added, laughing with glee at his own cleverness.

“And we have to let everybody be who they are,” Laura added, almost shouting her answer as joy came rushing out of her Sack of Joy and began penetrating her very heart.

“We can’t set goals for other people,” Joshua said, biting his lip to hold back the tears of joy as his own huge Bag of Joy began emptying into his heart.

Tears of joy clouded the eyes of both of the children, blinding them for just a moment.  When finally their eyes were clear again, they looked around and were amazed to see that all of the mysterious forest had disappeared and once again they were on their old trail that they had walked many times before.  Cody was equally surprised as he danced around and, once again, began playfully chasing the butterflies that were feeding on the many beautiful, but quite natural, wildflowers.

Joshua took his sister’s hand and, without a word, the children headed down the path toward their school.  As they walked up the steps of the little one-room schoolhouse, they stopped for a moment and wistfully looked back down the road that had led them on the greatest adventure of their lives.  They both smiled at the serious-faced boy who was ringing the big bell mounted on a post near the front door and he smiled back at them.  A very tired Cody went directly to his usual place underneath the steps and by the time the bell stopped ringing, he was fast asleep.

Did Joshua and Laura really have such a wonderfully fantastic and magical adventure?  They often wondered themselves if it had actually happened or if it was just a dream.  As they grew older, however, and continued to feel their own hearts grow ever fuller of joy as they made it a habit to always share joy with others, they soon came to believe that they really had traveled through an enchanted forest.  Forever after, with the greatest of skill, they always managed to foil the attempts by even the most determined Joy Robbers to rob them of their joy.

Throughout the rest of their lives, they each came to be known as joyful people who brought joy to all around them wherever they went.  When they were married and had children of their own, they told their story to their little ones and, with it, filled their hearts with joy.  Although they lovingly disciplined their children to help them always take The Right Way, they were never harsh or cruel or hateful.  And so their children also grew up with hearts full of joy and went on to tell the story to their own children who…

Well, can you finish the story now?  Or is it ever finished?  Now it’s your turn to see if you, too, can take The Right Way and reach The Logical Conclusion.  Always remember that it’s for you to choose whether to let a Joy Robber have his or her way or not, and that the more joy you give to others, the more you have left for yourself.  Now, isn’t that a wonderful thing to know?  Of course it’s a wonderful thing to know!  Everything I say is wonderfully wise because I’m the…  Oops!  I almost gave it away, didn’t I?  Well, even if you guess who I am, you won’t tell, will you?  Of course you won’t!  After all, you don’t ever, ever, ever want to be a Joy Robber, do you?  Of course you don’t!  I knew that!

If you liked this article, you’ll love my new book:

Stress is a Choice; So is Joy
now available at Amazon.com for $2.99

Vocabulary Builder

Did you find some words in this story that you didn’t know?  If so, why not learn them now so next time you see them you’ll know what they mean?  Here are a few of the harder ones in the story.  If you’ll learn what they mean now and practice how to spell and pronounce them, then they will always be your friends.

amazement – great surprise

apology – saying that you’re sorry you did something

aroma – a pleasant smell or scent

brilliant – very smart; intelligent

buoyed – raised up; made happier and more confident

buzzards – large birds that feed mostly on dead animals that they find

clutching – holding tightly onto something with your hands

demon – an evil make-believe creature

dilemma – a forced choice between two undesirable things

disagreeable – hard to get along with

disciplined – corrected; made to go the right way

disgust – what you feel when you very much don’t like something

disturbing – something unpleasant that makes you afraid or angry

downtrodden – beaten down; defeated; unhappy after losing

enchanted – made special by magic

encouraged – made braver and more willing to keep trying

endearingly – acting in a way that makes people like you

engrossed – very interested in something

episode – a happening, usually in just a short span of time

exception – not holding to a rule

expression – how your face looks, as when you smile or frown

fantastic – something that is just make-believe

fascinating – something that is very interesting; gets your attention

feigned – something faked or pretended; not real or sincere

glee – great pleasure or joy

glistening – shining brightly

gnats – a strangely spelled word for tiny flying insects that get in your face

Gnome – a tiny make-believe creature that usually lives in an enchanted forest

granite rock – a very hard grayish rock

grooming – making something prettier, as when you comb your hair

guffaws – loud, course laughing sounds

imp – a little devil; sometimes used to describe a misbehaving child

ironclad – something so strong that it can’t be broken

intruder – someone who comes in without permission

Logical Conclusion – an idea you come up with that makes really good sense

m’darlings – a different way of say “my darlings”

meddling – getting involved in something that is none of your business

menacingly – angry and threatening to do harm

mission – something very important that you’re trying to make happen

m’lady – a pushed-together way of saying “my lady”

morphed – slowly changed from one form into another

mysterious – something that is not easy to understand

nasty-tempered – a person or animal that gets angry a lot

Native Americans – early settlers of America; sometimes called “Indians.”

obviously – plain for anybody to see

ominous – something that promises to be bad or evil

pacing – spacing out in a slow, deliberate manner

peering – looking at something in a slightly hidden, sneaky way

penetrating – boring into something

petite – small or tiny

presentation – something acted out for others to see and/or hear

quizzically – in a confused manner; not understanding

raison d’être– a French phrase that means “reason for being” or your main purpose in life

raspy – rough-sounding, like a duck’s quack

repose – the act of resting or sleeping; being at peace

revealing – showing; making clear for you to see

ruts – long holes in a road

shimmering – shining with a faint, flickering light

smidgen – a very small amount

sniggle-snoggles – a made-up word for loud snorts coming from your nose

soothingly – something said or done in a way that makes you feel better

stifle – to hold back, as when you stifle a sneeze

straddling – putting one leg on one side and the other leg on the other side

sympathetic – sharing somebody else’s feelings; being sad when they’re sad

Task at Hand – an important something that you want or need to do right away

trudging – walking in a tired, heavy, unhappy manner

twerps – an ugly, insulting name for people you don’t like

ungrateful – not thankful

whippersnapper – a smart-alecky young person

wise – able to make very intelligent choices

wisp – a small, thin, barely visible something

wizard – a make-believe person who can perform magic tricks

woe is me – means “I am an unfortunate person you should feel sorry for.”

# # # # # # #

Please send comments to Jack Thomas at: doctorstress@live.com

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