Beliefnet
Letting Go with Guy Finley

Sometime early in the fifth century, a small fishing boat ran into a sudden unexpected squall. The storm shattered its mast and, without a sail, it soon drifted out of familiar waters and into the sea of a neighboring but hostile country.

A week later, the poor fisherman was captured by the captain of a foreign ocean-going vessel where, alongside dozens of other slaves chained to their oars on either side of the ship, he was forced to row merchants and dignitaries to their given destinations. It seemed his fate was sealed: he would have to spend the rest of his life a captive, enduring unspeakable hardship and deprivation.

But this man was unlike any of the other poor souls on the ship. While they would cry, “Why did this happen to me?” our hero refused to lament his situation. And when they talked about what their life used to be like—how they once had a good home, family, fine food and wine—he refused to think about the past or reimagine its pleasures.

Rather than use his time resenting or reliving his life, he spent all his time carving a wooden key out of a little chunk of broken oar. And since there were no tools, he used his own shackles to do the shaping. Every moment when he wasn’t rowing, his interest was in making the key that he hoped would open his shackles.

Now everyone knew that the old iron lock on his shackles was probably rusted solid, especially after not having been opened in several years. No metal key was likely to turn it, let alone a wooden key! And so the fisherman was the laughingstock of the ship because his free time was spent trying to make a key that would never unlock anything. But the improbability of his situation was his last concern. He wanted only to do what was in his power while refusing to do what was not, which was to change his immediate circumstances.

After a while, one of the guards—who couldn’t help but admire the fisherman’s persistence—even drilled a hole in the top of the key for him. Then he gave him a piece of leather cordage to put through it so that he might wear the key around his neck. And so it was; day in and day out, the old fisherman continued working on his key.

Years later, a nobleman who was being ferried on the ship asked if he could go see for himself the conditions below deck. As he walked down the stairs, he spied the fisherman wearing a beautiful key, which by now was intricately carved and burnished by time. The nobleman pointed to it and asked, “Where did you get that beautiful key?”

“I made it.”

“From what?” asked the nobleman.

“I used my shackles to carve it from a broken piece of oar.”

Something about this slave intrigued him, and so the nobleman came to hear the story of how the fisherman fell into his unfortunate situation as a slave.

Returning to the upper deck, the nobleman went straight to the captain. “I wish for you to release the man with the wood key around his neck to my keeping. I recently lost my best carpenter, and I want this slave to return home with me to become my household craftsman.”

Moments later a deal was struck, the cost paid, and within that same week the fisherman found himself in a new home.

Even though the wooden key he carved never opened the lock that bound him to his chains, it still won him his freedom. He became a beloved, highly valued member of the nobleman’s household. Many years of faithful service later, he was set free to return to the home of his birth.

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