One freezing night during the dead of winter, a poor shoemaker trudged home feeling as dark inside as it was outside. No customers had come to his shop for several days. On his way home, he thought to himself: “There must be little bread left at home.”
It got colder and colder as the night went on. Overwhelmed with lassitude, he let out a sigh and put on his old, threadbare coat.
He thought to himself: “These days, we aren’t making any money. My wife will be disappointed and angry.” As the chill of the night settled in, his steps became heavier and heavier. Under the dim streetlight, his shadow fell long on the street as did his spirits. Suddenly, he noticed something moving at the far corner of the street.
Curious to see what it was, he quickly approached the spot. It was a young man lying on the street. In the cold night, the wind was howling, and the young man was naked. The shoemaker came up to the young man. Sensing the presence of another person, the young man slowly lifted his head up, but his face showed no emotion.
“If he stays out like this, he won’t last long,” thought the shoemaker. He took off his coat and gave it to the young man and even offered him his shoes. However, the young man still remained silent.
“Come on, let’s go to my house.” The shoemaker surprised himself with the offer, but felt deep down that it was the right thing to do.
As he opened the door, the wintry wind whipped inside the humble house. As the shoemaker’s wife came to welcome her husband home, her face immediately fell as she saw his clothes on a stranger.
“Please give him some food,” the shoemaker pleaded with his wife. The women looked at him, unable to believe in what he had just said: “Are you out of your mind? We only have a piece of bread for our dinner.”
Lowering his voice, the shoemaker said: “Just give what’s left to him. We can skip a meal, but it seems like he hasn’t eaten anything for a long time. If he doesn’t get something, he could die.”
“Alright, if you say so,” the wife muttered and gave the last piece of bread to the stranger. The young man, when seeing the wife’s gentle face, immediately smiled. This was the first time he had shown his feelings.
After that, the shoemaker and his wife took the young man in, letting him stay at their house, and taught him how to make shoes. He learned quickly, as if he was born to be a shoemaker. His shoes were not only well made, but also long-lasting; customers were very satisfied with the job he did. When fixing shoes, he always came up with creative and delicate details. Word of mouth spread fast and in just a few months, the shoe shop became famous around town.
As time passed, the couple’s lives became a bit more comfortable. They truly appreciated the young man’s help. The couple always wanted to do something for him, but no matter how hard they tried to talk to him, he kept silent and worked away without speaking.
One day, a luxurious horse-drawn carriage stopped in front of the shop. From the coach stepped down the wealthiest man in this small town. Walking into the shop, he gave a piece of leather to the shoemaker and said: “This is first-class calf skin. Make me a pair of long-neck boots. You must promise that they will remain in perfect condition for a whole year.” Much to the surprise of the shoemaker, when his apprentice saw the nobleman he smiled broadly.
This was only the second time he had expressed his emotions.
After the nobleman left, the shop owner gave the piece of skin to the young man. He knew he could trust his apprentice to do the finest quality work. However, after a while, the shoemaker came back to check on the young man’s progress. “Oh my, what have you done? What am I going to tell the noble man?” the shop owner asked his apprentice in shock. It turned out that the young man had made a pair of slippers, rather than the boots requested by the wealthy customer.
While the shoemaker was wondering what he should do next, suddenly, the nobleman’s servant hurriedly came over. “You don’t have to make boots anymore! This morning, on the way back, an accident happened. The horse carriage flipped over; my master fell out and died. Now, my master’s family want to make slippers to bury him with.”
The shoemaker was astounded and could only say that they would make the slippers the man’s family wanted.
Six years passed since that cold winter day when the shoemaker had given his coat, his shoes, and the last piece of bread to the mysterious young man. One day, a woman brought a pair of twins to the shoe shop, one of whom was crippled. Upon seeing that, the young man, working by the window, immediately stood up and smiled for the third time since he had arrived.
“I want you to make my children some shoes,” the woman said. Seeing the two adorable twins, the shoemaker asked her: “Are they your children? They are so lovely.”
The woman replied: “No, I am only their caretaker. Their father died when their mother was pregnant. Then their poor mother passed away during childbirth, leaving the lonely children behind. At that time, I had just given birth to my own child, and was able to give them the milk they needed. I took them in as my own,” she said. “Neighbors around also gave us a hand to help raise them.”
Remembering these difficult days, the woman was so moved that she burst into tears. The shoemaker couldn’t hold back his tears and cried with her. As they took the woman’s order and said goodbye to her, the young man suddenly stood up and said to the shoemaker: “I have to go back to where I came from.”
After six years of living and working together in complete silence, the shoemaker was absolutely stunned. “What? You never told me about your home, not even your name. Now you want to leave! Where are you heading to?”
The young man replied: “I’m an angel from the heavens. Originally, my job was to take in souls, directing them to where they belong. Six years ago, I met a woman’s soul-, that of the twins’ mother, who died during childbirth. I pushed the mother’s soul into one of the girl’s legs and that is why she is crippled.”
Looking at the shoemaker’s incredulous face, the young man continued: “The woman begged me not to take her away, as her children were so young. Their father also passed away; if their mother was gone, too, they wouldn’t be able to survive. I felt myself softening and I agreed with her. However, when God found out that I hadn’t completed my task, he took her soul away, and sent me to Earth as punishment.”
“God said: ‘You don’t understand human beings,’” the angel continued. “‘What is in their hearts? How does the plight of others affect them? Leave here,’ God said, ‘go to Earth to find the answers to these questions.’”
“And so I came down here,” the angel explained, “on that freezing night six years ago, when you found me on the road. I wanted to experience human life on Earth, hoping to figure out the answers to God’s questions. When I looked at that woman, I knew God had forgiven me.”
“When I saw your wife’s gentle face all those years ago, when she put the last piece of bread in my hands, in her eyes I found the first answer. In the heart of men dwells love. Because of love, humans live together and sacrifice for each other.”
“When I met the nobleman, I solved the second question: Humans know nothing about their future. When the nobleman was excited about preparing a pair of boots for the upcoming year, he did not know that he would face death soon after. I know because I saw one of my fellow angels behind him. As the nobleman didn’t know, he had no reason to fear.”
“Humans can count on strangers’ support to survive and grow,” the sage angel concluded. “When their mother begged me to let her live, she was worried that nobody would take care of her children and that they wouldn’t be able to survive. However, she didn’t know that a stranger would take care of her children as if they were her own. The mother did not know that a group of people would band together to help raise her children.”
“The world of men is a warm place, thanks to love.”
Humans live in the world because of love; they have come into the world because of love, and live for love. Our love for each other makes this life beautiful. Challenges, obstacles, sadness, and disappointment are all inevitable. However, challenges help people better understand and appreciate what they have.
When people waste their time accumulating money and possessions, the loss may outweigh the gain. The way of the truth is to live naturally, compassionately, and earnestly.