Website of Dr. John K. LaShell
Love Story and a Parable
kingdom of heaven is like an elderly gardener who worked as the grounds-keeper
for Mr. Richman’s estate. Under his care, the large lawn became a lush
green carpet. In the flowerbeds, the earth was always freshly turned up;
deadheads never had an opportunity to fall to the ground, and the grubs and
Japanese beetles found themselves decidedly unwelcome.
was hard work for an old man, especially the pruning and the trimming, which he
did with a pair of sharp shears. At the end of most days, two Advil capsules
would not have soothed the ache in his gnarled hands, even if he had consented
to take them.
stubborn old man!” his daughter often said. “You ought to retire.
You don’t need the money. Why do you stay on up there?”
her father answered, “For the pictures, Honey. For the pictures.”
Richman had built a climate-controlled museum to accommodate his growing
collection of rare masterpieces. They were the concrete symbol of his wealth
and a calculated pretension at high culture.
collection appeared to have no unifying principle of organization. A huge
medieval tapestry, depicting mounted knights, was flanked on one side by a pen
and ink sketch from Van Gogh’s early period and on the other by a
realistic depiction of a Campbell’s soup can. The only common theme was
that all of the pieces were very expensive.
Richman loved to show off his masterpieces. Although he had memorized the artist,
the date, and most importantly, the cost of each work, he neither knew nor
cared about their style, technique, or significance. His art-dealing associates
privately referred to him as “that ignorant Philistine,” which was
terribly unjust to the Philistines.
was far otherwise with the gardener. In the evenings, he studied the background
of each piece. During his lunch break, he absorbed the works themselves,
sometimes staring for the whole hour at a single element of a complex scene.
His memory was so exact that he could close his eyes and recreate each picture
in his mind, down to the minutest detail.
afternoon a fire broke out in the museum. An alarm sounded automatically at the
local fire station, but when the first truck arrived, the firemen were amazed
to see the gardener staggering out of the burning building with an armload of
paintings. He placed them gently down on the grass beside several similar piles
and hobbled quickly back inside.
he emerged a few seconds later, the firemen tried to prevent him from
returning, but the old man shook his head. “There’s one
more,” he said. “My favorite,” and with a sudden surge of
unexpected strength, he broke away from their grasp. This time it took him
longer to come out. The painting was large and heavy, but he laid it down as
gently as if it were a newborn babe.
he lowered himself down to lie beside his beloved collection. He coughed,
rolled over onto his back, and said, “I think I’ll be going now,
but it doesn’t matter about me because the pictures are safe.” The
old gardener closed his eyes, and then he died.
the blaze had been extinguished, one of the firemen pointed at the silent
figure on the lawn and asked, “Who was he?”
the gardener,” answered Mr. Richman. “I don’t remember his
name. The old fool. I told him the pictures were insured. I can always buy
it is in this world. There are some who love Jesus Christ more than they love
life. Their motto is, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”
(Philippians 1:21). And there are some who consider them fools.
Published in the Allentown Morning Call November 22, 2008
2008, John K. LaShell