Heaven is kept up fairly well, as you'd expect; nothing produced within those golden gates goes to waste, and “clutter” is a word that angels rarely use. With all the pleasures to partake in, however, they can tend to get a bit distracted . . . and neglect the straightening of things which, even in Paradise, need to be straightened every now and then.
"Listen," God would say as he went through the flaxen fields and diamond-studded cities of His capitol. "Tidiness, like compassion, is a holy thing. Try and clean the place up from time to time, will you?"
He kept a close eye on His absent-minded angels, reminding them often to clean up after themselves and keep their playthings where they belonged. Heavenly instruments could frequently be found strewn carelessly across the sky: golden horns and harps, shining halos, sparkling fruits and--most prevalent by far, their soft white bodies forming fluffy mounds over the countryside--feathers.
New angels, upon admittance to Paradise, are given a wonderful set of gossamer wings, with which they can quickly carry themselves from one place to another. Though the wings are of the best craftsmanship and the feathers themselves fastened using the utmost means, the average angel does plenty of dancing and flapping and other things which, over the ages, uproots those blessed quills surely as a stream carves a canyon.
"If their wings had a thousand feathers," God was fond of saying, "they'd lose a thousand and one."
But the feathers always find their way back home, eventually. When an angel notices that he's a bit less buoyant than usual, he simply puts aside his merrymaking and sets out to find his stuff. Angels always know exactly where they've left their things, once they have a less elated moment to think about it.
Thus the soft blanket of countless misplaced feathers is recycled regularly, and the shining skies stay full of fluttering angels.
Attention was lax, though, during one particularly special afternoon; God had been on sabbatical for a while, and His return was celebrated by a parade of a billion beaming, jubilant angels.
Angels are always finding reasons to make a joyful noise and create even more fun and frolicking than usual; and, so, whenever anyone comes, or goes, or even considers coming or going, grand festivities take place. A party spanning a century is no rare occurrence--and as soon as one ends, another follows it directly.
In most ways, that day's celebration was similar to the scores preceding it: God rode through Heaven on a bright chariot of fire and light, an ocean of angels rejoicing His return around Him.
When one troupe of trumpet-toting cherubim raised their instruments and let go with a blast of sound, however, the gust they produced stirred a nearby pile of misplaced feathers.
The rest were satisfied to settle back to their slumber for yet another century, but one little feather of no particular importance decided otherwise. It offered no resistance as the breeze lifted it lightly amidst the rejoicing angels, and went unnoticed as wing beats and winds of laughter tossed it this way and that through the crowds.
Past masses of white-robed seraphim dancing on the breezes it drifted softly, and over golden tables piled high with sparkling wines and crystal fruits. It fell through countless stages of heavenly goings-on, and was unseen; it lingered on the brows and fingertips of a thousand angels, and was unfelt; it drifted over jeweled cities and rivers of liquid light and meadows thick with glowing blossoms, and was unnoticed.
All empires have their boundaries, and Heaven is no exception. As the feather floated along, the radiant multitudes around it eventually thinned, and the country below it calmed. Soon the Wall surrounding the kingdom appeared small and smoky on the horizon and rose slowly from the cloud tops as the feather rode the breeze.
The Wall was a mighty golden hedge that rose a thousand feet above the edges of Heaven and went all around it, keeping out those who hadn't earned their entry--and keeping distracted angels from wandering too far. A breeze met merrily with the wandering quill at just the right moment, though, and lifted it on drafty shoulders to the very summit of the great Wall.
The gust gave a final kick before dissolving away, and the feather found itself in a grand fall, its destination the rocky earth below.
The pull of the earth was not great for our little feather, and its drop was a long and leisurely one. It fell, and fell, and fell some more, turning and spinning with the wind, getting nudged this way and that. The sky was now simple and empty, and the cold, uncaring climate took some getting used to. The air seemed to sense that the feather was a thing more than its own earthly make, and rippled around it like water in a pool.
No longer was the feather a common and unnoticed thing; it was now unusual and precious, a star against the somber dusk, and the forests themselves looked up to watch as it slid, tiny and shimmering, down the sky.
But before the feather could reach the ground, an angry storm cloud passed beneath it, black and fierce, and flashed and rumbled at the earth below. The feather, unfamiliar with such surroundings, shivered as it entered the cold fog; but its brilliance lit up the heart of the storm like a lantern in a cavern, dissolving the darkness as it fell.
As for the tempest, it stopped its grumbling to smile a moment at the little tickle it felt inside--and found it couldn't recall what it had been thundering about in the first place. The feather at last fell through the bottom of a decidedly different cloud: calm, contented and whiter than any other in the sky.
The little feather finally reached the basin of a quiet valley, and was welcomed by a grove of naked trees whose leaves had left on the brisk winds of winter. It floated among the trees for a moment before perching on a bough to rest. An unfamiliar weariness that had suggested itself when it began its descent had continued steadily, but the new surroundings gave it a curiosity that lessened its burden. It took in the strange simplicity of the place and waited patiently for a ride on the next breeze.
No sooner had the feather landed, though, than was the branch beneath it heated to the core with a heavenly radiation, and fresh green buds burst from the awakened limb. A wave of color and life spread outward from the feather and clothed the entire grove in lush leaves and blossoms in full, fragrant bloom.
Soon robins and thrushes and sparrows, attracted to the garden that had sprung so abruptly from the slumbering forest, filled the freshly clad trees and warmed the air with song. Humming bees, curious squirrels and other friends of more temperate seasons joined the group directly, called from their dens by the far-reaching vibrations of the miniature Paradise.
The Guest of Honor, though, was not to stay long; a breeze passed the little oasis and the feather hopped aboard, leaving the lucky grove to bask in its new-awakened springtime.
Dead leaves lay in cold, brittle piles on the forest floor below as the feather traveled on. Their fate would not be a return to the branches which bore them, but rather to crack and decay, the hungry ground swallowing them up as it did all things on earth, eventually.
The feather felt for the lonely leaves and wondered how it would find its way back to its lofty home; the cold air bit at its body, and its color had become dingy and marred.
At the mouth of the valley, where a stream left the arms of the mountains and slipped across a wide plain blanketed by forest, the feather came to a village. It was only a modest group of cottages sleeping snugly amidst the trees--but, to the feather, it was a reminder of the home it had left behind. Bright windows stood undraped to the passing quill, and comfortable scenes of families at their business leaked out and warmed the chilly evening.
A young mother and father sat before a fireplace in one house as their children played around them; an old couple enjoyed a simple meal together in another, their faces cheered by good company and conversation.
Here, radiating from these simple homes, the feather felt the slightest hint of the warm breezes of Heaven, and heard the tiniest whispers of Paradise's songs. From these windows shone Earth's nearest suggestion of the place above it: a young boy's smile was the distant kin of the faces of angels; a daughter's slumber, in the lap of a loving mother, was the shadow of Heaven's content on a lesser world.
The feather, though it wanted to desperately, could not stay long. A sharp gust grabbed it and pulled it swiftly away from the village, out across a snowy plain, and into the stark, freezing wilderness. It floated over white-capped hillsides and barren canyons, fell through fierce pelts of hail and sleet, and drifted above frozen rivers and sleeping lakes.
Finally, exhausted by its brutal journey and wanting only to be home again, the little traveler was pushed by the wind over a dark, deep chasm in the ground. Thick smoke bellowed from the jagged pit, engulfing the quill in noxious, burning fumes.
The wind at last abated and dropped the frightened feather down through the haze and into the hot, horrible innards of the earth.
Though the earth was a rugged and unfriendly place compared to Heaven, the realm below the ground was immeasurably more so. It was there that all the pains and sorrows of mortal life were cooked and squeezed, boiling over onto the world above.
The sweltering caverns the feather now plummeted through were home not to angels, but their opposites: those whose dispositions had not lifted them up into the gardens of Heaven, but pulled them down into the fiery pits of the ground. The citizens of that sad kingdom did not dance, but moped; they did not sing, but moaned; they did not laugh, but wept.
Weakened and flimsy though it was, the feather found itself falling through the cruel pit with the weight of a mountain. The hot, thick air around the quill tried with all its might to crush its unwelcome visitor, but could not.
The walls of the caverns, not used to feeling the touch of Heaven, cracked and shook when the feather brushed against them, and the entire place boomed with the noise of the tiny intruder's arrival. Those who called the place home veiled themselves from the quill as it passed and fled its brilliant light.
Small and unnoticed in Heaven, cherished and unique upon the earth, the feather was in that foul place a jarring and terrible thing; a drop of radiance in a sea of gloom.
Blessed as it was, though, the little quill's constitution, worn by its long voyage, began to fail. The atmosphere became heavier and hotter as it was dragged deeper into the abyss; no longer expecting to ever again see its home, its hope faded. The feather's own little form started to shatter with the cavern walls around it, and its light dimmed like a dying candle.
The tiny feather at last let go with a final burst of brilliance before falling away, a spent cinder, into the endless shadow of the pit.
Perhaps, in another story, this would be the end of our brave feather; for the person of innocent intentions, cruelty in the world often seems to triumph in the face of good.
But don't despair for the little quill--for, just as all seemed lost and the feather surrendered itself to burn up in the bowels of those terrible caverns, there came from far above the earth a glorious sound. The song of a chorus of millions was released from a great fissure in the sky, and a waterfall of light spilled down from the heavens into the pit where the feather lay smoldering.
A legion of angels, golden instruments in hand, followed in its wake and flowed through the gates of the earth to shine their light into every crack and corner of the pit. At last, their precious feather found, the rejoicing army of angels rushed the broken quill out of the ravaged caverns and lit up the night sky as they shuttled it safely back home.
Heaven was rarely host to a celebration like that with which the feather was welcomed upon its return. Its sheen and vigor restored, the quill was placed on a golden pillow and carried at the head of a parade of angels all across Paradise.
The procession moved through silvery cities where the feather was cheered from every rooftop and window, and over glittering meadows from which every blossom rejoiced. At last, having crossed the entire empire, the quill was carried up a great, golden staircase and set before the very throne of God.
"In the smallest of things can be found the greatest Glory of God," He said as He took the little feather in His loving hand, "for to such as this belongs my Kingdom."
And it was there, in Heaven, that the feather remained contentedly.
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"The Feather" is a story about a feather that falls from Heaven and brings about small miracles on the earth below. At its core is a message that even the tiniest and most diminutive among us can do great good in the world.