By Brian C. Baer
Okay, settle in. Looks like it’s my turn to read you a story tonight, kiddo. Your mom is usually the one who does this, and I’m kind of sick of all your favorite books, so this one is on me. I’ll tell you a story I always heard when I was growing up.
There’s this old expression, one your grandpa used to tell me when I was getting into too much trouble. He said, “Life will only give you enough rope to hang yourself with,” and–
What? He told you that, too? You’re only five! Why would he… You know what, I don’t want to know.
So, life is rope. It’s always been that way.
There was once a special kingdom in a faraway land. The kingdom was full of kindhearted peasants and it was ruled over by a cruel king. The cruel king’s father had been cruel before him, and so on. There was a rule in that land, by order of the king, that anyone sentenced to death was given a length of rope in their dungeon cell the night before the execution. They were made to tie their own noose.
What? Yes, this is where your mother and I are from. Your mother and I are so incredibly old that we came from a fairy tale kingdom full of wizards and stuff. Because we’re so old. Ancient. Can I continue? You’re supposed to be sleeping.
There were rumors in the villages of special knots you could tie, knots that could wouldn’t choke you or snap your neck. They would just put you to sleep, a deep sleep that made you look dead. So the gallows workers would take your body outside of the kingdom, and you could wake up and live on outside of the king’s tyranny.
All of the peasants believed in these knots, but if you asked, none of them knew how to tie one. They didn’t know exactly how they worked. They said they’d be told how to tie those knots if the need arose.
Even the king knew about these knots. In fact, that was the first thing on his mind when the peasants, tired of cruel king after cruel king and being called “peasant” instead of “citizen,” stormed his castle, overthrew his kingdom, and locked him in the dungeon for the night. They tossed him a length of rope.
Are you still awake? Okay, okay. I’ll keep going.
So the cruel, humbled king sat awake in the dungeon with that rope all night. He had never been a pea– a “citizen,” and had never learned how to do practical things like tie a proper noose. The best he could do was loop the rope into big knot. It had no give to it, so he knew when he was hanged, it would be a harsh, painful snap, and he probably wouldn’t even die right away.
The king was pacing in the dungeon, rope in hand, when he saw a guard looking in from the other side of the metal door. The king rushed to him and begged for help. “I know who you are,” he told the guard. “The peasants, they say before you are hanged, someone tells you how to tie that special knot. Please, you must tell me!”
The guard shook his head. He told the king, “Everyone ties their own knot, and you tied yours long ago.”
So the next morning, the king was led out to the gallows, holding his rope. He hoped against hope that, somehow, he had stumbled across that special knot that would let him live. He hoped the stories were true, that he could live and be taken out of the kingdom to start again.
But like I said, nobody knew any of this for sure. All they knew was that life gives you enough rope to hang yourself, and you are the one who ties your own noose.
You’re asleep now, right?
Right. Well, I hope this sank in, kiddo. And don’t tell your mom I told you this story. It was a little more gruesome than I remembered.