Clothing the Emperor
With my deep apologies to Hans Christian Andersen, for both the departure from his original story and the execution thereof…
Bring satin, bring lace, bring cotton or cashmere. Knit from wool or weave from silk. Stitch on denim, or sew canvas.
The Emperor is naked, and his shame is ours. The pretending is over. Innocence and truth has exposed the farce, the fraud.
When the little girl pointed and asked her simple question, we all held our breath. Then the first bray of laughter came somewhere in the middle of the crowd. We watched his face turn slowly red, and we started to laugh, too. Then his shoulders sagged, and we laughed harder. Then he drew into himself and feebly tried to hide his nakedness, and we laughed harder than ever.
We laughed for every time we’d ever felt small and plain in comparison with another. We laughed for every time we’d felt another’s condescension. We laughed for every time we’d realized our poverty and our inability to rise above our station. We laughed for every time we had to move aside and watch someone else pass with pomp and no regard for our circumstance. We laughed for every time we’d been cheated out of our dreams.
But when the little girl, the one who asked aloud what we’d all been thinking, squirmed unnoticed from her father’s arms and made her way through the howling pack and past the Emperor’s snickering guards… When she boldly walked right up to the Emperor, we stopped. One by one, our mirth died in our mouths and we held our breath again.
She took off her roughspun little cloak and held it up to him. “You must be cold,” she said, “and it’s a long walk back.”
We continued to hold our breath as he looked at her for the longest time. All laughter was gone.
His face changed first. The red flush faded, and his features softened. He took her cloak and quickly tied it around his waist. And when he bent down on one knee, placing his royal ringed hand on her shoulder and kissed her forehead in thanks, we sighed.
We sighed for every time we’d wanted grace and never received it. We sighed for every time we were too proud to accept help. We sighed for every time we’d resented someone for speaking the truth and we never accepted our shame and changed. We sighed for every time we decided someone’s worth because we thought we knew what they could offer us. We sighed for every time we’d passed by someone in our pomp, without regard to their circumstance. We sighed for every time we let our greed cheat another of their dreams.
So, come. Bring satin, bring lace, bring cotton or cashmere. Knit from wool or weave silk. Stitch on denim, or sew canvas.
We have seen lies and foolishness. We have seen nakedness and shame. We have seen truth and courage. We have seen ourselves, and how we want to be. And now we are clothing the Emperor.