Once there was a man with a sword in his heart. He simply became aware of it one day, poking into his chest as if it had always been there. He certainly did not know when it had been placed there, or how. Most of all, he did not know why. What he did know was that he could not pull it free. He tried and tried, but it seemed that no matter what he did, he simply could not pull the sword from his heart. And this caused him a great deal of pain and worry.

In desperation, the man turned to the people around him, hoping that they might be able to help. But when he approached them, he found that he could not draw near enough to speak to the people. They were afraid of the sharp blade and offended by the blunt hilt, and they would not allow him to get close. The man with a sword in his heart tried and tried, but it seemed that no matter what he did, he simply could not get close enough to make himself heard by the people. And this caused him a great deal of pain and worry, even more than the sword itself. In frustration, he cried aloud, pleading:

This weapon cannot wound you!

My anguish is my own!

Do none of you have punctured hearts?

I cannot be alone!

But still the people withdrew from him, and it seemed that no matter what he did, he simply could not make them listen. It was not long before he began to believe that he would never be heard, and soon after that he stopped trying altogether. In his silence, he continued to wonder when the sword had been planted in his heart, and how, and why. And soon he began to answer those questions himself. He decided that the sword had always been there, and that it probably always would be. He decided that he was helpless to remove it. He decided that he must have done something to deserve the pain and the worry. And believing these things, he went away and withdrew into himself, and the sword stayed firmly planted in his heart. His pain and worry became his only friends, and he clung to his loneliness though it felt like dying. And it felt like dying for a long time.

Then one day, while he was sitting alone beneath the boughs of a willow tree, a stranger visited him. And she did not hesitate or withdraw, but she came over and sat beside him beneath the tree. And he stared at her, bewildered and disbelieving.

“Stranger,” he said uncertainly, “why do you come close and sit beside me? Do you not see the sword in my heart?”

And the stranger replied, “Yes, I see it. That is why I had to come and sit beside you. We have to do something about that sword, or it will surely kill you. It is amazing that it has not killed you already.”

Now the man with a sword in his heart was very confused. He suspected that this was a trick or a cruel joke of some kind, and so he recoiled from the stranger. In a voice shaking with anger and fear, he cried aloud:

My wound does not concern you!

My anguish is my own!

Stay back or it will hurt you!

I have to be alone!

Now the man with a sword in his heart expected that his words would drive the stranger away. But his bewilderment only grew, for the stranger showed no sign of fright or offense, and she certainly did not pick herself up and go away. Instead, she nodded patiently and smiled kindly, and in response she said:

Your weapon cannot wound me.

Your anguish is your own.

But I would hear you speak of it.

You cannot be alone.

Now the man with a sword in his heart heard the stranger’s words. He realized he had said something similar once, though it had been a very long time ago. He felt overwhelmed by the realization, and he sat back down beneath the tree. He said nothing, for he was still angry and afraid. But she was still patient and kind, and she sat beside him until, after a while, he did speak.

“Stranger,” he said, “why do you insist on hearing me speak of this sword? Whenever I tried before, no one would hear me. They all fled from me.”

And the stranger replied, “They fled from their own wounds, not yours. And that is a sad thing. You wanted very badly to be heard, but now it is more than you dare to hope for.”

“Yes, it is too much to hope for,” said the man.

“And so you stopped trying altogether,” the stranger replied. “But if you stop trying to be heard, than you truly never will be. There is nothing more certain than that. Now tell me, how long have you been carrying that sword in your heart?”

“I am unsure,” the man said. “I simply noticed it one day. It seems as though it has always been there and always will be. I feel helpless to remove it. Even if I could remove it, I do not think that I would. I deserve this pain and this worry.”

And the stranger replied, “I wonder about that. If everyone had a sword in their heart who deserved one, then we would all surely be dead. And that is no way to live. Pulling it free will be difficult for you, though.”

“Oh?” the man asked. “Do you know how I can remove it, then?”

But the stranger shook her head and said:

The human arm is long enough

And sure enough of doubt

To plant a sword in one’s own heart

But not to pull it out.

Now the man was confused and distressed by the stranger’s words. “You say that I planted this sword in my own heart? If that is true, then why can I not pull it free myself?”

And the stranger replied, “You cannot do it on your own; no one can. You know this very well. You have tried and tried, but no matter what you do, you simply cannot pull the sword from your own heart. Someone else must first do it for you, to show you that it can be done. I will pull it free, if you will let me.”

Now the man was confused and distressed, and angry and afraid, and he was many other things as well. But she was still patient and kind. It took a very long time, but she was still patient and kind. And eventually, the man did allow the stranger to pull the sword free from his heart. And it hurt as she pulled it free, but the man was brave, and it did not hurt as badly as he thought it would.

But as the sword came free, it left an open wound on the man’s heart that was tender to the touch. He covered it with his hand, and he said to the stranger, “I am grateful to you, but I worry about this wound on my heart. I almost wish that you had left the sword there instead.”

And the stranger handed the sword to the man, and as he hesitantly took it, she replied, “For the rest of your days, you will carry your sword with you. If you truly still wish to carry it in your heart, you can always put it back yourself. But if you are brave and wise, you will choose to carry it at your side instead. Your wound can only heal if it is open.”

Now the man heard the stranger’s words, and he was relieved and resolved. He said, “Thank you for this. I would only have continued to suffer if you had not heard me. You have much to be proud of, stranger, being able to understand these things on your own and share your wisdom with others.”

And the stranger did not correct him or say anything in reply, but she nodded patiently and smiled kindly. She tenderly covered her own open heart with one hand, and she rested the other on the sword at her side.

-commonly credited to Saint Anna Tabatha Olaythe