On which side of the road do the flowers grow?

This story is a prologue to Wendell Mettey’s book, On Which Side of the Road do the Flowers Grow? – a compilation of true stories on life, love and loss, and one which I greatly enjoyed.

There once lived a very unhappy man who was a carrier of water. He hated carrying water and despised his master for giving him such a lowly job. “Carrying water is a job for women,” he complained. “It certainly is not a job for a strong and capable servant.” To escape the giggling and whispers of the women who gathered at the well each morning, he would arrive at first light, draw his water and be on his way.

To lessen the number of trips to the well, he tied a large clay jar to each end of a long, sturdy pole. After lifting the pole over his head, he would rest it on his shoulders. He could now carry twice as much water. The extra weight, however, made the journey twice as strenuous.

… The water carrier remained hopeful that … the master would recognize his many talents. When the days grew hot and the jars heavy, he’d say, “Someday I’m going to be my master’s wine steward, or perhaps . . . yes, the treasurer of his vast estate. I’m going to have an important job, and then I’ll be an important person.”

His master, who he knew to be a wise and just man, for whatever reason, chose not to give him a job of greater importance. The man’s constant complaining made it most evident to his master and to the entire household that he did not want to be a carrier of water. They all heard him say countless times how overqualified he was for the job and that other servants with half his abilities were promoted past him. Greatly discouraged, his performance began slipping. His lowly job was completely draining his last ounce of self-worth.

Then one day it happened. It had been there all along, but he hadn’t noticed it before. A little thing actually, yet big enough to completely change his life forever. Looking down at it, he smiled. At that very moment, he realized that while he could not change his job, his job did not determine who he was as a person. He had no control over the job the master gave him, only how he would perform it. There it was at his feet—a delicate, beautiful example of how any job given by the master, if he was obedient, could bring about something wonderful. From that day on, his job did not change, but he certainly did. He could now see that the job the master gave him had the importance he gave it. His job was no longer just a carrier of water, but one that brought beauty and joy into the lives of the countless people who traveled that dusty road. He no longer went to the well before first light, but arrived with the others.

Soon the giggling and whispering were replaced with meaningful conversations and the sharing of life’s concerns. With his changed attitude came peace and joy. People were attracted to him and would seek him out for advice and direction for their lives. He still carried the large, clay jars to and from the well each day, but now with new meaning and added purpose.

One day, a fellow traveler motioned for him to stop. They had shared that dusty road for many years, but their journeys always took them in different directions. A smile, a polite hello, and a brief comment about the weather had been the extent of their conversations. But today, the man wanted more than a brief exchange. The carrier of water lifted his water-filled jars over his head and rested them on the ground. He wiped the perspiration from his forehead and his neck.

“It’s a beautiful day,” said the carrier of water.

“Yes, too hot for me,” the other man said. “I have a question,” he continued. “I’ve been meaning to ask you something, but we are always in such a hurry and going our different ways. I have wondered about this for a long time.”

“Yes, what’s your question?” replied the carrier of water.

“Well, it’s evident to me that you’re a hard worker.You bring honor to your master and his household . . . and please understand me, I am not implying that you do not know what you are doing.”

“Go ahead, friend, what is your question?”

“It has to do with your clay jars,” the man said.

“One jar is perfect in every way. It has no cracks, chips . . . the lid fits tightly. It is free from any blemish. Not a drop of water is lost from this jar. But, the other jar. It has cracks and chips everywhere and the lid wobbles terribly. Water spills from this jar. The jar has to be half empty by the time you reach your destination.”

The man paused for a moment, shaking his head as he continued, “Why don’t you replace it with a new jar? Surely your master will allow you to purchase a new one, one more efficient!”

Looking back at the path he had just traveled, the carrier of water smiled and said with great delight, “Look, my friend . . . you tell me. On which side of the road do the flowers grow?

“They do not grow on the side of the perfect jar.”

“You are correct, not a drop of water is lost from the perfect jar. The side of the road where the flowers grow is on the side of the imperfect jar, the one with cracks, the imperfect one. It is the blemished and worn jar that brings the flowers to life in the spring and waters them all summer long. Once I was consumed with bitterness,” the carrier confessed, “until that day when I saw those flowers at my feet. I looked at that old, weathered, cracked jar. I realized then that the master could use me, imperfections and all, to bring beauty into my life and the lives of others. On which side of the road do the flowers grow? Not on the side of the perfect jar, but on the side of the one you would have me throw away—the one with all the imperfections.”

– Wendell Mettey, On Which Side of the Road do the Flowers Grow?