It was a warm winter evening with just the slightest breeze blowing. The night sky was clear and covered with stars. The man and his six-year-old son had picked a perfect night to watch the local boys practice football at the neighborhood park. The two football fans chose a nice grassy spot near the football field and spread a blanket out on the ground.
As the pair sat watching the teams go through its warm-up routine, the little boy raised his arms over his head and slowly laid back on the blanket in a long relaxed stretch. Suddenly, his eyes grew wide with excitement. He pointed at the night sky and shouted in amazement, “Look Daddy!” The boys’ father looked in the direction that his son was pointing and caught the last glimpse of a shooting star before it vanished from sight.
Still excited, the boy sat up and asked, “What was that, Dad?”
“That was a shooting star,” replied his father.
“What’s a shooting star?”
The boy’s father smiled. “I knew you were going to ask me.”
“Do you know the answer, Dad?” asked the little boy.
“Well son, there are two answers, one is very scientific and the other is a story.”
“I don’t know what a tific is Dad”, the boy said, a little confused.
“I am not sure I know the tific answer either”, replied the boy’s dad, “So why don’t I tell you the story instead”.
The man put his arm around his son’s shoulders and pressed him close to his side as he began to tell the story of the shooting star.
A long, long time ago, before there were big cities, televisions or telephones or video games, people lived in what were called villages. The villages were made up of families, moms, dads, and children. Everyone in the village worked together to keep the village clean, the homes in repair and to protect one another, especially the children. All of the families in the village got along well with each other, because they needed each other.
The men of the village would go hunting for food to feed their families. The men would hunt in groups. This way, everyone had a share in the food. The hunters had been told by a wise old man that to hunt alone was foolish. “Every man has something that he can do better than another man, but he can’t do everything that every man can do” were the words of the wise man. The young hunters listened to the wise man and because they did, they always came back with plenty of food.
“What did the wise man mean?” asked the little listener.
“He meant that the hunters had to work as a team, “replied the boy’s father.
“You mean a team like football?”
“Yes son, like football. For example, if the quarterback has a good arm and throws a good pass, there has to be someone good enough to catch it. There also has to be someone who blocks and protects the quarterback so that he will have the time to throw the ball”.
“Oh! I understand,” said the six-year-old, nodding knowingly. “So that means that the coach is like the wise old man.”
The boy’s father smiled. “He tries to be,” he said, and continued with the story.
There was one village that had the best hunters of all the villages. This particular village was built halfway up the side of a mountain and was called Cielo or sky. It was named Cielo because when you looked up at the village from the valley below and the clouds were low, covering the top of the mountain, it looked as if the village was part of the sky.
One morning the hunters of the village began making preparations to leave on a hunt. The village was running out of food and more was needed. There was always excitement in the village whenever the men left on a hunting trip. Everyone looked forward to fresh meat to eat and new skins for clothes. Along with the excitement there was also sadness. The hunt would take two or three days, which meant that the hunters would be separated from their families.
The young hunters began to gather in the center of the village. There was Tall Bear, the biggest and strongest of the hunters, and Seer, who could find animal tracks when no one else could. Firemaker could build a campfire during a rainstorm. Maker made the strongest bows and arrows and spears, which all the hunters used.
The fifth member of the group was Tenderheart, and he was always the last to join the other hunters. Tenderheart always took the longest time to say goodbye to his wife and two children. It wasn’t that the other hunters loved their families less; it was just that Tenderheart loved his family a little more than the rest. This is why he was called Tenderheart.
When the hunting group was finally assembled, the wise man of the village reminded them to work together and to light the estrella, or star, as soon as they could. The young men left the village and headed towards the hunting grounds. The men would have to travel across the valley, which was below their village and toward the mountain that lay to the east. The hunters would travel all-day and late into the night. When they reached the mountain east of their village, they would set up their hunting camp in a cave that was halfway up the side of the mountain. Firemaker would start two campfires, one inside the cave and the other –estrella-outside of the cave. The fire outside of the cave would be seen at night by the people of the village. It looked like a little star flickering in the sky. This light signaled the villagers that the hunters had reached the hunting grounds and that all was well with them.
Every night while the hunters were gone, their wives and children would watch for the estrella and see it shine and flicker from across the valley. Once the families would see the estrella, they would relax and not worry as much.
On this particular hunting trip, Seer told the other hunters that he had seen many game tracks, but that the tracks headed to the other side of the mountain and across the river that ran below. The group knew that if they followed the game, they would be gone an additional day from their village. Usually, they were gone at the most for three days when the game had been plentiful near their hunting camp.
“We have no choice,” said Tall Bear. “We must follow the game”.
“What about estrella?” asked Tenderheart. “Who will light it if we don’t get back before dark?” “Leave it to you to worry about that”, said Firemaker. “Don’t worry, I will build a good fire. It will burn for many hours even while we are gone. This way no one needs to be here to light it when darkness comes.”
Tenderheart smiled to himself and thought-my family will not worry.
Firemaker built the estrella, and the hunters set out behind Seer and toward the game. Tenderheart and the others followed Seer without question as he followed animal signs that no one else could see. They traveled down the opposite side of their hunting camp and to the river below. When the men reached the river, they saw that it was wide, deep and had a very swift current.
“Do we cross here?” asked Firemaker.
“No,” said Seer. “The animals in their wisdom have a better spot for crossing the river.”
The group continued to follow Seer who headed up river. Soon the men reached the crossing that the animals used. It was not as wide, and the current was not as fast. As the men waded into the water, they found that the water came up only to their knees.
“The animals are smart,” said Firemaker.
“Yes,” replied Seer. “Man can learn many things from the animals he hunts.”
“Daddy, what did Seer mean when he said that man can learn from the animals?’
“What he meant was that men are sometimes in such a hurry to get things done, that they don’t use common sense. Men sometimes think that they are smarter and stronger than nature. Take for example, the river that Seer and the others had to cross. A foolish man in a hurry would have tried to cross where it was the deepest and the current was the strongest. An animal on the other hand, can sense the danger of crossing in the wrong place and knows that it can get hurt. So instead, it will walk along the river taking its time until it finds a safe place to cross. In this way, some animals are smarter than men”
“Oh! I understand now,” said the little six-year-old. “Tell me the rest of the story, Dad.”
Once the hunters were across the river, Seer could tell that the animal tracks were fresher and numerous. Soon the hunters found their game, and the hunt was on. The men were so intent on the hunt that they never noticed how far they had traveled or that the weather was turning bad.
The hunters had skinned the animals and packed the meat for the trip home when it started to rain. It started raining even harder as the men, burdened with the heavy loads of meat and skins, walked to the point where they had crossed the river.
“We must have traveled far,” said Firemaker. “It is already dark, and we have yet to reach the river.”
“You are right,” answered Tall Bear, “but the hunt was good.”
Tenderheart said nothing, but he wondered to himself if the estrella was still burning.
Meanwhile, at the village, the families of the hunters stood outside their homes. They all stared across the valley to the mountain in the east. It had been dark now for quite awhile and yet there was no light form the east. No estrella.
“Is father alright?” asked Tenderheart’s son of his mother.
“Yes, son,” she replied. “I am sure he is well,”
Tenderheart’s wife tried to sound confident, but she was worried. All of the other wives were worried too.
“Why hasn’t father lit the estrella?” asked Tenderheart’s daughter.
“Your father many not be able to,” replied the mother, “ But don’t worry. Your father will find a way to let us know that he is coming home.”
The children stared towards the hunters’ camp, waiting for a sign until sleep conquered their tired eyes.
“What is that sound?” asked Maker. “It sounds like the roar of a huge beast.”; Before long Maker found the source of the load roar.
The hunters had reached the river crossing, but now there was a problem. The river crossing that had been so safe and simple had turned into a nightmare. The heavy rainfall had filled the crossing. The water was much deeper, and the river’s current was rushing by so fast that it carried large stones down its path.
The men stood in awe as they watched the river’s force rush by them.
“We will build shelter here,” said Tall Bear. “The rain will stop soon. Then we may be able to cross the river.”
The shelter was built, and the men settled in for the night. They were tired and sleep came quickly for all except Tenderheart. He could not sleep. He knew that estrella was no longer burning and that his family would be worried. The thought brought tears to his tired eyes. He had never been separated from his family for so long.
The next morning the men were up early. The rain had stopped, but the river was still high and the current deadly.
“We must find a place to cross,” said Seer. “We must get the food back to the village as soon as we can.”
“You are right,” said Tall Bear. “You and Firemaker walk down river until the sun is in the middle of the sky. The rest of us will walk up river for the same length of time. We will meet back here and see if we have found a place to cross.”
The hunters went their separate ways. Tenderheart said a silent prayer hoping that there would be a place along the mighty river where they could cross. Seer and Firemaker walked down river until the sun was in the middle of the sky. They had not found a safe place to cross. Disappointed, they started back towards the shelter.
“Maybe Tall Bear and the others found a crossing,” said Seer.
“Yes,” responded Firemaker, “Maybe they did.”
Firemaker and Seer reached the shelter by late afternoon. Tall Bear, Maker and Tenderheart were already there. Tenderheart had a look of anticipation as he saw Seer and Firemaker approaching the shelter.
“Did you find a crossing?’ shouted Tenderheart.
“No!” Seer shouted back.
Tenderheart’s face grew grim. “Neither did we,” he said.
As night drew near, the people of Cielo came out of their homes and began the watch. Maybe tonight they would see the estrella, they hoped. Tenderheart’s family, wrapped in a large blanket for warmth, also gazed towards the east. “Don’t worry, Mother,” said Tenderheart’s son. “Father will signal us tonight, I just know he will.”
“We must find a way to light estrella,” said Tenderheart. “Our families must know that we are well.”
“We cannot light estrella until we find a way back across the river,” responded Tall Bear angrily. “Unless, of course, you know magic and can get a flame from here over the mountain and light estrella.” His tone was mocking. “Do not mock Tenderheart,” said Maker. “I too want to signal my family as do the others.” “Fine shouted Tall Bear. “When you come up with a way to signal, let me know!”
“You may have already come up with a way to signal, Tall Bear,” said Tenderheart calmly. “We cannot light estrella, but what about a shooting star?” “What do you mean” asked Firemaker. Tenderheart continued. “If we could shoot a flaming arrow over the peak of the mountain, our families would see it and know that it is our signal.” “That would take a powerful bow,” said Maker. “You can make one,” replied Tenderheart. “I know you can.”
Maker smiled at Tenderheart’s confidence in him. “We’ve nothing else to do while we wait for the river to calm,” said Maker. Tenderheart looked at Firemaker. “Can you make the arrow burn bright enough and long enough so that it won’t go out before our village can see it?” he asked. Firemaker thought for a moment. “Yes, I can,” he replied. Firemaker and Maker went into the woods to gather the raw material that they would need to complete their tasks. They returned after a short time and began to work.
Meanwhile, Seer and Tall Bear walked to the river’s edge to see if the water level had dropped. “Tenderheart is a dreamer,” said Tall Bear. “Yes,” replied Seer, “but sometimes dreams can show us the way that our eyes cannot find when they are open.”
Tenderheart had also gone to the river’s edge, but he had not heard Tall Bear and Seer’s conversation. He was too busy looking for just the right size of smooth stones. Maker would need the stones for the arrow tips.
After what seemed like hours to Tenderheart, Maker announced that he had finished his bow. The men gathered around Maker and looked at the bow. It was the longest and thickest bow that Maker had ever made. Firemaker was also ready. He prepared the two arrows that Maker gave him. He covered the arrow tips and part of the shafts with fur and dry grass soaked in tree sap. “These will burn long and bright,” Firemaker said proudly. “Tall Bear will have to string the bow,” said Maker. “I am not strong enough to do it.”
Tall Bear took the bow from Maker and placed one end on the ground and against the inside of his foot, with all his strength; he pushed down and bent the bow. It took almost all his strength, but he was able to string the bow. “We have only two arrows,” said Maker. “They are longer than any I have ever made. Who ever draws the bow must draw back further than they have ever before.” “Tall Bear must draw the bow,” said Seer. “He is the strongest of our group.” “I will try,” said Tall Bear, “but in my heart I don’t think it will work.”
Tall Bear took the bow and placed the arrow in position. Firemaker lit the arrow, and Tall Bear drew back on the bow. Further and further he drew. He aimed for the peak of the mountain and released the flaming arrow. The men watched as the arrow soared higher and higher towards the mountain top. They watched, as the arrow appeared to stop in mid-air and then fell towards the mountain-just short of clearing the mountain top. The disappointment was as great as the anticipation had been.
Tall Bear flung the bow to the ground in anger. “I told you it wouldn’t work!” he shouted. “Maybe if you drew the bow back just a little further,” Tenderheart, began to say. “Maybe you can do better,” Tall Bear replied in anger. The others looked on in surprise as Tenderheart picked up the bow and placed the last arrow in position. “Firemaker, light the arrow,’ ordered Tenderheart. Something in Tenderheart’s tone made Firemaker obey without question. “You cannot do better than I!” said Tall Bear. “That may be true,” Tenderheart replied. “But I can do no worse.”
With the arrow in position and lit, Tenderheart drew back on the powerful bow. Back, back, he drew. He was about to release the arrow when the faces of his family flashed in his mind. With deep concentration on his face, Tenderheart drew the arrow back just a little more than Tall Bear had. “This will make my family happy,” Tenderheart whispered as he released the shooting estrella.
The other hunters had watched in silence as Tenderheart drew back on the powerful bow. Now a cheer rose among the hunters as they watched Tenderheart’s shooting star sail up and over the peak of the mountain.
“Look, Mother,” shouted Tenderheart’s son. “It is my father’s signal!”
Tenderheart’s wife looked and saw what her son and the entire village of Cielo could see. It was a bright light that sailed over the mountain peak in the east. It glided down from the peak and vanished.
“Was that really father’s signal?” asked Tenderheart’s daughter. “Yes” replied her mother with a smile.. “My heart tells me that it was. “A message from your father that he will be home soon.”
“Why was Tenderheart able to pull the arrow back further than Tall Bear?” “Wasn’t Tall Bear the strongest?” “Yes son, Tall Bear was the strongest, but people often make the mistake of thinking that a tender heart is for a weak person. A tender heart is strong because it cares more for the feelings of others than it does for its own.”
“You mean to be nice, you must be strong?” “Yes son, sometimes it takes all your strength to be nice.” “I knew that”, said the boy confidently. “I am sure you did,” replied the boy’s father. “I am sure, to that you now know that whenever you see a shooting star, there is a father somewhere who is far from his home and family, and he wants to let them know that he is well.”
“Yes, I knew that too, Dad.”