A certain young woman one day said something that hurt her best friend of many years. She regretted it immediately and would have done anything to take the words back. But they were said, impulsively, in a moment of thoughtlessness, and as close as she and her friend were, she did not consider the effects of her words beforehand. What she said hurt the friend so much that this good woman was herself hurt for the pain she had caused.
In her effort to undo what she had done, she went to the wise woman who lived in the village. Explaining her situation, she asked for advice. The wise woman listened patiently in an effort to determine just how sincere the younger woman was and how far she was willing to go to correct the situation.
The wise woman explained to the young woman that sometimes, in order to put things back the way they were, great efforts must be made. She then asked the young woman, “Just what would you be willing to do to repair the harm that has been done?”
The answer was heartfelt. “Anything,” said the young woman. Listening to her, the wise woman sensed the young woman’s distress and knew she must help her. She also knew that she could not lessen the young woman’s pain by shielding her, but she could teach if the young woman would first listen and then learn. The wise woman knew that the outcome would depend solely on the character of the young woman.
The wise woman said, “There are two things needed to make amends. The first of the two is very difficult. Tonight, take your best feather pillows and open a small hole in each one. Then, before the sun rises, you must put a single feather on the doorstep of each house in the village. When you are finished, come back to me. If you have done this first task completely and correctly, I will tell you the second task you need to accomplish.”
The young woman hurried home to prepare for her task, even though her feather pillows were very dear to her. All night long she laboured alone in the cold. She went from doorstep to doorstep, taking care not to overlook a single house. Her fingers were frozen and the wind was so sharp that it caused her eyes to water, but she ran on through the darkened streets, thankful that there was something she could do to put things back the way they once were.
Finally, as the sky was getting lighter, she placed the last feather on the steps of the last house. Just as the sun rose, she returned to the wise woman. She was exhausted but relieved that her efforts would now be rewarded. “My pillows are empty. I placed a feather on the doorstep of each home in the village,” the young woman told the wise woman.
“Now,” said the wise woman, “Go back and refill your pillows. Then everything will be as it was before.” The younger woman was stunned. “You know that is impossible! The wind blew away each feather as fast as I placed them on the doorsteps! You did not say I had to get them back! If this is the second requirement, then things will never be the same.”
“That is true,” said the wise woman. “Never forget. Each of your words is like a feather in the wind. Once spoken, no amount of effort, regardless of how heartfelt and sincere this effort is, can ever return them to your mouth. Choose your words well and guard them most of all in the presence of those you love.”