On a dark day, in a crowded neighborhood, a little baby girl was born, and while she lay in her mother’s arms, the sun burst through the window and kissed her. From that moment on, she belonged to the sun.
The sun enveloped her in its rays and gave her a secret name. It poured itself into her heart and dwelt within her, directing its rays into her tiny arms and hands.
Her eyes twinkled with the sun’s glorious shine, and the rays of the sun wove gold into her curly hair. She walked in the shadows of a life on earth, yet her touch and her warm embrace were a soft promise of love from the heavens. Her voice was clear as the freshest stream. When she spoke she chose her words as if they were priceless pearls strung on a silken thread. When she laughed, people felt as if spring buds were popping open after endless winter nights, turning the ground into a carpet of blossoms.
The parents of the Sunchild were simple, plain people. They did not recognize the gift the Sun had given them. But others saw the glow of this extraordinary child, and they couldn’t stay away. Not long after the girl had learned to speak, people started coming to the house where she lived. And they lay their longing, their dreams and their sorrows at her little bare feet.
She was calm amid their loud voices, patient when they made their complaints. She wiped away their tears with her small fingers. When people felt her touch, deep sighs escaped from their lips. Her sun-drenched heart soon became a shelter for waves and waves of people, the world-weary and the war-torn. They found in her a wayshower of the forgotten light, a light so bright that it seemed to illuminate the whole world.
Oh, but what a burden of sorrow the little girl met! It was heavier than the tombstones on the graves of the dead. The Sunchild was soon giving away her whole store of strength to carry the burdens of people and relieve their woe.
They came from far away and from all directions. The tired ones, the sick, the abused, the rejected unloaded their woes and untold hopes. The poor came, and also the wealthy, for they too had heavy hearts. Each one was uplifted by the rays of the sun that streamed through the hands of the little girl. The Sunchild received so many tears that she kept them in jars, and people went home feeling comforted that she would continue to tend to their tears from far away.
The Sunchild’s parents were outraged by the intrusion of all the beggars, cripples, and dirty, careworn tramps who arrived at the house. The Sunchild’s mother thought the whole thing was ridiculous. Her father would shout at the people who rushed in through the door to kiss the child’s hands and hear her gentle words. Finally, the Sunchild’s parents told their daughter to meet the people outside, on the street. They didn’t want them in their house.
The Sunchild’s mother would lie awake at night and listen to her daughter whispering, confiding her tender heart to the night. The child expressed the sorrow of the mothers whose children had died, of the old man who had become blind, of the ill, the aged and the wounded, of lives shattered by envy and hatred. There, in the dark of the lonely nights, she spoke all the sorrows in her heart.
Yet, though she could beautify the meanest word, ease the darkest deed, and melt the heaviest sorrow—she herself could find no peace, no means to relieve the burden of the sad stories she bore.
In the dark, the Sunchild’s mother listened with awe. She could not grasp what was happening, and her mind became more and more troubled.
One day, the Sunchild sat in her usual spot on the on the door step, out on the street. In front of her, she had lined up several little jars, filled to the brim with the tears that she had collected from all the weeping souls who had come to her.
Standing in a neat row, the crystal jars flashed in the sun. The Sunchld struck them with a rusty old nail and they produced sweet, heavenly melodies. The soft music brought the narrow street to life. The windows of the houses vibrated and resonated like a hundred distant voices and the air bubbled with song. The rays of light around the Sunchild grew so bright that one might think she was sitting, not on her doorstep, but on a golden throne.
Her mother came out of the house. “What kind of jars are those?” she asked.
“They are purifiers,” answered the Sunchild. “They contain all the human heartaches I have collected.”
“Why do they shine like that?”
“Because the tears have transformed into diamonds,” said the Sunchild.
“Hand them to me,” said her mother. “We are poor, and if they are valuable, I can sell them for gold.”
“Oh, no! Please do not touch them,” the Sunchild cried, throwing her arms around them. “They are sacred. I gave half my life for them.”
“Rubbish,” said her mother. “Give me the jars. I want to buy firewood and bread, so we won’t have to freeze or starve during the winter.”
“No, dear mother, you must not move them,” the Sunchild repeated. “As I told you, I gave part of my life for them!”
The mother looked at her daughter and suddenly realized how pale she had become. “You are so different from other children,” she said. “Your ways are mysterious and your eyes are so big that they sometimes scare me. It seems they are looking into another world. Take those jars away so I don’t destroy or sell them. I cannot bear their music any longer.”
“It is the sound of tears, mother, which I am bringing to God.”
“Be quiet!” her mother shouted. “Enough of this. Get up and go and play with the other children instead of sitting here and getting in my way!”
The Sunchild gathered her jars and carried them to a nearby forest, where she arranged them on top of a big stone. Then she played her divine music of tears for the birds, the leaves on the trees, the sky and the clouds drifting by in the mist.
Soon the tears within the jars began speaking words in their own curious language. They told about the sorrows they had seen, the weeping eyes from which they had fallen.
That place in the forest became a place more sacred than any church. The Sunchild sat, listening to the jars, her pale face growing so very pale…
Now it happened that the queen of the country had heard about the Sunchild. She was a lonely queen, unable to confide her heart to anyone. She invited the child to come to the castle and sent a messenger to her house.
The Sunchild arrived at the castle and followed the messenger through enormous rooms, up a marble staircase and down a gilded hallway to the doors of a garden. Among the flowers, her Royal Majesty sat in miserable solitude and waited for her little guest. The moment the child entered, surrounded in a halo of light, the queen could see that she was more precious than gold, more lovely than lilies, and sweeter than the roses which seemed to nod and bow to her as she passed.
The queen harbored a dark secret in her soul, a sorrow that ruined her days and made her nights an eternal nightmare. No one knew her secret. But when she cast her eyes on the Sunchild, she felt as if she could speak her sorrow at last without any shame or judgement. She reached for the wee stranger and held her close. The Sunchild caressed the sobbing queen with hands that pulsed with light, and her heart radiated such love into the heart of the queen that her lined face soon beamed with joy.
Then the Sunchild whispered words into the queen’s ear, words that knew the queen’s pain, words meant only for her. Her ladies who were watching clasped their hands in prayer. Yet nobody noticed how pale the Sunchild had become. When she left to return home, the child was whiter than the whitest roses in the queen’s garden.
After her visit to the queen, the Sunchild became known as the receptive heart of the whole country. Crowds of suffering souls came to receive her light and she never failed to give it. She filled jar after jar with the people’s tears. At night, she arranged the jars in a circle around her shabby bed and wondered what would happen when she closed the circle and there was no more room for any more tears.
After the child had seen the queen, her mother began to treat her with more respect. She and her husband were proud of the good reputation their daughter now had in the village. Yet no one saw the burning pain that grew in the Sunchild’s heart. That fiery light had become so intense that the child worried it might one day consume her. Nonetheless, she gave every person who came to her door the same sweet smile, touched them with her hands that were aglow with light, and took in their sorrow and tears.
The wounds in her heart grew more painful by the day, and her face looked as wan as the moon on a bitter winter’s night. Often, she went out to see people who could not travel to see her, and came home well after dark. In the beginning, her parents worried but they had come to accept her strange ways and now went to sleep without waiting for her to return. They felt that the light of the child protected them all against any danger or accident.
One night, the Sunchild came home as usual through the unlocked door and slipped into her room. She was grasping one little jar, that last jar that would complete the circle of tears around her bed. It was heavier than any she had ever carried home, and her whole body was extremely sore. With great care, she placed the jar in the last open spot in the circle. She climbed into bed, crossed her hands over her aching chest and lay very, very still.
Then the all the tears in the jars began telling their stories. All together they talked of the sorrows that had caused them to be shed. The Sunchild sent out a comforting answer to each and every one of their devastating laments. Then they talked about the great sorrow of the world, the sorrow that had caused all the others … and it became too much for the child.
Without a sound, her little heart broke.
In that moment, all the light that the sun had laid into the child’s heart burst into the house. The parents woke, startled, and shielded their eys from the blinding light. They were in the presence of something mighty. Never before had the golden dawn flooded their house in the middle of the night. What did it mean? What had happened?
Where was their child?
Trembling, they ran to their daughter’s bed and found her lying there, lifeless, her hands crossed over her chest and a peaceful expression on her face. In the center of all the shining jars, she looked as if she had been laid in a precious jewel box.
Then they heard the sound of shattering glass. They jumped back as the circle of jars began to explode into thousands of pieces. But instead of tears, precious stones rolled across the floor, shimmering diamonds of immense value.
They scooped up all the gems, hoping that the miracle would extend to the child. But no. She lay white and cold on her bed.
Later, her parents prepared her body for burial, and many villagers gathered at the house. Just as her parents laid her body in the coffin, there was a burst of light, and in the fiery glow, the child’s body disappeared. It left nothing but a handful of ashes. The people didn’t understand what was happening. They didn’t see that the sun had come to reclaim the child.
Soon after, the queen asked to have the child’s ashes. She buried them with her own hands in the castle garden, in the spot where the child had stood, where the shadows were longest and the birds sang their brightest songs.
Each day at dawn and at dusk, the Sunchild’s little grave in the queen’s garden shines like a golden dream. All the rays of heaven seem to gather there, and so the heart of the world keeps beating, and the forgotten light is remembered.
Illustrations by Sulamith Wulfing.