This story has been told many different ways in many religions. In the Jewish faith it is told as a rabbi, the Catholics say it was Saint Phillip Neri, and I have even seen it told as a Buddhist monk. In any case, the story is all the same with the same moral. I came across it on as it was told on a radio talk show program and found it so poignant that I decided to share the story here.
Here I give the generic version.
“A young man for some reason took offense to what the village wise man once told him and in retaliation, he went about town slandering the wise man. After telling everyone he could lies about the old man, he felt guilty and one day he went to the wise man’s home and asked for forgiveness. The wise man, realizing that this man had not realized the gravity of his actions, told him that he would forgive him on one condition: that he take a feather pillow from his house to the top of a hill, cut it up, and scatter the feathers to the wind. After he had done so, he should then return to the wise man’s house.
He was puzzled by this strange request, but the young man was happy to be forgiven so easily. He went to the top of the hill and quickly cut up the pillow, scattered the feathers, and looked and laughed as the feathers all floated and blew about in the wind. As he watched the feathers blow about he felt relieved that such a simple task could gain the forgiveness of the wise man, and he quickly returned to the wise man’s house.
“Am I now forgiven?” he asked, smiling broadly
“Just one more thing,” the wise man said. “Go now and gather up all the feathers.”
Stunned, the young man replied “But that’s impossible. The wind has already scattered them.”
“Precisely,” he answered. “In the same way it is impossible for you to recover every feather that has blown on the wind, so too it is impossible to recover every ill word spoken against me. Your words are out there in the world, spreading as we speak.”