A young wife walked to the cottage of a wise man to buy a potion for her husband. Ever since he had returned from the war, the husband had been cold and ill-tempered. He rarely spoke, and when he should have been working, for hours he would stand unmoving and stare toward the sea. After hearing the problem, the wise man said, “Yes, I know this affliction, but one thing you must provide. Bring me the whisker of a living tiger.”
The young woman was shocked. “Surely you can brew some elixir without causing my death,” she blurted. “How can I get such a thing? It is impossible.”
The old man smiled a small smile. “If you think it important, you will find a way.”
Late that night the young wife dressed by moonlight and sought out the cave in a mountainside where a tiger made its lair. She held out a bowl of grain soaked in meat sauce, and called to the tiger. It did not come. The next night she came again, and still the tiger did not appear. But she returned night after night, and after a time the tiger crept out and coldly stared at her.
Weeks passed, and each night the woman came a bit closer, holding out the bowl. And the tiger would stand, and stare into her eyes, and listen to her soothing voice as she sang sweet songs and spoke of her love for her husband, of the gentle man he once had been, and how she longed for his peace to be restored. One season rolled into the next, marked by the woman not so much in the motions of weather, as in the movement of the tiger, toward her. More nights passed, and the two came closer together, until at last the beast took one final, graceful step, and lapped up the food from the bowl in her hand.
And she came to find the tiger waiting for her, and she would stroke its broad head, driving her fingers into its thick fur, daring to hear its deep-chested, rumbling purr. And finally, softly, she asked in a whisper if she might have a single whisker, and she snipped it off, and thanked the beast, and rubbed its throat, and went to her solitary bed.
The next day she returned to the cottage of the wise man. Joyfully she produced the bristly hair and gave it to him. Carefully he examined it, and nodding with approval, he asked how she had come to possess it. The story spilled out of her, of how she had come, and patiently waited, and slowly approached, and gently coaxed—each night bringing food she knew it would not eat, gradually gaining the wild animal’s acceptance, never raising her voice, never showing her impatience and anxiety -- until it trusted her.
Hearing this, the man took the precious whisker and dropped it into the fire. With a quick hiss it twisted into ash and vanished.
When the young woman found words to speak, she cried, “It was all for nothing? And now my husband will never return to me!”
The old man smiled his sad smile. “It was not for nothing. Is a man more vicious than a tiger? Is he more insensible to kindness? Will he forever fail to respond to love? If you can win the trust of a savage beast, how much more the wounded heart of your poor husband? Go, and practice what you have learned from taming the tiger.”
The following year a child was born. It was given a name that means “grace.”