There are folk tales about fairy wives, who come on strange conditions and say they will leave if those conditions aren’t met. And of course the husband forgets, and does the thing he must not do – usually three times – and the fairy wife leaves and never comes back. I think there are ways in which these work as teaching tales – not about getting involved with otherworldly women, but about dealing with day to day life.
Our lives may be full of small blessings that we never really think about. We take them for granted, and we may take the people involved (where there are people) for granted too. Just because the conditions aren’t made explicit, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. If we do not show care and respect to what we’re involved with, it may be damaged beyond repair. It may desert us. It may no longer be able to work for us. Valuable things ruined because we didn’t pay proper attention to them are not unlike fairy wives.
There’s nothing wrong with conditions. Often they aren’t as arbitrary as the fairy wife stories. Usually, the conditions we have to meet are essential to making things work. If you do not take care of your tools, they will rust, get damaged, get lost – it is not their conscious decision to respond to you in this way, it is the inevitable consequences of your behaviour. People are much the same, and can themselves be damaged through poor treatment. The fairy tale of the goose who lays the golden eggs works along these lines, too. The person who lays golden eggs in your life is not to be taken for granted, either. If a person keeps laying golden eggs for you, there’s probably a reason – it may be love, or a sense of duty, or a desire to see you survive and thrive. Undermine that reason in some way and there will be no more eggs.
When something is reliable and substantial, it can be easy to take it for granted. A parent’s love. A friend’s support. A nice home. A beautiful landscape. Breathable air. A healthy ecosystem that supports your life. Clean water. We can pollute any of these things when we treat them thoughtlessly, disrespectfully. If we damage what was freely given, then like the fairy wife, it may leave us forever and never look back.