While I can’t remember where I first heard the story of the Pied Piper, it was very likely from my Aunt Edna or Grandpa Albert. Let me remind you of the story which, as best as I can determine, was written by Robert Browning, the English Poet. The tiny town of Hamelin was seized by a seemingly uncontrollable infestation of rats. The rat plague was so bad that it threatened the health of the entire town. Widespread panic consumed the village. Then, taking a page from a future western movie, a stranger comes to town and claims that he can rid the town of the infestation.
The stranger told the Mayor and the Chamber of Commerce that he could clear the city of rats for only a thousand guilders ($600,000 US Dollars in today’s money). The town leaders were ecstatic at this opportunity. The stranger immediately began to walk down the main street, and rats emerged by the thousands and followed him hypnotically as he piped a tune. In fact, every single rat in the village followed as he marched them to the river where they drowned. The people of the village paraded and celebrated their now rat-free town! The mayor, with an abysmal 39% approval rating and a reputation as a rascal, refused to honor their verbal agreement when the Pied Piper showed up at the city hall for his payment. “Surely you knew that we spoke in jest when we agreed to pay the sum of a thousand guilders.”
“A thousand you promised, a thousand you’ll give,” said the Piper… “What is done is done, my man,” said the Mayor. “It cannot be undone. The rats are gone, you see.” “Aye, but I can pipe again,” said the Piper.
Then he went back into the street and began to pipe a new tune. But this time instead of rats, it was the village children who marched out of their homes to follow him. Down they went to the mountain which had opened for them to pass inside, and then closed again.
When we ran for Congress, some of us promised to our voters that we would work with the other side to get things done for the American people. Unfortunately, we allowed ideology and party loyalty to inspire us to break our promise. We were unwilling to “pay the piper.” Because of our refusal to pay, we are slowly participating in a history changing race to the bottom. It doesn’t seem to trouble us that the word civility sounds like something from our distant past. We should use our precious time in Congress more wisely and ensure future generations that a great nation will still exist.
Wouldn’t it be great if each of us embraced the words of my all-time favorite poet, Robert Frost?
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”
Emanuel Cleaver, II