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There is no dearth of heart-warming stories that can reassure you on the spiritual path. The ‘Keep Your Fork’ story is one such. It was written by Roger William Thomas in 1994, and later included in the bestselling anthology A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul (1996). Due to its simple and unpretentious message of hope and resilience, it has acquired widespread popularity. The story is a fixture in the wealth of spiritual stories that can inspire and uplift us. If you ever find yourself struggling and despairing through a crisis, this story will give you the succour you need to carry on.

What is the ‘Keep Your Fork’ story?

Here is a version of the ‘Keep Your Fork’ story:

Once upon a time, a young woman fell severely ill. She was told that she couldn’t expect to live more than three months.

With such a grim diagnosis, the woman couldn’t do much except invite her preacher home, to talk about the inevitable: her funeral arrangements.

Carefully, she went through each detail of the future service with him. She gave him a list of all the songs she wanted to be played in her memory. She highlighted the parts of the scriptures that most uplifted her and requested the preacher to have them recited at her service. She whisked out the carefully selected dress she had procured specially for the occasion. And she said that she wanted to be laid into her resting place with a Bible in her hand.

Although somewhat shaken by the eagerness of this young woman, the preacher acquiesced to all her requests. He was about to take his leave when she blurted out, as if suddenly remembering something, ‘Oh, Father, I have one more request.’

The priest looked around and saw the woman with a strange glint in her eyes.

‘What is it?’ he asked curiously.

The woman drew a breath and said in all earnestness, ‘This is the most important of all my requests, Father. I do hope you will see to it.’ She carried on, ‘I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand. So that the people who come to mourn me shall enquire about the fork.’

Now, this was a strange request!

The preacher must have looked at a loss, for the young woman continued: ‘My grandmother told me this story when I was only a little girl. And ever since, I have known what to say to anyone dealing with a loss or disappointment. Whenever she went out to potluck dinners or other social events, there would come a point in the evening when someone would start clearing the dishes from the table. At this point, someone would whisper urgently in her ear, “Keep your fork.” Grandma would know, then, that something delicious was yet to come. She would wait eagerly to dig into it!’

This is the story that came back to me when I received my diagnosis. Everyone has been grim and serious, but I can’t wait to access the heavenly wonders that lie ahead of me.’

When my friends enquire about the fork at my service, pass on this message to them: “Keep your fork. The best is yet to come.”’

The woman passed away as predicted and the day of her funeral came. Her friends and family came over and everyone was puzzled at the polished silver fork shining in her hand. Several asked the preacher about it. When he gave his speech to everyone assembled, the preacher told them the story behind the fork and of the woman’s inspiring courage.

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The preacher seemed very evidently moved by the woman’s story and so was the hushed crowd.

They left the service with tears in their eyes but with hope in their hearts.

What the ‘Keep Your Fork’ story can teach us

The ‘Keep Your Fork’ story offers a simple yet profound message: to accept what life throws at us and cling stubbornly to the belief that better times lie ahead!

Here is a list of the lessons the story carries:

Be hopeful

Such is the way of life that we cannot ever escape disappointments. No matter how hard we try to control its vagaries, we fail to set everything in order. We might have worked hard to secure a dream, but things might go awry at the last moment and dash our hopes with it. At such times, it’s easy to lose faith and wonder if there is any point in carrying on. Why persist when all the odds are stacked against us?

The ‘Keep Your Fork’ story provides the perfect antidote to this feeling of hopelessness. It’s a classic illustration of the proverb: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. The courageous young woman finds it in herself to feel hopeful in the face of the worst thing that life could throw at her. Even the most lion-hearted amongst us would find it hard to smile in the face of death. Not only does the young woman make peace with it, but resolutely believes that the best is yet to come. We need this stubborn optimism to make our way through life.

The woman exemplifies the faith the scriptures tell us to have, believing in a heavenly future even though her present life gives her no evidence of it. She has fully imbibed the lesson in the following quote:

‘“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”’ (Jeremiah 29:11)

Accept death                                              

Death is the single biggest truth of life, one that humanity finds itself hard to reconcile with. It’s hard to believe in any meaning and purpose with the shadow of death accompanying us at every step. Why should we do anything at all when death can come and whisk it all away from us without the slightest hint?

In the ‘Keep Your Fork’ story, the young woman has already been dealt the worst hand that life could possibly give her. However, death does not cause the woman to sorrow and wail. Had we received such a diagnosis, we would likely have been shattered and beyond consolation. Not so our courageous young lady. She not only accepts death but accepts it with an eagerness that defies belief. She has wholeheartedly accepted the hopeful message of the Bible and doesn’t find death to be something terrible, but just as the next big adventure.

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The Bible says:

‘And everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ (John 11:26)

When the woman narrates her story to the preacher, she not only attains victory over the fear of death herself but also helps the living cope with their grief over her loss. The story helps provide emotional support to those she leaves behind. It probably enables them to not just mourn the woman no longer amongst them, but also celebrate the inspiring legacy she leaves behind.

Retain a childlike wonder

We go through life with a grim-faced seriousness even when we don’t have anything troubling us. And when a problem does arrive, we lose all spirit in the face of it and wander corpse-like through life. It’s hard not to be crushed by the difficulties that surround it. The only way we can go through life with any sense of joy is if we retain a childlike sense of wonder about it.

Getting serious and grasping hard at the things we want just won’t do. We have to inculcate a sense of playfulness and levity in ourselves. As GK Chesterton said, ‘Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.’

A clock seems to be always ticking at the back of our minds. And as our time on earth slips away, it’s hard not to feel as if we have seen it all. It takes a childlike disposition to still be curious about what lies ahead.

The woman in the ‘Keep Your Fork’ story is a picture of eagerness and excitement. It’s hard to believe she is about to die. She doesn’t plan the details of her funeral ceremony with an air of resignation. Rather, she goes over each detail as attentively and joyfully as if she were planning her birthday! She exclaims excitedly about holding a fork in her hand. We only ever witness such innocent joy in kids.

And her excitement proves to be infectious. Just as her grandma infected her with a cheerful spirit, she, too, fills the preacher and her loved ones with a sense of joy.

The ‘Keep Your Fork’ story has been shared countless times. Its popularity is evidence that it has resonated deeply with the hearts of people. It has taken a humble household item like a fork and invested deep spiritual meaning into it. Whenever you find yourself stuck in a difficult situation, you have only to look at a fork to be filled with renewed hope and enthusiasm. Even death isn’t an endpoint according to this story. Greater treasures await us after death, too.

The best is, truly, yet to come.