Friday, January 21, 2011

The Storyteller

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     Even though the dinosaurs are extinct, and for the most part the wildlife in the world is somewhat controlled (sadly to the point that there is a danger of many creatures going the way of the dinosaur) there is still an uncontrollable wilderness around us. Even though humankind has created more "comforts" there are still monsters around us. Some of them are in the form of natural disasters, or creatures we run across in the natural world. Some monsters are in the form of emotionally damaged human beings who are predators, or even family members who fall into a moment of madness. How do we prepare our children for the monsters in the world? 

     It is one of the jobs of parents, and grandparents to tell our children the mythological stories that can help prepare them for the reality of the world around us. The world around us is not always fair, and some of what we experience we cannot always be prepared for, but stories; folk tales, fairy tales, fables and all our cautionary tales of both the literary and oral tradition help prepare us for the ever-changing world around us. It is a beautiful, joyful, disheartening horror show full of events that can both uplift us and plummet us to the depths of despair. 

     I remember as a young single parent I once became exasperated with my energetic precocious children. I started to scold them, and scream at them. My face was red with anger. My young daughter began to cry. I was immediately sobered, and went to comfort her. She finally exclaimed through her tears that I "had turned into a monster." This was far from my proudest moment of parenthood, but it served in making me aware of how sensitive these loving little beings were, and how they were entrusted into my care to nurture and provide safety for. 

     Honestly, I can't say that I became a perfect parent after this, but it did help to show me the consequence of my impatience, and to find better tools for handling my volatile emotions. 

     The world around us is filled with paradox, and events, and people that seem to be out of our grasp to understand. Recently, a young California boy (about the same age as my own grandson) was torn from his grandmothers arms by her daughters angry boyfriend. At the time of this writing the boy still remains missing...and I wonder and pray about his safety, and about the heartbreak of his family. I pray that their story will have a happy ending, that little Juliana Cardenas will walk in the door with his little red hoodie saying that he escaped the clutches of the big bad wolf. That he tricked him and ran through the woods to safety. I want to believe in a happy ending. I want to believe that Juliana feels his special mythical guardian surrounding him, guiding him to safety to the arms of those who love him. I want to believe that like Alice in Wonderland who met her mad hatter, that Juliana befriends his mad hatter and climbs out of the rabbit hole to a world that makes sense again. 

     On my desk I keep a little totem of a female figure with children climbing all over her back. In many aboriginal cultures this is the totem of keeping the stories of our ancestors alive. Stories of transformation, of overcoming obstacles, and accepting life on it's terms with gratitude. Some of these totems have only one child, but mine has many climbing on the storytellers back. It is her job to carry them, to play with them, and teach them. I'd like to think she's carrying them to the crack in the universe. Where there is only understanding and relief from the suffering from all that separates us from true happiness . 

     I'm not sure if any of us agree to life's terms before we are born. Does anyone really want to suffer the indignities that life can pass our way? But here we are. All we can do is hope for the best, and when the worst happens, support and love each other. 

     My imagination has always been a double edged sword. It has allowed me to overcome tremendous challenges through a resort to a whimsical joyful reality through my writing, and through my drawing. The other side of that is when I let the mind wander without discipline I'm at times plummeted into a kind of purgatory, and at times there has been even hellish quality. No sight of relief in those moments but they are just moments. Perhaps long tiresome moments but I'm always restored to happiness eventually. Perhaps some would say lulled into a sense of security. There's probably some truth in that, but I'd like to think that as I get older I'm looking more for the tools to look at life straight on and say: "Okay, bring it, Life!" The truth is I cannot control much about this life, but I can keep making the choice to return to happiness.

     One of my favorite movies of all time is a movie created by Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro called Pan's Labyrinth. The heroine is a young girl who moves with her mother to a country home owned by her new stepfather, Captain Vidal. On the grounds there is an abandoned labyrinth in which she meets many magical creatures. In the film they leave it open to interpretation as to whether these are manifestations of her imagination, or very real incarnations of the underworld. I was always wondering which was the real world, and where she would find her kindness and her safety. One of my favorite passages in the film is:

Ofelia: My name is Ofelia. Who are you?
Pan: Me? I've had so many names. Old names that only the wind and the trees can pronounce. I am the mountain, the forest and the earth. I am... I am a faun. Your most humble servant, Your Highness.

     This dialogue was powerful because this character Pan, had always tested her. He had a monstrous appearance that seemed to intimate an evil intent, but he reveals himself to be not only a mysterious force in the universe, but her servant. Pan's sternness is a ruse to goad Ofelia into assuming strength and to assuming her rightful position in the world. The charming, handsome Captain Vidal on the other hand reveals his true monstrous nature, and murderous intent toward Ofelia. He is the incarnation of greed and selfishness. He cannot see Ofelia's beauty, he only sees her as an interference: a roadblock in his quest for power. Which of Ofelia's worlds was real? Did she only dream Pan? Was her stepfather her living nightmare? Is life a dream? If it is true that the dreamer is all whom arise in the dream who chooses where the story of the dream begins and ends? Are we the monster, the servant, or the hero? Perhaps only through our growing awareness, and our willingness to express gratitude for the gift of life can we choose.

     I leave my storyteller totem on the table where I set my breakfast sometimes, so it is the first thing I see as I awake to remind me to live as a story teller with joyful children arising in my heart, and monsters turning into servants and protectors of the true divinity of all humankind.

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