Archive for April, 2012


Walking with a bowl

Once upon a time, O Best Beloved, there was a woman with a bowl.  It was a wide, round stone bowl, and it was her dearest possession.  This was a very once upon a time indeed, and she lived in a hard and rocky part of the land, where nothing would grow but gnarled little weeds and hard and twisted trees that gave no fruit.

There was, though, a small and lively stream beside the little shady building where she lived.  It had the clearest water you could dream of, and she carried that water out to the road every day in her beautiful, wide bowl.  It was a long walk to the road, but once she got there, she could trade the water for food and news and clothes.  The road always had traders, headed to the larger city, and she could trade her water to them, without having to go into the loud and dangerous city herself.

But of course, walking with a beautiful, wide stone bowl is difficult, day after day, many times a day.  The path was neither smooth nor flat.  And of course, you know what is going to happen, O Best Beloved, because it is such a beautiful bowl, and because her whole life depends upon it.

One day she falls, and the bowl breaks.  Her foot turns on a stone she cannot see, past the bowl full of clear water in her arms.  She and the bowl both go tumbling into the path.  She fares better than the bowl does, and is only scraped up a little.  The bowl, the beautiful stone bowl, is shattered beyond all hope of repair.

She has walked this path every day, many times a day, her whole life.  She has worked hard, her whole life.  She will not give up easily.  So she returns to her little house, and gathers up everything she has that might be worth something to a trader.  Then she goes and sits by the side of the road, and waits.

It takes two days, but eventually she meets a man who has what she wants to trade.  He has a waterskin.  He has never needed her bowl, but he has traded for a drink from it anyway, and always been kind.  He trades her for a waterskin, so that he can still stop for a conversation with her (for he thinks her pleasing) and a drink (for the water is cool, and always a blessing).

The skin doesn’t work.  She doesn’t understand why, until she drinks from it, and then she has a fight with the man who traded it to her, and he beats her badly for the words she screams at him.  She believes he has traded her a rotten skin, something poisonous and foul.

The skin is fine.  The water is different.  It doesn’t feel the sun on its skin for hours walking to the road.  It doesn’t hear her voice singing as she walks.  It doesn’t lap against the sides of a beautiful stone bowl in the breeze and taste the air of a thousand miles around as it makes the journey from spring to road to throat.

Instead, it is trapped in the waxed hide of a dead animal, bound up in the dark, blind and deaf and dumb.  It is neither the living spirit of the spring nor the soothing medicine of the bowl, and it tastes of darkness and binding.  It is no wonder the traders will pay nothing for it.

With nothing to trade, the woman is starving.  She is alone, she has nothing left to bargain with, no trade left to ply.  So she begins to walk to the city, hoping to find an answer from the king there.  They say he is very wise.

She goes into the very center of the city, and asks an audience to see the king in his temple.  She is told that he is not seeing anyone today, and that she must go away and wait.  But she is starving, and she cannot wait, so she does a thing that is not good at: she lies.

She tells the guards that she had a dream.  She was a water-seller, and that she had a dream that her bowl broke, but that the king could fix it, and the next day her bowl broke.  She tells them she has walked to the city to see the king, to tell him this dream, because she is afraid.  She tells herself that it is mostly true, and that she is only trying to survive.

It is very, very frightening when the guards grab her by both arms and drag her inside, straight into the center of the temple to see the king and his priests.  Except there are no priests.  There is only the king, a man standing in front of his throne, staring at nothing.

The guards push her to her knees before the king, and walk from the room without looking back.  It is not quite a run, but the difference is very fine.

“Are you a dreamer?  I told them I needed another dreamer.”  His voice is a cracked drum, a whispering echo.

“No, lord.  I am not a dreamer.  I only told them I had a dream.  What happened?”

“I killed them.  They dreamed terrible things, and I killed them all, because I could not bear the madness of what is coming.  And now there are no dreams at all.  I do not know if that is better.”  He drops, boneless, to the beautiful stone floor.  It sounds like a bowl breaking.  He begins to sob, ragged and rhythmic, as if it is something he has done so much that it has worn a rut into him.

“I broke my bowl, lord, and now I am starving.”  The sound of him falling has reminded her.

“Good.  Starving is better than what is coming.  Go home.  Stay away from here.  Starve.  It is better than what is coming.”

The guards beat her, partly because she lied, but mostly because they were afraid of what was happening to their king and their world.  She did not make it home before she died.  Many of the people who lived to see what happened to their lands in the years to come wished they had not.

Once upon a time, a woman was walking with a bowl, and broke it.  A king could not bear the voice of his dreamers, and had them silenced.  But remember, O Best Beloved, that stories are music.

In the same land, where there was so much madness and pain that a king ordered a woman to go home and starve rather than see a dream come to pass, there was a voice from a hillside.  It waited, that voice.  It waited for a man named Diego, and it waited almost 500 years, but the blood of every dreamer in the land could not wash it away.

“Have you forgotten?  I am your mother.  You are under my protection.”

 

And now let me remind you, O Best Beloved, that all storytellers are liars.  No voice waits.  All voices want to be heard.  When the altars are broken, when the dreamers are killed, we do not gather at altars, and we do not speak our dreams to kings.  We drink from unlabeled bottles around fires in the wilderness, and we do not wait for the altars to be rebuilt.

We cannot follow the steps of your dance, Lady.  Our hearts tremble at the pattern of your making and unmaking.

Burning Mother, hear our prayer.

We trust in the shadows of your song, knowing its melody is beyond us.  Our days are metered by the clack and hiss of your loom.

Burning Mother, hear our prayer.

Be gentle with us, your children.  Hold us warmly in your hands.  We beg you for light, for shelter, for understanding.

Burning Mother, hear our prayer.

Be kind with us, your acolytes.  Teach us when we err, guide us when we stumble, show us how to follow your world-shaking steps writ small.

Burning Mother, hear our prayer.

Be fierce with us, your disciples.  Bring us order in chaos in order, demand that we burn with you in the dark places, expect no less of us than we expect of ourselves.  Grant us discipline.

Burning Mother, hear our prayer.

To each of us, your children, grant the blessed, burning love we plead for.  We are yours.  We see you, and we ask only to be seen by you.

Burning Mother, hear our prayer.

To love a person is to learn the song that is in their heart, and to sing it to them when they have forgotten.
Arne Garborg

 

Come sit by my fire, and I will sing you a song, so that you can sing it with me while we sit together, and sing it without me, when the time for you to sit by this fire with me is done.

I know a woman whose heart sings a beautiful song.  It is a song made of hope, and dreaming, and not a little sadness and pain.  It is a song made of all the things a complex life is made of, and it is a song that you already know the pattern of, because it is a song not very unlike your own.

It is a little more full of sadness now than it was, because her heart forgot how to sing it.  Not for long.  Just for a little while.  Just for long enough for the part of her that is her to decide it wanted to be somewhere else instead.

I will miss the woman I know.  Most days, I will talk about her in the past tense, because it is easier for everyone that way.  But we know better, you and I.  Because we are singers, and storytellers, and we will not stop singing her song.

We know that even if her heart forgot for a little while, the song doesn’t stop.  We know that some songs do not have a true beginning, or a true ending.  They only have changes, and movements, and patterns.  Music repeats.  It never truly stops.  We never stop singing.

My friend and I will never have coffee again.  We will never have that long catch-up conversation that we’ve been saying we would have for so long.  She will never graduate college, as she was so close to doing.  She will never see England.  She will never be married.  She will never do so many things that were songs of hope and joy and dream in her life.

That is a song of pain for me.  But her song is not over, because we are still singing.  I refuse to stop.  And I am grateful for your voice, raised with mine.

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