Armadillo’s Song A Bolivian Legend

As retold by S.E. Schlosser

There once lived an armadillo who loved music more than anything else in the world. After every rainfall, the armadillo would drag his shell over to the large pond filled with frogs and he would listen to the big green frogs singing back and forth, back and forth to each other in the most amazing voices.

“Oh,” thought the armadillo, “Oh how I wish I could sing.”

The armadillo would creep to the edge of the water and watch the frogs leaping and swimming in a frantic green ballet, and they would call back and forth, back and forth in beautiful, musical tones. He loved to listen to the music they made as they spoke, though he didn’t understand their words; which was just as well – for the frogs were laughing at this funny animal that wanted so badly to sing like a frog.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” sang the frogs as they played. “Armadillos can’t sing.”

Then one day a family of crickets moved into a new house near the armadillo, and he was amazed to hear them chirp and sing as merrily as the frogs. He would creep next to their house and listen and listen all day, all night for their musical sounds.

“Oh,” sighed the armadillo, “Oh how I wish I could sing.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” sang the crickets in their dulcet tones. “Armadillos can’t sing.”

But the armadillo could not understand their language, and so he just sighed with longing and listened to their beautiful voices laughing at him.

Then one day a man came down the road carrying a cage full of canaries. They were chirping and flittering and singing songs that were more beautiful even than those of the crickets and the frogs. The armadillo was entranced. He followed the man with the cage down the road as fast as his little legs would carry him, listening to the canaries singing.

“Oh,” gasped the armadillo, “Oh how I wish I could sing.”

Inside the cage, the canaries twittered and giggled.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” sang the canaries as they flapped about. “Armadillos can’t sing.”

The poor tired armadillo couldn’t keep up with the man and the cage, and finally he fell exhausted at the door of the great wizard who lived in the area. Realizing where he was, the armadillo decided to beg a boon of the man.

Timidly, the armadillo approached the wizard, who was sitting in front of his house and said: “Great wizard, it is my deepest desire to learn to sing like the frogs and the crickets and the canaries.”

The wizard’s lips twitched a little in amusement, for who had ever heard of an armadillo that could sing. But he realized that the little animal was serious. He bent low to the ground and looked the creature in the eye.

“I can make you sing, little armadillo,” he said. “But you do not want to pay the price, for it will mean your death.”

“You mean if I die I will be able to sing?” asked the armadillo in amazement.

“Yes, this is so,” said the wizard.

“Then I want to die right now!” said the armadillo. “I would do anything to be able to sing!”

The wizard and the armadillo discussed the matter for many hours, for the wizard was reluctant to take the life of such a fine armadillo. But the creature insisted, and so the wizard finally killed the armadillo, made a wonderful musical instrument from his shell, and gave it to the finest musician in the town to play.

Sometimes the musician would play his instrument by the pond where the frogs lived, and they would stare at him with big eyes and say: “Ai! Ai! The armadillo has learned to sing.”

Sometimes the musician would play his instrument by the house where the crickets lived, and they would creep outside to stare at him with big eyes and say: “Ai! Ai! The armadillo has learned to sing.”

And often the musician would visit the home of his friend who owned the cage full of canaries – who was also a musician – and the two men would play their instruments together while the little birds watched with fluttering wings and twittered in amazement: “Ai! Ai! The armadillo has learned to sing.”

And so it was. The armadillo had learned to sing at last, and his voice was the finest in the land. But like the very best musicians in the world, the armadillo sacrificed his Life for his Art.

 

I kind of like this story because it reminds me about the power and the cost of dedication to one’s life passion – literally, it costs your life. but then, what is life without passion and commitment?

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Something From Nothing

There is a wonderful story that is variously called something from nothing, or sometimes Sara’s coat. I’ve tweaked it a bit here and inserted Sophie, but the basic storyline remains faithful to a telling I found from Colin Gibson. At its core, this is a Yiddish story of transformations, of hope, of faith and of actions.

When Sara was a baby, her grandmother (who was a tailor) made her a wonderful coat to keep her warm and dry.

But as Sara grew older the wonderful coat grew older too.

One day her mother said to her, ‘Sara, look at your coat. It’s frazzled and it’s worn and it’s unsightly and it’s torn. It is time to throw it away.’

‘Grandma can fix it’, Sara said.

So Sara’s grandmother took the little coat and turned it round and round. ‘Hmmm,’ she said as her scissors went snip snap and her needle flew in and out,’ there’s just enough material to make a wonderful jacket. Sara put on the wonderful jacket and went outside to play.

But as Sara grew older the wonderful jacket grew older too.

One day her mother said to her, ‘Sara, look at your jacket. It’s shrunken and small, doesn’t fit you at all. It is time to throw it out.’

‘Grandma can fix it’, Sara said.

Sara’s grandmother took the jacket and turned it round and round. ‘Hmmm,’ she said as her scissors went snip snap and her needle flew in and out,’ there’s just enough material to make a wonderful vest. Sara put on the wonderful vest and wore it to school the very next day. She was so proud of it she wore it all the time.

But as Sara grew older the wonderful vest grew older too.

One day her mother said to her, ‘Sara, look at your vest. It’s spotted with glue and there’s paint on it too. It is time to throw it out.’

‘Grandma can fix it’, Sara said.

So Sara’s grandmother took the vest and turned it round and round. ‘Hmmm,’ she said as her scissors went snip snap and her needle flew in and out,’ there’s just enough material to make a wonderful tie. Sara wore the wonderful tie to her grandparents’ house every Friday.

But as Sara grew older the wonderful tie grew older too.

One day her mother said to her, ‘Sara, look at your tie. This big stain of soup makes the end of it droop. It is time to throw it out.’

‘Grandma can fix it’, Sara said.

Sara’s grandmother took the tie and turned it round and round. ‘Hmmm,’ she said as her scissors went snip snap and her needle flew in and out,’ there’s just enough material to make a wonderful button. Sara wore the wonderful button on her sweater to hold her to keep it close around her.

One day her mother said to hedr, ‘Sara, where is your button?’

Sara looked. It was gone.

She searched everywhere but she could not find it. Sara ran to her grandmother’s house. ‘My button, my wonderful button is lost!’ she cried. Her mother ran after her. ‘Sara, listen to me. The button is gone, finished, kaput. Even your grandmother cannot make something from nothing!’

Sara’s grandmother shook her head sadly. ‘I’m afraid that your mother is right,’ she said.

But the next day Sara went to school. ‘Hmm,’ she said as her pen went scritch scratch, scritch, scratch over the paper. There’s just enough material here to make a wonderful story.’

Colin Gibson reminds us that this is folktale which has inscribed on it the experience of a whole people, which acknowledges some of the difficulties of existence, and comes up with a gesture of hope and belief in the future. In a special way it offers a transformation or rather a series of transformations; it also suggests that we may yet bring life out of death.

Gibson point out that the world in which Sara lives is one of desperate poverty, in which any material goods must be made to last as long as possible. The world of Sara’s family overshadowed by two great evils all human beings experience in life: the inevitable losses brought about by the passage of time (coats are worn out, ties are stained with soup) and unfortunate accident (buttons are lost). They are evils most of us know from personal experience. The voice of Sara’s mother steadily acknowledges these sad truths: ‘it is time to throw it out, to throw it away. The button is gone, finished, kaput. Even your grandmother cannot make something from nothing!’ it is the voice of stoic realism. But the world of Sara is lightened by two great human values: the first is the power of loving social relationships (the girl’s love for and trust in her grandmother—’Grandma can fix it’— and the grandmother’s loving imagination, courage and creativity, forever winning something out of nothing. This is the voice of the tailor-grandmother, whose scissors went snip snap while her needle flew in and out. Through the imaginative experience of the story, there rings out the old human challenge to a hostile universe; the ancient Jewish belief in the race’s survival against all odds. The child has learned the wisdom of her grandmother; there is a trick left yet; the lost piece of cloth will be transformed in a story that goes on being sung to this day.

And I would ask you all to consider, where is social justice in this story? Where are human rights? Look between the lines my friends. They are woven in the fabric. They are the very something that we can all resuscitate, that we all must resuscitate, even from nothing with our own imagination, courage, creativity and persistence, forever claiming the precious dignity of each and every human being even from the seeming nothingness of unending daily degradations. We must each of us stand fast and be the tailors of each other’s respect and dignity.

On Becoming Real

Children’s playrooms can be fun filled places. They can also be fearsome rooms. They are often filled with elements of joy and delight, but they can also be places where monsters lurk and anxieties burble. In the world of Margery Williams, in her book the Velveteen Rabbit, on this day, the playroom is a place of sadness because The Girl is terribly ill and has not been allowed out of bed and into the playroom in a very, very long time. Here is a section from the book where we listen in on a conversation among the toys as they discuss becoming real.

 The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it. “What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?” “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” “Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit. “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.” “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?” “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” “I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.                    “The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.” The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.

 

 

And of course we all want to be real. How can we respect the dignity of others if we cannot respect our own dignity? And how can we respect our own dignity if we are not Real? Yet, like the Rabbit, we want to become real without all those painful things happening to us. But becoming real, to others and to ourselves, well it seems to me that that’s just what a life well lived is all about, and getting our sharp edges worn smooth, and having our hair loved off, and becoming a bit shabby, well that’s part of the process too.

So, listen, the rest of the book is quite wonderful, and finishes the story of the Rabbit becoming Real. Go have a read …  You can find the full text of the book at Project Guttenberg, http://archive.org/stream/thevelveteenrabb11757gut/11757.txt wherethe eBook is reproduced courtesy of the Celebration of Women Writers, online at http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/.

Advice to Myself by Louise Erdrich

I love poetry.  It is a great reminder to me to just pause a moment, take a deep breath, and appreciate who I am and where I am and what might be.  So, here’s a wonderful poem by Louise Erdrich ….

“Advice to Myself” by Louise Erdrich, from Original Fire: Selected and New Poems. © Harper Collins Publishers, 2003.

Advice to Myself

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll’s tiny shoes in pairs, don’t worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don’t even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don’t sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don’t answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don’t read it, don’t read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

You can find this online at the Writers Almanac at http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2007/05/29

It is also reprinted in Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues.

Hope it nurtures your soul the way is does mine.

A Fable about Salt and Love

 

Once upon a time there was a land that was ruled by man who was both king and father. The king had three daughters and loved them each in turn. As he watched them moving through his castle and court yards, the king noticed that while he love each of his daughters, he loved each of his daughters somewhat differently. He began to wonder about this odd quality of love. Being a king as well as a father, the king had also recently begun to wonder about which of his daughters he would entrust with his kingdom. And so one day he summoned the three young women to him, and he asked each of them how they loved him.  

 

 “My dearest king and father,” replied Elizabeth Barrett, the oldest daughter, “I love you to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach, I love you more than words can express.”  The king and father was filled with joy and was very pleased when he heard these words from his eldest daughter.

 

Bonny Anne, the middle daughter said, “I love you like the sun that gives us light and warmth and life. I love you more than my heart can hold.”  And now too the king and father was filled with joy and was very pleased when he heard these words from his Bonny Anne.  Then he turned to Salannia, his youngest daughter and asked her to tell him how much she loved him.

 

“Dear father, my king,” she answered, “I love you as much as salt . . .”

 

Before Salannia could continue the king, overcome with disappointment and dismay, interrupted her and shouted, “As salt! You say you love me like salt! The most common and simple spice in my kingdom! If only you might have said saffron, which is rare and precious, or honey, which is sweet, I would have been pleased! But salt! That is the same thing as saying that you do not love me at all!”

 

In his anger the king had Salannia ushered out the door and he banned her from ever appearing before him again. The king then proclaimed Elizabeth Barrett, his eldest daughter, would be heir to the throne.  When Bonny Anne, the middle daughter, learned of this, she was outraged that her father neglected to establish a role of power for her within the kingdom, and she set out to sea and became a pirate queen of the oceans.

 

And Salannia, the youngest daughter, left the kingdom in sadness. She walked for days and days, and eventually she came to another castle where she secured a job in the kitchen.  In a short time Salannia’s skill became known throughout the castle. Her reputation as a chef was recognized by the servants and by the Lord of the castle himself, and soon she became the head chef. 

 

And life went on in the kingdom with each of the daughters taking up her new life responsibilities and becoming ever more sure of herself in the world. After a time the Lord’s of the castle where Salannia was head chef announced that son was to be married. All the Lords and Ladies from the neighboring lands were invited to the feast, and of course Salannia’s father was to be among the guests. Salannia and her staff worked for days to prepare the feast. As they cooked, Salannia saw to it that only she prepared the foods that were to be served to her father – and she ensured that not a touch, not a hint, not one grain of salt came near the food that her father was to eat.

 

Course after course of sumptuous foods were served to the guests. All of the guests praised the excellence of the food, one after another proclaiming that they had never tasted food as delicious as that which they enjoyed that evening. All the guests, that is, except Salannia’s father. He alone could hardly swallow a bite of the food, while the food was beautiful to look at, it was very nearly inedible. When he heard the other guests reveling in the brilliance of the dishes, he could contain himself no longer and demanded to speak to the cook. “What have you done to my food? It looks wonderful, but it has no flavor or taste? I cannot even bear to swallow it.!

 

“My dearest king and father,” Salannia replied, “You exiled me from your home when I told you that I loved you as much as salt. And so today you have no salt in your food. Just as the food at this feast is dull and pointless without salt, so too my life is dull and meaningless without you.”

 

As he heard these words from his daughter, the king relented and repented. He begged his daughter to forgive him, and he welcomed her back home, where he established her as co-queen with his eldest daughter. And together they ruled happily ever after.

 

 

 

And what does all of this have to do with justice? If justice is fairness – and it may well be much more than that, but it is at least that – then fairness and respect require listening carefully to each other. Fairness and respect require hearing the full meaning of what each person means to say, and then pausing long enough to understand the meaning of what each person is saying from within their own context. At least that if we will be worth our own salt, if we mean to be the salt of the earth, otherwise we will just be rubbing salt in each other’s wounds 😉

 

Forest Gump, Saint Peter, Authenticity and Truth

Life and death are grave matters, but that does not mean that we should necessarily always and everywhere take them or ourselves too serious. And yet, all things quickly pass away, even our most beloved Forest Gump. And so it came to be that gentle Forest Gump, with box of chocolates and small suitcase in hand, following a drifting feather found himself at the Pearly Gates. And there, larger than life was Saint Peter waiting to greet him.

The gates behind Saint Peter were closed, but Peter warmly greeted Forest, “Welcome, Forest! It is good to see you. We’ve heard a lot about you, and have enjoyed following your adventures. But, I need to let you know that there have been some new administrative changes here, and we are now requiring everyone to pass an entrance exam before they can pass through the Pearly Gates. The test is short, but you have to pass it before you can get into heaven.

Forrest smiled offered Saint Peter a chocolate from his box, and said, “Well, Saint Peter, I am indeed happy to be here. I didn’t know nothin’ about an entrance exam. I certainly do hope it is not too hard. Life was kinda hard as it was, a good bit of a test right there is you ask me.”

Saint Peter thoughtfully chose a chocolate, bit into it, savored the flavor, and continued, “Forrest, thank you very much for the chocolate. We don’t get much of that here. It is a most pleasurable treat. And the test is a short one, only three questions. The first question is, what two days of the week begin with the letter T?”

Forrest sad down on his suitcase, thought for a moment, and then responded, “Why sir, I do believe that I know the answer to that one, it is Today and Tomorrow.”

Saint Peter chewed on his lower lip to hold back a smile, thought about it, started to say something, thought for a second more, and then said, “Well, Forest, you are not wrong. So, then you must be right. Good for you. And now the second question, how many seconds are there in a year?”

Forrest was a bit taken aback at this question. He furrowed his brow, sat deep in thought for a bit and then smiled and said, “Ah, Saint Peter, there are twelve seconds, of that I am certain.”

Saint Peter’s eyes fluttered, he involuntarily took half a step back, and asked, “Forest, how in Heaven did you come up with twelve seconds to fill a whole year?”

Forrest said, “Well, when you first asked me the question I was kind of scared by it ‘cause I’m not that good with numbers but then it just sort of came to me, there is January second, February second, March second, April second.”

Saint Peter interrupted Forrest and said, “OK, Forrest, I see where you are going. That is not quite what I had in mind. But your explanation is cogent and coherent, and so I will count that answer as correct also. Now, Forrest the third question is the most difficult, and the most important. So please take your time and think about it carefully before you answer.”

Forrest assured Saint Peter that he would indeed be thoughtful in his response. He suggested that maybe they should both have a chocolate to prepare themselves. Saint Peter gladly agreed, and when they each finished savoring the sweet, Saint Peter asked Forrest, “What is God’s first name?”

Forrest leapt up off his suitcase, set his box of chocolates on top of it, hugged Saint Peter, and said, “Well Saint Peter, that’s the easiest of all your questions! God’s first name is sure enough ‘Andy’ I just know it.”

Saint Peter looked ashen and positively startled, even as a half smile peeked out under his beard. “Forrest, how do you know that God’s first name is Andy?”

Forrest replied, “Well, Saint Peter that just is no secret at all. Every Sunday in Sunday school when I was young and now often enough on a Sunday in church we all sing the song with God’s name:

Andy walks with me,
Andy talks with me,
Andy tells me I’m his own.”

And Saint Peter threw open the Pearly Gates and said, “Run, Forest, run. Welcome home!”

 

A dear friend shared this story with me the other day. Her pastor used it as part of his sermon to highlight the importance and value of being true to ourselves – authenticity. And indeed, if we will build a world where justice prevails and human dignity is respected, then we first need to know and respect ourselves. We need to be comfortable enough with ourselves to simply be ourselves where ever we are, who ever we are with. I do believe that reciprocal warmth, authenticity and genuineness are core elements of respectful relationships.

And, as I thought about the story, I found myself peeling back another layer as well – a truthfulness layer. I found myself thinking about epistemology – how do we know what is true, what is truthful, what is an accurate representation of what we believe to be reality? Clearly Saint Peter knew the answers he was expecting to the three questions he posed. And, yet, he was open to recognizing the veracity of Forrest Gump’s responses within the context that Forrest presented. And for me that is the heart of the story – the delightful caution to take care to wonder at the world through which we wander; to never to too absolutely sure that we know the one and only truth. Let us all wander through this wonderful world with open and generous hearts, minds and hands.