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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Song of Creation

The other day I was driving along on a side road and I saw a sign advertising a Jefferson Starship concert. I pulled off to the side of the road and stared at the sign. Then I got my cell phone out and checked, and yes it was still 2015, but some iteration of Jefferson Starship was indeed still performing.

Now, to appreciate the significance of this for me, you have to realize that Jefferson Airplane, the group from which Jefferson Starship evolved, was my most all-time favorite group in the universe. I really wanted to be Grace Slick (their lead singer) when I grew up. Then I realized that in order to be Grace Slick I would need to have self-confidence and be able to sing with full throated exuberance.  Two strikes, so I set that dream aside.

But still, Jefferson Starship still performing in 2015! And then, of course, some of their tunes started to play in my head.  “You are the sound of creation.”  And then I thought, no, it is “you are the soul of creation.” And then I thought “you are the song of creation.” And then I thought, “Oh, just go google it.” So I found the lyrics.  Not sound nor soul nor song, but crown. “You are the crown of creation.” Recorded by Jefferson Airplane 47 years ago in 1968. Sung by yours truly on way too many car trips, with the windows rolled up nice a tight – because if the car windows are rolled up, no one can see you or hear you, right?

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this little trip down memory lane ….

 

“Crown of Creation” Jefferson Airplane 1968

 

You are the crown of creation.

You are the crown of creation,

And you’ve got no place to go.

 

Soon you’ll attain the stability you strive for,

In the only way that it’s granted:

In a place among the fossils of our time.

 

In loyalty to their kind

They cannot tolerate our minds.

In loyalty to our kind

We cannot tolerate their obstruction!

 

Life is change.

How it differs from the rocks.

I’ve seen their ways too often for my liking.

New worlds to gain.

My life is to survive and be alive

for you.

 

You know that being who I am now, I have to ponder the lyrics for a bit – just a little bit. But, think about it. To be the crown of creation – the crown, the summit, the culmination, that is something, yes? And, life is change. Would that we could remember that! Change really is the only constant. We are the crown of creation, an ongoing every changing creation. Nice, yes? But hang on for the ride, because changes are rarely smooth or easy. But, oh my they can be fun and exciting! So, in the spirit of Manny Gordon: Enjoy, Enjoy, Enjoy!!!

Everything possible by Fred Small

 Everything possible

 The other day we were in Provincetown on Cape Cod and Jon Arterton was performing at the Unitarian Church. We had heard him before, and love both his voice and his choice of songs, so in we went. As always, what a wonderful treat!! This night it was Broadway songs with depth and meaning, and a few old favorites thrown in to round things out. Of all of the tunes, this one stayed with me the most. It is the lullaby that we all wanted to hear when we were little ones … (check out the link at the bottom to hear an early version of the song by the Flirtations, an a cappella group Jon sang with in the 1990’s).

This is just one of those songs that nests in my heart, and leaves me with a tear in my eye and a smile on my face.  I hope it brings a bit of joy and hope to you as well.

 Everything Possible by Fred Small

 We have cleared off the table, the leftovers saved,
Washed the dishes and put them away
I have told you a story and tucked you in tight
At the end of your knockabout day
As the moon sets it’s sails to carry you to sleep
Over the midnight sea
I will sing you a song no one sang to me
May it keep you good company.

CHORUS:
You can be anybody you want to be,
You can love whomever you will
You can travel any country where your heart leads
And know I will love you still

You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around,
You can choose one special one
And the only measure of your words and your deeds
Will be the love you leave behind when you’re done.

There are girls who grow up strong and bold
There are boys quiet and kind
Some race on ahead, some follow behind
Some go in their own way and time

Some women love women, some men love men
Some raise children, some never do
You can dream all the day never reaching the end
Of everything possible for you.

Don’t be rattled by names, by taunts, by games
But seek out spirits true
If you give your friends the best part of yourself
They will give the same back to you.

 CHORUS:
You can be anybody you want to be,
You can love whomever you will
You can travel any country where your heart leads
And know I will love you still

Here are the Flirtations performing it on their 1990 album. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VA8DFFNQFA

Give Yourself to Love: a tribute to Kate Wolf

No big story this week, just a short story about a life, maybe an average kind of normal life, but a special life none the less: a tribute. This is a tribute to Kate Wolf. For no particular reason other than I found myself remembering Kate Wolf and thought you might want to know her , celebrate her, remember her too. So, here are some extracted elements of a Kate Wolf Biography, originally written by Max Wolf and Jamie Keller in the Kate Wolf Songbook (© 1987 Owl Productions) … go check her out! http://www.katewolf.com/archive/biography/index.htm

Kate Wolf was in San Francisco on January 27, 1942. She died far too early at the age of 44 on December 10, 1986 from complications of leukemia.  She was strongly influenced by the music that wove its way through her life. She loved the Weavers, Rosemary Clooney, and Dylan and the Beatles, the Kingston Trio, Merle Haggard and Lefty Frizell, and Hank Williams.

To say that she was an American folk singer and songwriter is just to skim the surface of her life, but those were important contributions that she made to her world, contributions that continue their resonance in our world. Many musicians continue to cover her songs. Some of her best-known compositions include “Here in California,” “Love Still Remains,” “Across the Great Divide,” “Unfinished Life,” and “Give Yourself to Love.” Her songs have since been recorded by artists such as Nanci Griffith and Emmylou Harris

Kate once said: “I live for a sense of a feeling of purposefulness in this world, you know, that I could stop my life at any point and feel that my life has been worthwhile; that the people I’ve loved and my children have all reached a point where their lives are now going to come to fruit. And as far as something I live by, it’s to try to be as alive as possible and feel free to make my mistakes and try to be as honest as I can with myself.”

Give yourself to love is my favorite Kate Wolf song:

 

Give Yourself to Love – Kate Wolf

 

Kind friends all gathered ’round, there’s something I would say

What brings us together here has blessed us all today

Love has made a circle, that holds us all inside

When strangers are as family, Loneliness can’t hide

chorus:

You must give yourself to love if love is what you’re after

Open up your hearts, to the tears and laughter

And give yourself to love, give yourself to love

 

I’ve walked these mountains in the rain I’ve learned to love the wind

I’ve been up before the sunrise to watch the day begin

I always knew I’d find you though I never did know how

Like sunshine on a cloudy day you stand before me now.

 

Love is born in fire; It’s planted like a seed

Love can’t give you everything, but it gives you what you need

Love comes when you are ready; love comes when you’re afraid

It will be your greatest teacher, the best friend you have made

 

Thinking about Kate always reminds me that 1) we never know how long we have; 2) we can always do something with the time we have; 3) to give myself to love, to open my heart, that love is really, ultimately all there is.

 Give yourself to love! Enjoy the alchemy of laughter and tears that will ensue. Love will find a way to respect for dignity and fairness. Love is the way. Give yourself to love!

From Paul McCartney on Writing “Let it Be”

I’ve always resonated with Paul McCartney’s song, “Let it be,” probably because of the “Mother Mary” lines in the song. It has a nice soothing feel to it, even while it acknowledges the frustrations of life and work for a better world, even while it encourages us to press on.  So, one day in a moment of aimlessness I did a bit of searching to find the story behind the story.  Here’s what Paul McCartney seems to have to say about writing “Let it be”

McCartney says that he was going through a really difficult time around the autumn of 1968. It was late in the Beatles’ career and they had begun making a new album, a follow-up to the “White Album.” As a group they were starting to have problems. McCartney thought he was sensing that the Beatles were breaking up, so he was staying up late at night, drinking, doing drugs, clubbing, the way a lot of people were at the time. He was really living and playing hard.

The other Beatles were all living out in the country with their partners, but he was still a bachelor in London with his own house in St. John’s Wood. At the back of his mind he says that he was also thinking  that maybe it was about time he found someone. This was before he got together with Linda.

McCartney says that he was exhausted! Then one night, somewhere between deep sleep and insomnia, he had the most comforting dream about his mother, who died when he was only 14. McCartney described his mother, saying, “She had been a nurse, my mum, and very hardworking, because she wanted the best for us. We weren’t a well-off family- we didn’t have a car, we just about had a television – so both of my parents went out to work, and Mum contributed a good half to the family income. At night when she came home, she would cook, so we didn’t have a lot of time with each other. But she was just a very comforting presence in my life. And when she died, one of the difficulties I had, as the years went by, was that I couldn’t recall her face so easily. That’s how it is for everyone, I think. As each day goes by, you just can’t bring their face into your mind, you have to use photographs and reminders like that.”

So in this dream twelve years later, his mother appeared, and there was her face, completely clear, particularly her eyes, and she said to him very gently, very reassuringly: “Let it be.”

He said it was a lovely dream. He woke up with a great feeling. It was really like she had visited him at this very difficult point in his life and gave him this message: “Be gentle, don’t fight things, just try and go with the flow and it will all work out.”

So, being a musician, he went right over to the piano and started writing a song: “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me”… Mary was his mother’s name… “Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.” There will be an answer, let it be.” It didn’t take him a long time to write it. He wrote the main body of it in one go, and then the subsequent verses developed from there: “When all the broken-hearted people living in the world agree, there will be an answer, let it be.”

McCartney thought it was special, so he played it for the other Beatles and ’round a lot of people, and later it also became the title of the album, because it had so much value to him, and because it just seemed definitive, those three little syllables. Plus, when something happens like that, as if by magic, it has a resonance that other people notice too.

Not very long after the dream, McCartney got together with Linda, which he says was the saving of him. And it was as if his mum had sent her, you could say.

The song is also one of the first things Linda and Paul ever did together musically. They went over to Abbey Road Studios one day, where the recording sessions were in place. He lived nearby and often used to just drop in when he knew an engineer would be there and do little bits on his own. And he just thought, “Oh it would be good to try harmony in mind, and although Linda wasn’t a professional singer, I’d heard her sing around the house, and knew she could hold a note and sing that high.”

So she tried it, and it worked and it stayed on the record. You can hear it to this day.

These days, the song has become almost like a hymn. McCartney sang it at Linda’s memorial service. And after September 11 the radio played it a lot, which made it the obvious choice for him to sing when I did the benefit concert in New York City. Even before September 11th, people used to lean out of cars and trucks and say, “Yo, Paul, let it be.”

So those words are really very special to him, because not only did his mum come to him in a dream and reassure him with them at a very difficult time in my life – and sure enough, things did get better after that – but also, in putting them into a song, and recording it with the Beatles, it became a comforting, healing statement for other people too.

 From Paul McCartney

Parable of the Guitar Strings

Back in Hunterdon County, Murina is finishing up middle school and about to enter adolescence where things are not always as simple as life used to be as a child of innocence among the rolling hills of Hunterdon. It feels to her more and more that things are not as they seem. Too often she just does not quite seem to understand – not anything, not her friends, not her self, especially not her mother who had just gotten too weird for words almost overnight. Ugh. Life was tying her up in knots, she felt wound up and stretched tighter than a drum.

And now her mother wanted her to take music lessons! Guitar of all things! How incredibly 1960’s! How just like her mother! The woman who thought reading tea leaves meant reading the tags on the teabags! The woman who would only buy tea bags with tags that had quotes or sayings on them! The woman who collected teabag tags! Other kids had mothers who put their drawings or pictures or best papers on the refrigerator door. Murina’s had a mother who covered their refrigerator with tea bag tags: Bliss is a constant state of mind, undisturbed by gain or loss; practice kindness, compassion and caring; by listening you comfort another person. Ugh. Why couldn’t someone listen and comfort her? Why couldn’t someone really hear her? Murina thought she was going to explode!

And now her mother wanted her to take music lessons! What was the point?

But Mama was wearing her down, so Murina finally agreed. She dug Grandma’s guitar out of the storage closet, dusted it off, and set off for her first guitar lesson. At least the guitar teacher was cute and kind of an interesting guy. If nothing else, for 45 minute every week she would be away from her mother and could enjoy a bit of eye candy and dream.

Mayer was alright. He took his guitar seriously, but he took himself lightly. The first week she knocked on his door for her lesson, he just shouted out: “if this house is rockin’, don’t bother knockin’” and he laughed. “come on in. let’s make some music.” He wasn’t half bad, all in all.

But today Murina was just not in the mood. She just was wound too tight. She couldn’t settle in.

Mayer looked at her, looked at her guitar, sighed, smiled and said, “OK. Let’s get at some basics – tuning the guitar.”

“Mayer, I’ve got a guitar tuner, see? I just clip it on the headstock of my guitar here and it shows me if I’m out of tune.”

“Murina, that’s all fine as wine, but you also gotta know. Some things you gotta know here” and he patted his heart.

Murina could tell she was not liking where this was going, but she was still too polite to do much more than roll her eyes. So she sat and listend.

“Ok” Mayer went on. So, he took his own guitar played with the machine heads and then strummed the strings. “How’s it sound to you?”

“Pretty awful. It’s all screachey” Murina winced. Mayer could always make his guitar sing. What was he up to?

“Hmm.” He said as he fiddled with the machine heads and the strings again. “How about this?”

“Ugh” Murina muttered before she could edit herself. “Now it sounds all flabby.”

Mayer smiled. “So, check it out, Murina. A guitar is not going to sing with you if you tighten the strings too much. And it won’t give you any good vibrations if you loosen the strings too much either.  You and your guitar. Its all about tuning. Neither of you wants to be wound too tight or you will snap. Too loose and the vibrations aren’t right, you can’t resonate the harmonics. Tuning isn’t about seeing the green light on the tuner, it’s about feeling the harmonics in your heart. Not too tight, not too loose. And when you have it all in balance, if you just touch the string here, and strum ever so lightly, you can hear the voices of angels in the bells tones of the strings.”

“Murina, all change is tricky. Its white water – you gotta learn where the big boulders are and figure how to paddle around them.”

“You are your guitar, my little grasshopper of a student. As you walk around in the world, in the new world that you are growing into, if you are too demanding of yourself and others, you will snap like an E string on Charlie Daniels fiddle. If you sink too deeply into the land of ‘whatever’ you will too loose to find your vibe or to ride a harmonic. Strings, guitars, music, life. It’s about being in tune.”

Murina looked at Mayer, thought about what he said, “But it’s hard to stay in tune when the weather is changing. Sometimes it’s cold, sometimes it’s so humid. The strings keep getting tighter and stretching and I’m not doing nothing.”

Mayer smiled. He knew they were not talking about guitars anymore. “I know little darling. I know. You just gotten keep tunin’ in and  listening to the music of your heart. Go slow enough to listen, fast enough to strum and keep tunin’.”

It’s kind of like the Taoist practice of the Way. If you are too hard-working in your practice, you will strain your mind and become too tense. However if you relax your mind too much, then you will be overwhelmed by laziness. You must strike a balance in your practice of the Way, you must strike a balance in your life. (From Treasures of the Heart, by Daisaku Ikeda) 

Work for social justice and human rights can be – it IS daunting. As we engage in that work, we too need to strike a balance, to find a way to keep in tune.

Keeping the R in Celebrate

When we last looked in on the good Sisters of Mary Magdalene they had just returned to their Cloister after the tempestuous winds of Storm Sandy.

Sandy left the grounds of the cloister were badly battered. Trees had been uprooted and tossed about wildly and wantonly. Tree limbs crashed through windows, and other windows were blow out. The wind and the rain wreaked havoc in the rooms where the windows were broken through.  Outer building were lifted off their foundations and tossed about like so much jetsam and flotsam. The cloisters buildings and grounds were a sad sight to sore eyes for even the most awakened of hearts.

And the good Sisters returned to this, took up their cloths, tools and prayers and began the work of cleaning and restoring their home the cloister to its pristine ascetic aesthetic.  Mother Magdalene organized the Sisters into work teams with rotating captains for each team, following the best in feminist team building principles.

Sister Bryda continued to walk the property looking for artifacts that might have been blown about by the winds, up righting statuary where she could, marking project that needed more heft, flagging areas that were safety hazards.

Sister Visentia moved through the buildings and gathered the  damaged and broken setting it to be repaired by the sisters during the coming cold months.

Sister Septimus collected the damaged documents from the archives, immediately setting to clean and repair them before the dirt and mud could mar them beyond restoration.  Sister Septimus took to her task with a care, persistence and gentleness that even she had never known in herself. She found a deep and abiding sense of peace as she caressed and cleans the ancient documents that found their home in the cloisters library. Ah, the library and its once beautiful stained glass windows.  The windows were now gone, and all that was stained in the library were the books and the papers. And Sister Septimus worked on, collecting, sorting and cleaning.

For days and weeks Sister Septimus worked methodically and meticulously at cleaning and restoring book after book, document after document. And in the evenings during refectory, she asked Mother Magdalene for permission to read “People of the Book” by Geraldine Brooks. Mother Magdalene thought this an odd choice, but Sister Septimus rarely sought to read lay literature. So, Mother Magdalene granted her request, but inquired gently of Sister Septimus about her interest in the book. The right side of Sister Septimus mouth turned ever so slightly in the direction of a smile, and Septimus allowed as how she feels an empathy with Hannah Heath, the book conservator who is the central character in the book. “reading about her dogged determination there, somehow just  helps me to keep going here. I know its fiction, but it just nurtures my heart and my work” said Sister Septimus. And Mother Magdalene smiled and nodded, “indeed” was all she said in return.

And the work continued. One day weeks into the repair and restoration, Mother Magdalene heard Sister Septimus weeping. She went to her at once, and found her holding the original charter of the cloister, written in the hand of their founding collective, signed by the first Mother Magdalene, and subsequently copied in the hand of each of the following Mothers. Sister Septimus silently pointed to the line in the rules of community life, the line that called on the sisters to lead their lives as ‘celibate’ women.  “Oh, mother, what have we done to each other!” she wept.

Mother Magdalene, looked at Sister Septimus with confusion and then began to weep herself as she read the original document herself – for the first time. It was the practice of each new Mother Magdalene to read and recopy the document from the hand of her predecessor; the prior documents were archived and stored for perpetual safe keeping. As Sister Septimus and Mother Magdalene stood weeping and holding the original charter document both of them saw that one of the successor Mother Magdalene’s had miswritten — she left out the ‘r’ and wrote celibate; but the original rule of community life did not challenge the sisters to live their lives as ‘celibate’ women, rather it called on them to CELEBRATE.

Mother Magdalene and Sister Septimus looked each other deeply in the eye, and with their full open hearts they determined and pledged that from this day forward as it was in the beginning, the Cloister of the Sisters of Mary Magdalene would be women who celebrate.

And what does all of this have to do with justice and respect for the dignity of all beings? Only that we are called to openly accept all – to accept everyone (including our selves) – fully into our hearts just as they are, just as we are. It is not the distance of celibacy that marks the path to holiness. It is the open hearted loving embrace of celebration that leads to wholeness, and through celebration of the wholeness of each of us, of all of us, we will walk the path to respect for our dignity and to lives of fairness and justice. So (along with Three Dog Night — the band named for those nights SO cold you needed three dogs in bed with you to keep warm 😉 along with Three Dog Night let your heart and soul sing) … celebrate, celebrate! Dance to the music — of love and life!