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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Two frogs but no spilt milk

Once upon a time there were two frogs. These frogs were the best of friends, and went nowhere without each other. Well, one day the frogs found themselves in a dairy barn. They were exploring around, hopping here and there, and just checking things out when the cows began to wander back into the barn. Well, the frogs had never seen animals quite that large, and they were in fear for their lives, afraid that the cows would accidentally step on one or both of them.

This is the story of two frogs. One frog was fat and the other skinny. One day, while searching for food, they inadvertently jumped into a vat of milk. They couldn’t get out, as the sides were too slippery, so they were just swimming around. Without thinking or looking, they two of them jumped into a huge vat of milk to get out of the way. They swam around in the vat for a while, and then things with the cows quieted down, so the frogs decided it was time to get out of the vat and head home. So they began to try to leap out of the vat. But it was too deep. They could not reach the bottom to gain any leverage for leaping. And the sides of the vat were too slippery from the milk fat, and they could not gain any traction to push off a side.

One frog looked at the other and said, “Bud, there is no use paddling any longer. We are just going to drown here in this milk. We might just as well save our energy and give up.”

But the other frog was wiser, and said, “Hang on Bud, keep paddling. Someone may come along and get us out.” And the two frogs kept paddling for hours and hours. But no one came into the barn. By then it was dark. And the first frog said, “Bud, it is no use, no one is coming. I’m exhausted. We are doomed. There is no way out.”

And the wiser frog said, “Just keep paddling. Something will happen, just keep trying.” And a few more hours went by. But still nothing.

The first frog said, “Bud, I can’t go on. You know what they call it when you keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? That, my friend is insanity.” And with that the first frog gave up and he drowned in the milk.

But Bud kept paddling. And a few minutes later he felt something solid under his feet. He had churned the milk into butter. Standing on that, he leapt out of the vat.

And the moral of the story? What do you think? Was Bud wiser?

With thanks to Roger Darling (www.rogerdarlington.me.uk) for the heart of the story.

 

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.

Thinking about Great Expectations

What can you expect from a fellow whose school career ended after a mere three months and ended with his teacher describing him as addled? What, really can you expect from a fellow who was home schooled by his mother with much of his reading focused on two books? Really, what can you expect from a fellow who moved from job to job, only to be fired from each?

Imagine someone so pig headed that he would get an idea in his head, and when the idea did not come to fruition after one thousand experimental attempts, the fellow just tried another thousand or two thousand or even three thousand times more!

I suspect that today we would label this addled fellow with attention deficit disorder and/or maybe obsessive compulsive disorder. Certainly the guy had some kind of dis-order.

And, truth be told, this fellow has indeed been labeled by many – this fellow Thomas Alva Edison, is the guy the world calls ‘the wizard of Menlo Park.’ He was probalby one of the greatest inventors our world has ever known. Over the course of his life, Thomas Alva Edison registered 1,093 patents. His inventions include the phonograph, the electric generator, fuel cell technology, a kinetographic camera making motion pictures possible, the alkaline battery, improved cement production, improvements on the telephone, and improvements on the electric light bulb to make it practical, Many of Edison’s inventions were improvements on earlier inventions that were interesting but not practical. Thomas Edison frequently said “I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.”

When Edison was asked about the many thousands of failed experiments in his laboratories, he is quoted as saying, “We have not failed, we have discovered many ways not to make whatever is the focus of our experiment.” Through his persistence through his many failures, which he understood as steps in the path to success, Thomas Edison worked his way up from being an impoverished, uneducated railroad worker to one of the most famous and financially successful men. In his lifetime, Edison became a working man’s folk hero. As history looks back on his contributions, Edison is credited with building the framework for modern technology and society in the age of electricity.

Yes, Edison held over a thousand patents, and produced many commercially successful inventions. And all of that was built on the foundation of thousands and thousands of failures. One of the keys to it all was his confident vision that success was on the horizon and he and his team were working their way along the path toward their goal. As one of my teachers once said to me, “You have not failed so much as you have begun to succeed.”

Be clear on your vision. Be true to your dream. Know that the road toward your goal is likely to be a long and winding road. Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. Do your best. Learn each day. Treasure your frustrations as signposts for new areas to learning and growth. Edison brought us a framework for technology and electricity. We can be the vanguard ushering in a future of justice and human rights.