It Begins With A Story

This week I have been “downsizing” — deciding which books need to leave my shelves and go out into the world where they can do more good. It has turned out to be a lot easier to let go & a lot more difficult to find recipients than I’d thought. Many libraries are no longer taking donations (even of excellent & like-new books that should be on their shelves) & the various “book fairs” at churches & synagogues seem to have gone out of existence with the pandemic. I’d hoped to celebrate this liberation of knowledge and inspiration — imagining the books flying off to new minds & hearts — but most of the books are just going to our rather dreary local used book store or to Goodwill — with hopes that each book will somehow find the person who needs it. I’ve got 17 or 18 excellent books on Andean textiles, arts, and history. Several are about techniques for us to learn but most tend to be on the “academic” side with loads of glorious color photos. They are wonderful! I thought I’d found the perfect recipient but have heard nothing back yet so if anyone is interested in exploring the amazing ancient Andean arts more deeply, please let me know.

I comfort myself by remembering a particular time when I passed a bookshop in Harvard Square (knowing it didn’t carry the kind of book I was seeking that day) and turned around, entered it, picked a random book off the display table & opened it to a poem that changed my life. And I remember Matt Fox’s stories of books inexplicably tumbling off bookshelves & hitting the people who needed them.

On the more positive side, I have, on my ever-so-crowded shelves, come across gems that I’d forgotten. Sometimes it is a whole book that I want to reread, sometimes just a few underlined words that open beautiful windows in what I am experiencing as a rather dim & dreary present.

One lovely thing I encountered (ah, sweet serendipity!) was Rumi’s poem “Story-Water” (translation/version by Coleman Barks):

A story is like the water
you heat for your bath.

It takes messages between the fire
and your skin. It lets them meet,
and it cleans you.

Very few can sit down
in the middle of the fire itself
like a salamander or Abraham.
We need intermediaries.

A feeling of fullness comes,
but usually it takes some bread
to bring it.

Beauty surrounds us,
but usually we need to be walking
in a garden to know it.

The body itself is a screen
to shield and partially reveal
the light that blazing
inside your presence.

Water, stories, the body,
all the things we do, are mediums
that hide and show what's hidden.

Study them,
and enjoy this being washed
with a secret we sometimes know,
and then not.

“Water, stories, the body, all the things we do, are mediums that hide and show what is hidden.”

The most important thing I can do this week is to share with you the link to Robin Wall Kimmerer’s exquisite essay Returning the Gift:

https://www.humansandnature.org/returning-the-gift-2021

The stories we tell, the way we use language, the names we give or withhold — all have an indelible impact on our lives & relationships and thus on the entire web of life. Dr. Kimmerer’s essay begins, as so many of our thoughts do, with a story — The Woman Who Fell From the Sky, as told by her Potawatomi ancestors — and leads us into a new understanding of gratitude & the joys of responsibility: a way forward.

If you like, you might ask yourself as I have, about the Origin Story you tell yourself & how it shapes your days and how it reverberates through the whole web of Life.

If you talk to animals they will talk with you and you will know each other.

If you do not talk to them you will not know them, and what you do not know you will fear.

What one fears one destroys.

          -- Chief Dan George, My Heart Soars

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