When the story of The Giant with No Heart began, the listeners/readers had no idea that the natural world was disturbed. Or that it was even in the story. We were ensconced in a palace with a king and seven sons. Where we have arrived in our story is with six eldest sons turned to stone in the middle of a forest by a giant with great power and no heart; the King alone in his palace; and the youngest son, riding on the back of a very old horse, arriving at the edge of the woods.
The youngest prince, considered a fool, had set off to find and save his brothers, not knowing what has happened to them. This act of care for others came with no preparation for us—except for those schooled in fairytales who are familiar with the fact that cinder dwelling young men and women often rise to become the heroes and heroines of these stories. The prince took with him nothing but a loaf of bread. To ride out into the world, into the unknown, drawn by an inner command to save one’s companions or family, regardless of the fact that they have mistreated or misunderstood us, marks this moment as worth a pause. If the story is indeed happening within each of us on the ephemeral stage of our unique imagining mind, provoked into action, this very scene is the seed of our inherent goodness awakening as well.
Riding on the old broken down horse with little food reminds me of refugees from war or disasters, or the abused and weary of heart who set out to reconfigure the world with kindness and resilience, having experienced profound misery or poverty themselves. Those who know viscerally the unsettling reality of sudden change are often more open hearted than those who struggle against or fear change. Working in Haiti these past two years, in the camp where I spend most of my time, I have been shaken aware of how demanding and devastating sudden poverty is. Yet it can urge access to an indwelling well of resilience and life force that renders, some for the first time, an abiding connection with nature, patience and sharing. I’ve learned that something truly fresh and powerful can arise from those who have to make do with their circumstances. This inside source of wealth is the place to harvest and expand, to learn from, and to be nourished by, so one does not sink into the paralysis or rage of victimization or self-debilitating apathy. To trust in spirit driven healing can be a nurturing path of living beyond survival. That is what the next episode in the unfolding tale brings to mind.
At the edge of the forest, the prince heard a mournful sound.
He saw a Raven on the ground beneath a tree. One wing was broken, and its beak was twisted to one side. The feathers of the bird were dulled and its’ eyes were closed. The Prince felt pity for the creature. The bird spoke, “Please give me something to eat.” The Prince placed half the loaf of his bread on the earth and the Raven ate. The raven’s wing and beak were instantly healed and he flew back to the trees.
The youngest prince was interrupted before entering the forest. To us, listening and bringing this episode to life in our minds, arouses our ephemeral template for reality itself, our sympathy. When I have told the story, always at this moment, there is a response of empathy for the bird from audiences, child or adult. We offer our open heart and are rewarded with the instant health and flight of the bird within. No one tells us, least of all the storyteller, that to offer to others is to return us to our wings. But that is what takes place. In order to go further into the journey to save what has been turned to stone, we have to pause, reconnect with our natural world and feel. We have to share what we have, rather than horde for protection. The prince asked for nothing in return.
Personally while telling the tale, there is an instant in this pause where my heart aches for the hunger of the raven. All the years that I worked in the zoo in Buhusi, Romania with animals living in devastating conditions, I felt torn open by the sound of their voices staunch with starvation. All of that fills my voice. The aching roar of a lioness or the apathetic stare of a hungry tiger meets a place inside me that is raw with sorrow and desire to offer something.
Before we entered the forest of the unfolding tale, we have had our heart unguarded. We have had a glimpse into the unbalance of the world. We were not aware of the effect of the giant without a heart or the lack of a queen that defines the story. Perhaps this simple incident has not impressed us yet when we hear it, but we have felt something shift within. We have opened up to our natural relationship to sympathy and shared our world. And all of this has occurred within our minds now alive with personal experience because we are listening imaginatively and not intellectually in that moment. We are disarmed into relaxing our grip on self-preoccupation. There is nothing more powerful and life fulfilling than the capacity to care.
The sound of the voice of the storyteller and the sound of the bird’s need slips into us guilelessly, revealing our own generosity, regardless of who we are in our everyday lives —the bully or the bullied, the greedy or the generous. We all respond in the listening. No one is excluded from the shared love that arises in the moment.
Love is the way messengers
from the mystery tell us things.
Love is the mother.
We are her sons.
She shines inside us,
visible, invisible, as we trust
or lose trust, or feel it start to grow again.
I am writing this at 5:30 am in Vancouver. The sun is already up and the last glow of a sliver of crescent moon is in the sky. I am not sure that I slept at all which often happens on my days of departure from here to there or back again home from storytelling or other events. I watched a movie with a friend last night called In Darkness. It was hard to watch, but exceptionally done; about a Polish petty criminal who saved a group of Jews during the holocaust for money and in the process became their true protector—saving his own heart in the process. It was made recently in Poland. When I was in Poland telling Jewish stories with storyteller Muriel Bloch, at the request of the Jewish community and the American Embassy (the idea of Michal Malinowski) we would tell stories for an hour to our non-Jewish audiences. For two to three hours afterwards we would sit with people who told us stories about their parents and grandparents who saved Jews or Gypsies; And, we heard tales of grandchildren could not rest because they knew there ancestors were unable to save others, or engaged in the killings. Every possible emotion arose every evening. There too, I rarely slept. Sometimes because I wanted to walk on old streets, like in Lublin, Krakow’s Jewish area, or through Chelm, to see and feel places where my ancestors had lived and died. Then, in the small city of Lumza, where my grandmother Ida was born, I told a story about her for a surprising audience of two hundred people. Tears flowed, gifts were given to us, and we sat into the night afterwards talking. It was advertised that I was the granddaughter of a Jewish woman from Lumza. When we walked into the courtyard of the Library, where the concert was held, everyone stood up to welcome me. Whatever confusion or hardness inherited from family stories that I might have harbored, dissolved in that pause, as I entered the forest of shared stories that night.