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“Once upon a time in a distant land, but not that far away, lived…” So opens fairy tales fraught with cosmic clashes between good and evil, useful for today’s conflict resolution if properly studied in depth; and so opens listeners’ imaginations, hungry for worlds mirroring their own. Life has always been hard, and still is.

So how did these fairy tales as we know them come about?

In nineteenth-century Germany the spread of literacy and the improvement of indoor illumination began usurping the role of itinerant storytellers carrying tales of mystery from village to village. Such had been their practice for hundreds of years. Into this changing world came Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, both philologists, who recorded and first published their tales in 1812; their volume fire-stormed collectors from other countries, worldwide, to do likewise.

It would be interesting to track the accretions to the fairy tale “The Two Brothers,” before the Grimm’s Brothers recorded it. Twenty pages long, it contains the classic elements found in fairy tales: good/evil, golden egg-laying bird, a King, a Princess, their castle, talking animals, a fire-spitting seven-headed dragon, a witch, an enchanted forest, magic potions, contests, and trickery—Even the use of numbering to facilitate the memory of the storyteller. This fairy tale could have ended in several places, but seamlessly, it continued on and satisfied its listeners, and still does.

Unlike the integrity of the Grimm’s Brothers cherished tales, our collectors of stories—journalists—play havoc with truth, their intent to rouse fear and manipulate imaginations, rather than ennoble them. I wonder which version of the spin-doctors’ palaver, if any, will be remembered one hundred years from now.

 

Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

So said Michelangelo, sixteenth-century Florentine artist and poet, of the method in which he worked: his sinewy hands surrendered to the fire of his imagination directing his hammers, chisels, and polishers. Unlike his peers who fashioned clay models to work from, Michelangelo sketched his, then inked significant marks upon marble blocks, cut from the quarry near Carrara. What emerged were works in progress, at times, with unintended forms, some left unfinished.

What was significant was their strange beauty.

In my perception, a parallel exists between this anecdote and growing old. Often, the expression, growing old, is voiced in pejorative tones and says much about the one expressing it.

But growing into old age is a critical process filled with discoveries of who we really are and are becoming. Acceptance of new limits, experienced like the Sculptor’s hammering, unsettle the familiar, reveal comic aspects of former behaviors, and shake free the shrouds of relationships. Such acceptance also floods the present with fresh grace to continue exploring unscaled vistas of imagination. Here, the Polisher takes over.

Fine-mesh pads evoke startling dreams from the psyche, smooth over owned mistakes of whatever magnitude, and release colors into what were drab scenarios of experience. The challenge is to remain beneath the Polisher’s tool until the sheen of being catches fire in the light.

Within this light, we see anew and clap hands as we wait for the strange beauty to emerge.  It will come…

 

Once upon a time, perhaps two weeks ago or less, a most strange thing happened. It was the middle of the day, the sun shone, and breezes morphed cloud tendrils into somersaults.

There was this woman. Of all things, she found herself clinging to a rope. She had no idea how this happened, and no one was around to help. Through tears streaming down sunburnt cheeks, she looked up, then gasped—She couldn’t see the end of the rope. She looked down. The same was true there, but she heard the surf pounding the rocky shore. Perspiration moistened her legs hugging the rope, muscle pain fired distress, joints ached, and her grip crazed her knuckles. She was slipping and she knew it. She was going to fall.

 And do you know what happened to her?

 She was on the ground the whole time.

Frequently, I offered this story to stressed hospice patients, their gender matching the one on the rope. Played out by the recital of numerous ills and fears, they welcomed the diversion. Their eyes brightened as they identified with the plight of the unfortunate on the rope. Even their breathing quickened.

Then the question, … do you know what happened to her? riveted them, caused them to sit straighter. With my response, they slowly smiled. They did get it, and their duress was lifted, for the moment—Until the next visit and story.

Now that I’m the hospice patient, I sometimes feel like my eighty-four-year-old body is the rope in that story. Deep-seated habits of control prompt my holding on until waking up, once again, to my true circumstances and letting go. Only then is my contentment restored, the fruit of living the CPA 12 Steps. It’s working, one release at a time …

 

 

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