“It’s from a solicitor in charge of distributing a will,” Sagacia interrupted. “And he wants to send you three million pou . . . ”
“No,” Simplia continued. “It says . . .”
“It’s from the widow of the comptroller of a country in Africa which has recently undergone a bloody coup, and she wants to . . .”
“No, it says . . .”
“It is from a friend who forgot to tell you she was traveling to London, but she has been robbed, and she wants you to send her . . .”
“No!” Simplia said firmly. “None of those! I don’t know who it is from, but it is asking me to take a look at Cassandra Cushing‘s blog and it has the correct URL for it.” She clicked on the link and watched as the familiar Kaleidoscope Coffee shades appeared.”
Simplia read silently for a few moments. “Um-hm,” she said at last.” Cassie is writing the answer to Waiting in Winnipeg’s question on her own blog, telling about when just the right story came to her at just the right time.”
Sagacia took a seat and listened as Simplia read aloud.
I hadn’t seen my friend in many years, and even though communication was sporadic and fleeting, our hearts remained dear. When the opportunity to sneak in a visit arose, I jumped at it, extending my visit to the area by a couple days and driving three hours to the lonely mountain town where she’d been living for the past nine months or so. She’s a city-girl, who thrives off interactions with people and connections to humanity. That far in the mountains, the winter never ends. It’s dark, cold – a mirror of the residents’ attitude towards new-comers. The more we talked, though we had spots of sunshine and joy in reconnecting, the more clearly could I see the bleakness of her situation and her outlook.
I had sympathy and encouraged her to try to find a way to move away from there, but in the face of such internal agony, I felt I had no words. I did, however, have a story. As I began, she immediately killed the lights until only flickering candles remained. We journeyed with Teig O’Kane and the Corpse, a somewhat long tale depicting the harrowing night of an irresponsible young lad forced to carry a corpse on his back until he can find a burial place that will accept the dead man. By morning, Teig has a new outlook on life.
Most immediately, the story is a metaphor for how difficult it can be to change oneself, whether that’s upon hitting rock bottom or in less extreme situations when one so determines the need. More generally, I see its applicability to many situations of transition and change – the hardship of moving into a new reality, whether internal or external, can often feel like traveling with a corpse on your back, a corpse that really needs to be buried.
I could see the pain in her eyes grasping and connecting with each tumble Teig took as the weight of the corpse tripped his body over shadowed rocks into rough gravel ditches, as ghosts forbade his entrance into potential burial grounds, as rainbow-white lightning left him dizzy and light-headed on the ground. The story gave a voice and presence to her pain; it was cathartic and validating. Giving the pain space to exist made room for the understanding that one is not crazy to feel it.
“That night changed my life.”
I asked her to tell me more.
“I realized an entire cache of folklore existed which came from my niche…that I wasn’t alone, alienated, or insignificant. That even profound people deeply connected with a greater meaning in life, from the far reaches of the Earth, had in some sense experienced what I did; that individual life carried with it profound meaning, that pain and joy were universal sentiments. That highly intelligent beings searched, as I did, for greater meaning and communal links to the past…it gave me hope, history, and purpose.”
I didn’t have words, but I did have a story. I love folktales.
Simplia continued to stare at the last two sentences for a long while after she finished reading.
“A story, yes,” Sagacia said softly, breaking the long silence. “And furthermore, one’s own story.” She unfolded a paper and began to read.
I feel a little offended when I hear, “Oh, that’s just a fairy tale,” used derogatorily. The word “just” should not be used close to the words “fairy tale.” Perhaps that unfortunate phrase has come about because fairy tales are simplistic. The value of simplicity is being overlooked.
The story structures of fairy tales are simple, often symmetrical. Our own personal story can be a jumble of emotions and impressions. Magic emerges when those emotions and impressions attach themselves to characters and events in a story, and our thoughts, a jumble a moment ago, now have structure—clarity.
The fairy tale might not provide answers, but a moment of insight is a step down the path we need follow. I am not sure any other art form reveals this kind of insight quite as well as the fairy tale.
Sagacia sighed and handed the letter to her friend.
Simplia accepted it gently. “It’s from Charles Kiernan,” she said. “I should have known!”
“Another one of our magical friends who knows the secret of fairy tales: they tell of our own lives,” Sagacia reflected.
“Indeed!” Simplia agreed. “And I’ll never get tired of hearing people telling about that! I do hope some more letters come in for Waiting in Winnipeg!”
“Yeah, me, too!” Sagacia said. “Because I’m waiting, too!”