Category Archives: metaphor
I shared the book The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth with my Sunday school class on Sunday. Muth took an original short story written by Leo Tolstoy and reworked it with animal characters to appeal to children.
In the book, a boy named Nikolai goes on a journey to seek answers to three BIG LIFE questions:
“When is the best time to do things?”
“Who is the most important one?”
“What is the right thing to do?”
His steps lead him to encounters with a heron, a monkey and a dog. Each of these characters answers the questions in a way that reflects personal biases. The heron suggests the best time to do things arrives only after everything has been planned in advance. The dog believes the most important one is the one who makes the rules, and the monkey knows the right thing to do is to have fun all the time.
Not satisfied, Nikolai climbs a high mountain to seek the answers to his questions from a wise old turtle. When he reaches the top of the mountain, he finds the wise, old turtle with a shovel in his hands digging a garden. Knowing that a young boy digs much faster than an old turtle, Nikolai takes the shovel and finishes turning over the hard soil. When he is leaning on his shovel after the last shovel full of dirt, he hears a cry for help coming to him out of the windblown forest. He follows the sound and finds a panda knocked out by a fallen tree. Nikolai rescues her and takes her to the turtle’s house to get warm. When the panda wakes up, she asks, “Where is my child?” Alarmed, Nikolai runs back to the forest where he finds the baby panda, shivering and alone.
Before Nikolai departs, he and the wise old turtle reflect on the answers the boy has found to his three questions.
“There is only one important time, and that time is now.”
“The most important one is always the one you are with.”
“The most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.”
Muth concludes: “For these, my dear boy, are the answers to what is most important in the world.”
Tolstoy sure was one wise old turtle.
He pointed out the squat walls, the irregular bricks, and the ordinary doorway the servants would have used to come and go. We noted the patchwork stonework and the unremarkable nature of the architecture.
Then we walked around to the spectacular front of “The Circus.”
Here three curved terraces surround a circular centre park. Here the architecture is not irregular, ordinary or patchwork. The ornate façades have carefully ordered and beautifully maintained design.
It was all about appearances, you know.
The people of the Georgian period cared little about the comfort or welfare of their servants, but they cared very much about appearances and protocol. If their homes, their clothing and their activities met societal expectations of the time, they spared little thought for what happened in the back alleys.
We know now that their habit of hiding misery behind ornate façades is as productive as plastering over a mildewed bathroom wall and as unsatisfactory as wearing your favourite outfit over uncomfortable underwear. Why do you think our parents always told us to wear clean underwear in case we end up in hospital? We never know when at turn of events might reveal our hidden secrets.
But who am I to point fingers? When I work in my gardens, I take care of the ones in front of my house first—the ones that people see. My back gardens have been sadly neglected for years. “Who sees them?” I ask myself.
I do. And it has always bothered me that those poor backyard gardens get short shrift. “Oh, what lovely gardens you have,” people say when they pass my house. They don’t see the shabbier, neglected ones out back, but, like a pair of uncomfortable underwear, their presence niggles at me.
The high society 18th Century residents of The Circus, Bath probably never dreamed that several hundred years later a group of tourists would tramp through their back alleys and judge their shabby “underwear.”
You never know when a turn of events might reveal your hidden secrets, do you?
It’s a sunny day. Maybe I’ll head out and work in my back garden . . .
When my husband and I strolled through St. James’ Park during our recent vacation to London, England, we passed this tree. Its harshly pruned branches made a sorry silhouette against the dusky skies of London.
We slowed our steps and looked up at the denuded tree. “Maybe it will come back,” my husband said, sardonically.
Then we looked more closely. One determined twig of new growth sprouted from the side of an upper branch. This tree, that to our eyes appeared cruelly pruned past the point of rejuvenation, prevailed.
We continued our walk feeling a little lighter.
Even when life prunes us down to bare essentials, new growth and rebirth is possible. It’s a matter of faith.
“Perimenopausal women can be likened to the full-blown rose of the summer and fall, as it begins to transform itself into a bright, juicy rose hip—the part of the rose that contains the seeds from which hundreds of other potential roses can grow.” —Christiane Northrup from The Wisdom of Menopause
Today is my birthday, and the number attached to this birthday fits with the quote above. The rosebud stage of my life is long past; I am the full-blown rose of late summer.
Because our culture in the west tends to worship the “rosebud” stage of development—the lithe and agile, and the wrinkle-free—some people don’t like to celebrate birthdays at this stage of life. Out of fear, they deny the passing of the years.
I shout to the mountain tops. I jump up and down. I smile and celebrate with joy the many gifts that my fifty-plus years have presented to me. I look to the future with curiosity. What other fun things are going to happen to me?
“. . . any attempt to remain in the rosebud stage tends to look desperate and ridiculous. It’s like trying to reglue the autumn leaves back onto the tree and them paint them green to simulate the spring. It simply doesn’t work. Instead, our task is to come to appreciate the beauty and power of the season we are in, instead of longing for what can no longer be.” —Christiane Northrup from The Wisdom of Menopause
When we worship only the beauty of youth, we miss the beauty found in later years. As Christiane Northrup points out, attempts to “reglue the autumn leaves back onto the tree” doesn’t work, and usually looks sad and ridiculous.
It is our task—my task—to own the beauty of the full-blown late summer rose and to nurture seeds of potential for others.
On Friday, I wrote about “Thinking greater than we feel.” A natural follow-up comes from today’s Tuesdays with Laurie blog. Her post, “Majestic Wings,” ponders the majestic qualities of dragonflies—their beauty and their agile flight abilities.
She writes: “Native American folklore tells us that the iridescence in a dragonfly’s wings is a glimmer of hope; believing that with the dawn of each new day the dragonfly brings possibility and joy.”
One of her blog followers, Grace, from The Wild Pomegranate, added: “Dragonflies are one of my very favorites, and I’ve been seeing a ton of them lately. One piece of Dragonfly medicine that resonates strongly with me is their complete transformation from a mud crawling nymph to a glorious flier. They remind that the way we begin isn’t always the way we will end.”
If you feel like a not-yet-fully-formed, mud-crawling being today, take heart from the iridescence of dragonflies. If you feel like your wings are too fragile to be strong today, take heart from their flight maneuvers. The way we begin isn’t how we end, and each day brings new “Dragonfly medicine” of possibilities and joy.
On one of my walks last week I came upon this small hill at the same moment as a girl—about 4 years old, I’d say—and her dad. They had stopped their bicycles, and they stood at the top of the slope looking down. I eavesdropped:
Dad: You can do it, honey.
Girl: It’s too high.
Dad: Give it a try. I’ll be right behind you.
Girl: I don’t want to. It’s too high.
Dad: Would you like me to go beside you, at the same time?
Dad: Okay then. Just give it a try. If you do it once, it will be easier next time.
Girl: Ooooh . . . kay . . .
The hill measured about 25 feet in length and had a grade of maybe 20 degrees. To my eyes, to her father’s eyes, to the eyes of anyone who would have passed by at that moment, it seemed a small thing. When she looked at it, she saw Kilimanjaro.
She stared her mountain down and mustered courage. She pushed off hesitantly, guided her bicycle to the grass beside the asphalt path—to cushion her fall if she fell, I assume—and slowly rode down the slope. She stopped at the bottom and looked up at her father.
Dad: You did it!
Girl: (in a disgusted tone) Yeah. On the grass.
Dad: That’s okay. It’s a good start.
This brief interlude seemed to me a microcosm of what people of all ages go through over and over again. New challenges come up in our lives. They scare us, so we try to avoid them. Sometimes we never overcome the fear, and we live our whole lives taking routes around small hills that we see as big mountains. If we’re lucky, we have someone beside us to encourage us to conquer the feat and to celebrate with us when we complete it.
Don’t we all make new challenges greater, larger, scarier than they really are? Don’t we all start slowly, on a safe route with cushioning in case we fall? And don’t we all diminish our successes?
I have this card posted on my fridge:
Like the father of that little girl, this card encourages me to give things a try, so I don’t spend my life taking routes around small hills that look like big mountains. All the good stuff lies on the other side of challenges that seem scary at first.