Saturday, September 29, 2012


There is an Aesop's fable that goes like this: a grasshopper and ant are best friends since birth. They walk together, talk together, eat and dance together. One fall day, the ant stops their fun games, and begins to gather harvest to put away for the cold winter ahead. The grasshopper does not, "There is plenty of time to do that,"he says. "Come friend, and dance with me!" But the ant warns that though it seems like winter is a long way off, it will be there before they know it, and if they don't act now, put aside food now, when the winter comes they will starve. But, even as the ant works, and warns her friend, the grasshopper ignores her, and continues to dance. Time passes, and by and by it is winter,and one day the grasshopper realizes that there are no crops to eat, and he has not put aside a single morsel, and is doomed to starve. The only thing he can think to do is go to his dear friend, the ant, and hope she will share... In the last month, I have had the opportunity to tell that story to several groups of pre-schooler and their teachers, care givers, and families. At this point in the story, I always stop, and poll the group. "Who thinks the ant will share her food?" I ask. And, almost every time, a sea of little hands shoot up in the air. "She'll share! Julie, she should share with her friends!" they tell me as if it is the one and only answer. Seeing their willingness to give always encourages me, and makes me smile. But one day, when I asked the adults in the room whether the ant would share or not, I was greeted with rolled eyes, and grunts of disgust. "No!" they said, practically jeering at the poor grasshopper their imaginations had conjured up. "Serves him right for not listening!" The harshness in their voices made me want to ask the question to the next group I performed in front of - and when I did, the results were exactly the same. While the children were forgiving, the adults thought the grasshopper got exactly what he deserved. As I thought of this informal poll, a question formed in my mind - when exactly, do we begin to hold a grudge? When do we go from seeing everyone as someone worthy of a second chance, of forgiveness, to seeing others as so separate from ourselves, that even though they were life long friends, we would slam the door in their faces just because, "we told them so?" I laugh sometimes when people say that children don't live in the "real world", when to me, it seems that it is adults that don't live in the real world. Children live only in the NOW, the present, the only time that is really "real", because the past is gone, and the future hasn't happened yet - that is why they are so willing to forgive. We see how they may look at us like we are satan when we take away a toy, but are begging for a hug five minutes later, because the moment of anger is gone - it is a new moment, and in that moment the anger is a thing of the past. It's we adults that can't let go of the past, that hold a grudge, that need so desperately to be RIGHT! Living in moments that are gone, is not living in reality - because unless there's an app on that new i-phone that I don't know about, the past is not REAL. And more than that, when exactly do we learn - because I believe it is learned behavior - to turn our backs on our fellow living beings? When do we change from being compassionate and giving like a child, to being hard, and afraid to share, because we fear there won't be anything for us? When do we forget that we are all in this world, this life, together? Having spent A LOT of time with kids all my life,I'd say the shift begins at age 12 or so, when being like "everyone else" becomes more important than anything in the world. That is the age of cliques and "mean girls", and jocks versus geeks. It is the time of separation from the parental unit - which we need to do - but also the separation, it seems to me, to our fellow living beings. Of course, as a friend who was a nun, and is now a teacher pointed out to me, people do need to learn accountability, and that actions have consequences, so that they won't repeat their mistakes, and that they will learn valuable life lessons. I mean, no, the grasshopper shouldn't live his life mooching off the poor little ant. But, the lessons can come with kindness, the lesson can come while a hand is being extended to help out. Because how the story ends is that the ant does in fact share, BUT, she tells the grasshopper, "Next year, you must promise that you will work just as hard as I do!" And the grasshopper does. He learns the lesson that was compassionately taught by the ant that never forgot that even thought the grasshopper made a mistake, he was always someone worth helping, simply because he was another living being.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


It's hard to talk about some things without being a "downer", so forgive me as I introduce that word that brings a shiver to many a spine - death - to this written conversation about storytelling and stories. Last week, a man I have known for, I'd say 11 or so years, passed away of a heart attack - at 44 years old! It was sudden, it was shocking, but like so many other things in life, it has been unexpectedly joyous. For in this past week, I have been a part of a chain of emails that have spoke of his love of bringing joy to children, his excellence as a father, and his compassion as a friend. The story of his life, as told by those of us left behind has been inspiring, moving, and uplifting, as opposed to sad and morose. It has made me remember that every day of my life, I am writing and telling my own life story - that every choice I make is another plot twist, that I - and no one else, is the author of. If I don't like how this story is playing out - I can change it, by the choices I make, by the actions I take. Like the folktales I love and tell, my story will be full of mystery, things I don't understand - but as a woman I met at a hospital told me, "There are some things that aren't ours to know." And, I love that! That though, yes, I can shape the story of my life by my deeds and words, there are always going to be things I cannot control, little surprises, little challenges that help keep me alive and alert, and remind me to be humble and grateful for this funny little gift called life. As I think over Vince's life - or what little I know of it - he was every bit as much of a hero as the one's in my story - for though life threw him curve balls, he kept in the game, kept going with a big full heart, always full of ideas. People sometimes ask me if I tell personal stories, and for the most part I don't. One little anecdote here or there, but I stick to folktales, because, frankly, my life has not been anywhere as interesting as the stories I find in folklore collections. But, maybe, maybe, if I live as fully, as courageously as Vince, one day, I will look at the story of my life, and find it has as much to tell, as the story of this wonderful man who just left this earth. Maybe, if I can continue to author my life in the noble and passionate way he did, as the heroes and heroines in folktales do, I will have a story worth sharing with others, a story that I can only hope will be as uplifting as the life of Vincenzo Tortorici's.