This past week I turned eighty years old. We had a little family gathering for lunch under the magnolia tree in the backyard. Susan prepared a wonderful meal and she had several presents to give me as mementos of my achievement. One is this story that she created to reflect on our relationship:
To an Earth Goddess, he came in a dream . . . a man of green and grace.
She opened her right hand to find his diminutive body parts,
nestled in the cradle of her palm.
But in no time she could feel him growing and melding into a whole,
like yeasted dough in a warm nest, roofed over by so many fingers.
Then, he burst the confines of her hand so suddenly that she startled!
There he was — standing in fine form before her . . .
A shimmering emerald sheath of flesh upon solid bone.
His feet were shod in soft leather slippers,
through which he could sense the earth’s energies.
His two legs rose like sturdy, twin tree trunks from his footed roots.
He stretched and flexed his limbs,
muscles rippling like waves on a viridescent sea.
His short crop of hair was a mess of curly ferns;
His rascally brown eyes were edged by kindly crinkles…
A broad, stubby nose divided dimpled cheeks, plump as ripe green apples.
Below, a bemused and impish smile played across his ample lips.
Green Man looked ready to take the world by surprise!
“What came you for?” asked Earth Goddess in some wonderment.
He declared without hesitation: “Tikkum olam!”
— drawing on a term familiar to his Jewish ancestors.
The pagan Earth Goddess did not understand Hebrew, so asked:
“And what does that mean?”
“Repair of the earth” Green Man replied.
“And how do you propose to go about that?” She asked.
He answered: “Not by might, and not by smarts, but by story upon story.”
“And how will this storytelling repair this broken world, my friend?”
“Because the stories we hear and embrace as persons, families, or nations;
they become for us the lenses through which we see our experiences.
And how we choose to tell our own story —
shapes us into being the persons we are, for better or for worse.”
“Well said,” remarked Earth Goddess.
“I believe we can use your peculiar gifts in this earthly realm . . .
may the stories you tell be for the better, as best you can discern it!”
And so Green Man set out to tell story upon story.
When Green Man reached the 80th year from when he’d emerged from the palm of
Earth Goddess, he came back looking for her . . .
He found her by the seashore, nestled in the curl of a huge conch shell.
He plopped himself down in the sand in front of her where she rested.
Looking into the deep pool of her hazel eyes, his heart opened. . .
and putting his green head in his hands he wept in her presence.
“Why fore do you weep, Green Man of Many Words? “
“Because I have storied all of my days, until I am bone-weary . . .
and still the earth is not repaired!
If anything . . . it is worse off than when I began!”
“Ah, so it is, she replied, “but I have it on good authority that in your little corner of the world, matters
might have been much worse, much sooner, had your stories not been heard . . . had they not shaped the
lives of so many young ones . . and more recently, old ones. You have planted many good seeds with
your stories, and seeds take time to grow.”
Green Man smiled and sighed: “Well, I suppose that’s enough to know for now.
Am I done? — must I prepare for my ending?
“Not quite yet, I have need of you a bit longer”, said Earth Goddess.
“For what purpose?,” asked Green Man quizzically.
“Just to be” . . . Earth Goddess replied in her most gentle tone…
“to be my lover . . . to behold, and savor, and attend, and touch and
be amazed at what comes your way in this late season of life . . .
and tell the occasional story when you are so moved.”
Green Man protested: “But mustn’t I be getting ready for Sister Death’s grim arrival?”
“Ah”, replied Earth Goddess, “what I have asked of you, is the best way to prepare for her coming . .
for she will come clothed not in somber dark robes, but in vivid colors that sing the fullness of Divine Love.”
“If this is so,” Green Man mused, “then I would do well to get on with what’s left of my life…and love
and be loved by the one I’m with.”
And so, he did!
As is often the case with a birthday: I read the story that day, but I did not take time to reflect on it until four days after the celebration. On a quiet morning I sat down in my study with the artfully prepared script of the story…without a title…and read it again. The story tells of the relationship between Earth Goddess and Green Man–from his birth in the hand of Earth Goddess to his eightieth year. The essence of the story turns about Green Man’s purpose for life–Jung would call it his “individuation”–being “Tikkum Olam”. Green Man questions the results of his life telling stories.
It does not take much reflection to see this story is about the relationship between Susan and Ray! Susan, after thirty-five years as a Christian clergy person, still sees her “individuation” as strongly tied to her being the mother of four children…and I have dedicated my past fifty plus years to creating and telling stories. And, I agree with the story, we both feel we have found a sense of wholeness in the roles chosen for our lives!
One last reflection: yesterday when I took time to consider this story, I experienced a revelation, a kind of metanoia, about my Self. My memory took me back to the age of about six years. At that time my family was living in the country parsonage of a Presbyterian Church in rural, western Pennsylvania–previously our family had lived in a housing project in a steel town not far away. One day I went out to explore my new home environment in the country. The property next to the parsonage was a farm with a small herd of milk cows. To feed the cows the farmer had an alfalfa field that he cut a couple times a year. That day the alfalfa was in bloom–just before a cutting– and there were honey bees feeding on the sweet clovers. I was curious about the bees and their feeding process. I got down on my knees in the tall grass to watch the bees. My curiosity led to one of the bees stinging me for messing in their business!
My reflection on Susan’s story is that it has reminded me of my attachment to the natural world. I gain spiritual energy from my time spent in the world of nature…more than I ever found in a Presbyterian Church service. This is not shared as a criticism of religion–I am still spiritually supported by singing Church hymns–but being engaged with nature is more important for my experience of Soul/Spirit/God! This is not a new discovery for me, but I give thanks to Susan in my eightieth year for understanding a bit about her husband!