I have been blessed and fortunate too, to spend much of my life in the company of myth, legend and story. In childhood I literally sat in the lap of story, the lap of a master teller, my own father, as he wove from his past, his learning and his mind, stories that delighted, haunted and taught me much. I would not know this world without the layers of meaning and mystery that this teaching delivered to me at a young age, and continue to deliver to me now. Nor would I want to know this world, bereft of the stories that hold the whole together, weave the fabric of our lives into some semblance of meaning, and give us strength to carry on in troubled times.
I recognize that not all humans live with this richness and I give great thanks for the wondrous fact that to me, the tales have been an integral part of who I am, company on a sometimes lonely path, and inspiration to guide me on and help to understand pain of life. Characters I know so well have traveled always with me, Robin Hood, King Arthur and his noble knights, Elsie Pittock, live in me and teach me how to be human, how to be kind, how to be human and Wonder-Filled. I am learning more each day how rare a gift wonder is in a time where we have already decided we know everything, that doesn’t leave much space to play or to grow. In fact, knowing seems the surest path to drudgery that you could find or choose.
Being steeped in story, I have learned a few things in my days. One of those being that numbers show up in stories and they are not to be ignored. Three wishes, seven sons, nine fair daughters… I could go on and on, and surely scholars have delved into this territory of number symbolism to a depth that I will not attempt here. I share this only to bring to light that I am tuned in enough to know, in my life, when things begin to happen in three’s, I am on mythological ground. A sacred place to be indeed, and one that requires my full attention.
Teaching tales of all sorts live in the realm of myth, and in our hearts if we are touched by them and give them lodging there. I am often so touched by the tales Michael Meade chooses to tell. Indeed his work has been a part of my becoming who I am and I see him as a wise elder in my life. A truth teller and a man of mystery, all intriguing qualities indeed. I saw him live recently, in Portland at a beautiful church. The house was full of people seeking connection to something deeper than the merely physical realm in which we dwell, connection to a deeper truth, an older truth. A sip of the sweetness of the land of myth and mystery.
One story he shared, that night was one of Zusya the Rabbi. A man of great wisdom and elder hood. Who found himself on his dying bed, surrounded by his students and grappling with the reality of his demise and his soon to be reckoning with God and the Great Beyond. In the story his students say to him “Rabbi, you are wise and learned, pure and righteous. You have the courage of Jacob, the leadership of Abraham and the vison of Moses, why for should you be afraid?” Zusya replies, ” I am not afraid that God will ask me, Zusya, why have you not been more like Moses, or Jacob or Abraham? I am afraid that God will ask me, Zusya, why have you not been more like Zusya? And for that I will not have an answer.” And with that Zusya dies. Teaching with even his last breath, giving of himself even to his very end.
This story hit me in the heart, The kind of feeling that grows and fills all the space that exists in the body and then expands past that physical barrier into something unseen yet tangible and real all the same. I gasped, a hard lump rising in my throat, a wail building in my gut, a sob racking through me with a shudder. Sucking for air as my eyes filled with tears. ” Why have I not been more myself?” When I do come to the end of days there is no sin I want less to confess, and yet, how frequently I separate from who I am to be who I think I should be. How often do I withhold my truth, even from myself? why is this fear of being me so strong and overpowering? Zusya is teaching me too, long from this world and far away as well, but present here for me. This is the power of myth.
I let it settle. I have been taught by my wise father that when a story claims you in such a way as this, it is an occurrence that is worthy of investigation and attention, with some expedience employed in that pursuit. Why am I not more myself? What happened to the pieces of me that I cast aside, left in dark corners long ago, wondering what became of me and hence what will become of them. Is it fear of failure or fear of splendor that causes me to disown some of who and what I am, or perhaps a strange and perplexing tangle of the two? A half breed love child of my unclaimed selves, a shadow of my fullness, a discarded remnant of my gifts…I don’t know yet, I am seeking and sometimes the seeking before the finding is where the sweet meat is.
A week after the live event with Michael Meade, I tuned in as I often do to hear his voice come to my ears through his podcast Living myth. There was Zusya waiting for me again. Told in the same characteristic and urgent style that Michael so deftly gifts the world with. I listened well to what the story had to say, deepening into my inquiry of how I can be more myself. I felt a bit surprised to find the story placed on my lap again so soon, but not overly so, life seems to give us what we need and it is obvious that I needed to hear and feel this now. A welcomed guest at my fireside, I let Zusya in.
One more week passed, as weeks are ought to do and I found myself scrolling through my podcast app, seeking something nourishing to listen to. I had listened once or twice before to a show called Women in Depth and decided to give it another go, selecting an episode almost at random, of course, nothing is random…however I did not put much careful thought into my selection. The episode was about metaphor and the use of story in physiological practice. I was enjoying the show but not overly tuned in, until the speaker began to tell Zusya’s story. She called him by another name Akiba, but the story was the same one. Here he was again, Rabbi Zusya calling me to live my life as me. I pulled my car to the side of the road. In awe and wonder of the ways that life speaks to me and guides me always to right where I need to be. Obviously this story is for me, I need it, here and now. I am so glad it came to me. I am paying attention.
It seems almost an impossible thing, to not live as oneself, but I see after examination that almost know one is truly who they are. We are so afraid to be seen in all our flaws and human-ness, so afraid of being unlovable or rejected that we hold a front up. This may feel safe, and may seem to be the only way, yet soon the mask becomes a prison we no longer know how to escape. We become trapped in a life of our own making, a life of silent compromises, aching heart and lost dreams.
So here I sit. Zusya close by. My heart full of questions and my path unclear. I know that now I choose to live as me, I know there is no way to do this that won’t hurt. Fallout happens when great change occurs. When one changes the structure, the whole has to change as well, be that a plant, a workplace, or a family. To listen to the calling of my heart means I will become a new me, already this has been happening, and it has not been easy. In fact it has been utterly painful to find myself amid the ashes of what I used to know and hold dear, reeling and looking about for something solid to hold onto. Learning to live fully as myself means learning to say no, and to say yes, to stretch to where I can’t touch bottom anymore, to boldly take the risks calling to me….
There is so much fear, and so much freedom beckoning from a doorway deep within me. Can I step through? Can I claim myself and all I am to be?…..I know this, I am willing to give my life to the pursuit. When I leave earth I want to leave having fully lived the life I came here for. May we all be so blessed.
A Rabbi’s wisdom reaching out
from beyond the grave
catches hold of my skirt hem
and holds on
“Why was I not more myself- for this I have no answer”
My greatest fear, lives in your words
I wonder- did God ask you
when you crossed his threshold there?
Were comparisons to Abraham and Moses made of you?
Did your head hang heavy as you spoke the truth-
“I wasn’t me, I wasn’t me, I wasn’t….”
For me- I choose another path
cast off my city body
and my cloak of sameness
though it be cold and I, naked and alone
I choose to be all that I am-
ardent, sweet, and dangerous
much like a wild hive of bees-
hungry and seeking nectar.