Have you ever dreamed of running across a book that would express more fully than you have ever encountered what it feels like to be alive? Such a book would have to proceed, not by illuminating the ways of thinking, feeling, and acting that have become established in us, but by painting a picture that invokes something we either never knew or have forgotten. Such a story might begin, “Once upon a time”, or it might dive straight into a realm we keep hoping exists even though we can’t honestly say we have ever visited it, even in dreams.
I’m not talking about treasures of spiritual understanding, as grateful as I am for anything that helps me live in the here and now. I have something else in mind: a story beyond the stories I tell myself; a story that shines a light into my heart and mind and introduces me to the kindest beings I will ever meet; beings who make me want to be like them, but not for what they have accomplished or attained. Accomplished beings are inspiring, but they only take me to the gates of my own capacities and leave me there on the threshold.
In this shining story which I hope to one day encounter, there is no-one who bequeaths the understanding they have personally earned and now exemplify. To read this story would be to enter into the fullness of life in all its flavors and tones and paths. It would be a work of cosmology fathoming the depths of time and space, but not only that. It would be a vision of a spiritual path we could follow into wisdom and goodness, but not just that. It would be a sad tale of confusion and suffering, but not as a lesson to be learned. It would not even invoke a Wonderland into which we might stumble, while dozing off in the family garden.
It might begin as a bird who judges himself because he is different than his playmates. It might begin as a lamb who is lost and cannot find her way back to the flock. It might begin as a carpenter who makes a marionette because he wishes he had a child to care for in his life. It might begin, in fact must begin, by telling the story of a visitor to a magical realm who sees herself in the way a violin string sees itself, as it holds a high-C aloft–holds it with inconceivable fidelity–while everything else drops away, note-by-note, circumstance-by-circumstance, lifetime-by-lifetime. In that shining moment–held unbearably, impossibly–all is redeemed and forgiven.
In the meantime we tell our stories, as we wait on the sidelines to be invited in.
Once upon a time, a kitten came into the lives of a couple whose children had all left home, in one way or another, and now no longer needed their parents, at least in ways that they knew how to fulfill. The adoption papers for this kitten said she had been found with her head wedged into the drain of a dumpster, so tightly that her skull had been deformed. Could this have been a second-birth for her, her skull compressed like those of human babies when they are launched into this world after nine months of confinement, all that time unable to move more than an inch in any direction? At first, she was then stuck in a cage at the local pound, where she must have regarded all movement around her as threatening. After this couple brought her home, and named her Kiva, she spent an entire week in the farthest corner under the bed, not venturing to the front edge, even to eat or drink.
Three years later, she roams the house, dreaming of escaping into the feral realms she still remembers. She communicates with the couple enough to tell them when she is hungry or wants her litter cleaned out. She has yet to tolerate being picked up. Like Pinocchio, she keeps entering life more fully, month-by-month, baby step-by-baby step, but still hides under a bed whenever a stranger comes into the house. Like the Ugly Duckling, she patrols a larger world than the one that tried to label her as not belonging in this one. Like the lost lamb, she allows the couple to feel that they have found her and have brought her back to the campfire. And like the high-C, held aloft, while flutes and cellos and all but a single note on a single violin string falls away (held in a silence that speaks of the loneliness known by life everywhere), Kiva keeps looking for a story that will provide a path for her. I wonder if it is the path that the couple dream will one day open up before them, like a golden road into eternity.