By Nina Gorbach | Special to The Sun
Recently a friend reminded me of one of my favorite folktales, Stone Soup. In it, a traveler, tired and hungry, stops in a small village hoping to find food and shelter. He knocks on door after door and the response is the same: “I’m sorry but I have nothing to give you.”
Finally, one villager says, “I have some water.” Grateful, the traveler says, “Thank you. We can make stone soup from that. Do you have a cooking pot I could use?” The villager offers a big pot with water and the traveler builds a small fire. Another villager passing by asks what he is doing. “I’m making stone soup. Would you like to join me?” The villager accepts.
The traveler unwraps a magic stone he has been carrying many years and puts it in the pot of water. Curious, more villagers gather. One asks, “What does stone soup taste like?” The traveler says, “Well, it would taste better with an onion.” The villager says, “I can find an onion in my winter cellar!” He runs to get it. Another villager says, “Oh, I can find a few carrots.” Others offer a turnip, potatoes, herbs, a pinch of salt. One woman says, “I could find a bit of barley to thicken the soup.” Each villager returns with one good thing to add. The traveler keeps stirring.
In the end the whole village shares a delicious, hearty soup and the miracle they created together.
I tell this story in the context of what our town and larger community has endured these last months, leaving many bereft and fearful. Stories of terror and unimaginable losses persist and people are still reeling, living with doubt and uncertainty about their futures. There is particularly an abiding anxiety and depression among our youth who have experienced unforgettable assaults upon their senses and identities; childhood places of joy have vanished.
Yet so many are grateful, humbled for having survived, even if everything material was lost. In light of victims of the firestorms who lost loved ones, homes, businesses and who suffered great injuries, survivors often do not feel entitled to acknowledge the shock they experienced, or the loss of precious belongings, of safety or the lingering fears during the raging fires and after. Sadness, anger, disappointment, loneliness and confusion are just some of the very real human emotions to grapple with and not deny.
Our culture, with the best intentions, wants to hurry the healing that cannot be hurried.
Free post-fire counseling offered at Health Center
How do we travel uncharted terrain, discover the courage to offer each other sustenance and enter the new year together? The times challenge us to find inner stores of patience, kindness and strength to fortify us along with the vital need for food, shelter and protection.
An outpouring of extraordinary generosity from countless sources, providing help and comfort is an enduring picture of what is possible. The very human desire to grow and create is as real as the challenges. But there is no timeline. Some griefs are longer than others. We might be hyper alert, or feel the need to retreat. If we can be present with ourselves and others and find support, if we persevere, we strengthen our human connection and build an even stronger foundation for the future.
There are things we can do to ease our journey as we repair, rebuild and find our balance. Physical movement is important as trauma lives in the body, too: a slow stroll in nature or an energetic workout at the gym, yoga, T’ai Chi, a dance class. For those who cannot easily move, sitting in a chair and swaying to music is enough. Mindfulness meditation a few minutes a day, looking at art in books or galleries, making art are all healing. Read a poem, doodle, collage, journal, daydream, plant a flower, walk by the ocean, touch the sand. Discovering what we love to do is part of how we heal.
Sharing a cup of tea and simply listening to another’s story is a great gift. In the early 90’s living in southern California, I facilitated a grief group with ten boys ages 9 to 14 who had all lost love ones; I did not expect much conversation about feelings from a group of boys who were strangers to each other.
However, sitting in a circle during introductions, one brave ten year old took the talking stick and said, “Since my dad died, I feel I am nobody. He gave me confidence. Now I feel everyone is laughing at me.” A great quiet filled the room. He passed the talking stick. A 12 year old whose older brother died of cancer said, “I had a fight with my brother and told him I hoped he would die. I think he died because of me.” A 13 year old admitted being afraid of the dark after his mother died in a car crash. He could not get the images out of his mind. Each boy revealed a part of himself while the others listened intently. They talked for an hour.
Opening to each other paved the way for new friendships, a sense of belonging, to hope. It took one brave boy.
Shakespeare said: “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.” These boys showed me that truth.
Telling our stories helps us move through them and make new stories. As friends and neighbors, young and old, grapple daily with growing insecurities, as bright young men and women struggle to forge new pathways, we can help each other find the courage to get curious. Like the villagers in Stone Soup, we discover new recipes, ingredients we didn’t know we had, our unique gifts and the gifts of others we respectfully receive.
In the quiet of winter, in this new year, the light is growing. With it emerges the impulse to create, invent, expand, join forces with friends, families and strangers and to freely come together to triumph over tragedy.
While Shakespeare’s wisdom guides us well through our grief, I hold dear the hopeful voice of Joanna Macy, author, activist and environmentalist. She assures us: “The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.”
Those whose hearts have shattered seem to open beyond measure. Deeds of goodwill prevail with zest, hope and resolve. Everyone has an offering—everyone. For as humans we are rich in Love. In that sphere of Love, superseding all loss and fear, we can trust our own version of Stone Soup, imagine what is possible and make the magic together.
– photo at top by William Murray