The story is told in A Thousand and One Nights Entertainment of how Scheherazade saved not only her own life but the life a community of women by telling stories to a murderous king.
Might we pull ourselves back from the mortal peril we have put each other and the planet in by sharing our stories with each other? By being known to each other?
With this question in mind, taken together with Patti Digh’s maxim that the shortest distance between two people is a story, I’ve embarked on a collaborative project that I call A Thousand and One Brief Encounters.
I invite you to share the story of a brief encounter with someone that you do or did not know well, or did not know at all. An encounter that moved you, caught and kept your attention, and that and speaks in some way to what matters to you. Some of these encounters may be very very fleeting. I once watched a 6 year old boy run across a rocky beach, climb a boulder, and shout out with unbridled joy. It was a visceral reminder of the innocence, energy, and spontaneity of childhood. The memory of that quick encounter has stayed with me, almost like a talisman ever since.
Let us entertain, amaze, inspire, and shorten the distance between us with tales of these encounters.
I’ll drop a first story in the pond and let it ripple out. Will you share the next? I’ll tend the story fire, and promise to send and compilation of the stories to all contributors as well as share as many as I can here at storytellers campfire blog and with other outlets that welcome such an effort.
Can we weave together 1001 tales of meaningful human encounters? How long might that take? Perhaps less time than we imagine if we share a tale ourselves and invite others in our network as we feel appropriate.
Here’s one of many brief encounters that I’ve had and that has kept a smile on my face every time I recall it.
One evening, my brother Dave and I caravanned to restaurant for mini family reunion. As is my custom, I parked and was out of my car very quickly. As is his custom, my brother took his time and lingered in his car, making a slow transition. Ten minutes later at the dinner table, the conversation was flowing, we were ready to order and Dave had still not appeared. Feeling annoyed I went outside, marched straight up to the open window of his car, and in a somewhat irritated voice demanded,
“ Hey brother, what’s taking you so long?”
The response was immediate.
“Hey Brother. Just chilling. Who ARE you?”
Sitting behind the wheel was a very large and very dark skinned man with a strong Caribbean accent. His car was the same make, model and color of my brother’s vehicle which was parked a few spaces away but obscured in the shadows by this car.
Considering that it was dark, and a stranger had approached him so quickly and so closely, and in the tone I had spoken, my new brother was surprisingly calm and friendly. As you might imagine, this encounter could easily have played out very differently.
I sputtered a quick explanation and an apology, which was waved away as if it was not even necessary. Very quickly both of us were laughing at the situation.
“Since we are brothers now,” I said, “Let me tell you a family story.”
I quickly related to him the story of how I’d gone shopping at an African market in Chicago with a Nigerian doctor. We were sharing a sublet apartment for a month while was telling stories in the city libraries and she was working on a cancer research project.
As the butcher took Prisca’s order for various cuts of goat meat, he did a quick double take at this unlikely couple, pointed at me asked her “Are you his wife?”
Prisca pulled her shoulders back, raised her chin almost defiantly and answered in a regal tone,.No he is NOT my husband. He is my FATHER!
Later, laughing together at the butchers drop jawed reaction, Prisca told me. “I was telling that man the truth Bob. In my tribe we honor our elders, and call a respected older man father. You ARE my father and I am your African daughter.”
My unexpected new brother returned in kind with a tale, of the “whitest of white of his co-workers” as he described her ,who because of mutual appreciation and affinity had become his daughter.
With stories exchanged and more laughs we parted.
“Goodbye my brother!”
“Goodbye my brother.”
I’ve forgotten what I had to eat that night, but I will never forget this brief and one time encounter with my new extended family member.
Now again… The invitation. Let’s weave together a fabric of human connection, one story at a time. Pass the Stories Please! Leave a story here in the comments section or email me your contribution at email@example.com
Thank you. ” I am who I am because of who we all are together.”
On a flight to Los Angeles, I ended up in the back row of a packed plane. I sat next to an older African American gentleman. As he and I were getting acquainted, I noticed a couple of young boys, maybe 3 and 5 years old, in the seats in front of us. They were squirming, standing up, sitting down, looking out the window, opening and closing the window shade, sliding to the floor, climbing back up on the seat, looking at the seats in front of them and then at the last row where I was. They were wide eyed and excited. I assume the boys were brothers.
While checking everything out around him, one of the boys kept looking at me and my seatmate. He noticed us getting along and curiosity got the best of him. He stood up on his seat so he could see us face to face and, having our attention, asked, “Are you brothers?”
Well, why not? The boy was there with his brother, getting along, and this other guy and I were chatting and getting along. The difference in our colors wasn’t an issue for this young observer. We were a couple of guys, brothers, taking a flight to Southern California just like he and his brother.
In those brief moments in the back of the plane, my seatmate and I connected as friends. We smiled in gentle amusement, looked at each other, then back at the boy and at the same time we both said, “Well, yes, kind of.” While both of us were looking at the child, I said, “In the eyes of God we are brothers.” Then, my new friend said, “That’s right.” The boy looked at us for a moment longer, a thoughtful look on his face, accepted our answer and went back to exploring.
It was a sweet experience, so innocent, the way life should be, and nice to be brought back to the simplest of perspectives sometimes. We just need to be willing to let it happen when the light of innocence shines on us.
“Good Needed to Be Done. From Patricia Rose Ballard Coffie in Waverly Iowa (Stories From Home)
I was 7 when this happened on our way to the Hideout Fishing Resort in Minnesota. I had won the spot standing right behind Dad and loved the smell of that second hand cigarette smoke. Mom was in the passenger seat and holding the baby. All five of us big kids were in the back seat.
We passed a car on the shoulder with doors standing open and a girl running down the shoulder with a man chasing her.
Dad pulled over just ahead of her. Mom was frightened but opened door and pulled seat forward. Dad yelled “Get in!” She got in the back seat with us kids and we pulled back on to the highway.
She made herself as small as possible sitting on the arm rest in the back seat as we took off. She seemed to want to become small enough to fit on that arm rest or become invisible. She was sobbing. Finally, she could talk and said if she could go to the bus depot in Minneapolis/St. Paul and have a ticket to go home she would be all right.
Dad went to the bus station and Mom and Dad bought her a ticket back home. Mom gave her some snacks, probably from the PB&J sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies she always brought for us kids. They waited with her till she got on her bus and the bus left. We waited and watched from the car.
Nothing much was said about it, at least where little kids could hear.
Good needed to be done. We could. We did. And then we went fishing.
Taught me you just do good. Have stepped in and helped in four abusive marriages. Good is what needed to be done. I could. I did.
From Gail Froyen…. a timely encounter that gives credence to the maxim that sometimes “help will be offered when you most need it and least expect it.
As a reward for how good and patient our three children were during the year+ we lived in student housing at the University of Indiana, the family was driving from Iowa to Disneyland with stops along the way. My parents gifted Len with a AAA membership for completing his doctorate and in anticipation of our trip. Len thought the membership completely unnecessary after all he was a great driver and we had a new car, What could go wrong?
One of our first stops was in Wyoming so he could show us where he had camped with a friend some years earlier. As we pulled into the overlook parking area, he excitedly gestured at the beautiful scenery ahead. About that time a loud crunch came from the front of the car. He had pulled up to and over a rock that marked the end of the parking area. As he inspected the damage and watched the radiator fluid drain out, a car pulled into the space beside us. The driver came over, stood next to Len and reviewed the situation. And then said these wonderful words, “I own a radiator shop in Burlington Iowa, You need to have the (name of part) replaced. Ride down to the next town with us to a auto repair shop. I’ll get you all set up.”
And so it was. The kids and I entertained each other for an hour or so. Len returned with the repair man who put on the new part, replenished the radiator fluid, and we all went separate ways. And the repair shop was a Triple A member so the repair cost us nothing but a little time. Iowa nice!
Thank you for this beautiful story trigger….
I was walking to school one hot Chennai morning…
Here , we have to carry our books every day to school…(as we dont have a locker system.)
My school bag, hung over my left shoulder, was heavy with books, as I usually carried most of them, for fear I would need them.
I was walking slowly, as the bag was heavy and then I turned a corner…to see an old man coming towards me. He was hobbling along, was hunched and carrying a bag of sorts himself. Suddenly he stopped..looked at me and said ( in tamil…our language)
“What heavy burden you bear….and so unnecessary…”
He moved on…
and so did I …
But I have never forgotten those words, nor the symbolism of what his words meant to me, many times in my life….
From Chana Mills in Beer Sheva Israel… a very brief encounter that left a lasting impression.
Some years agoI was in a taxi going some where in Tel Aviv when a big advertisement for Shwepps crossed my eyes. It said something like “YOU HAVE REACHED THE AGE WHEN YOU CAN START” I guess it hit me because I was ready for that thought…and ever since I use that phrase that in a strange way paved my way to freedom. I can do everything now ..I reached the age and I can!!!
Thank you to Fran Stallings in Oklahoma who shares this brief encounter.
Ages ago, when WinterTales was the star storytelling festival of OKC, I had the privilege of chauferring one of the featured tellers who talked lovingly about her Greenwich Village neighborhood. I reluctantly admitted to her that when I was growing up on the far edge of the Borough of Queens, The City (Manhattan) had always seemed like a fun place to visit for museums plays and circuses, but an unthinkable place to live. She countered “If you get back to NYC, give me a call and I’ll show you what I love!”
I did get back east the next summer and we arranged to meet at the information desk in Grand Central Station at 9am. I arrived with 15min to spare and enjoyed people-watching while I waited to one side of the desk. But the longer I watched, the more scruffy I felt in my flats, denim prairie skirt and shirt. I saw elegantly dressed ladies in power suits and heels, every hair in place, perfectly made up. I had quit trying to straighten my wild curls around the time they started turning grey at 35: grey comes early in my family. NYC humidity wasn’t helping. I probably looked like the Bride of Frankenstein. Maybe I should try hair dye after all, and a professional stylist like those ladies?
Suddenly I noticed that the station clock said 9:15. Where was my colleague? A horrible thought occured to me: Maybe a station this big had more than one information desk, and I was waiting at the wrong one!
How to find out?? [This, children, was long before cell phones.] I joined the line snaking up to the desk.
This was actually an octagonal booth in the middle of the station’s huge floor, but only one window was open that morning. And a funny thing: as we crept forward, I saw people cringing the closer we got to the front. I looked ahead and saw why.
The woman at the window must have taught 8th grade for decades before retiring to this post, and she was not in a mood to tolerate fools. Her stare impaled each person who dared ask a stupid question, and apparently this morning we were all stupid. No wonder some were slinking away — which made the line move faster.
Suddenly it was my turn. Her gaze raked me up and down as I gathered my wits and stammered, “Is this the only information desk in the station?”
She paused just a moment. I wished I could drop through the floor.
Then she spoke. “Don’t. Do a thing. To your hair. Yes it is. Next!”
I staggered away.
Soon my colleague appeared, explaining that her bus had been delayed in traffic, and whisked me off to a delightful day in what was indeed her Village.
And so I never dared do anything to my hair. I’ve had some good haircuts, but no chemicals.
Yet there are times when I wonder, could she still be working at that information desk? I have other questions
I have a small collection of remembrances I’ve written about short-ish encounters with people that had an impact on me. I write them just for myself so I DO remember!
One of these encounters happened in Seattle near Pike Place Market in the late 1990s. I had abandoned my conference after presenting to a far larger group than I’d been told I’d face (not 22 but 650 people), and I was walking out my “after-jitters” and smoking. A man asked if I could spare a cigarette, and I gave him one. And started talking with him.
We leaned against that shop window for close to an hour sharing bits about our lives with each other. I remember part of me thinking I was nuts—hanging with a homeless man on a quiet side street in a big city, and choosing to do it anyway. I remember thinking what an odd thing biases and prejudices are because I connected more deeply with him in an hour than I had with any of my peers/colleagues at the conference and hotel in the previous two days.
From Laura Simms in New York… comes a blessing and a reminder that all can benefit from
Some years ago, rushing back from a very early morning yoga class, wading through snow before the streets were plowed, I passed the church on
my corner. Homeless people sleep on the steps protected from the wind and snow. They leave at sunrise and recieve a bagel breakfast at a side
door of the church. One woman frightened me. She wore layers of clothing. And seemed huge, almost gigantic. That was interesting.
But she had one leg cut at the knee. That is what disturbed me. She slept with that leg extended and exposed. It was raw from the cold,
and bruised from a bad surgery or amputation. I owalked by quickly not looking. One morning I heard a sound, almost a tiny ringing sound, in
muffled by sno but ignored it. At my door, fumbling for the key, I someone jab my shoulder. I turned to see her. For the first time I saw her
broad strong face. She said, “this is yours.” She held out a pile of coins. That must have been the sound I heard – coins falling
out of my pocket. I answered, ‘You keep it. You need it.” She looked at me sternly, and said, “No. You keep it. God helps
those who provide for others.” Something in her eyes stopped my mind. I took the coins and thanked her. She
walked away, turned and said to me with deep kindness, “You should take care of yourself.” The piercing kindness, the wisdom, produced
a far greater sense of presence then the yoga class. I have often thought of her when I am about to speed through an action that might
nolt be such a good idea. “You take care of yourself.”
Thank you Jane Stenson for this first response that involves an encounter with another sentient species!
I‘ve planted several Monarch Way Stations and eventually put one on my land. Day after day, nothing happened. Warm September days and nights – but where were the butterflies? Late one afternoon, I pulled a chair nearby and a book of poetry. I’m not sure why but I began to read out loud. “Where will the trilliums go, and the coltsfoot? Where will the pond lilies go to continue living their simple, penniless lives, lifting their faces of gold?”
A flock – so many butterflies – of Monarchs arrived most settling on the echinacea and asters. One flew to my book and rested there, as if to say ‘your voice called me.’ And he went to join the others. The group massed overnight in shrubs an orange mass and were gone the next morning when I went to check.
Before I started school, I always went with my mother when she drove around Kerrville Texas to pay bills. Afterwards, we would drop by to see our friend, Mary Gaddy, in the county tax office. Mary, my namesake, would give me a nickel to go down the block all by myself to get an ice cream cone at Mack’s Popcorn Stand.
One such day I went into Macks, surveyed all the flavor choices, and ordered vanilla.
Mack scooped one up, handed it to me and said, “That will be six cents, please.”
“Six cents!” I thought. How can that be? It’s always been a nickel, and that was all I had! I started breathing heavily. I felt suddenly warm. I thought I might have to pee. I was sure I would have to go to jail! I had my nickel ready to hand over, but it wasn’t enough, and the ice cream was threatening to melt. I couldn’t give it back, could I? It was already scooped and shaped just for me. I had already handled the cone.
Then a voice from behind me said, “I think I have an extra penny.” I turned and looked up to an elderly man wearing khakis and sorting through the change in his hand. “That, and a Duke’s Mixture, please,” he added.
I think I said, “Thank you”; at least, I hope I did. I remember that brief encounter every time I go into an ice cream shop. I keep hoping some child will be there and be a dollar short!–mgk
I was walking the dogs at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site last summer when a large group of school children made their way from the main house to the Connemara goat barn.
I pulled the dogs aside and sat on the stone wall across from the caretaker house as they passed by.
“Good morning,” I said to the woman leading the group.
“Good morning,” she replied.
“Good morning,” I said to a group of boisterous boys who were obvious dog lovers.
“Good morning,” they yelled back.
“Good morning,” I said to yet another clump of giggly girls.
“Good morning,” they chortled.
And then I caught the eye of a young girl walking by herself behind a teacher. I smiled and gave a little finger wave as if to say, “Hello, I see you there.” She shyly smiled and returned the wave.
Many times those type of kids just blend into the scenery. They’re easy to overlook. They don’t clamor for attention or act silly to be noticed, but they’re just as important as all the rest. And on that beautiful sunny morning, in that single solitary moment in time, I hope she knew I truly saw her and she mattered to me.
22 years ago my eldest daughter was in the TICU,, Transitional Intensive Care Unit, in San Francisco with a diagnosis of liver failure.She was 22 years old and had turned as yellow as mustard. No one had any idea how this happened, so the teams of doctors came and went with pokes, and prod and blood draws, while I sat at bedside. Rounds were particularly intense because the BIG IMPORTANT transplant surgeons would arrive to study this case. To hear it spoken out loud “YOur daughter will need a liver transplant” was a shock on every level. One morning one of the important doctors come in, looked at Megan’s chart, asked her a few questions and then stood at the foot of her bed with one hand on each of her feet. He was quiet for what seemed like a long time. Maybe 3 minutes? Then he said good bye and left. I followed him into the hallway to ask why he stood in such soft silence. “All the tests and charts teach me what I need to know, except who your daughter is. I need to be with her. To know her.The tests are not enough.” He was one of the people that saved my daughter’s life. A healer to her and to me.
Thanks for this Bob, Loved these stories. I’d love to do something like this… I’m in the throes of making a new website will be up on 5 March.
Long, long ago, when Post Offices still existed in big buildings in cities, and mail was sent in white envelopes and I was young and worked in an office during the school holidays a funny thing happened.
I was sent to a Post Office to mail the week’s box of envelopes on a Friday afternoon. The box was light and the day was windy and our office was in a building on a steep slope. Well, wouldn’t you know it? As I walked across the road, deftly avoiding the traffic, the wind blew the box from my hands and scattered envelopes all over the road. Fortunately, they didn’t blow further away. Not that I was grateful at the time.
I was racing hither and yon to gather envelopes and no one, stopped to help me. Well, except for one terrifying looking man, big burly with a black leather jacket I was sure had a gang patch on the back. He leapt over, “You look after the box and I’ll grab the envelopes eh?” He darted around the road, grabbing the envelopes and from time to time putting more in the box. “it’s okay, we’re gettin’ them, ww’re winning this one”. It was the only conversation we had after all was well again, he walked down to the Post Office with me as if for protection. I’ve often wishes I’d been older then fifteen and able to make conversation with him besides my gasped, ‘thank you, thank you. What a lesson in not judging…
From Pojouaque New Mexico Vicky V offers us this encounter, rich with sensory detail, and a reminder about the road ahead.
I was traveling in India, before going into a retreat, and went to the Pushkar Camel Festival, which was a festival for Bedouin desert dwellers. They gathered to show off their camels, trade camels, race camels and do all sorts of camel related things. There were a few westerners there, but not many.
The men were tall and lean, sun kissed skin, angular cheekbones, and regally handsome. They wore large beautiful turbans. Different tribes had different colors in their bright turbans and in the unpatterned pants and knee length shirts they wore. They wandered around in small groups of men, visiting other groups and doing the aforementioned camel related things. They were also, usually 4 at a time, the escorts for groups of about a dozen joyful and strong women, who wore radiantly colored layered circle skirts, a matching scarf swirled around their shoulders and head and big silver bangles on each arm and ankle. Again, the patterns of colors and print on their skirts and scarves matched their tribe.
It was hot in the Udaipur sun, really hot, and shade was very limited. After the first day, I went to the bazar in the village. Each row was lined with stalls of merchants selling their wares. There were baskets of perfect pyramids of warm colored ground spices for curries, each with their own rich and intoxicating scent. There were fruits and vegetables stacked perfectly on long narrow tables. There were reams of carefully handprinted and woven cloths, stacked neatly. Everything was elegant and reeked of the pride and care of the people in their wares.
I found just what I was looking for in one of those booths. A shawl length wrap of a beautiful red printed thin cotton material. Perfect to create my own shade, as the women of the bedouin tribes did. Who better to learn from as to how to handle the climate than the indigenous people of an area?
The next morning I went back to the festival and watched the races and demonstrations of amazing camel riding skill, sampled the spicy and pungent foods, and went to a magic show (which is a whole other astonishing story of swords and survival and choices.)
On the final day of the festival, everyone was packing their carts, finalizing their trades, and preparing to journey home, wherever that might be. I was walking back toward the village and was met by a group of women and their tall turbaned escorts. They were wearing the same cloth as my shade shawl. I was partially dressed in their cloth and colors, had no bangles, and wore shoes. The women gathered around me and were talking very rapidly and I had no idea what they were talking about. The men kept a slight respectful distance. They touched my arms and frowned, seemingly sad that I was so poor as to not have bangles and I can only imagine their confusion that I walked alone, without sisters and guardians. They began touching me all over and it seemed they were discussing me. They touched my hair, my arms and legs, my belly, my breasts and between my legs. There was absolutely no guile in their touch, no aggression. Simply an inquiry. I did not feel violated in the slightest. My sense is that they were trying to ascertain if I was a real human woman.
Once they were satisfied that I was not a spirit they all smiled and laughed and began singing. They held their arms up about chest high and clapped their forearms together, covered in bangles, as percussion. And there in the dusty path we danced around each other holding the other in our smiles, our eye contact, and the rhythm of it all as we sang together.
After some time and songs and joyous sharing, we went our separate ways. They toward the waiting camel wagon and me toward the village. Before we completely parted, one of the men stopped and said to me. “Good Rajasthani wife” and indicated the camel cart. I knew I was being invited to join them. I looked at the cart, the women, the men, and knew as never before, in that moment I was being invited into an absolute life change. A complete fork in the road. I was tempted. It has often struck me since then that we never know what lies ahead, no matter what choices we make. We never know no matter which fork we chose.
Tony Toledo in Beverly MA writes…
Four years ago I took the 7 am Ferry from Salem MA to Long Wharf in Boston. I could bring my bicycle for free No traffic jams, no parking hassles. I read on the 55 minute boat ride, or napped, or had a cup of coffee while I wrote Garlic George a letter.
I was going into Boston to tell stories at the Copley Square Main Library at 10 am (with READ Boston, a literacy nonprofit I had been with for 15 summers). When I got off the ferry I pedaled the hundred feet to the big circular fountain in Christopher Columbus Park right beside Long Wharf. There were benches all around it, and most were in the shade. I could sit in that summer shade, and read my ever present book.
As I was sitting there I looked over to see across from me a man on his hands and knees retrieving a plastic knife that was dropped under a bench. He then opened up his bag on his shopping cart, pulled out a can of shaving cream, lathered up then shaved in the fountain with that plastic knife. When he was done I told him, “I’m surprised that knife trimmed your beard at all.” He told me, “Some knives are better than others. This was one of the good ones.”
I said, “My name’s Tony. What’s yours?” He said, “I’m Louis.” “Nice to meet you, Louis. I’m done reading the Globe. You want it?” He said, “Sure, thanks.” Then he proceeded to tell me what he loved about Boston, and his favorite hiding spots. He knew lots of history, and seemed happy to share it.
I offered him a Poptart. As we were getting ready to eat them, we toasted our tarts there side by side on that bench. I then said my farewell, jumped on my bicycle, and waved. It was the only time I ever saw Louis. I still haven’t tried to shave with a plastic spoon. Maybe tomorrow. But I do recall with fondness that early morning conversation.
I’m posting this for my friend and colleague Regina Ress. Thank you Regina!
Choosing Love on Jet Blue © ~Regina Ress
When I sat down in my window seat on Jet Blue’s red-eye from Albuquerque to New York, I wondered who would be sharing the row with me. I mean, we’d be sleeping together, right? There had been an interesting assortment of people in the airport, including several Muslim families with children. The young mothers were in flowing outfits with brightly colored heads scarves , plus an older woman dressed in elegant black, head to toe.
Two people arrived and sat in my row: that older woman in her black dress with designs formed by small jet beads, simple but elegant. Her hair, of course, was covered with a black scarf. With her, a younger man in a business suit. On our seats were little pouches containing earplugs and a sleep-mask. The woman picked up a pouch, turned to me as if asking, “what is this?” I gestured plugging ears and covering eyes. She smiled and sat down.
As soon as they settled in, the man turned to me and in very good English opened a pleasant conversation to which I immediately responded, and we began conversing. They were from Jordan. He was her son. They had been attending a family wedding in Albuquerque. He had traveled many places in Europe and in Asia. I’d traveled some places in Europe and Asia but mainly in Latin America. In Arabic, she told him to tell me that I should visit Jordan and see Petra. I said I hoped to.
We talked travel. We talked food. At some point he asked me, “Where are your people from?” I replied “My mother’s grandparents came from Hungary. My father was born in Lithuania. And then I added “I am Jewish.” He nodded, turned to his mother, and translated that bit of information.
We continued talking about food and travel and such. Then we tried to sleep. At some point we gave up trying and he and I continued our conversation. We talked about how difficult it is to sleep sitting up on an airplane. We looked at the rising sun together. We talked about how people on this planet form a large and beautiful garden with many kinds of flowers. We talked about how there must be peace. We all agreed that we must stop hating and killing each other. I even got to use my one word of Arabic: šukran (thank you).
When we landed at JFK, I reached under the seat and from the front of my backpack, I unpinned a round, red button with white letters stating Choose Love. I held out the button. “Would you like this?” The woman took it with delight and immediately pinned it on the front of her black dress, nestled among the jet beads. She smiled at me. Her son smiled at me. I said, “I hope you get home safely.”
The woman then rooted around in her large handbag and pulled out a ball point pen. She gave it to me, nodding and smiling. I nodded and smiled and took her gift. Sukran Thank you.
Sukran. Choose love. Give it, receive it, return it. Thank you.
How Stork Came To Be ~ A Polish tale found wandering the Streets of New York City shared by PapaJoe Gaudet
It was sometime in those late ’80s, I was still driving the Vardo my kids called the Big Blue Box. It was all painted up like an old fashion Medicine Show wagon, with a traveling storyteller banner and variegated English ivy trim, my first artcar. I’d been asked to come down to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, to tell tales to a bunch of danceophiles at a Barefoot Boogie weekend. That first night was spent sleeping peacefully parked across the street from the studio, in a line with dozens of service vehicles. What a shock it was when I stepped out of the Vardo in the mornIng and saw all those vehicles in line, tagged with technicolor graffiti. Mine hadn’t been touched. Perhaps, out of respect for a fellow artist. I was still in a bit of a daze, when I heard a voice from the alley beside the dance studio.
“Are you a storyteller?” called a large, very dark man, standing beside a burning trashcan. His Haitian accent was difficult for me at first, but my ears were quick back then.
“Ayup.” I answered.
“Me too!” He replied.
His name was Julien. He had left Haiti years before because he said it was hazardous to storytellers. We talked about Tap Taps, the colorful busses of Port-au-Prince and how much my vardo reminded him of home. Then he called out his first “Cric!” I answered with “Crack” and the stories flowed from his lips like streams in the spring, strong and fast and rather overwhelming. The dirty alley faded away and I spent the morning on a far away island in the Caribbean.
When I tell those tales, I often forget myself and find myself back in the enchantment with him.
There was one story that seemed out of place with the others. The flavor was Haitian, but the theme was not. When pressed for details he told me he got it in a trade, from an old Pole when he first came to New York. I’d forgotten the odd tale for a few decades, when a good friend sent me a copy of the Polish legend of the Pussy Willows. Then up pops the memory and I’m sitting in the dirty alley not caring about the sounds of the city or the rancid smells and Julian’s deep rich voice is flowing over me like a river and the bloodshot whites of his eyes fill my sight.
I’ve recorded the story as best as I remember from Julien, who learned the wild tale from a nameless Polish Immigrant in the 60’s. I’ve searched for and through references, but I’ve never found more than a hint of the tale in a written form.
Beetles, Locusts, Flies and Gnats.
Snakes, Lizards, Frogs and Scorpions
Voles, Moles, Mice and Shrews.
Pest were spreading ‘cross the land in such numbers that Papa God, tired of listening to the complaining, at last gathered them all into a sack. Well, not at once. It took him a week.
He was exhausted after all that work, so he gave the sack to a man, told him to throw it in the sea, and Papa God rested.
What! You know God hadn’t been working so much after creating the world. He was a little out of shape. Besides he’s Papa God. Who are you to criticise?
Anyway, the man was doing what he was told; he throws the sack over his shoulder and heads off for the sea. But he can feel the movement of the pests right through his shirt, though the fabric of the sack. It’s moving plenty, but what’s the form! And he can’t help but wonder, which of the creatures so offended Papa God that it must be drowned in the sea?
Standing on the sea shore, the man thinks, ‘How will Papa God know I peeked? He’s asleep! I’ll open the sack just enough to look. the creature won’t get pass me.’
Opening the tiniest of openings with the greatest of care, the man sticks his eye to the sack and…
OUT FLIES A GNAT! Right into his eye! He drops the sack to grab his eye…
Beetles, Locusts, Flies and Gnats.
Snakes, Lizards, Frogs and Scorpions
Voles, Moles, Mice and Shrews.
Pest were spreading ‘cross the land. Only this time they were hiding. They weren’t gonna be caught so easy again.
Papa God was so angry, he ordered that man to collect the pests. Papa God stretched out his neck and gave him a long beak to reach deep, long legs to move quick on the ground and wings to move even faster. That’s how we got the first stork. Of course, he couldn’t equal Papa God’s work, so he never finished catching all the pests.
Every Spring, his descendants return from their vacation in Egypt. Hey! Even Papa God needed to rest after catching the pests the first time, remember? Every year they work hard collecting…
Beetles, Locusts, Flies and Gnats.
Snakes, Lizards, Frogs and Scorpions
Voles, Moles, Mice and Shrews.
all the pests ‘cross the land.
A few weeks ago I went to donate blood. At a blood drive a Red Cross employee checks you in, asks some questions, and checks your temperature, blood pressure, and a few other things.
Monique, the intake person at this drive, greeted me pleasantly (they always do) and pulled up my information on her laptop. She smiled ruefully. “Oh” she said “You stole my daughter’s birthday!”
“So your daughter was born on Christmas Day?” I asked.
“Yes” Monique replied shortly.
I decided to probe. “How does she feel about that? ” I asked.
“She doesn’t like it at all” Monique replied. “It’s like her brother and her sister have real birthdays, and she doesn’t”.
“How old is she?” I asked
“Just turned eight”.
“Well” I said, “Way back when I was a kid my parents did a really good thing about that”.
Monique’s eyes pivoted from her screen towards me.
“They moved my birthday celebration to my half birthday on June 25” I continued. “That’s a much better time for a kid’s party than late December. The weather’s better, kids can play outside, school’s just getting out, and kids aren’t all frazzled from all the Christmas stuff. It worked out great. until I was twelve or thirteen, and after that I didn’t care.”
Monique listened closely, nodding. Then she pulled herself back to her job and picked up her blood pressure cuff.
A few minutes later, as I stood up to walk over to the donation area, Monique stopped me. “Can I ask one more thing?” she said. “When you had your party in June, were you celebrating the birthday before or the one after?”
“Huh”. I said. “That was never clear. I don’t think it occurred to me or my parents that we needed to decide that”.
“Thanks for the idea”, said Monique. “Have a good day”.
“You too” I replied. “Good luck with your daughter”.
I don’t know how Monique’s daughter’s next party will go , or even when it will happen. I hope it’s a good one.
When I was 17 and straight out of high school I moved from SF, NM, where I was born and raised, to Eureka CA, where I knew absolutely no one. I went to school at The College of the Redwoods, which was about 15 minutes outside of town.
Eureka is a coastal town on the outskirts of the Redwood Forest. In the mid 80s it’s primary employers were the Navy, a pulp mill, which when the wind was right you could smell for miles and miles, and illegal pot farms. Highway 101 ran through the edge of town, about a mile from the ocean. 101 was the primary distribution highway between northern and southern CA, and at any time of day or night there was a constant convoy of semis moving up and down the road.
I caught the bus to school just outside the Grey Hound bus depot, right on 101. It was about a half mile from the house where I rented a room. I loved my short walk every morning from my quiet neighborhood to the bus stop. Coming from New Mexico, I relished the abundant rain, the tall deciduous trees and lush green flora and the fog rolling in off the water. I knew it was a small, depressed town struggling to survive, but, it was all new and wonderful to me!
One day I was sitting at the bus stop, waiting for the city bus to pull up and drive me through the beautiful landscape to my morning classes. I adored the campus which was spread across low rolling hills and surrounded by lush forest.
As I sat there in the small plexiglass shelter, lost in thought, I watched as a Grey Hound bus pulled out of the parking lot. Standing in it’s wake was an old man, with white hair and hunched shoulders. He picked up the 2 worn suitcases on either side of him and came towards the shelter. He was walking slowly and looking around as if in a daze. When he got to the shelter, he dropped his bags and stood still watching the trailer trucks whizzing by, mere feet from us. The wind they created stirred his wispy hair and made him squint.
He took his time sitting down on the bench. I watched him curiously as he proceeded to look around. Finally, his eyes traveled over in my direction and I had to ask.
“Are you visiting or returning home?”
“Well,” he answered slowly, “Both, actually.”
He said, “The last time I was here was in 1948, 40 years ago. I arrived in 1945 with the US Navy. We came to build ships for WWII. There was no base here, at the time. We were the first. There was nothing here but hundred foot tall trees as far as the eye could see.”
I looked out over the city. The land rose up gently from where we sat, so we couldn’t see much more than a couple of blocks before the horizon met the sky. From where we sat, there was not a single tree visible. All we saw was concrete, metal and glass flashing into view in between the blasts of loud traffic flying past us. The exhaust and smoke from the trucks was thick and the smell of rot and decay wafted inland from the pulp mills.
He told me about how the woods were so thick they had to bushwhack their way in. They slept in hammocks until they could clear enough trees to set up camp on the ground. The light was thin as it filtered through the branches, which blocked out most of the sky.
I tried to imagine how he must have felt, in that moment, there with me. In a way, he had created the urban environment that surrounded us. But when he had left, there were tiny dirt roads, and log cabins surrounded by forest. Now, there was nothing left of the home he had once built with his own hands.
We sat together silently, lost in thought, him in memory, me in imagination, reflecting on how much our world had changed in 40 short years. I never learned his name, and can’t remember his face, but I will never forget the incredible impact he had on my narrow perspective at 17 years old.
Thank you Mel for this contribution to 1001…
My brief encounter of memory is of an airplane ride. I was on my way to a conference and sat beside a women in a nun’s habit. I was somewhat nervous about the flight, as the dark burned marks of a recent and deadly airplane accident were still on the tarmack. She was obviously very nervous too and I introduced myself and asked if she would like to lead us in a prayer of safety, feeling that she would be the best one of us to approach God. She stared at me like a deer in the headlights for just a moment and then she took my hands, squeezed them and asked, “No, you pray, please.” I was instantly aware of being put into an inferior role with a mother that was quite superior, but I am at home with God and prayer, so I prayed quietly for the good Lord to protect us both. There were tears streaming down her face when I finished praying and she smiled at me in what I deemed appreciation. As the years have progressed and I have matured in studying that same memory, I realize that her request for me to lead prayer was most likely one that she practiced often, leading children into closer relationships with the Lord by having them lead in prayer. No matter whether her deference to prayer was in fear or in a teaching mode, I have always considering that one of my favorite brief, but very close, encounters of the God kind.
Luv and Stories,
Sandra S writes-
New Year Eve in Victoria Park, London, Ont. I’m standing huddled against a very cold night in a circle with the family of friends I had joined to celebrate with, a mom and dad and their three children. I was in my 20s at the time and thinking how nice it would be to connect meaningfully in some way with others outside my circle. We all seemed so separate yet celebrating the same event. How to reach across the separation?
Not long after the clock struck midnight, a guy who was standing not far away suddenly turned and met my gaze. I recall little about his appearance now except that he was of a slim build, maybe in his 30s, and had a friendly face. We both smiled and spontaneously stepped forward to cover the distance between us and hugged followed by speaking the new year’s greeting to each other.. Then grinning madly we both waved to one another and returned to our former places.
I can still feel the elation I felt in that moment and how it lifted my spirits then and still does each time I remember it.
Blessings to you Bob for giving me the opportunity to remember it now, almost 40 yesrs later, when my trust of others has been so eroded.
New Hampshire is cold in March. I was happy to be heading home to North Carolina. The shuttle driver was napping behind the wheel. The sunshine warmed him through windshield. When I opened the passenger door he stirred, “Thanks for waking me up!” He pointed. “Open the sliding door – that’s it behind you – and put your bag anywhere you can find.” The door was heavy. I used both hands to slide it back. I hefted my bag high enough to fit on the seat above. Placed my backpack in front of it on the floor of the van and slid the door shut.
“Nah, you didn’t get it. Open it up and try again. You got to really slam it shut.”
I opened the heavy door, pulled it three feet back, then a little more. I took a running start and slammed the door into the lock mechanism.
“There you go, now get in here where it is warm. So how did you like New Hampshire? Did you get to spread your wings?”
“I got to go downtown last…”
“You have to spread your wings. When you come back….what do you like: the mountains or the ocean? Of course the beach is the same anywhere. Did you know we have a mountain 6000 feet tall? We do. I used to be a truck driver and driving out there’s an old man, his nose, you could see his ears. Forty three years I’d look out the window and say “hello old man” then driving back, “Hello old man. (pause) Until he fell.”
He points his finger high up and then whistles it down, as he imagines the old man rock formation from his memory crash to the bottom. He seems to stare at the rubble for a split second, then he mimics looking out the window. “Forty three years I been saying hello to the old man. He’s not there anymore.”
“You got to spread your wings. Next time you are here you need to take a taxi, they won’t charge you that much. Go see something. You can drive out toward Concord, just fields and farms. Serene. There’s God in that quiet. Cows don’t talk. Thank goodness. I guess. I’m a Catholic. I love my family. I’m one of seven. My mother was one of eighteen. They are all gone now. Now it’s just us. And we’ll be gone soon.
“So I’m putting away the material things and getting ready for the spiritual. I’m eighty. People say I don’t look a day over 65. (I thought he looked eighty.) I never drank. I don’t drink. Never smoked. I have diabetes but the doctor says I’m doing fine.
“You got to spread your wings. I loved all of my jobs. This one? This van is a toy I get to drive around all over everywhere every day. I get to meet people. I believe in dialogue. I flew down to Florida. I don’t like it there. They don’t understand hospitality. I don’t have a phone. I’m old school. I got on the plane and said, “Hello!” and the guy next to me he’s got his thumbs tapping and he doesn’t even look up. I say, “You can’t even say hello?” He doesn’t say a thing. I sat next to him the whole way and we don’t say nothing. That’s a shame. People don’t talk.
“I think this virus… it’s going to remind us that we need to value each other. We need to treat each other better. I think we are going to come together. We are like beads on a rosary, all linked together. I was born on a farm up in Vermont. We had the farm table that sits fifteen. I was three and my mother says to us all after dinner, get on your knees and let’s say the rosary. I’m three. I tell her ‘I don’t know the rosary.’ She says ‘You will when I get through with you.’ I learn it in English. Then I learn it in French.
“Down at the bottom of that mountain is a lake they call Mirror Lake, because it is. You can look down into it and see the mountain. You got to spread your wings. It is silence that brings you back to peace. You can feel it. You know what I mean.”
He never let me say a word. And it was my silence that let his poetry bring me some peace. Airplanes, hotels and conference halls cramp me up. This old man took me to the beach, the fields and showed me the mountain in Mirror Lake. I got to spread my wings during that shuttle ride.
Yes, I had to lug my own bags but that’s okay. I imagine him now back at the hotel finishing his nap in the sunshine his wings fluffed and relaxed.
I was volunteering at the County Clerk of the Court’s office filing closed cases on the depository shelves. I took a break and walked out into the halls just outside the department.
Sitting on one of the benches was a young woman crying softly. Went and got some tissue from the restroom and brought them to her way. I sat down, handed the tissue to her, and just sat saying nothing.
She began telling me about what was happening – filed for divorce. I just listened as she related everything that led up to the filing. Just held space for her.
When my break was over, I turned to her and said, “Just remember to breathe.”. She thanked me for listening. I wonder, sometimes, what finally happened. I hope she’s well.
Thanks so much for sharing this David. The power of a tissue at the right time and the gift of presence!