I Believe

Belief is a very touchy subject. I mean, what you think is easy to share. Everyone’s got an opinion. But belief seems quieter, more fragile, more willing to break. It’s personal. 

And don’t worry. We’re not gonna get into the specifics of the “big” question: whether pineapple belongs on pizza or not. (Jk, it’s whether there’s an omnipresent being watching over us. Which is the more controversial topic, again?)

I’ll start: I’m just gonna say that I believe in fairies, unicorns, mermaids, villains, heroes, witches, warlocks, magic, spells, and most importantly, happy endings. 

Why? Because I’ve never had a reason not to. 

I’ve never looked at this world, with all its treasures and wonders, but also pain and hurt, and said something just can’t be possible. Because it all can. I’ve seen amazing good and horrible bad. And because of that, I believe in everything. I have to so that it all balances out, somehow. 

So, while believing in fairies might seem silly to you, to me it’s just acknowledging that we don’t know everything about our world.

And when we do, it’ll be a sad day. Because when things are still unknown, there’s still room for belief. 

What Big…Shoulders You Have?

What big eyes you have, grandma!

The better to see you with, my dear.

What big ears you have! 

The better to hear you with.

What big teeth you have…

And you should know that this is the part where things start to go downhill. The Grimm Brothers are not known for their sensitivity, and Little Red Riding Hood does not disappoint in this category. After the last line (above), the little girl is chased around the room by the wolf who has eaten her grandmother only moments before. That is, until the friendly axeman arrives to stop the fray by chopping the wolf up and saving the little old lady from imminent digestion.

You are probably familiar with some version of this tale, but I bet you didn’t realize that within this gruesome scene, there is a rather positive message.

Even though Red Riding Hood knows something is up because she keeps pointing out the unusual features that her “grandmother” has suddenly assumed, the wolf is still able to spin the negatives into positives (as surely as Rumpelstiltskin spins straw into gold) by telling Little Red Riding Hood what his charming characteristics are good for.

Forgive me if I am reading too much into this child’s story, (I’m an English major after all) but it seems that the wolf has rehearsed these lines when he delivers them to Little Red. In fact, I would daresay that the wolf has been defending his anatomy his entire life due to the ease with which he speaks to the girl.

You see, the wolf is personified in this fairy tale. That means he possesses qualities that humans have: speech, emotions, the ability to dress up like little old women, you know. So, if he’s only “human,” why wouldn’t he have insecurities about his big ears, eyes, and teeth?

After all, I’m sure you have insecurities. Actually, I can rest assured that you have something that you would like to change about yourself. (I am as sure about this as I am about the fact that Little Red Riding Hood should not actually be read to children.)

Of course, everyone wants a tummy tuck and a little fat sucked away here and there. But if there is one thing that I fixate upon every time I look at the mirror, mirror on the wall, it would be my shoulders.

My shoulders are one of the biggest things that stand between me and the feeling that I look like a sweet, slight, feminine princess. My shoulders are huge. I once measured them and found that they are exactly the size of a clothes hanger, which does not lend itself to the whole “dainty damsel” image favored by society.

But the funny thing is, my grandfather used to compliment me on my shoulders all of the time when he was alive. He would tell me that I have strong shoulders and that I should be a swimmer. And wouldn’t you know, I started to see my shoulders differently. I saw my them as an extension of my ability to bear weight without collapsing. (We’re talking about emotional weight, here. Not physical weight. My arms are puny, let’s so stick with the metaphor.) I suddenly saw myself as strong and present in the world, instead of cowering and afraid. My shoulders became a point of pride instead of contention because I began to see them as a symbol of my ability instead of my appearance. Suddenly, it was not, my! what big shoulders you have. It became my! what big shoulders you have! All the better to raise the glass ceiling on your expectations of my capabilities as a strong woman, my dear.

Now, I’m not saying that you should wait for someone to come along and write a love poem about your insecurities, suddenly casting them in a favorable spotlight, like my grandfather sort of did for me. I’m saying that you should be more like the wolf. Not in the way that he eats grandmothers or preys on little children, but in the way that he champions the parts of himself that he literally cannot hide. The way that he is unapologetic for who he is, even when he is pretending to be someone else entirely.

We all know that fairy tales have wonderful lessons for children. It is time we reconsidered them as adults. We need to see that we are not a wolf in our grandmother’s clothing, trying to be someone else, but ourselves, as we were meant to be seen.

Adults Should Read More Fairy Tales

For my job, I read a lot. And I usually come across some truly interesting pieces. I’ve read satires, plays, allegories, dictionaries, and yes, nonfiction.

But what seems to be the most accessible for me (due to good ol’ http://www.gutenberg.org and the copyright laws of this land that enforce the “public domain”) are children’s stories and fairy tales.

I simply find it so beautiful that there are so many stories around the world that have the same  moral or lesson as some of our most familiar tales but are couched in a uniquely different culture with recognizable and distinguishable characters. And you can find them all, spanning entire nations but all having a common thread. They truly unify humanity in a way that no other medium can.

I’ve actually had so much fun reading fairy tales and children’s stories that I had to ask myself: why do we leave them on our bookshelf after only a few years of enjoyment? Sure, there are many media empires that have been made from a product that was geared toward “children” but have since captured the imagination of all ages. And yes, many children’s stories have a decidedly darker and sharper edge that makes us scratch our heads, wondering, “Why did my parents let me read this as a child?”

And yet, there are some that I believe to be so universal and applicable that we should carry them with us throughout our lives. I’ve selected two for you tonight, to share with you and that will (hopefully) provide you with the right message at the right time.

The Sailor Man

Once upon a time, two children came to the house of a sailor man, who lived beside the salt sea; and they found the sailor man sitting in his doorway knotting ropes.
“How do you do?” asked the sailor man.
“We are very well, thank you,” said the children, who had learned manners, “and we hope you are the same. We heard that you had a boat, and we thought that perhaps you would take us out in her, and teach us how to sail, for that is what we most wish to know.”
“All in good time,” said the sailor man. “I am busy now, but by-and-by, when my work is done, I may perhaps take one of you if you are ready to learn. Meantime here are some ropes that need knotting; you might be doing that, since it has to be done.” And he showed them how the knots should be tied, and went away and left them.
When he was gone the first child ran to the window and looked out.
“There is the sea,” he said. “The waves come up on the beach, almost to the door of the house. They run up all white, like prancing horses, and then they go dragging back. Come and look!”

“I cannot,” said the second child. “I am tying a knot.”
“Oh!” cried the first child, “I see the boat. She is dancing like a lady at a ball; I never saw such a beauty. Come and look!”
“I cannot,” said the second child. “I am tying a knot.”
“I shall have a delightful sail in that boat,” said the first child. “I expect that the sailor man will take me, because I am the eldest and I know more about it. There was no need of my watching when he showed you the knots, because I knew how already.”
Just then the sailor man came in.
“Well,” he said, “my work is over. What have you been doing in the meantime?”
“I have been looking at the boat,” said the first child. “What a beauty she is! I shall have the best time in her that ever I had in my life.”
“I have been tying knots,” said the second child.
“Come, then,” said the sailor man, and he held out his hand to the second child. “I will take you out in the boat, and teach you to sail her.”
“But I am the eldest,” cried the first child, “and I know a great deal more than she does.”
“That may be,” said the sailor man; “but a person must learn to tie a knot before he can learn to sail a boat.”
“But I have learned to tie a knot,” cried the child. “I know all about it!”
“How can I tell that?” asked the sailor man.

I love this story because it seems to be directly aimed at every know-it-all (me) and millenial (also me) that I know. We all think that we know how to do certain things, and maybe we do. But take my advice, if you are starting a new job or beginning a new career path, do not scoff when they teach you how to do something you know how to do. They will never understand the true extent of your talent unless they see it. (An unfortunate trait of humans, yes, that we must see to believe, but it is true.)

Why the Evergreen Trees Keep Their Leaves in Winter

One day, a long, long time ago, it was very cold; winter was coming. And all the birds flew away to the warm south, to wait for the spring. But one little bird had a broken wing and could not fly. He did not know what to do. He looked all round, to see if there was any place where he could keep warm. And he saw the trees of the great forest.
“Perhaps the trees will keep me warm through the winter,” he said.
So he went to the edge of the forest, hopping and fluttering with his broken wing. The first tree he came to was a slim silver birch.
“Beautiful birch-tree,” he said, “will you let me live in your warm branches until the springtime comes?”
“Dear me!” said the birch-tree, “what a thing to ask! I have to take care of my own leaves through the winter; that is enough for me. Go away.”
The little bird hopped and fluttered with his broken wing until he came to the next tree. It was a great, big oak-tree.
“O big oak-tree,” said the little bird, “will you let me live in your warm branches until the springtime comes?”
“Dear me,” said the oak-tree, “what a thing to ask! If you stay in my branches all winter you will be eating my acorns. Go away.”
So the little bird hopped and fluttered with his broken wing till he came to the willow-tree by the edge of the brook.

“O beautiful willow-tree,” said the little bird, “will you let me live in your warm branches until the springtime comes?”
“No, indeed,” said the willow-tree; “I never speak to strangers. Go away.”
The poor little bird did not know where to go; but he hopped and fluttered along with his broken wing. Presently the spruce-tree saw him, and said, “Where are you going, little bird?”
“I do not know,” said the bird; “the trees will not let me live with them, and my wing is broken so that I cannot fly.”
“You may live on one of my branches,” said the spruce; “here is the warmest one of all.”
“But may I stay all winter?”
“Yes,” said the spruce; “I shall like to have you.”
The pine-tree stood beside the spruce, and when he saw the little bird hopping and fluttering with his broken wing, he said, “My branches are not very warm, but I can keep the wind off because I am big and strong.”
So the little bird fluttered up into the warm branch of the spruce, and the pine-tree kept the wind off his house; then the juniper-tree saw what was going on, and said that she would give the little bird his dinner all the winter, from her branches. Juniper berries are very good for little birds.
The little bird was very comfortable in his warm nest sheltered from the wind, with juniper berries to eat.
The trees at the edge of the forest remarked upon it to each other:
“I wouldn’t take care of a strange bird,” said the birch.
“I wouldn’t risk my acorns,” said the oak.
“I would not speak to strangers,” said the willow. And the three trees stood up very tall and proud.
That night the North Wind came to the woods to play. He puffed at the leaves with his icy breath, and every leaf he touched fell to the ground. He wanted to touch every leaf in the forest, for he loved to see the trees bare.
“May I touch every leaf?” he said to his father, the Frost King.
“No,” said the Frost King, “the trees which were kind to the bird with the broken wing may keep their leaves.”
So North Wind had to leave them alone, and the spruce, the pine, and the juniper-tree kept their leaves through all the winter. And they have done so ever since.

I absolutely love this story. If I had enough space on my body, and if I could find a tattoo artist with a steady hand I would get it permanently inked on my body, I love it that much. I love the fact that this poor little bird was sheltered by these awesome, generous trees. I love the line in which the other trees stand up tall and proud for turning away someone in need; I can almost feel their foolishness. In the end, it’s a simple lesson but such an important one. Be kind to those in need of help. You may not receive anything for your generosity, but do it anyway.

I’ve just given you a taste of a world you knew when you were young. Find these and more fanciful stories here: http://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/ 

Now, my lesson for you is to not ever grow up, but if you must, do us all a favor and try to remember these important lessons from your childhood.