In 2003 I bought a book by local storyteller Joel ben Izzy called The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness. It tells the story of ben Izzy’s loss of his voice after surgery for thyroid cancer. This wasn’t a little temporary setback, but a paralyzed vocal cord. No voice. For a storyteller.
The book intersperses stories he has told with ben Izzy’s personal journey. I appreciated the book when I read it the first time, but had kind of forgotten about it. For some reason, I picked it up this week and re-read it. Now, my situation is nothing like ben Izzy’s, but I related to so much of what he had to say. One of the major elements of the book is his reconnection with his old storytelling mentor. Their relationship was not an easy one. Lenny, the older man, was frustrating, sick, alone and a general mess. And also wise. Here are a few things this had to say.
“Life is a tough teacher. First she gives the test. Then she gives the lesson.”
“For months now, you’ve been trying to scrape and claw your way out of your own story… But that’s not the way it works. You’re in a story. I’m in a story. Everyone is inside a story, whether they like it or not.”
No spoilers here, in case you want to read the book. But here’s Joel ben Izzy’s own conclusion: “Here’s what I’ve come to: I still believe that things in this world do, indeed, happen for a reason. But sometimes that reason comes only after they happen. It is not a reason we find, but one we carve, sculpted from our own pain and loss, bound together with love and compassion.”
Reading this led me back to the attitude I’ve already written about but find hard to maintain: acceptance. The more I resist where and how I am, the more upset and/or depressed I get. I don’t know why any of this is happening to me. It would be lovely to truly believe that everything has a reason and that all will work out. Honestly, I just don’t know. Here in the middle of whatever this is, it isn’t possible to really make sense of it. I think the best I can do is remember Caroline Casey’s dictum: “Believe nothing; entertain possibilities.” That ALWAYS makes sense to me.
Here’s a Zen story ben Izzy recounts in the book; I’ve also read or heard it in other places. But for some reason it’s sticking in my mind.
Two monks were traveling to their monastery when they came to a stream swollen by recent rains. A beautiful young woman stood by the edge, needing to cross but afraid to do so, She asked for help, and the older of the two monks picked her up and carried her across, setting her down safely on the other side. After the monks had continued on for a good while, the younger monk could no longer contain his anger. “How could you pick up that woman?” he challenged. “You know we are not supposed to touch women.” “That woman?” the older monk replied. “I put her down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”
Acceptance. Whenever I can, I hope to try to remember to put down the stuff I’m carrying.