Sunday Links: Wisdom from Children, Tribal Elders and Other Unexpected Sources

1. Calah writes a must-read poignant reflection: My Legs Are Too Short

Liam turned his eyes back toward the ceiling. I saw his chin waver a bit, and then he said, almost in a whisper, “but I can’t follow him, Mommy.” I propped myself up on one elbow and reached out to cup his cheek in my hand. “Why not, little buddy?” I asked him gently. His voice cracked as he said, “because my legs are too short.”

It sounds so cute on paper, but I didn’t feel much like laughing. I felt like crying with him. I kissed his forehead and settled my cheek against his and said, “mine are too short too, Liam. But he comes to us. He’ll come to you, buddy. He’ll never walk t0o fast for you to follow.”

The answer satisfied my 3-year-old, and he fell asleep. I lay awake for a while, though, thinking about how wise my son is, and how in 3 years he knows more about following Christ than I’ve learned in all my 29. My legs are too short too, my courage too meager, my faith too small, my heart too shriveled. Even when he matches his steps to mine I can barely keep up.

2. Collaborating with a Four Year Old, a delightful little piece. A mother reluctantly shares her sketchbook with her daughter and finds that the pictures are better

Sometimes I would give her suggestions, like “maybe she could have a dragon body!” but usually she would ignore theses suggestions if it didn’t fit in with what she already had in mind. But since I am a grownup and a little bit (okay a lot) of a perfectionist, I sometimes would have a specific idea in mind as I doodled my heads. Maybe she could make this into a bug! I’d think happily to myself as I sketched, imagining the possibilities of what it could look like. So later, when she’d doodle some crazy shape that seemed to go in some surrealistic direction, or put a large circle around the creature and filled the WHOLE THING in with marker, part of my brain would think, What is she DOING?!? She’s just scribbling it all up! But I should know that in most instances, kids’ imaginations way outweigh a grownup’s, and it always ALWAYS looked better that what I had imagined. ALWAYS.

3. Shakespeare in the Bush: An American anthropologist set out to study the Tiv of West Africa and was taught the true meaning of Hamlet.

I first read this a few years ago. I still love it.

Just before I left Oxford for the Tiv in West Africa, conversation turned to the season at Stratford. “You Americans,” said a friend, “often have difficulty with Shakespeare. He was, after all, a very English poet, and one can easily misinterpret the universal by misunderstanding the particular.”

I protested that human nature is pretty much the same the whole world over; at least the general plot and motivation of the greater tragedies would always be clear—everywhere—although some details of custom might have to be explained and difficulties of translation might produce other slight changes. To end an argument we could not conclude, my friend gave me a copy of Hamlet to study in the African bush: it would, he hoped, lift my mind above its primitive surroundings, and possibly I might, by prolonged meditation, achieve the grace of correct interpretation.

I just love the way the story just slips from his control.

While I paused, perplexed at how to render Hamlet’s disgusted soliloquy to an audience convinced that Claudius and Gertrude had behaved in the best possible manner, one of the younger men asked me who had married the other wives of the dead chief.

“He had no other wives,” I told him.

“But a chief must have many wives! How else can he brew beer and prepare food for all his guests?”

I said firmly that in our country even chiefs had only one wife, that they had servants to do their work, and that they paid them from tax money.

It was better, they returned, for a chief to have many wives and sons who would help him hoe his farms and feed his people; then everyone loved the chief who gave much and took nothing—taxes were a bad thing.

I agreed with the last comment, but for the rest fell back on their favorite way of fobbing off my questions: “That is the way it is done, so that is how we do it.”

And the conclusion is the best:

“That was a very good story,” added the old man, “and you told it with very few mistakes.” There was just one more error, at the very end. The poison Hamlet’s mother drank was obviously meant for the survivor of the fight, whichever it was. If Laertes had won, the great chief would have poisoned him, for no one would know that he arranged Hamlet’s death. Then, too, he need not fear Laertes’ witchcraft; it takes a strong heart to kill one’s only sister by witchcraft.

“Sometime,” concluded the old man, gathering his ragged toga about him, “you must tell us some more stories of your country. We, who are elders, will instruct you in their true meaning, so that when you return to your own land your elders will see that you have not been sitting in the bush, but among those who know things and who have taught you wisdom.”

4. Poem of the Week: CS Lewis, Limping Metaphors, and Groanings Too Deep For Words

This is just beautiful. A lovely poem from Lewis, a great quote from Owen Barfield and some thoughts on metaphors and language:

What Barfield is saying here is that metaphors are not simply ‘poetic trappings,” but the foundation for all of human speech—but we have become so familiar with these metaphors (as well as historically removed from their original usages) that we cease to recognize them as such. Thus, we all rely on metaphors on a daily basis, although for the most part we remain ignorant of our great debt.

It is impossible to overstate how central metaphors are to the entirety of our lives, for all of human experience is shaped by metaphors. We humans are built in such a way that we make connections between the visible world of the senses and the invisible world of the spirit by the use of language; we are able to understand what we have not seen by the things which we have seen. Metaphors give flesh to that which is abstract. It is a shocking thing to realize that one cannot actually think without metaphors, for they are the very heart of meaning.

5.Some beautiful thoughts about caring for children learned while evaluating trees: Code 1: No Action Needed

In school, though, we learned that most of these stakes are superfluous. In very windy sites, stakes are necessary so that a newly-planted tree doesn’t topple over, or grow a bent trunk. But a tree responds to wind stresses by growing a thicker trunk in exactly the right places to withstand the pressure. It’s the movement of the tree in the wind that tells it where to grow. Stakes interfere with this process by holding the trunk still. It can’t even begin until the stakes are removed.

We have a lot of caring-but-wrong practices that we apply to trees. We wrap their trunks to to keep them from getting cold or sunburned, which leads to rot. We paint their cut limbs with sealant to keep them from drying out, but it keeps them from healing. Mostly, we learned, if trees are left alone, they’ll handle what comes their way.

These days I spend my time helping children to grow instead of trees, and this is no internship. In the rare quiet moments I remember the mute lessons that those trees taught me. I wonder about all the stakes that we give children. I wonder about the wires. I wonder which stakes are really necessary and which are just a result of our desperate need to help. How many of them are really required to keep them from blowing over? How many are keeping them from responding to the push of the wind? Which ones are we waiting too long to remove? Which ones will we forget to remove at all?

Slowly, happenstance noticed becomes suspicion, suspicion becomes tentative practice, which slowly eases into method, then rhythm and trust. Trunks grown a little thicker in response to the wind, stakes a little less necessary than before.

And I wonder how often our need to help leads us to overdo the amount of support we offer these little ones we love so much. I’m beginning to believe that children may be a little like trees, actually, and that our role as parents is often to provide water, and sunshine, and fertile soil, but to keep our caring hands to ourselves and let them do their own growing. I wonder whether the real answer isn’t “Code 1: No action needed” a whole lot more often than we think.

2 Responses to Sunday Links: Wisdom from Children, Tribal Elders and Other Unexpected Sources

  1. The Sojourner September 2, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

    Scott and I love that Shakespeare link, to the point where we will sometimes tell each other primly, “That was a good story and you told it with very few mistakes.”

  2. Melanie Bettinelli September 2, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

    Sojourner,

    That’s awesome.

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