Muth took a short story written by Leo Tolstoy and reworked it with animal characters to appeal to children. In the book, a boy named Nikolai goes on a journey to seek answers to three BIG LIFE questions:
“When is the best time to do things?”
“Who is the most important one?”
“What is the right thing to do?”
His steps lead him to encounters with a heron, a monkey and a dog. Each of these characters answers the questions in way that reflects personal biases. The heron suggests the best time to do things is after everything has been planned in advance. The dog believes the most important one is the one who makes the rules, and the monkey knows the right thing to do is to have fun all the time.
Not satisfied, Nikolai climbs a high mountain to seek the answers to his questions from a wise old turtle.
When he reaches the top of the mountain, he finds the wise, old turtle digging a garden. Wanting his full attention and knowing that a young boy digs much faster than an old turtle, Nikolai takes the shovel and finishes turning over the hard soil.
When he is leaning on his shovel after the last shovel full of dirt, he hears a cry for help coming to him out of the windblown forest. He follows the sound and finds a panda knocked out by a fallen tree. Nikolai rescues her and takes her to the turtle’s house to get warm.
When the panda wakes up, she asks, “Where is my child?” Alarmed, Nikolai runs back to the forest where he finds the baby panda, shivering and alone.
Before Nikolai departs, he and the wise old turtle reflect on the answers the boy has found.
“There is only one important time, and that time is now.”
“The most important one is always the one you are with.”
“The most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.”
During my book club gathering (on Zoom) one of my friends said she was becoming a little “tech-ed off.”
The need to hold a book club electronically does test the patience. Sure, it’s fine to discuss the book via the internet, but, let’s be honest, the real heart and soul of a book club is the shared glasses of wine, the tea, the dessert, and the lingering conversations that have nothing at all to do with literature. Being deprived of that connection has me a little tech-ed off too.
At the same time, I am so-o-o-o-o-o grateful for technology in other ways. I have spentmore time on my laptop over the past six weeks than ever.
Even though the electronic book club was not as satisfying, it was better than no book club at all. I’ve participated in writing circles, dinners, coffee times, meetings, and church. Seeing a friend’s face pop up on a video screen is not as much fun as an in-person visit, but it’s . . . enough. The whole experience certainly has clarified who the people are that I really want to see.
I’ve also done more activities not related to technology than ever. There are six of us here, ranging in age from 22 to 64.
We have done:
blind coffee taste test (McDonald’s overall winner. Really.)
blind beer taste test (Molson Canadian overall winner. Really.)
Last autumn’s leaves have not yet composted, so they cover the parts of the path that aren’t muddy. The trees in my Ottawa, Canada climate are budding, but branches are still bare of leaves. Muted colours of grey and brown and dark forest green dominate.
I rounded a corner in the path. Up ahead, white leaves fluttered on a single tree. With branches stretched out in a triangular shape, the leaves resembled the flickering lights of a Christmas tree.
I stopped to appreciate it. I walked closer to examine the leaves. I thought about another of Robert MacFarlane’s words: marcescence. It can refer to trees that hold on to leaves through winter, or people who wither but don’t fall.
Others might have passed by without noticing the simple gift of nature. I’m glad that I walk mindfully, on the lookout for sparks of light on my path.
If we’re watchful, we can perceive those little boosts to the spirits. They help us duringtimes when we’re withering, so we don’t fall.
Another week without our usual workplaces, casual trips to the store, or gatherings of friends.
Some of us have let go of long-planned vacations.
Some of us are seized with panic about lost income.
We have let go of what is not essential. We are waiting for “normal.”
Our situation reminds me of this beautiful work by Macrina Wiederkehr, a Benedictine sister, author, and lover of the spiritual.
She wrote this poem, which she gave me permission to share, about times when we are stripped down, vulnerable, and “wearing the colors of emptiness.” At those times, we are living out the Sacrament of Waiting, ready for a new, surprising kind of beauty.
Slowly she celebrated the sacrament of letting go.
First she surrendered her green,
then the orange, yellow, and red
finally she let go of her own brown.
Shedding her last leaf
she stood empty and silent, stripped bare.
Leaning against the winter sky,
she began her vigil of trust.
Shedding her last leaf,
she watched it journey to the ground.
She stood in silence
wearing the colors of emptiness,
her branches wondering,
How do you give shade with so much gone?
the sacrament of waiting began.
The sunrise and the sunset watched with tenderness.
Clothing her with silhouettes
that kept her hope alive.
They helped her to understand that
her dependence and need,
her emptiness, her readiness to receive,
were giving her a new kind of Beauty.
Every morning and every evening they stood in silence,
and celebrated together
the sacrament of waiting.
Sometimes I think: “I should dump all my social media accounts.”
I get irritated by people tweeting or posting about foods I should or shouldn’t eat. Sometimes one post telling me that I SHOULD eat a certain food is followed quickly by another telling me that I should NEVER eat the food. It’s irksome.
And people can be horrible. Hateful. Mean.
But I don’t dump my social media accounts.
All those contradictory food posts make me realize how much I trust my body to let me know what it needs.
And people can be so wonderful. Inspirational. Kind.
I decided to ask my circle of social media acquaintances for their thoughts. The results wouldn’t stand up to scientific method scrutiny, but they represent an overall picture of the situation. And that is:
For every bad, there is a flip side of good.
We don’t like:
HATE that is easy to spread, aided by anonymity. “I do not like how cruel and thoughtless people can be when not face to face,” one person said. “How quick to judge, and attack, how divisive some posts can be.”
FALSE NEWS and rumours
SHALLOW “LOOK AT ME” POSTS, sometimes mindless and trivial
ADS and blatant self-promotion
HOW IT ENCOURAGES US TO CONSTANTLY COMPARE OUR LIVES TO OTHERS
HOW IT WASTES OUR TIME
But then, we stick with it because all those things have a flip side. We like:
ALL THE LOVE AND CONNECTION, with friends, family, distant connections and people we wouldn’t connect with otherwise. “The other side of that the hate] is how kind strangers can be; how supportive and uplifting,” one friend said. Another added, “I’ve developed supportive friendships around the world and have met several of them.”
USEFUL INFORMATION, breaking news, information in emergencies, recommendations for services, event notifications, genuinely happy news from friends, and hobby groups.
PEARLS OF WISDOM AND INSPIRATION, intellectual stimulation
PRODUCT KNOWLEDGE, finding out about something we need
THE BOOST we get from others who share their creativity and positive experiences
ENTERTAINMENT “Oh and I love the cute animal videos,” a friend said. Don’t we all.
There are valid reasons to cut and run from social media. There are valid reasons to stay. I’ll stick it out, because I’m an optimist.