Tommy was his parent’s pride and joy. A very bright, creative and contented little boy, he began kindergarten with his parent’s certainty that he would flourish.
At the end of the first week, Tommy brought home pictures he had colored. His mother and father beamed at their son’s obvious talent. Although, they were a little curious as to why every single one of Tommy’s drawings were done in black crayon. Even so, they said nothing.
Another week passed. Tommy brought home more pictures, technically correct and endearing. But each of them still in black.
“Perhaps he is color blind,” his father said. “We should get his eyes checked.”
“No,” his mother responded. “Tommy could name all the colors by the time he was two. But I will take him for a checkup.”
The pediatrician said, “There’s no need to worry. Tommy is healthy in every way.”
As the weeks passed, and the pictures continued to come home in black crayon, Tommy’s mother felt unglued by anxiety. She made an appointment with a child psychologist, who conducted numerous tests, referred Tommy for brain scans, but in the end, finally, resigned baffled. “Your son is a precocious learner. Perhaps he needs more challenging activities.”
By Thanksgiving the refrigerator displayed Tommy’s black pictures, black dogs chasing a black ball in a black field, black houses, black suns, black airplanes and a black turkey. Everything black.
Tommy’s grandmother, visiting for the Thanksgiving holiday, noticed (of course) all her grandson’s black drawings. She immediately asked Tommy, “Honey, why are all of your drawings done in black crayon?”
“That’s easy Grandma,” the boy answered. “My chair is at the end of the table, and by the time the box of crayons gets to me, the only ones left are black.”
I like this story because it is cute, and it makes me laugh out loud.
I also like this story because it is a reminder, at a deeper level, of how easily we can be derailed, and victims of our presuppositions.
Here’s the deal: When we are controlled by stories fueled with fear or division, we’ve lost what is real, and it stops the flow of those healing elements that are a part of our DNA; empathy and connection and compassion and reconciliation. The narrative owns us and we no longer see the sacred. So it’s curious to me; why do we prefer life in such a box? Why are we enamored with (find comfort in) sound-bite diagnosis? And why do we grow impatient with the journey?
My guess? We need control or answers, so the lack of either discombobulates us. And if worth and value are influenced by cracks, we certainly avoid them.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus told the crowd.
And Simon Peter asked, “Do we have to write this down? Are we going to be tested on this?”
It’s not too far from the truth. Jesus unnerved his disciples. (But then, what he said still unnerves people today.) He spoke in parables (which translates, grappling with opposites). After the parable, the disciples would ask, “That’s a nice story, but what does it mean?”
You know, life would make more sense if we “understood” it completely. Or at the very least, could explain it.
But what if the parable is not about “getting” the truth?
What if the parable is about letting the truth “get you?”
Or in some way, allowing this grappling with opposites (an invitation to mystery) to enter and transform our world.
What would happen if we honored mystery instead of certainty?
Listen to Thomas Moore’s thoughts about intimacy. “The soul is always complicated. Most of its thought and emotions could never be expressed in plain language. You could have the patience of Job and still never understand your partner (or friend or lover or family member), because the soul by nature doesn’t lend itself to understanding or to clarity of expression. We may have to enter the confusion of another’s soul, with no hope of ever finding clarity, without demanding that the other be clear in expressing her feelings and without the hope that one day this person will finally grow up or get better or express herself more plainly.”
Is that enticing or what? The problem is that Moore is spot on, and what he is saying messes with my assumption that everything (or everyone) is a fixable problem. Or in other words, it makes a difference just to show up.
Enter the confusion of another’s soul. Yes, that is my hope. Anthony Bourdain died this week. By suicide, which made me very sad, and reminded me to be a place of sanctuary for anyone who wrestles with melancholy. I, for one, know exactly what that wrestling is like.
I admired Bourdain’s unabashed thirst for life. And his work represented a beautiful merging of love of food with an earnest effort to listen to others, especially marginalized people. I loved this excerpt from today’s NYT, “Mr. Bourdain didn’t have an easy answer. He accepted that he didn’t already know everything, he assumed that he might screw up, he went into every encounter believing that people had something to teach him. There are two ways of looking at the world. You can see another country as simply an experience to consume, a place to collect trophies. Or you can look at it as an environment to interact with, something that changes you through the encounter and that you inevitably change by visiting.” RIP Anthony.
Speaking of crayons, Lord have mercy if you are caught coloring outside the lines, regardless of the Crayola you choose.
And we carry these expectations (more often than not, unknowingly) about people or life, into our relationships, encounters and endeavors. These expectations become our paradigm for life. Our lens, by which we determine “reality.” (In the case of the story: Pictures with black crayons are abnormal, and therefore a sign of a troubled child.)
I prefer this moral to the story… if you want to get the bottom of any story, ask Grandma. In my own life, if you asked Grandma, it was an invitation for my better angels.
I love the fact that the boy with black crayons was not mourning for a different life.
You see, as long as we have an internal mechanism that values tidiness over chaotic and certainty over ambiguity and “normal” over different, we will fear whatever is unknown or unfinished or in some way askew. Even worse, we will ask, “What’s wrong?” Because we see every flaw as an indictment. And when I fail to see the sacred in the mystifying, the puzzling, the messy, the unruly and the meager, it is to the detriment of my heart.
Many sacred moments this week. It is rose season here. Old garden roses, hypnotic and life-giving.
Vashon Island hosts the Sheep Dog Trials, the artistry and flair of Border Collies.
From my den I sat glued to the TV watching Justify, a majestic chestnut colt with a large white blaze on his forehead, win the Belmont Stakes, and complete the Triple Crown.
And took a trip off island to experience my first James Taylor concert. Mercy, it was good.
On the way, a pod of Orca Whales. We all raced to the ferry starboard and stern to watch and gawk and point. And for a brief moment, be held by enchantment.
Maybe there is room on the fridge door for a depiction of one such sacred moment. I may even render it in black crayon.
Quote for your week…
It is better to have a heart that makes love than a mind that makes sense. Robert Keck
Note — The story about black crayons is unattributed. And, like all good stories, it may not have happened, but is still very, very true.
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,
but to be fearless facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain,
but for the heart to conquer it.
Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved
but hope for patience to win my freedom.
Take Love for Granted
Assume it’s in the kitchen,
under the couch, high
in the pine tree out back,
behind the paint cans
in the garage. Don’t try
proving your love
is bigger than the Grand
Canyon, the Milky Way,
the urban sprawl of L.A.
Take it for granted. Take it
out with the garbage. Bring
it in with the takeout. Take
it for a walk with the dog.
Wake it every day, say,
“Good morning.” Then
make the coffee. Warm
the cups. Don’t expect much
of the day. Be glad when
you make it back to bed.
Be glad he threw out that
box of old hats. Be glad
she leaves her shoes
in the hall. Snow will
come. Spring will show up.
Summer will be humid.
The leaves will fall
in the fall. That’s more
than you need. We can
love anybody, even
everybody. But you
can love the silence,
sighing and saying to
yourself, “That’ s her.”
“That’s him.” Then to
each other, “I know!
Let’s go out for breakfast!”
Jack Ridl, from Practicing to walk Like a Heron ©
May the light of your soul bless your work
with love and warmth of heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring light and
to those who work with you
and to those who see and receive your work.
May your work never exhaust you.
May it release wellsprings of refreshment,
inspiration, and excitement.
May you never become lost in bland absences.
May the day never burden.
May dawn find hope in your heart,
approaching your new day with dreams,
possibilities, and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed,
sheltered, and protected. May your soul calm, console, and renew you.
John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us