Cronnie Wisdom

Crone is "a phase in which you can be more authentic, more capable of making a difference in your family and in the greater world. Life gives you experience, and when you draw from it, that's true wisdom. By the time a woman is in her crone years, she is in an amazing position to be an influence. To change things for the better, to bring what she knows into a situation, to be able to say, 'Enough is enough.' You don't have to just go along with things, which is often a part of the middle years. You're often something of a loose cannon."
Jean Shinoda Bolen


Sunday, September 27, 2020

Ruth Bader Ginsberg – Teller and Keeper of the Story

 


Sometimes our story lives within us.  Sometimes it is so close to our very core that as a people we just can’t untangle it from reality. We continue to see out of an old pair of glasses, one which no longer enhances our sight.  Yet no matter how distorted this vision, we trust in what we see.  Such is the nature of a country’s story. I began to think about these stories and its tellers at the death of Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a very, wise, old woman.

The American story is fairly young as stories go.  It is part folktale (think George Washington and his cherry tree) and part myth (the sacred treatment of a flag and the fervent respect for a constitution).  But the story lives mostly as a legend – a tale with a kernel of truth that has grown much bigger than life.  And there is not just one story but many, many stories – different variants of that single story.   At least, that’s true in the United States where the diversity of experience portrays vastly different narratives. Nevertheless, a teller steps forth for each story.  Perhaps it’s a Martin Luther King, Jr., Susan B. Anthony, Wilma Mankiller or Cesar Chavez. It can be anyone who holds at least a part of the story in her heart and has a great need to tell it.

Megan McKenna writes of such stories and their tellers in Keepers of the Story.

In every culture, in every geographical place, among every people there are individuals who are encrusted with the words that belong to that place and group.  They hold the heritage, the experiences, and the stories that express who they are and how they stand in the universe. These are the keepers of the Story. Their lives are dedicated to preserving, to keeping true, to guarding and protecting what is not theirs alone, but what has been given into their care by others.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of these tellers and an icon for many.  She keeps the heritage and experience of American women throughout history. “I ask no favor for my sex, all I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks,” she once said. McKenna explains the urgency in these teller’s work.

It is a vocation, a calling, a responsibility, and a work that defines them in relation to their people and in relation to other groups and their stores.  They live on the words, but they never make their living from the words.  The tales tell them.  The stories use their flesh, their voices and minds, to remain alive and to keep the people alive.  The keepers are given words and are held in sway and bondage by the lifelines of hope, suffering, exaltation, births and deaths, resurrections, and visions: by the Story. (McKenna)

But what is the American story or perhaps are the American stories?  One version is the tale of the underdog.  The story of a people who overthrew a King and fought an army for religious freedom and independence.  It’s a tale of a document that promised a new way of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It granted great freedoms of speech, the press, religion, to assemble and petition the government. The document promised equality (at least for men) and opportunity.  It’s a tale of our founding fathers and those rugged individualists, pioneer settlers, who had grit and optimism.  People who were willing to risk and fail and pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  The story fueled a dream that anyone could achieve a better life here if only they tried and worked hard enough.

That’s the legend anyway.  One that struggles against the other version.  This story is a tale of suffering and loss.  It’s the story of wealth achieved on the backs of others. It is a country ruled by those of white, European ancestry – entitled, aristocratic, imperialistic.  These founding fathers moved to American shores feeling justified in colonizing it. They believed in their own superiority and in the right to take the land of indigenous people and enslave others.  They’ve held the power and amassed the wealth for hundreds of years. This story portrays an America in shambles.

Stories are a matter of the teller’s perception sometimes more than a reflection of truth.   It’s the keeper of the story who crafts the narrative and captures our attention.  It can encourage and motivate or demoralize and anger. We see that time and again in our divisive world today.

“There are many keepers,” McKenna writes, “…but there is only the one Story. It is a single question in myriad forms.  It is a universal pronouncement in expressions beyond numbering.  It is a cry sounded in every generation, every place, and in each human heart that wonders, asks, demand, whispers, shouts, chants, begs, prays and repeats again and again and again. Who are we?  Who am I? Who are you? Who art Thou?  Are we all one? What is truth?  Are we true? Is the end in the beginning?  Where are we now?  What is it that sings among the stars and in our blood and in the empty places of the world and in the wolves howling in the human heart?”

Those are the big questions, existential questions. Each teller and story keeper holds the answer in their words.  Each has a different wolf howling within a human heart. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s story reflects the experience of a people oppressed.  It spoke of a history of bondage, and the suffering of slavery not addressed. Yet his answer to the question “Who are we” may not be that different from Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s.  She found her story in the law - especially as that law addressed the rights of women and minorities.  She remembered the making of our constitution when Abigail Adams asked her husband John to “Remember the ladies.”  He laughed at her absurdity and women continued to be the property of their husbands and fathers. She knew the struggle for the vote was a lengthy and difficult one, a victory which took decades of agitation and protest. When the Equal Rights Amendment didn’t pass, she knew women continued to struggle with inequality of pay, opportunity and legal protections.  Ginsburg didn’t give up.  She held fast to her story and worked long and hard to find equality “the long way round.” This was her story:  one she spoke, shared, and embodied.

We see how a country’s story shifts with the teller.  Our president’s vision of America is very different from mine and dismissive of Ginsburg’s dream of equality for all. But with all these story variations, is there one common vision remaining of America or have all these stories splintered? I contend that the best tellers share a collective story.  They can persuade and help us see through a new lens. Our perspective shifts and our vision becomes clear. These tellers can motivate us to become our best selves and strive as a country to be better and something more. What is the one story we wish to tell as a country? How can we craft a tale that inspires and motivates us all?

This is the Story, the only Story there is to tell, to refashion and tell again. It is the only Story there is to listen to and discuss and share with others, to pass on to our children and to use as an introduction to other nations, religions, peoples, cultures.  (McKenna)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg held tight to a story, a version of America that saw our violent and oppressive past, yet bridged that truth with the possibility of something more. It’s a potential for people to grow and progress - to see the errors of the past and make amends. She knew the nature of oppression, injustice and inequity.  She spoke of it in her dissents. She worked tirelessly for a country and its people, always hoping, always holding on to the belief that wrongs can still be righted, equity can exist, and reparations be made. It was the one story she told time and again:  a vision that law can still perhaps triumph over tyranny.

In the speaking we find our voice, we remember echoes and take heed of all that converges on us in blessings and blunders.  In the hearing we are sounded, tuned and drawn into the universe – the one poem, the one verse, the one harmony, the one Holiness. (McKenna)

Ginsburg was a wise crone if ever one existed.  She was a force to be reckoned with to her dying day and certainly not a grannie in a rocking chair.  Should anyone ever tell you that you are “too old” to be concerned about issues of social justice, remember Ruth.  Her legacy of devotion and truth should be our call to action.  Our rallying cry becomes, “Once more, dear Ruth, unto the brink!” as we make our way to Washington.

The mystery of the one Story is forever giving birth to expression, to transformation and transfiguration and redemption as we live, endure, and die.  Even if the essence of the Story is wrenched from us or twisted, broken or lost, there is a fervent belief among the keepers that killing the teller only gives the Story more meaning, power and possibility. (McKenna)

Although Ginsburg no long walks among us, her story can live on. We can embody it ourselves and share it with our daughters, sons and our grandchildren.  It is the generative task of the crone to be the keeper of the stories and to share them for the benefit of others.  This is a story still without an ending, that needs telling and retelling.  “I would like my granddaughter when she picks up the Constitution,” Ginsburg writes, “to see that notion – that women and men are persons of equal stature – I’d like them to see that is a basic principle of our society.”

The real issue is: Do you serve?  Do you obey?  Does the Story seize hold of your flesh and tell you?  Are you, are we, coming true?  Do you believe the words that have been given to us?  Do we stake our life on the words?  Do the words set free and loose compassion and hope for the world?... What word are we in the Story?  What will be told of us when we have become the ground of “once upon a time”? (McKenna)

The wise crone, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, leave us with one final message. “Fight for the things you care about but do it in a way that leads others to join you.”  Don’t let her story die, become a keeper of the tale and share it in your own way!

 

McKenna, Megan, Keepers of the Story: Oral Traditions in Religion,  New York: Church Publishing, 1997.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Crone vs. Cyclops: A Confrontation in the Forest


 

About twenty years ago, I wrote this story. It was part of a writing prompt in which I was given random words to place in a narrative. I found the piece today and thought the message had a surprising relevance. The tale is filled with folktale motifs, as are many fantasy stories. We’ll discuss how these elements apply, after the telling. 

Once upon a time, there was an old woman. The crone lived in the forest in a small cottage in the center of a clearing. Light surrounded the hut, but the forest itself was dark and foreboding. The woman was afraid to leave her home. It felt like she had been there for years. Her cottage was quite cozy, in fact, it was filled with objects she loved: dried flowers and grasses, feathers and bean pods, pinecones, and mica. These objects found their way into the clearing and then into her life.

It was both a mystery and a miracle that the woman could survive out in the forest all alone. But somehow no matter what the problem or how difficult it became, the solution or resolution would magically appear the next morning. If she were hungry, food would appear. If she were lonely, an animal or traveler would appear. All her needs were always met. She expected nothing less.

One day, she awoke to darkness. It was so unusual; the crone was puzzled. It was day, but the light was gone. “Where could it be?” she thought. She waited inside the hut – hour by hour, minute by minute looking for a change, but none came. Day after day, she stayed in desperation. Finally, she became hungry and knew she had to leave the cottage to see what she’d find in the clearing. It had never been this dark before, and she didn’t know what she would face when she opened her door. Even so, she summoned up her courage and went outside. From her threshold, she looked up at the sky that was now black. Much to her surprise, she saw standing in the clearing an enormous creature whose body was blocking the sun. 

Was it a giant? “No, my goodness,” the old woman thought, “it can’t be.” On closer inspection, she discovered it was a cyclops. “Cyclops!” she cried out to the clearing. She started to run back into the cottage but caught a glimpse of the cyclops’ face. His one great, large eye was crying. Drop, by drop, tears fell on the roof of her cottage. It sounded like rain. So instead of running away, she stayed. 

“Why are you here?” she said. “Are you waiting for me?” 

 “Yes, he replied. “I need your help. I’ve been angry for a long time. I’ve destroyed homes and towns, taken animals, and trampled crops. Everywhere I go, I bring chaos. One day I discovered that no matter what I did, I never felt better. All that destruction never brought me any joy; it just fed my anger.” 

“You aren’t here to hurt me?” the crone asked. 

“No,” he replied wearily. “I was on my way back to the cave, the place of my birth. I planned to spend the rest of my life there, alone and miserable. But instead, I found your home, and I began to watch you from the forest. I saw how each day you would find a blessing in the clearing. I saw how miracles and abundance were a part of your life. I wanted to discover why that was true and if I could find it for myself.” 

The old woman sat down on the ground and looked up thoughtfully. “I don’t know what to tell you,” she said. “I believe in good and good comes to me. You have believed in anger, and so destruction and chaos have followed you.”

“Is there any hope for me?” the cyclops inquired.

“Hope always,” she answered. “But first I must bring back the light.” She went into the hut and brought out a crystal. The crystal reflected the single beam of light that remained free of the cyclops’ shadow. It acted as a prism sending colored rays of light throughout the clearing; red here, indigo there. A single beam of white light struck the cyclops’ eye. Instantly, he turned into a tiny mouse. The crone held out her hand, and the mouse climbed on it. 

“I will never again block the sun,” he said. “Now, I can live my life in the forest in harmony with the rest of nature. I’m sure I can lead you out of the forest, if you’d like to tag along.

“No, thank you,” she said. “This is my home. All I need will always be provided for me here.” The crone gave a knowing smile and walked away. 

_____________________________ 

Surprisingly, the story seems to match the tenor of the times. An old woman is living in isolation, alone deep in the forest. She’s afraid to leave, surrounded by unknown darkness. Feels a bit like the pandemic, doesn’t it? But she’s lucky (even if she doesn’t’ realize it), for she has all that she needs to survive and more. She is the crone, after all, and wise enough not to grumble, whine, or complain. She merely accepts what is. 

One day, the darkness that had continued to grow surrounded her world. All the light was gone. She waited in fear until her hunger overtook her. Then she made her way into the clearing. Many of us feel today that we live in a world ever growing darker. The growing risk humanity faces from pandemics, social unrest, corruption, climate change, and divisiveness can feel dark and overwhelming. It may even be dark and overwhelming and at risk of surrounding us one day and leaving us in darkness. 

But what is the threat this old woman discovers? A giant cyclops! Cyclopes are mythical Greek entities: male giants with a singular round eye in the center of their heads. They were the sons of Greek gods (although which god is the subject of debate). Cyclopes have no fear of the gods and no regard for law and order. They live wild and savage lives, sometimes as cannibals eating those humans who get in their way. They are brutal and single-focused. They have only one point of view and are unwilling or unable to see beyond their ideology. 

There is no doubt that Cyclopes are the “Other.” The characteristics of the Other is the state of being different from those in a society or group. The Cyclopes see humans as the Other, and humans see Cyclopes in a similar way. Cyclopes have no desire to build unity or peace. Yet, the Other is simply a construct or an idea. In reality, there is no Other no matter how often groups and individuals argue their differences. 

Cyclopes would find today’s environment quite familiar. Chaos and destruction breeds fear, and fear leads to isolation and divisiveness. As we continue to separate from each other, labeling and blaming, demonizing everyone not exactly like us, they become the Other. But as the story holds, it doesn’t lead to happy times. The cyclops is crying. He’s discovered that separation only leads to despair. The crone, who sees beyond the external and to whom there is no Other, engages him in conversation. “Why are you here? Are you waiting for me?” she asks. She might just as easily have said, “Is it my time?” For darkness brings forth questions of life and death.

It seems the cyclops has discovered that a life filled with hate, is a life filled with sorrow. And such is true, for no matter how many wars are fought, shootings occur, lies and words of hate are spoken, only anger remains. The cyclops is frozen at the moment between life and death. Not the life and death of the body but of the soul. 

Until able to move forward from his past, he continues to block out the light, searching for another way and looking enviously at anyone who has found it. He stands in the forest peering into the clearing. In analytical psychology, the forest represents femininity, an unexplored realm full of the unknown. It represents the unconscious mind and its mysteries. The forest has a great connection with the symbolism of the mother; it is a place where life thrives. From the darkness, the cyclops watches as the crone receives what she needs without any effort. It seems both mysterious and magical. 

Sometimes, that envy causes as much trouble as anger. “The Other is not supposed to be happy or have as much or more than we do,” the cyclops thinks. “There is only so much stuff to be had, and if “they” have it, we can’t!” But the crone knows better. “I believe in good and good comes to me. You believe in anger, and so destruction and chaos have followed you.” There are more than enough resources in the world if only we learn how to share.

This story could easily have ended there, but the writing exercise required me to add the word “prism.” Hence, the crone doesn’t stop at hope. Trouble has come to her door, and it’s time now to fight. She can’t move the cyclops; the darkness is too big for a single act. She must bring back the light. She does so with a prism that captures the only ray remaining and transforms it into all the colors of the rainbow. Problems are not resolved in our singularity but only in our magnificent human diversity of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and the multitudes of knowledge and ideas. In the real world, problems are best solved together bringing to light all points of view.

She zaps the cyclops with a single beam of white light, a singular moment of Truth. Once seen, the cyclops is transformed into something much smaller. No longer the Other, the cyclops and the problem he represents disappears. He becomes manageable as a pet mouse. The crone holds out her hand and the mouse climbs on it. The wisdom he seeks can only be derived from a connection with nature. It’s a reminder that the earth can resolve many of its problems when left to its own devices. 

As for the crone, she now understands her power. She no longer fears the forest or the unknown. She sees the good and the good comes to her. “This is my home. All I need will always be provided for me here.” It’s a simple story with a simple solution. Or perhaps it’s not such a simple solution. It comes down to two options: hate or love, sharing or greed, unity, or the “Other.” The crone always helps those who are worthy who make their way to her door. This time it was the “Other,” a sad but troubled cyclops. Next time, it might be you or me.