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Orlanda R. Brugnola
It was not a city. It was not a large town. But it was not a small town. It was—just average, you might say. Except for one thing. There was a Storyteller in the town. That’s Storyteller with a capital S. The Storyteller had arrived one day without advance notice (or as some people would put it, without warning.) There had been no invitation, no request. The Storyteller just showed up, rented a small house that had been empty for two years and put up a sign inviting people to come and listen to stories. Mind you, that was not so easy for people in the town. They were nervous about it and wanted to know wanted to know if the Storyteller was qualified. They wanted to know if the Storyteller was accredited. They wanted to know if the Storyteller was male or female. The children didn’t care of course. A Storyteller was a Storyteller. Gender and accreditation were just not on their minds. They were thirsty for real stories. And they got them. And on any afternoon you could be sure that most, if not all the children in town were at the Storyteller’s house.
And so the Storytelling began. The Storyteller might say: “In the smoking tiger’s time…” [Hands go up]
Wait a minute! What do you mean?!
Oh, that’s just the way stories begin in Korea: “In the smoking tiger’s time…” is just a way of saying: “Long, long ago…” And the Storyteller would continue with whatever wonderful story was being told that day.
There would be forests with huge and sometimes strange trees and mossy rocks, [tree and rock appear]
and rivers with golden fish swimming, [river appears and fish swims]
and a wonderful bird with the sweetest song in the world, [bird appears, music heard]
and a tall blue mountain peak with snow at the top and a wonderful magic city on its slopes. [mountain appears]
And all the children and youth listening to the stories wanted to listen forever because the stories made them feel amazed and happy. And they wanted to share their amazement and happiness with the rest of their families, so they asked the Storyteller if they could take part of the story home with them and the answer was always “Yes, of course!” and so they did.
[Stage right—Smoking Tiger is carried in by youth who says:]
“Look at what the Storyteller gave me!
[Father says:] “You can’t have that in the house. Tigers are dangerous!”
[Mother says:] “You know I don’t want you to start smoking! Take it back!”
[Youth dejectedly trudges back with the Tiger.]
[Stage left—Two youth—brothers—carry in mossy rock:]
Look what the Storyteller gave us!
[Father says:] “It’s too heavy—it will go right through the floor into the room below. You have to give it back!” [youths return rock]
[Stage right—Youth brings in tree:]
[Mother says:] “I can’t believe you’d do this. What’s wrong with you?!
[Youth:] “But it’s so cool!”
[Mother:] “Can’t you see it won’t fit? Take it back right now!” [youth returns tree]
[Two children bring in mountain:] “Look what we got from the Storyteller!”
[Both parents in unison:] “You can’t bring something like that into the house. It’s too big and the snow will melt and make a mess.”
By this time the children were getting the picture and they said to the Storyteller, “Our moms and our dads won’t let us bring anything home from the stories.” “I noticed that, “ said the Storyteller. “Well, can YOU do something?” the children asked.
“I’m not sure,” said the Storyteller. That surprised them because they thought that the Storyteller really did know everything there was to know. “PLEASE!” they begged.
“Please, our parents are really good and they love us but they are SO stressed out.”
The Storyteller thought and thought. Then the Storyteller said, “Let’s see.” They weren’t too happy with that answer, but they sat down to listen to the story of the day and they were soon lost in it and forgot all about their disappointment.
And then something began happening in the town that got everybody talking. Things started showing up in unexpected places—sometimes very unexpected places. A big tree right in the middle of the street. And then a tiger in front of a garage. And a huge blue mountain at the front door of a house. Nobody knew what was going on but they knew who they thought was responsible. “It’s that Storyteller,” they said. And to the mayor of the town they said, “You have to do something right now! Not tomorrow, NOW!” And because the mayor was up for election in a week or so, he said, “I will personally take care of this immediately!” And he marched right over to the Storyteller’s house and knocked on the door. [Knock knock knock]
“Yesss….?” came a voice from inside.
“This has got to STOP!” said the mayor.
“What has to stop?” asked the voice from inside.
“All these, these, these THINGS! All these things that are showing up everywhere,” said the mayor.
“You don’t like them?” asked the voice, sounding surprised.
“Are you kidding?” shouted the mayor. “Today I couldn’t even get into my own house because there was a mountain in front of the door!”
“Why don’t you just go through it?” asked the voice.
“Go through it?! It’s a mountain, it’s solid rock. What do you mean go through it?!”
“But it’s a story-mountain,” said the voice. “All you have to do is enter the story…it’s so simple! Just enter the story…”
The mayor was so exasperated that he thought he had better leave before he said something that could be overheard by someone whose vote he wanted. “What are we going to do?” he thought to himself, muttering as he walked along. “The local sheriff? The State troopers? Maybe I should call the governor—this is really serious! These Storytellers are all troublemakers. We should never have rented that house! There ought to be a law about this!” And of course more mutterings along the same lines.
By the time the mayor got home the mountain had vanished from in front of the house, but he had no sense that it wouldn’t reappear and so he had some more thoughts. “Maybe I should talk to an expert about this!” he thought. He liked experts. You could pay them and they would help you and if they didn’t help you could complain, and everyone would support you in your complaint. And besides “regular people,” as he thought of them, didn’t have that special know-how he needed in this crisis. But maybe he could go first to someone whose expertise he wouldn’t have to pay extra for. And so he did. He went to the minister of his church [minister/teacher/social worker/educator/elder/mentor]. “I’m in a real jam,” he said to the minister. “Why don’t you tell, me about it,” the minister said. And so the mayor did. He talked about what had happened, talked about his frustrations, talked about what the Storyteller had said. And the minister asked a question. “Why did you decide not to enter the story as the Storyteller suggested?” The mayor wasn’t expecting this question, so he had to think very hard. “I don’t know,” he said, “or at least I don’t think I know. It just didn’t make sense at the time and, really, I didn’t know how, and then I got angry and didn’t want to.” So the minister asked, “What would you do now, if you could do it over?” “I’m not sure,” the mayor said, “I’m kind of …afraid, though I don’t know what I am afraid of.” “OK,” said the minister, “Unfamiliar things can be pretty unsettling and many people get afraid.
But is there really something to be afraid of?” And the mayor thought and thought and couldn’t come up with a real reason to be afraid. And the minister said, “New things are unsettling and most of us are reluctant to jump in and say ‘Oh, this is cool!’ But it can be really useful to look at things in new ways. We learn new things, and we can have a lot of fun in the process.” “But,” said the mayor, “it’s not easy—after all, how do we know we will like how the story ends?” And the minister said, with all the gentleness in the world, “Well, that's really in our hands. All of us who enter the story decide how it will turn out… We take what is given us and decide if it will be beautiful or not. We decide if we are willing to learn something new. We decide whether we will allow ourselves to be amazed and delighted by the story or whether we will be gloomy and closed to the magic of it. Each of us creates stories and listens to stories. Each of us has creative genius, and a good story calls out to us to use that creative genius for the benefit of us all. It’s really not so hard…” And the mayor thought about it some more and decided that maybe the minister was right and that he ought to go back to the Storyteller and find out how to get into the story after all.
SMOKING TIGER—styrofoam cutout with image of tiger smoking long pipe and wearing traditional Korean brimmed hat; TREE—Styrofoam column with rainbow umbrella; ROCK—Cardboard box painted to look like rock with moss; MOUNTAIN—Blue coated foam core cut with jagged top, white paint and pasted-on castle; RIVER—blue cloth; GOLDEN FISH—foamcore cutout with gold sequins on fishing line with small diameter wood pole; GOLDEN BIRD—foamcore cutout with gold and blue sequins
Copyright: The author has given Unitarian Universalist Association
member congregations permission to reprint this piece for use in public worship.
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Last updated on Thursday, April 24, 2014.
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