The white-haired storyteller appeared unexpectedly through the pines, cross-legged atop the abandoned beaver den, snow melting around her stillness. She shifted her aching limbs and eyed the newcomer with a nod as if to say, “I’ve been waiting for you for a long time.”
You never expect to see an elder atop reeds and dried mud. You never expect to see anyone in the woods who is not occupied, preoccupied or walking with music blaring in ears.
The shadow of a raven’s wing dusted the frozen pond in front of the storyteller.
“My stories are coming to an end,” she said finally.
“Don’t say that,” you say, although you want to add, “You always say that.”
“It’s true,” she said, squinting, fierce blue eyes daring the listener to disagree. “I shall tell you one more story.”
You shift against the frozen earth, jeans already feeling damp. You both want and don’t want to hear her story. Part of you wishes you dreamed at home, beneath warm cozy bed quilts. Part of you wishes her stories made sense. Part of you wishes you understood her even a little after all these years of story-telling.
“Once there was a woman who sought herself everywhere,” she began, and you shift uncomfortably for you sense she’s talking about you, as all good storytellers do. “She sought herself by frozen ponds and raven wings and storytellers who claimed their own enlightenment.
“She sought herself for a quarter century–no, two!–until white hairs perched on her head and chin. She sought herself beneath rocks, in eagle feathers, atop mountains, around waves. She arranged and re-arranged herself so many times that you couldn’t find her if you tried–and yet, there she was.
“Until one day she awoke–as we all awake–and said the magic word Enough. You can’t say the word Enough too soon. You can’t say it too late. You can only say it when the word itself flies past all the suffering you’ve ever experienced and claims itself. That’s when it’s enough. Not before. Not later. Only now.
“She said the magic word–Enough–and simply quit. She quit searching, she quit looking for the secrets whispered by earthworms and beavers and preachers and songwriters and teachers appearing in the mist. She quit. She let everyone go. Everything go. Everything. Except the old storyteller.”
Here you hold your breath, and your mind stops. Because the old storyteller knows how to weave together the unexpected and expected and create something so new your thoughts don’t know where to settle next.
“The old storyteller never quite disappeared. She kept telling her stories, one after another, one after another, one after another. While everyone else said to get rid of words, let words go–the old storyteller kept resurrecting them daily, hourly, every minute! She refused to let go of the sacred story. She refused to drown words in the pond, just because the letting go seemed to demand it.”
Here you feel yourself breathing more slowly, slower than her words, and tears rise unbidden and find their way toward a blinking iris because the storyteller is really saying, “It’s OK, It’s OK, everything is OK~~” and your body melts the white snow around you, as well.
“It’s not the words that are the enemy,” the storyteller whispers as the ice cracks on the pond, shifting, breaking up. “It’s the believing them; turning them to ice. Turning them into something hard, inflexible, frozen. If you don’t freeze them solid, they turn into springtime, into magic.”
You stare at the ice and believe her, deep down inside you believe her, you know that words are liquid stories pointing toward nothing and everything and when you turn to tell her you know, you know–she’s gone, disappeared, like all good storytellers when the story ends in silence.