Little big things

I woke up before dawn and went to the porch of the house of Starry Song, the shaman who had the gift of sowing the wisdom of his people though the word and the music, where I was staying. He was seated in a rocking chair, his eyes set on the East, “the home of the eagle”, as he used to say, waiting for the sun to rise. He poured me a cup of coffee and filled with tobacco the red-rock bowl of his unmistakable pipe. He took a few puffs and then got his two-sided drum to sing a heartfelt song in his native dialect. In a non-literal translation, the name of the song was “The cycles of life”, and it thanks the Great Spirit for the infinite opportunities given every day for one to renew oneself and continue on the Long Golden Road. Not much later, still involved with our prayers and reflections, we were interrupted by the shaman’s sister, together with her younger son, who had just become an adult. She had come to ask her brother to advise her son, who, despite being very intelligent, was not interested in the daily chores, believing that his fate was to do something grand. That had made him reckless in dealing with others, because in his understanding, people were not able to realize his huge potential and the brilliant destiny that awaited him. Starry Song just closed his eyes and nodded his head slightly, and if saying he understood what she meant and was willing to comply with her request. The sister smiled, thankfully, and left. I wanted to know if I also should leave, but he gestured with his hands that that was not necessary. The shaman closed his eyes and remained silent. Impatient, the young man could not sit still on the chair, until he said that that was just a waste of time. Starry Song looked at him with sweetness and started to tell a story:

“Many winters ago, when there were still many bison in the prairies, a young Native American, unhappy and disheartened, lived in a small and prosperous, peaceful and harmonious village. Since childhood he had heard stories of brave warriors, who were immortalized as legends. Since he was a toddler he dreamed of being one of them; he believed he had been born to do great deeds and become a famous hero. He had learned how to fight, how to handle weapons, how to ride, track, and all other skills that were necessary for war. However, the village was led by a wise and loving old man, who cultivated a good relationship with neighboring tribes, preventing conflicts from occurring. Therefore, the village thrived, and they were all happy but this young Native American who, because he was awaiting the culmination of his life and considered himself a born warrior, had no interest in the ordinary life of the tribe. He thought the children noisy and annoying and did not allow himself to be infected by their joy. Even though he would not voice this, he despised the elders because they were no longer able to take part in wars. He had no appreciation for all those involved in other activities aimed at the well-being of everyone in the village, as he considered them lesser chores. The clothes he wore were sewn by craftswomen, and he ate the bread they baked, just to mention a couple of instances, but he did not give them the importance they deserved. He thought of them as providers of support for the great event of his life, the one that will cover him with glory.”

“The days passed by, but the war that would make him immortal in the ancestral memory of his people did not come close, and that made him impatient and careless with everything and everyone. One morning, when he woke up, he saw he was alone in the village. They were all gone. A letter left by the elder who chaired the Council of the Wise explained that they had been warned by the neighboring tribes about a mighty and evil man who had come from far away and set fire to all the villages in his way, destroying everything. From the information they had received, theirs would be the next village to be attacked, and according to tradition, only the best warrior could prevail over that man. It should be a one-on-one fight. Careful, the villagers left all available weapons and enough food for many days. The young man rejoiced. He sharpened the weapons, painted himself for the fight, thought about a strategy for the confrontation and waited for the aggressor. The enemy, however, did not show up on that day. Nor on the following days. The phases of the moon took turns in the sky, but the wrongdoer did not show up. The young warrior had to start rationing the little food still left. His clothes were dirty. A few moons later, he was starving and in rags. Because he could not go to the forest to pick fruits and hunt, in order not to leave the village abandoned, he started to eat small rodents that occasionally crossed the perimeter of the village. He even considered going to a village close by, for food supplies and clothes, but if he left the village abandoned he would be remembered as weak and a coward, and not as the intrepid warrior he was. He thought about baking his own bread, but to do so just picking the wheat was not enough; he would have to thresh it, turn it into flour, prepare the dough and bake it, know how to operate the over, the proper temperature it should reach and the length of baking time. He did not know how to do it; he had never been interested in such menial chores. He also thought about getting the leather from a tent to sew a new piece of clothing, but he did not master the minor trade of sewing and tailoring. The basic needs he could not provide for coupled with endless waiting weakened, little by little, the physical and dampened the emotional of the great warrior. His spirit, the one destined to great deeds, was so unbalanced and weakened by the lack of small, simple, trifle things. Weak, on the last days he decided to remain lying down, with the weapons by his side, observing the entry gate, awaiting the violent intruder. Until winter came; the cold made his situation even worse, even the small rodents were gone. The last animal he saw before sleeping that night was a crow, the messenger of dimensions, perched on the village’s totem pole. He felt an unpleasant shiver down his spine.”

“He was awakened the next day with a tip of a spear lightly pressing his chest; it was the call for the much-awaited confrontation. Much to his surprise, the invader was a small teenage boy, almost a child, barely twelve, dressed and painted for war. The tribe’s warrior and guardian smiled and even thought it funny that the terrible wrongdoer was but a child in costume. He was skilled enough to dominate his opponent with one hand, and he was sure that fight would be short. However, when he tried to stand up, he lacked the required strength; his weakened body refused to obey what the mind commanded. He made an immeasurable effort to stand up, it was as if he was climbing a mountain. When he succeeded, he, unsteadily, tried to attack. The teenager smiled and with a minor move dodged the blow, which found only air. The following attempts were repetition of the same scene. Tired and unbalanced from the fruitless attacks, the mighty warrior fell to the ground, without even being touched by the invader. The little rascal poked him lightly with the tip of the spear, without breaking the skin, and kept it pressed against the neck of the warrior. His life was in the hands of an improbable adversary, and he faced an unthinkable, treacherous destiny. At that moment, as thunder that illuminates the sky for a fraction of a second, he realized the greatness of little things, and the importance of each part for the harmony of the whole. Merciful, the nemesis said that the warrior could do a final prayer. The warrior looked up at the sky, whispered a sincere apology to the Great Spirit because he had been so unfair with the entire tribe; because he had had a twisted gaze and behaved wrongly with all those who, because of the simplicity of their crafts and arts, kept the essential and beautiful operation of life. If he had had a chance, he would certainly have done differently and better. He felt a sense of peace he had never felt before and closed his eyes, waiting for the final blow.”

“He thought it odd when he heard a voice telling him everybody deserves new, infinite chances; otherwise, the Great Spirit would not be pure love and His garden would not be embellished with the flowers of plenitude. He thought he had died and was before the gate of the Great Mystery. However, that tone of voice was not of an adolescent, nor was the voice unknown to him. Fearful, he opened his eyes slowly and saw, before him, the wise elder, leader of tribe. The small invader was next to him and had put the spear away. The warrior cried and said he was sorry. The elder said he should not be ashamed or feel guilty. He had asked for a new chance and was heard. Now, he had to act responsibly not to waste it. At this moment, the entire tribe entered the village, and immediately started to fix and clean it up, after such a long time of abandonment. No gaze was of condemnation. They also started to look after the debilitated warrior. Once he improved, he started studying the philosophy and mythology of his people and pass them on to the children. He was dazzled to realize that he learned while he taught. Because no knowledge is in vain, as he knew how to fight and was still energetic, he also took turns, at night, watching the limits of the village to prevent the attack of wild beasts. Many and many winters later this warrior became an elder, chaired the Council of the Wise, and to date is fondly remembered by later generations, even though he did not fight a single battle. At least not in the way he thought he would fight when he was young.”

The shaman then became silent and relit his pipe. The nephew said he had never heard a more idiotic tale. He confessed that when his mother had brought him to talk to his uncle, he suspected it would be a waste of time. Now he was sure. He asked if there was anything else to be said. Starry Song gave him a sweet smile and mildly shook his head. The young man left. Alone with the shaman, I tried to find on his face features of disconcert for the behavior of his nephew, but all I found was composure. I asked him if he was upset with the event. The shaman denied: “A seed of wisdom, at least as I understand it, was released with love in his heart; if it is good, sooner or later it will germinate.  Time and patience are part of a process common to all things, maturity. It is the journey of the maturing of the spirit, from the seed to the fruit pit, and then seed again. Each in their own time, facing the battles that are proper and fair, not the ones they desire.”

Starry Song arched his lips cracking a sweet smile and continued: “Those who do not value the small things will never be ready to experience the great moments of life; being small is a necessary step to becoming great. By not appreciating the importance of all people, we distance ourselves from our core, because we ignore who we really are. Waiting for the ideal moment to be whole makes us lose the chance of experiencing the gift and the dream; by regretting the imperfect love the world gives us, we waste the chance of making it perfect within ourselves.” He looked into my eyes and whispered, as if he was telling a secret: “Do not expect oceans to rise. The beauty of life is in the details, in the almost unseen transformations that occur on every ordinary day.”

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.


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