By Shirley-Anne McMillan (Performed at ‘Hush’ on 15th January, 2012)
The Strong Story
(for Joel and Cary)
There was once a child who wanted to find a story, a strong story that would last forever, for longer than the child’s death and even beyond the death of death. ‘If I can find a strong story,’ they said to themselves, ‘I will truly have done something good.’
So the child set about thinking about the strong story. ‘It must be a story about love,’ they said, ‘Because I have heard that nothing is stronger than love, not even death. So if the strong story speaks of love it may be as strong as love. It may even last beyond love.’
The child began to look for the story. They travelled to the end of their village to look, but it was not there. They travelled to the end of of the city, but it was not there. They travelled to the end of the country. But it was not there. They travelled across every ocean. They travelled into the skies. They travelled over rainbows. But it was not there. They travelled to the outside edges of the ends of the earth. And when the child had taken their final step, there they found the story.
And it was a strong story. It spoke about birth- the thoughts before birth and the struggle to become alive. It spoke about life- the worship of childhood and the struggle to avoid death. It spoke about death- the letting go, the nails in the coffin, the final collapse into the embrace of eternity, and the sleep of forever. And it spoke about forever, which was the best kept secret of the universe.
It was a good story, and the child, who was now an old child, lifted it in their arms and gathered it in, holding it close to their chest, and it began to seep into them in the way that stories do, and it began to make a dark protective outline around their heart. When the old child held it away from their chest they could feel the outline fade a little and they felt their heart to be a little less protected and they felt a little less safe.
‘Everyone needs this story!’ thought the old child. ‘Nobody realises how unsafe they are without it! And as it is a strong story it will last as long as love, perhaps even longer, and people may feel safe forever if they hold this story near to their heart’.
And so the old child thought deeply about how best to share the strong story. It took them a long time to think about it because they could feel the importance of it stretching like the beam of a brilliant light, from the story in their hands to the far reaches of the horizon and further.
And eventually this is what they did:
The old child took the strong story and they tore it up into many tiny pieces, enough so that everyone on the planet might have just enough. Some would have have a part concerning birth to protect their heart. Some would have a part concerning childhood to protect their heart. Some would have a part concerning death to protect their heart. And, knowing that forever was the best kept secret in the universe, the old child kept the whole of this part to themselves and they locked it in a pocketwatch and they put it in their breastpocket, and they felt the heavy outline begin to surround their heart as they sighed the breath of the knowledge of safety once more.
It took many years for the old child to distribute the pieces of the strong story and a great many years more to convince the people to hold it close to their hearts. But finally it was done. The old child was an ancient child now.
The day after they had delivered the final piece of the strong story to the last person left, they sat down on a wooden bench in a crowded park. The bench was carved with the names of people who wanted to mean something and the ancient child smiled to themselves thinking that their life’s work would now be carved in the lives of everyone else.
It was a spring day and children were holding balloons of different colours and the wind was gentle as it shushed the tallest branches of the trees against one another. And that is when the ancient child noticed The Difference. It was hard to tell what it was at first but eventually they felt the source of The Difference in their heart. The heavy dark outline that protected the ancient child’s heart had held everything in it, but it had also prevented anything from getting out. The ancient child’s heart had stopped working.
In a panic the ancient child took the pocket watch from their breast pocket and opened it and in the safety of the words of the strong story was written something about forever which the child had long since forgotten and could no longer understand. They dropped the pocket watch and the piece of the strong story and put their hands to their head as the dark outline began to fade and their body began to disappear.
Just then a young child with a red balloon approached the ancient child. The young child reached out and took the hand of the ancient child away from their eyes and they looked at one another.
‘I have ruined the world,’ cried the ancient child in sorrow.
‘No,’ said the young child, ‘The part of the story which tells of forever has ruined you. All else is everything that the world already knew, and so those parts of the story changed nothing and our hearts remain fragile. The strong story is no more strong than this: that you are guilty of a small mistake which we will remember in honour of your great love for all people.’
With this, the remnant of the strong story that was held in the pocketwatch became a small blue butterfly and the ancient child watched it fly beyond the colourful balloons of the children in the park and into the spring sky and beyond.
The forever part of the story about love became a legend that people would long for and wonder about but they never forgot the love of the child who had wandered the earth to teach them what they already knew, that the parts of the strong story of love that we hold close to our hearts cannot protect us from harm but neither will they stop our hearts from working and although we die they will continue, carving the stories we make into the lives we leave behind, to the far reaches of our horizons, and further.