Shakespeare’s Hamlet succinctly tells “the time is out of joint” (Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5). I’ve never had a dislocated shoulder, but it looks really painful. In a way, our stories are even more disturbing because the dislocation, the misplacement, might go uncorrected. When the warning signs are subtle, like life’s signals often are, who notices? And when we’re distracted, so busy, playing fantasy football of whatever sort, we’re out of touch with the caution to keep watch for the day and the hour. Like Hamlet, our good stories warn us: Take heed in order to judge clearly between the essential and the superficial, between true and false, right and wrong.
In the Kuan Yin story, the village was characterized by racing on swift horses and shooting with bows and arrows. We considered this situation as a life preoccupied with activities at a certain level while missing a quality more significant. When the luminous beauty entered their marketplace, they became aware of what had been missing. The story invites us to wonder if we might be missing the most important value or purpose of our lives.
As Kuan Yin guided the village to return to the quality of compassion, in a similar way, The Odyssey reminds us of the importance of xenia, hospitality, especially for the stranger. We noted that most, if not all, major religions place much importance on caring for the other, the one fallen in the ditch. Our Statue of Liberty beckons: "Give me your tired, your poor. . . Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” As we saw in the Kuan Yin story, saying the words does not necessarily mean understanding them and much less does it approximate living them. To walk the talk takes a high level of heedfulness. Good stories push us to ask: What is the sacred text that guides my life?
This question was pushed even more sharply in “The Visit” when the youth was graced by the true love, but then fell asleep, repeatedly, and thus lost the close connection with the beloved. In this story, the condition of being separated from true purpose and vitality was represented through the image of a false parent and a traitor-tutor. In “Kuan Yin,” the people did not remember the sacred text; in “The Visit,” it appears that the teaching is oppressive and has to be cut away—if the beloved is to be embraced.
The phrase “out of joint” reminds me of a time working with a carpenter with the frequent reminder: “true up that joist!” Joists and beams are vital foundational structures and when not in proper alignment the integrity of the building is at risk. One way for persons to true up is to follow the guidance of good stories. What is the sacred text that takes root inside? When memorized, it blossoms for the wind that returns in Machado’s lines:
Llamó a mi corazón, un claro día,
con un perfume de jazmín, el viento.
Because this poem is rooted, memorized, in mi corazón, in my heart, my soul (to borrow Robert Bly’s translation), I’m reminded to tend my garden, to watch for the inspiration, to care for the llantos de las fuentes, the water of life.
The instructional video (shown at the top) discusses how we are tending our resonant field with good stories by searching for the holy text and connecting with story memories. In the video, I also recite the Machado poem and talk about its guidance. May the good stories give us direction and courage to true up.