"When my tales first bubbled up from my soul and onto paper, I knew they were important to me, and I hoped they would be meaningful to others, as well. I came to Naomi with the structure in place but uncertain about how to proceed. She helped me to put flesh on the bones, and to integrate the writing process with my own inner journey. Since publication, I have used the book when co-leading spiritual workshops, and it seems to have touched the listeners very deeply and to confirm to them that they are not alone."
Susan Knutson, on our working together
About my work with Susan
At the time that Susan Knutson first showed me her manuscript of tales, many people doing personal inner growth work were writing personal fairy tales, seeking a more mythic understanding of the evolution of their lives. I had come to read quite a few of these, and for the most part I felt they were powerful as therapythey gave meaning and healing to the writers lifebut they read like spin-offs of existing fairy tales, and did not really translate beyond the writers own life.
When Susan showed up at my door, her manuscript already sketched out in terms of the story, I had it in my mind that these "tales," as she called them, would be more of the same. But later, as I read them in solitude, they captured me in a remarkably profound way. "These are real," I told her in gratitude, as soon as I had finished reading. I meant: these tales are about regaining ones real being. And Susan seemed to know, from experience, that path.
Susans request was that I "put flesh on the bones" of her taletake the story and help it breathe. I did so by entering into her tales, as they were; by learning from them, being healed by them, unconsciously making correspondences between the unique particulars of her life and the unique particulars of mine, based on the universal journey we all share. I plumped up the "bones" with detail, dialogue, rhythm, pacing, all the ways that words come to life on the page. But the storiesand the lived wisdom behind themwere entirely Susans.
Susan turned out to be a Franciscan sister. We became lifelong friends, and I learned many wonderful, sometimes difficult things from her. But the one thing that comes to mind was the day we were out together in San Francisco, waiting for the light to change to green, and she was talking about St. Francis. "People interpreted Francis saying, Rebuild the church as meaning the building, the physical structure," she said. "But what he meant by the church was the heart."
Susans heart is bigger than any building. Currently, she is one of many Faithful Fools, a nonprofit street ministry in San Francisco that gives witness to the humanity of the homeless as well as helping them in a physical way.
Her book was published in 1993. One way she used it was to read from it when working with spiritual groups, to help the gathered listeners reach deep places inside themselves. Afterwards, people came up to tell her that her tales had moved them immensely, and caused them to become present to similar places inside themselves.
There are eighteen tales in To See or Not to See. This is one of them.
Tender of the Flame
Each year, people began to notice that winters were getting longer, and summers were getting shorter. They listened to the radio and heard that the North Pole was growing larger. Ice was beginning to cover the earth again and the people could feel its effects. They had to dress warmer and stay in the house longer; they felt colder, inside and out.
The cold affected how they related to each other. There were no barbecues with friends or visiting over the backyard fence. Relations among people had become chilly. The scientists studied the situation, but no one could come up with the reason for this change. People knew that if this continued, they would be frozen to death.
# # #
One day, a pregnant girl dressed in rags struggled into a town. Her time of delivery was near, but no one would take her in. The peoples hearts had become hardened by the cold. She wandered up into the hills and stumbled into a cave, where she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl and then she died.
That young mother did not know that this was a very, very old magical cave. The elves, the fairies and all of the spirits lived here. It was warm and safe inside, untouched by the cold world.
These spirits had long watched the world from within their magical cave. Unlike the scientists, they knew why the ice and cold had grown. It was because the flame of fire that burned inside each person hadnt been tended by themselves or others. Their inner flames hardly flickered anymore; and once they went out, people grew cold at heart and died.
These spirits, elves, and fairies cared for the baby girl. They nourished her, loved her and saw that a fire burned within her whose flames were hot, clear, pure and bright. They named her Crystal. They decided that they would send her into the cold world. Her job would be to tend the fire.
So the young girl went to the town. She rented a small room and got a job as a waitress in a restaurant on the evening shift. On her days off, she went up to the magical cave to be warm and rekindled.
The people in town noticed how different she was from everyone else. She wasnt bothered by the cold, but she seemed to give off a glow. Those whom she waited on felt her warmth, which was a scary feeling at first but later they liked it.
Crystal never said all that much, nor did she tell people the secret of getting warm. There was something about her that drew people to her side. Many people started coming to the restaurant where she worked. They felt comforted just to be in her presence.
People were talking about Crystal in the town. "Who was she?" they wanted to know. "Where did she come from?" So on one of her days off, some of the townspeople followed her to the cave.
Peeking around the entrance to the cave, they caught sight of Crystal. She looked up and saw them. "Dont be angry with us," the townspeople said, but Crystal gave a warm smile and invited them in.
As they walked tentatively into the cave, their fingers cold to the bone they felt a pleasant warmth, the same warmth as Crystals. Slowly, they shed their layers of outer clothing and grew hushed and grateful as the magic of the cave brought the smoldering embers inside them into full flame.
Now they knew why the world was freezing, and they also knew what it was the world needed. The townspeople wanted to share this good feeling with others, so they decided that they, along with Crystal, would bring new people to the cave on each of Crystals days off.
In time, the town began to warm up. It got lighter, warmer, and brighter because people felt so good inside. They had learned in the cave how to tend their inner fires, how to feed and nourish them so they would continue to burn brightly. They passed this knowledge on from generation to generation.
# # #
Well, and what about Crystal? One day she was gone. The townspeople went looking for her in the cave, but they couldnt find the cave, either. It, too, had disappeared.
When they listened to the news, they heard that all over the world, in different places, the earth was warming and the ice was melting. They knew that Crystal was tending the fires of all these people everywhere.
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