Friday night saw Anthony Nanson tell Stories for Interesting Times, titled around the well-known ancient Chinese curse, which turns out likely to be neither Chinese nor ancient.
We learnt about the gifts of the Baal Shem Tov and the tree he set alight with a magical fire and the power of prayer, that as it was passed down through each generation of disciples, something was lost – the prayer that was said or the place where it took place – such that all that has remained is the story.
We heard from the parrot not giving up and fighting the forest fire with the help of his animal
friends. We heard about the pregnant woman saved from Benhall’s Dreary Wood by a caring
gentleman. We heard about the spiritual seeker who made a pilgrimage to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, who spent years in a cave with his dog, forgoing temptation to reach enlightenment.
Thoughts and feelings on the importance of hope reoccurred throughout the evening, and after each story, the gentle gong of a sound bowl invited moments of silent contemplation, with a word, or image or sentence offered by those listening. The gift of silence – like the art of listening – too often missing from our modern soundscapes.
Two stories from the evening in particular still linger. The Migrant Maid – a modern retelling of the King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid – whose modern context and immediate relevance made me also wonder how some of these old tales landed when the old foes of story were lived realities and not distant memories.
Finally, who can forget poor Kubangwa – the king’s dog who carried too much firewood and passed away – and the queen who tried to hide it. The story explored many themes, but what fascinated me most were the trees – the trees who became human to help rescue the drowning queen and became a generous community of people. And because the queen never told a soul, the secret of the trees lives on – and maybe these people who used to be trees are still living with us now.
Perhaps we’ve not yet uncovered all the secrets, mapped all the terrain or learnt all there is to know.
Maybe there are still deep secrets out there somewhere yet to be discovered.