I love stories, real and imaginary. I collect them. I find them in books, coffee shops, blogs, libraries, work, newspapers, grocery stores, schools, neighborhoods, magazines, social gatherings etc – the sources are endless. Some are typed up and stored on my pc, some are on pieces of paper tucked in a box that sits on a shelf in my closet, some are in books that stand side by side in my bookshelf and others are just memories stored in my head. I’ve noticed that the stories that I am most compelled to hang on to one way or the other are stories that not only move me but also teach me. Sometimes what I learn are things I already knew but somehow the story makes them come alive for me. So – it is in that spirit that I want to share a story I ran across the other day.
If you have young children you may already be aware of the story. It is a children’s book that I think was published in 2003 by a man named Douglas Wood. The name of the book is “The Old Turtle and The Broken Truth.” This is one of those stories that is loved by all ages. I encourage you to try to get your hands on a copy of the book as it is beautifully illustrated by Jon J. Muth. Here’s a summary of the story. (The lesson is obvious.)
The story is a parable that takes place in a “far away land, somehow not so very far” in “a land where every stone was a teacher and every breeze a language.”
One day a “truth” falls from the sky and breaks. A piece of the truth falls to the ground and is found by Crow. The stone appeals to him because it is so shiny. But after a while, Crow begins to think that there is something not quite right with the truth he found; he feels it is “broken” and he wants to try to find one that is “whole.” Fox, Coyote, Raccoon, Butterfly and Bear, are also attracted to the broken truth by its shininess and sweetness. But, one by one, they reject it, for the same reason Crow rejected it – they sense it is “broken”.
Later a human finds the broken truth, and reads the words that are written on it. “You Are Loved,” says the stone, and the person feels good just holding it. He takes it back to his people and they all treasure it. In time, they begin to fear other groups of people who are different from them and who do not share their truth, which they have proclaimed is “The Truth.” They also lose interest in the land and are no longer able to learn from the stones or hear the languages of the breezes.
Over time other groups of people learn about “The Truth” and wish to possess it for themselves. Wars break out, causing the land and all the people to suffer. The animals ask Old Turtle, their wise and ancient leader, to reason with the people and tell them the truth they’re fighting over is broken. But she refuses, saying the people are not ready for this message and that they will not listen to her.
Finally, a young girl, who is distraught because of all the wars and suffering, decides that something must be done, so she travels all alone to the “great hill in the very center of the world” where she meets Old Turtle, and asks her if things could ever change. Old Turtle, realizing this is a human ready to listen, tells the girl that things were not always like this and that there are many beautiful truths all around us and within us—the “small and lovely truths of life” which humans have lost the ability to recognize. And so with the Old Turtle’s help and guidance, the girl learns to hear the language of the breezes. Old Turtle tells the girl that the broken truth will only be mended when one person meets another person different from his or herself, and in that person sees and hears his or herself. Every person is important, according to Old Turtle, and “the world was made for each of us.”
Before she departs, Old Turtle gives the girl a gift, which she has been saving for the right person. The girl accepts it, but isn’t sure what to do with it. When she returns to her people, the girl tries to share the lessons she has learned with them and to show them the language of the breezes, but they don’t believe her and they refuse to listen. The girl is frustrated until she sees Crow flying around the high tower where the cherished broken truth is kept. As she looks up at the tower she realizes the significance of Old Turtle’s gift and climbs up to the broken truth to discover that the broken bit of stone received from Old Turtle fits against the broken truth and forms a heart shaped rock which reads, “You Are Loved—And So Are They.”