Hope in uncertain times



Years ago I was mesmerized by Laurens van der Post’s book, The Heart of the Hunter. His writing sank its hooks into my story-loving soul.

Today I came across a conversation he had with another of my favorite storytellers, P.L. Travers. In it he tells part of a story I still remember from The Heart of the Hunter.

The Sky Woman’s Basket

Each day the main character in the story moves his cattle to good pasture. Each morning he gratefully receives the beautiful milk with which they reward him.

One morning he goes out to his cattle and finds their udders flaccid. He berates himself for not having put them on good pasture the day before. That day he is more careful than ever, finding the best grass for them.

Next morning their udders are again empty of milk. This goes on day after day. So one night he watches and waits. A rope falls from the sky, and beautiful women climb down it. They milk his cows and climb back up the rope. He captures one of them. She agrees to be his wife but tells him he must never look in her basket.

Their life is peaceful and happy until the day he sneaks a peak while she is out. When she returns, she knows immediately he has looked and asks what he saw.

He saw nothing and mocks her secretiveness.

But what she held in her basket was all the beautiful things of the sky. His inability to see them told her more than any words could have about the emptiness of his soul. So she takes her basket and returns to the sky.

Our Sky Baskets

We all come into the world with our own sky baskets. In mysterious ways I may never comprehend, we are connected to each other and to the inexplicable grandeur of the universe.

Many in leadership positions seem bent on painting the world as Us and Them. They have forgotten the contents of their sky baskets. They have forgotten the connections that enrich us, that enliven conversations, that feed our minds and our bellies.

They spew hatred and intolerance. They pronounce as truths things they know to be patently false. They speak to fears, raise hopes, and then turn their backs on those they have inspired.

They look in their sky baskets and see nothing, and so they speak from a place of emptiness.

But you still have your sky basket. When you open it, you see joy. You see light and learning. You see sharing and gratitude. You see possibilities and fairness. The world needs the beauty you know is everywhere, around and within us.

What to do with disappointment

For years I read Laurens van der Post’s writings with a sense of wonder and awe. And then I learned of the clay feet on which he walked, of the false claims he made, of his self-puffery, of his predatory behavior with young women.

I felt like a fool for ever having admired his writing, for ever being stirred by his stories. But I am older now. I have been disappointed by myself as frequently as I have by those I have admired. Laurens van der Post wrote out of a longing to see the contents of his sky basket. I read his words again, with both appreciation and compassion.

Age has taught me to be more compassionate toward those who appear to look into their sky baskets and jeer at their emptiness. Now I can re-read books such as The Heart of the Hunter and see the yearning beyond the false claims. I can see the aching hearts, wanting to see wonders, begging to be loved and admired, but feeling in their bones they were not truly worthy and could only find that love through falsehoods.

We live in tenuous times, but that is nothing new. We are called on to stand firm in the face of tyranny, and that, too, is nothing new. What is new, and reassuring, is the ease with which we can reach each other. Sure, that means the alt right can easily spread their peculiar brand of white supremacy. So can those who celebrate differences, believe in social justice and equality, and yearn for peace.

Lift your lantern. Walk confidently in the darkness. Listen for your truths. Love the light. You have only this one life. What came before, what comes after, are mysteries on which we speculate endlessly. Turn disappointment and uncertainty into curiosity.

Your sky basket is full.

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