When I was a child, my father and uncles told colorful tales of valiant men and women facing crisis, to help me and my rambunctious cousins settle in at bedtime.
It is a tradition I carried on with my own children—though perhaps with less impact.
Even though my kids are grown, I suppose I still need to tell tales. They help remind me of what’s important.
Courage. Compassion for myself. Paying attention to another’s struggle.
Searching for rainbows after the storm.
So, Once Upon a Time…
What an awful day!
Her mind was a boiling pot of emotion. Anger. Frustration. Hopelessness.
Why? she asked herself.
She knew she wouldn’t sleep well tonight. And the bitter wind and rain were just making things worse.
She tried to comfort herself. She had a good job. She was healthy—at least physically. But on the inside, where no one could see, she was sick. Sick of the heartache. Sick of all the bullsh*t. Sick of trying to be strong.
“Don’t be sad, Mommy.”
Damn. She was crying again, and Cara had seen it.
“Mommy’s okay, baby girl.”
Cara touched her mother’s damp cheek, offering a halting reassurance.
“Don’t be sad, Mommy.”
“Have you brushed your teeth?”
Cara nodded an “uh-huh,” climbed in alongside her mother and said, “Tell me a story.”
The faint hint of lavender wafted from Cara, a sign the girl had once again pilfered her mother’s body wash. She was warm, soft and unsullied by the chaos of her mother’s noisy brain and heartache.
“What kind of story would you like?”
“A scary adventure one with a prince and a princess and a bad monster—but make it funny.”
The woman laughed.
“That shouldn’t be too hard,” she smiled, lifting her eyebrows in mock disbelief. “Anything else, Madam?”
“There should be a storm—and a rainbow. I want there to be a rainbow.”
When she finished telling Cara the bedtime tale, the woman walked to the kitchen. The microwave dinged and she removed the cup of boiling water, dropping in the final bag from a box marked Zen. She watched the water slowly morph from clear to cloudy, as the steeping grounds relinquished themselves. She had to remind herself to wait on the tea to finish brewing, for the water to cool.
“Patience, grasshopper,” she muttered to herself.
When she finally found the courage to turn off the light, begging sleep to come gently and quickly, she thought about the story she had told Cara. It hadn’t been a difficult tale to imagine.
Hell, it was her life.
There had been a prince and monsters and a storm. Well, lots of storms, actually. There were funny moments, times when she had laughed so hard she thought she wouldn’t be able to stop. But rainbows? Was there some magical place where a pot of gold awaited her? In the darkness she whispered, “I wish I could make up a story like Cara’s.”
The thought startled her.
She sat up, flicked on the lamp and grabbed her journal. She realized all the past entries in the journal were just a story.
But there were no rainbows. Rainbows come after the storm, she thought.
She was going to write a new story. It would be difficult. She would need to be patient with herself.
Maybe even forgive herself for the monsters and storms she had invited in.
“Once upon a time,” she wrote, “there was a princess locked in a tower…”
Author: Jim Owens
Apprentice Editor: Rachel Leber; Editor: Nicole Cameron
Image: Delphine Devos/Flickr