I’m going to tell you a story about happiness. In case you didn’t know (& if you didn’t, I wouldn’t be surprised at all, because a lot of people, even grownups, don’t know) but happiness isn’t about being happy all the time. It’s about remembering you’re alive. Sometimes that means you’re happy & sometimes it means you’re sad. But it always means you’re alive. That’s what really makes us happy.
I learned that from my aunt Dorothy. She was a nurse who worked for the World Health Organization & she had lived all over the world. Everywhere she went, she collected interesting things. But the most interesting thing of all to me was her Memory Necklace.
Now, it wasn’t a real necklace. It was so big that you would’ve had to be about ten feet tall to wear it. But Aunt Dorothy called it a necklace & she hung it on the wall by her front stairs. It had hundreds of beads on it & every bead was different. Each bead was a memory from her life. Some memories were happy & some were sad, but they were all amazing & wonderful because they were hers. It’s my life, she used to say, & I lived it.
Sometimes, after dinner, my aunt would take the necklace down from the wall & we’d go sit on the porch as the sun went down & we’d pick a bead & hear its story.
One time I picked a bead that looked like a grinning skull. Dorothy said it was an offering to the Goddess Kali & then she smiled & said, Oh yes, I remember this.
Many years ago, she had been sent to a small village in northern India. Not long after she arrived, people started disappearing from the village. At first, it was older people, but then a few children disappeared. But the people had not really disappeared. They were not missing. They had been eaten. By a tiger.
The villagers began to go everywhere in groups, even to get water from the well. At night, everyone closed all the shutters of their houses & stayed inside. But one night, it was too hot & the insects & the monkeys were too loud & she couldn’t sleep, so she decided to go out on the porch. Just for a minute.
The moon was full that night & it was like being underwater in a huge bowl of silver. Suddenly the insects & the monkeys & all the other sounds of the night stopped & a huge white tiger walked into the clearing, right in front of the porch.
Aunt Dorothy looked at the tiger & the tiger looked at her. Then, without thinking, she did something they do as a blessing in India. She bowed to the tiger & said, Namaste.
This is a way of saying that the person in me who is looking out of my eyes, sees the person in you who is looking out through your eyes & that we come from the very same spirit.
At that, the tiger stretched out, the way cats will do, with his front feet way out, & he bowed to her. Then, (& she said it was the most astonishing thing) she heard the tiger’s voice. Right in her head. You are not afraid, he said. Why are you not afraid? You are very beautiful, she said. The tiger was beautiful. Long & powerful, with stripes of grey & white rippling in the silver of the moon. Also, she said, I am old & I come from another place far from here & I probably would not taste good to you. At that the tiger raised his head & roared & she knew he was laughing. When he stopped, she said, Please, why must you eat the children? You are scaring them. The tiger raised his head & looked directly into her eyes.
Look at me, he said & she did. Am I one who eats children? & suddenly, she understood Namaste for she became the tiger & she knew many things. She knew that tigers hunt & kill & eat because that is the Law of Tigers. She knew that she had been blessed, because this was no ordinary tiger. & she knew that the children of this village would be safe. She shook her head & spoke softly no, you are not one who eats children. It was my mistake to think so & then she bowed again & said Namaste. & the tiger turned & was gone, back into the jungle & the sounds of the night.
From that moment on, for as long as she was in the village, no more people were attacked by tigers. The villagers called her ‘Priya Kali Se’, Beloved of the Goddess Kali, who stalks the night sometimes, wrapped in the skin of a white tiger.
So, now you have a story of my aunt Dorothy that you can put on your own memory necklace. It is a good thing to have a memory necklace. It is the place where you can string your memories, some of them happy, some of them sad, but all of them amazing & wonderful, because they are yours. It is your life & it is yours to live it. Namaste.
with love, Brian