A Note To Those Who Would Be Wise

There was a king and he once said to the court sages – I have a ring with one of the finest diamonds in the world and I want to hide a message under the stone that can be useful in a situation of extreme despair. I will give this ring to my heirs and I want it to serve faithfully. Think of what kind of message will be there. It must be very short to fit in the ring.

The sages knew how to write treatises, but did not express themselves in one short sentence. They thought and thought, but did not come up with anything.

The king complained about the failure of his venture to a faithful old servant who raised him from infancy and was part of the family. And the old man said to him:

“I’m not a sage, I’m not educated, but I know such a message. For many years spent in the palace, I met a lot of people. And once I served a visiting mystic whom your father invited. And he gave me this message. I ask that you don’t read it now. Save it under the stone and open it only when there’s no way out at all.

The king listened to the old servant.

After some time, the enemies attacked the country and the king lost the war. He fled on his horse and his enemies pursued him. He was alone, his enemies were many. He rode to the end of the road. There was a huge deep cliff before him, if he fell there, it is the end. He could not go back, as the enemies were approaching. He already heard the clatter of their horses’ hooves. He had no way out. He was in complete despair.

And then he remembered the ring. He opened it and found an inscription: “This too shall pass”

After reading the message, he felt that everything was quiet.

Apparently the pursuers got lost and proceeded in the wrong direction. Horses were no longer heard.

The king was filled with gratitude to the servant and the unknown mystic. The words were powerful. He closed the ring. And set out on the road. He gathered his army and returned his state.

On the day when he returned to the palace, they arranged a magnificent meeting, a feast for the whole world – the people loved their king. The king was happy and proud.

An old servant came up to him and said softly: “Even in this moment, look at the message again.”

The King said, “Now I am a winner, people are celebrating my return, I’m not in despair, not in a hopeless situation.”

“Listen to this old servant,” the servant answered. “The message works not only in moments when everything is bad, but also in moments of victory.”

The king opened the ring and read:

“This too shall pass.”

And again he felt a silence fall over him, although he was in the midst of a noisy dancing crowd. His pride dissolved. He understood the message. He was a wise man.

And then the old man said to the king; “Do you remember everything that happened to you? Nothing and no feeling is permanent. As night changes day, so moments of joy and despair replace each other. Accept them as the nature of things, as part of life.”

A Story Shared From Voices Against Child Trafficking

Young Girl Saying No

“A grown man looms behind my three-year-old daughter. Occasionally he will poke or tickle her and she responds by shrinking. Smaller and smaller with each unwanted advance. I imagine her trying to become slight enough to slip out of her booster seat and slide under the table.

When my mother views this scene, she sees playful taunting. A grandfather engaging with his granddaughter.

“Mae.” My tone cuts through the din of a familiar family gathering together. She does not look at me.

“Mae.” I start again. “You can tell him no Mae. If this isn’t okay you could say something like, Papa, please back up—I would like some space for my body.”

As I say the words, my step-father, the bulldog, leans in a little closer, hovering just above her head. His tenebrous grin taunts me as my daughter accordions her 30-pound frame hoping to escape his tickles and hot breath.

I repeat myself with a little more force. She finally peeks up at me.

“Mama . . . can you say it?” Surprise. A three-year-old-girl doesn’t feel comfortable defending herself against a grown man. A man that has stated he loves and cares for her over and over again, and yet, stands here showing zero concern for her wishes about her own body. I ready myself for battle.

“Papa! Please back up! Mae would like some space for her body.” My voice is firm but cheerful. He does not move.

“Papa. I should not have to ask you twice. Please back up. Mae is uncomfortable.”

“Oh, relax,” he says, ruffling her wispy blonde hair. The patriarchy stands, patronizing me in my own damn kitchen. “We’re just playin’.” His southern drawl does not charm me.

“No. You were playing. She was not. She’s made it clear that she would like some space, now please back up.”

“I can play how I want with her.” He says, straightening his posture. My chest tightens. The sun-bleached hairs on my arms stand at attention as this man, who has been my father figure for more than three decades, enters the battle ring.

“No. No, you cannot play however you want with her. It’s not okay to ‘have fun’ with someone who does not want to play.” He opens his mouth to respond but my rage is palpable through my measured response. I wonder if my daughter can feel it. I hope she can.
He retreats to the living room and my daughter stares up at me. Her eyes, a starburst of blue and hazel, shine with admiration for her mama. The dragon has been slayed (for now). My own mother is silent. She refuses to make eye contact with me.

This is the same woman who shut me down when I told her about a sexual assault I had recently come to acknowledge. This is the same woman who was abducted by a carful of strangers as she walked home one night. She fought and screamed until they kicked her out. Speeding away, they ran over her ankle and left her with a lifetime of physical and emotional pain. This is the same woman who said nothing, who could say nothing as her boss and his friends sexually harassed her for years. This is the same woman who married one of those friends.

When my mother views this scene, she sees her daughter overreacting. She sees me “making a big deal out of nothing.” Her concerns lie more in maintaining the status quo and cradling my step-dad’s toxic ego than in protecting the shrinking three-year-old in front of her.

When I view this scene, I am both bolstered and dismayed. My own strength and refusal to keep quiet is the result of hundreds, probably thousands of years of women being mistreated, and their protests ignored. It is the result of watching my own mother suffer quietly at the hands of too many men. It is the result of my own mistreatment and my solemn vow to be part of ending this cycle.

It would be so easy to see a little girl being taught that her wishes don’t matter. That her body is not her own. That even people she loves will mistreat and ignore her. And that all of this is “okay” in the name of other people, men, having fun.
But. What I see instead is a little girl watching her mama. I see a little girl learning that her voice matters. That her wishes matter. I see a little girl learning that she is allowed and expected to say no. I see her learning that this is not okay.

I hope my mom is learning something, too.

Fighting the patriarchy one grandpa at a time.”

By Lisa Norgren
Photo: TheGuardian