Category Archives: Stories

The Bridge: A Teaching Story

There was a bridge, old as the stars. It spanned a deep chasm, deeper than the cleft of the world; so that if one stood at its midpoint and looked down, the river below appeared as if it were a single black thread curled and twisting from one edge of a match box to the other.

Hand-milled redwood slats, tightly strung two-by-two, suspended securely from a web of tough hemp rope were the bones of this connection between two disparate worlds, Eastern Pinnacle and the Great Western Valley. Whoever wished to pass from one side to the other (and there were few who dared) must trod those wooden slats and sway with the wild wind.

Two young Samurai, already tested in battle, girded with steel, each clothed in royal garb from families of rare and mysterious lineage, set forth one day (one from the East, the other from the West) to seek themselves in high places. After much travail they happened upon the rock-strewn pass on either side of the jagged cliffs, whose juncture was the wooden bridge.

Spying each other from abroad, both stood motionless at the boundaries of their own lands, their garb unfamiliar to one another. The warriors unsheathed their weapons and raised them forcefully overhead, fiercely clasping elegantly carved sword hilts (one of jade, the other milky pearl), the fire of battle in their eyes.

Before either Samurai could move, a red ball rolled quickly and with great purpose over the rough slats. As if this small sphere were the sun compelling the Earth to follow its true orbit, two children, one dressed in yellow, the other in green, chased their own laughter across the great divide in eager pursuit of the round.

The warriors, taken out of time into a space beyond words, lowered their swords, walked slowly towards one another, then reaching the midpoint of gathered planks, paused.

“In breath the word is life, Brother!” one cried. “I see it in your eyes. You are my twin, separated from me at birth, when our real parents, forsaken and impoverished, abandoned us to the wind. I have been searching for you since I learned of our fate. I see you too found refuge in a royal house.”

“Yes, Brother, I see you as well. We are reunited at last!”

The young warriors hurled their great curved swords into the ravine, then embraced as only brothers can. The tears flowing from their eyes filled the immense chasm below. Suddenly a river roared and swirled beneath them, the fluid waters giving life to new beginnings, striving upward toward the bridge.

Laughter filled the land. Children, women and men from Eastern Pinnacle and the Great Western Valley swarmed the banks of this new flow. They flung rafts and small boats with sails into the deep water, freely crossing from one side to the other, waving and calling out “hello” as they met in the strong rapids.

The brothers, still entwined, watched with delight as the river rose beyond the wooden slats, drawing them deeply into the current.The ancient bridge, consumed by the shear force of the flow, was washed away.

Copyright, 1996 Patricia A Burke, MSW. All rights reserved.

Minutes: A Story About Being Seen

It’s our first day on the island, late afternoon, the fierce sun burns small red patches on my face. The Hotel Garrafon overlooks the multi-hued Caribbean waters off Isla Mujeres– the Island of Women. All of its twelve rooms face the ocean. I sit on my small balcony on the third floor and peer through flashes of bright sun bouncing randomly off white-crested waves. The breeze is stiff, warm, alive.

There is a group of snorklers to my left, tourists bobbing in the water in bright yellow life vests (they are shipped over from Cancun every day on tour boats), trying to catch a glimpse of exotic fish that inhabit the once teeming, but now barely surviving coral reef at the Garrafon National Park, next door. It was decimated in the hurricane a few years ago. About fifty yards from shore, a two-masted yacht bobbing in the moderate swells is crammed with a higher class of tourists, laughing, raising glasses of expensive imported wine to the red disk in the sky.

There are two boys below my balcony, both natives, small framed, with characteristically thick, jet black hair (one has a tuft sticking out from the left side of his head), round Mayan faces, and eyes to match their hair. Oblivious to the American, German, and Dutch tourists shiny with tropical oils and coconut lotions, who play in the water, saunter along the dock, or set themselves up in lounges on the white sand beach, the boys run back and forth across a small patch of faded lawn, laughing wildly, dragging small kites along the ground. One kite is made of an old piece of paper, the other a scrap of plastic. Thin, straight slivers of wood, like used barbeque skewers fashioned in an “X” inside a square, hold each taught. Several long strips of plastic tied in knots trail behind; each tail longer than both boys are tall.

The younger of the two stops and looks down at his great invention, the other kneels, scratches his head, and begins fiddling with the sticks on his younger friend’s kite, as if he is the world’s greatest authority on kite construction (which he may well be). The younger boy seems to know he is being watched and suddenly looks up. I smile. He smiles. I wave. He waves. And without looking down, reaches for his friend, rubs the older boy’s head vigorously, telling him in Spanish to, “Look up! Look up there!” The other boy releases the kite, looks up, and waves. We all smile and wave. They chatter in Spanish, then run off giggling, with what can only be described as sheer delight at having been seen, their makeshift kites finally catching the strong breeze and flying high above them in the warm currents.

Copyright 2000, Patricia A. Burke. All Rights Reserved.

True Leader: A Parable

There was once a young man who left his parents’ home to seek his way in the world. He dreamt of unimaginable wealth and fame; but most of all he wanted to be a powerful leader.

The young man wandered about until he came upon a factory in a distant city. In his arrogance he applied for the position of CEO of the company. The personnel manager gave the young man a job on the assembly line.

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Ages past, in a distant land where armored knights ruled the day and there were no more dragons to slay, there lived a little-boy prince named William. William was the only son of the King and Queen of Atwa. The little-boy prince had everything his heart desired, at least that’s how it seemed from the outside. Inside, he was unhappy.

After the day’s jousting tournament, the King journeyed out from the fortress with his knights, into the forest and drank mead until the sun crept over the eastern horizon. When he returned home, the drunken monarch would wake his son with a hard shove and yell at him for not cleaning his room.

William’s mother spent most of her time counting her jewels and scolding her intoxicated spouse. The King’s response to her nagging was to ride out, once again, seeking the merrymaking in the forest, only to return the next morning with a hangover.

The Queen inevitably suffering pangs of guilt, atoned by waiting on him hand and foot, bringing cold compresses for his headache and a special tea for his nausea. Both the King and Queen then went about the day’s business as though nothing had happened.

As much as his parents pretended that everything was fine, William sensed their unhappiness. It must be something I’ve done, he thought. I must be a very bad boy. The little-boy prince spent much of his time alone in his room, trembling from the great weight of his shame.

One day William was rummaging around in his toy chest when he found a weathered little stuffed bear. He named the bedraggled toy Beerbear or BB for short. As William picked up the furry animal and played with him, suddenly the boy realized he felt better. He gazed at the bear, who had only one button eye, and smiled. “You make me feel happy, Beerbear, not sad or lonely or scared.”

In the beginning William played with BB only when he felt bad. But then, he noticed that the more he held the bear the better he felt. So he started to bring BB with him wherever he went. Eventually, the little-boy prince wouldn’t put the bear down. In fact, whenever he did, the boy felt nauseous. Then he’d quickly throw-up and pass out on his bed.

William soon realized that when he held the stuffed animal in his arms, the sick feeling would disappear. It got to the point where William needed to hold BB just to get through each day.

Soon, William was getting into fists fights with the other children when they poked fun at him and tried to steal his bear. He soon stopped playing with other children and spent as much time as he could alone in his room with his bear. BB became his best friend and his only source of comfort. The little-boy prince felt worthwhile when Beerbear was close by.

Then William started to make excuses and lie so he could stay in his room with his bear. “Mother,” he’d plead, “I can’t go out and play. I have to clean my room. You know how angry Father gets when my room is messy.” The Queen shrugged her shoulders, scratched her head, then left the boy alone, hoping the King would talk to him when he got home from the forest.

But the King only made things worse. “It’s childish to carry around a stuffed toy at your age,” the hungover monarch sneered. “Grow up!”

It was when William refused to leave his room at all that his parents became worried. William, however, simply and calmly told the King and Queen, “I’m fine. There’s nothing at all wrong with staying in my room, by myself, with my bear.”

Deep down inside William was not fine at all. He was afraid if he gave up his bear, he’d disappear. The King and Queen were at the end of their royal rope. They threatened William with punishment, taunted and cajoled him, trying to force the boy to surrender the stuffed animal. William refused.

Finally, the King and Queen decided to get some help for their son. The Royal Nanny packed a small bag for William. Then the King dragged the boy from his room, kicking and screaming and clutching his bear. “I’m just fine,” the boy cried. “Leave me alone. I don’t want to go anywhere!” The Queen followed behind, shaking her head.

They traveled a long way into the dense woods, then beyond the Great River and over the glen to the foot of Amethyst Mountain. There, in a small clearing, they came upon a log cabin, made of solid oak timber and surrounded by a fragrant and colorful wildflower garden.

William was seething inside. He thought, they’ve dragged me all this way for nothing. No one can make me give up my bear!

As they approached the cabin, the mad little boy noticed several nests tucked up underneath the eaves, filled to capacity with chirping babies. He saw unconcerned bunnies quietly nibbling the tall grass and fat chipmunks stuffing their faces with tidbits of bread and sunflower seeds that had been strewn around the yard. The little-boy prince suddenly felt less angry. He thought, at least whoever lives here likes beautiful things.

The King knocked on a small reddish brown door, carved with the figure of a playfully leaping dolphin. A mysterious woman in a long black cloak, embroidered with magical symbols, stepped out of the dwelling, stood before the royal family and spoke in a tone that commanded authority, but was compassionate at the same time. “My name is Manue. I am the Shaman of the mountain. I understand you are seeking help.”

The King and Queen had identical expressions on their faces. The King broke the silence, “How did you know that?”

The Shaman replied, “Ah… I know many things and one of the things I know is that no one comes to Amethyst Mountain unless they are seeking help.”

As doubtful as the royal parents were, there was something calming about the Shaman’s presence. Besides, they had no where else to turn and didn’t have a clue how to handle their son.

The King told the mysterious woman about William’s bear. “We don’t know what else to do,” explained the frustrated man. “You’re our last hope.”

She listened carefully, then gestured toward her cabin, “The boy will stay with me for a while. I can help him… if he is willing to be helped.”

“In exchange,” the Shaman continued, “you must return home and seek help for yourselves. You must learn to look inside and change the way you relate to each other and to the boy. So when William comes home, he will return to his ‘real’ parents and you will be able to welcome back your ‘real’ son.”

The King protested, “It’s the boy who has the problem. We’re fine.”

“If you cannot promise me this,” she replied, “I cannot help your son.”

It was clear to the King and Queen that the Shaman would not waver. Even though they were puzzled and felt vaguely uncomfortable about the changes the mysterious woman suggested, the royal parents agreed to her terms. They said goodbye to their son, relieved he was safe and that the problem of the bear was out of their hands, turned toward home and walked down the path.

The Shaman invited William to enter and sit down. She offered him a cup of gladdenberry juice. He was suspicious. This lady in the funny cloak, he thought, is going to try and convince me to give up Beerbear. Ha! Just let her try. There is no one who can make me give up my bear! Being this sure of himself, William sat down on a large pillow and drank his juice.

Manue settled herself on another pillow, laid out several crystals of varying sizes and colors and lit a large, cylindrical red candle. The mysterious Shaman closed her eyes and telepathically conferred with the devas and nature spirits who roamed freely in her garden. Then she consulted with her special inner guide, a very wise and playful dolphin named Genie.

After she finished her ritual to create a sacred space, Manue gazed into the boy’s eyes and said, “I open my heart to you, young friend, and give you my best. Please, if you will, tell me about your bear and why he is so special to you.”

William was speechless. He was certain the Shaman would badger and blame him, judge and cajole him, just like everyone else. Instead, she asked him a question no one else cared to ask. Suddenly, the wall the boy had erected around his vulnerable heart began to crumble. William realized that for the first time, in a very long time, he felt safe.

The boy poured out his heart to the mysterious woman. “I’m afraid to give up my bear. He’s the only thing that makes me happy. When Beerbear is in my arms, I feel worthwhile.”

She listened very carefully and kept her heart open to the young child’s pain. When he finished, Manue asked the boy one simple question, “If there was another way to feel good about yourself and to find some happiness in life, would you be willing to try that way?”

William noticed a lump in his throat. He stumbled on his words, “Well… uh… um… I, uh… I guess so.” Then his voiced steadied as determination took hold, “Yes, yes, I’m willing to try another way.”

Manue spoke to the boy in a soft, gentle tone, “You see, William, the bear makes you feel good for only a short while. In order to keep the good feeling you have to cling to him. The problem is, you lose everything else that’s important to you, including your self. To find true happiness you must look inside, instead of outside… but you need not follow this path alone.”

The Shaman stood up and walked toward an enormous cupboard, then opened the doors. Inside were rows and rows of raggle taggle stuffed bears of all shapes, colors and sizes.

She pointed to the bears, “You see, William, there are many other little boys and girls just like you. If you like, I’ll introduce you to them. They’ll teach you how to find happiness inside of yourself, instead of depending on Beerbear.”

William hesitated, momentarily paralysed with doubt. He looked imploringly at the Shaman. Manue slipped her arm around the boy and gently squeezed his shoulder. William sighed deeply, then placed his bear on the shelf with the other stuffed toys. Salty tears streamed down his young face. “I’m really sad,” he sobbed.

“I understand, William.” The Shaman held the boy close. “But tell me something, is this sadness any different than the sadness you felt alone in your room?”

William thought for a moment, then said, “Yes, but I don’t know why.”

The Shaman explained, “What you’re feeling now, my young friend, is the kind of sadness that comes when we lose something we love. If you let yourself feel it, it will be there for a while, then pass. The sadness you felt in your room, all alone, was the kind of sadness that never goes away because you kept trying not to feel it.”

The boy’s eyes widened. “You’re right. It’s different. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be. It’s kind of soft and mushy, not hard and jagged like those other times.”

The Shaman smiled and led the boy outside to a group of laughing children who were sharing stories, chasing butterflies and playing hide and seek. They eagerly welcomed William into their circle. For the first time in his life the young boy felt happy from the inside out. He had come home to his heart.

William stayed with the Shaman at the foot of Amethyst Mountain for as long as he wanted. When he was ready to leave, he thanked all the children, the devas, nature spirits, and animal guides. Then he packed his bag with the few things he had brought with him, minus his furry bear, who was still sitting quietly in the cupboard with the other stuffed animals.

Manue walked with him through the glen, beyond the Great River, and back through the forest until they saw the castle just over the ridge. The Shaman took the boy’s hands, one last time, looked lovingly into his eyes and said, “William, my young friend, it will be painful sometimes. There will be moments when you wish you still had Beerbear in your arms. When you find yourself at those points of choice, you must remember everything you’ve learned from the children about finding happiness from within. Then you won’t need to seek comfort or fulfillment from outside. I bless you on your journey. You are always welcome at the mountain.”

William gave the Shaman a hug and said goodbye. His body flowed with a new sense of freedom as he turned, headed down the path toward home, and finally slipped out of view.

This story is one of fourteen therapeutic fairy tales from Breathe Deeply! Healing Stories for the Soul, reprinted here with permission of the author, Patricia A. Burke. Copyright, 1995. All rights reserved.