Time for another fairy tale… This one is about a little boy called Danny. It could so easily be about a little boy called Sam or Edward, or a little girl called Sarah or Katie. However, in our story, just now, it is a little boy called Danny.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I will begin…
There was once a little boy called Danny. He was a very lucky and much loved little boy who, from the moment he was born, received nothing but praise. And we all know how very important it is to receive praise. Danny was praised for being such a good baby, who slept through the night very quickly. He was praised for never being too demanding, and his mummy would tell all her friends how, if he would have a temper tantrum – at least, that’s what she called it – when he woke in the night, having not long been fed, or was a little bit damp, she could just ignore him for a while and he would stop crying and let her go back to sleep.
Danny’s mummy badly wanted a good baby, because she had been quite worried about how she might cope if he needed her too much. Danny’s mummy had a great need for peace and quiet, and for things to be predictable and steady, so she had been quite worried in case having a baby might shake things up too much.
As Danny grew into a toddler, he could not help noticing that there were days when his mummy cried a lot, and others when she seemed very sad. Sometimes, his daddy, who wasn’t there a lot of the time, would come home and shout a lot, and make his mummy cry some more. There was a lot of sadness. Danny started to try to work out how he could protect his mummy and look after her. He needed her to be ok, because she was his safety, and so he began to realize, in a simple sort of way, that it was his job to make sure that she was happy.
So Danny taught himself how to be extremely patient, very considerate, and to never make a fuss. Even when he felt like making a fuss, because he felt cross or upset or something did not seem fair. It did not matter if he was not feeling fine, just as long as his mummy was not sad or crying. Danny became very good at this. He learned how to notice when his mummy needed a hug, or a tissue, or a biscuit, or to borrow his teddy. And he also learned to behave very carefully when his daddy was home, so that he would not make things any worse by causing an argument or by making his daddy shout. Danny knew by now, so clearly, that his job was to keep things safe, and to keep everybody happy. He didn’t know any more whether he himself was happy or sad, cross or frightened, worried or upset. He had stopped noticing that a long time ago. But he was extremely good at doing this most important – indeed, vital – job of keeping everyone else happy.
When Danny got to school, he also impressed the teachers with how patient and kind and protective he was. He always seemed to know what was the right thing to do at any given moment. He would notice when other children were sad, and would spend his break times keeping them company, walking around the playground with them, arm around their shoulders. When Danny’s mummy and daddy would go to parents’ evenings, they would come away glowing with pride at all they were being told about their little boy. They learned that he was a monitor for this, and a monitor for that. They learned that he had even organized a litter patrol in his break times, when he would go round picking up all the litter in the playground that other children had dropped. He got a special award for that. The teacher even said – and this made his mummy and daddy exceptionally proud – that he was so well behaved in class that often, if you didn’t actually look up and see him there, sitting right at the back quietly getting on with his work without a fuss, you could even forget that he was there at all.
Danny’s mummy and daddy thought this was just wonderful, and congratulated each other on what a successful job they had done of bringing him up.
There was a tiny rocky patch when Danny hit his teens. He went through a stage of liking certain things that his parents didn’t approve of, wanting to wear clothes his parents didn’t approve of, listening to music his parents didn’t approve of, and wanting to hang out with friends in a way that his parents didn’t approve of. He tried hard in his way to do these things, but one day his mum said something that frightened him to his core. She said, ‘ After all I’ve done for you, you treat me like this! I can’t stand the sight of you. You’ve broken my heart. Go away, I can’t bear to be around you.’ And finally, Danny realized the truth of things.
He realized that if you want people to love you, to approve of you and want to be around you, you must always do what they want you to do, and be what they want you to be. The fear of it being any other way, of losing his mother and father’s love and approval, was so great, and was so paralyzing, that in that moment the course of the rest of his life felt like it was set. He sat on the floor in his bedroom, in the dark, and pondered the most important truth of his young life.
Then, one day, Danny looked at himself in the mirror and could see, by the way his body had changed, that he had become a grown up. He did not feel any different inside, but it was clear from his body that he had, indeed, grown up. He realized that he was now expected to go out into the world, get a good job, find himself a girlfriend, buy a house, settle down, have a family, save for his old age, and live his life patiently and contentedly, and not want anything for himself or make a fuss.
He tried very hard to do this, because he wanted to make his parents really proud. Especially since he had caused them so much stress and in his teens. But then something terrible started to happen. Something really terrible. He had never experienced anything like it in his life before. He found that he started to feel really angry inside. Explosively angry. Utter rage. And worse still, he found that this explosive rage would leak out suddenly when he was not expecting it. With his girlfriend, with his work colleagues, with total strangers in the street, or people serving at counters, or in cafes. And it was not a straightforward, clean sort of anger. It was nasty, mocking, and sarcastic. He found that he sometimes just wanted to hurt. He knew it was cruel, that the words once out of his mouth could never be unsaid. But he was terrified to discover that he simply did not care! He was not safe anywhere. He was a really bad person. Such a bad person. How had it come to this?
Suddenly, he found himself running. Running from it all. From the nastiness, from the hurt, from the confusion. From the mess. Most of all, from the mess. And then, as he ran, he found the roadway turning into a path, and then the path into a grassy track, the ground suddenly soft under his feet instead of hard and jarring. The air smelt different. Cleaner, lighter, like suddenly he could breathe. He bent over, doubled up, catching his breath in huge, deep gasps. It felt like he had been running for miles and miles. He wanted to stop. Just to stop. For it all to stop!
From bending double, gasping for air, he sank down, knees bent, and knelt on the ground. He found himself looking round. He had no idea how he had arrived at this place, but he seemed to be in a forest. He could smell the richness of the slightly damp ground he was kneeling on, and realized he found it surprisingly soothing, refreshing, and comforting. Sunlight found its way here and there down to the forest floor from high up in the canopy, and in one spot, where the sun threw down a full beam onto an outcrop of rocks, he noticed an old woman. She did not appear to be aware of him at first. She was weaving something in her hands, and seemed totally absorbed. However, he realized that he also knew, somehow and somewhere deep down inside, that this woman knew he was there with every fiber of her being. She was just waiting.
He rather liked this feeling; it was new. No one had ever waited for him like this before. They had always been expecting, never waiting. He cleared his throat. It was the way he had learned to attract attention without making too much of a fuss. It was being polite. To his surprise, the old woman appeared not to notice. She just carried on weaving whatever she was weaving with those nimble fingers of hers.
Danny found himself with a dilemma. Should he clear his throat again? Should he just wait? Should he just tiptoe quietly away? He decided he would clear his throat again. A little louder this time. Not too loud, just a little. He felt a strange pull to this old woman, though he had no idea why. He just knew he was meant to be here, in this place, at this moment, and that she had known he was coming and had been waiting for him.
The old woman clearly registered the second throat clearing. She inclined her head slightly towards him, as if acknowledging the sound, but still made no attempt to speak. She was listening though. Most definitely really listening. She was aware of everything that was going on, outside of him, but also inside.
Then she startled him. She laid whatever she was weaving down on the ground. And then slowly, purposefully, she lifted her head and looked straight at him. She had the most amazing eyes. They were dark, deep pools of fluid wisdom and knowing. She knew, and even though she knew, it was okay. He could not get his head around that one. Even though she knew, it was still ok. Those dark, deep pools held his, and he found himself letting go. Oh of so much. The eyes saw and absorbed and waited.
Suddenly, it felt a bit uncomfortable, like the shared gaze had gone on for just a tiny bit too long, and he broke it to look at the ground and to stroke his hand across the grass and moss where he was still kneeling. The old woman spoke.
‘My child,’ she said. It was a voice both gentle and strong, quite compelling.
He did not know why she had called him that. As far as he was aware, they had never met before. ‘Who are you?’ he asked.
‘My child.’ Again, those strange words. They made no sense… and yet, they did. ‘What have you come back for?’
It was getting really weird now. What was this about coming back? He had not been away. Had he? ‘What do you mean?’ Danny asked. He was both intrigued and nervous. He wanted to understand. Why had he come back? Why? The old woman looked at him again. Her gaze was steady, unwavering, and kindly. She could see so much more than he could, and yet she was waiting for him to know it. What had he come back for? What?
Then, he knew. Suddenly, he knew. Oh, the realization was so very wonderful. He could hardly contain his laughter. And then, all in a rush, he could not contain it. It exploded out of him, just like so much anger and rage had exploded out of him for months and months. And once he had started, he found he could not stop. The laughter burst out of him. Loud, hysterical laughter, as if he had just heard the funniest joke of his entire life. At first, it was a man’s laughter, loud and deep, then it became a belly laugh, then a boy’s giggles and eventually it had become the most joyous peel of laughter he had ever heard. And astonishingly, it was coming out of him!
The old woman’s eyes were merry, twinkling, encouraging. She smiled the most wonderful smile, and grinned as he laughed and laughed. And my goodness, how he laughed. He could suddenly see it all, and could feel a lightness as it all lifted from his shoulders. The weight of a lifetime.
‘It never was my job, was it?’ He finally managed to speak, and his voice was steadier. ‘All that… stuff… it was never my job.’
‘No wonder you were angry, my child. You have taken so much on yourself that was never yours to have to take. And you have lost your joy.’ And then softly, almost in a whisper, ‘ And that, as you have now realized, is what you came back for.’ She smiled, and held his gaze again, raising her eyebrows as she saw his recognition, saw it all sinking in and fitting into place, and nodded gently.
‘And now,’ the old woman said, in a tone that said they were both ready, ‘there is fun to be had and adventures to go on! So you’d better go back so you don’t miss them!’ Then, such a magical chuckle, like a thousand tinkling bells, and the old woman threw her hands up in the air and laughed and laughed.
When she finally stopped, Danny was standing in front of her, holding out his arms. He had no idea whether or not this was ok, but he rather sensed that she would know that this was the most spontaneous thing he had ever done in his life. And that she would not shame him. The old woman’s face melted into the most radiant, beaming smile, and she stood up and held her arms wide open. And when he sank into those arms, into the most complete and satisfying embrace he had ever known, he felt a strange remembering, of a place he had known before, of being held like this before, of being known and loved so unconditionally, just like this, before. He remembered!
It was the old woman who broke the embrace and, with tears in her eyes, stroked his cheek, and planted a kiss there. ‘And now,’ she smiled, ‘it really is time.’ The air all around shimmered with a strange light and, before his eyes, Danny watched as the old woman whose embrace he had just felt so tangibly seemed to become a thousand sparkling fireflies, and merge into the brightness that now lit up the entire clearing.
‘Until next time!’ the tinkling voice laughed. ‘Be sure to have lots of adventures! I’ll be always sharing the fun!’
And that is exactly what Danny did.
@ Janny Juddly 2015
(from “Dancers Amongst The Stars”)