Simple Truth, Simple Wisdom
“The mythologist Joseph Campbell said that every culture needs ‘myths to live by,’ sacred and timeless stories that lend a sense of ultimate meaning and purpose. This book rests firmly in that venerable tradition of providing stories rooted in lived wisdom, grounded in earned compassion. Stories that even teach us, simply and humbly, how to live.”
—Phil Cousineau, author of Once and Future Myths
From the time we learn to talk, we tell stories to amuse, teach, frighten, or inspire. When friends, family, or strangers are suffering, we reach into that ancient bag of treasures for comfort. Here, in Stories to Live By, three award-winning editors have chosen some favorites.
Discover why your troubles are really only inconveniences with Robert Fulghum
Comprehend the power of choice with Maya Angelou
Experience how a morning walk can lead to enlightenment with Daniel Pinkwater
Learn why it’s vital to forgive with Mark Gruber
See how a time-honored method of handling bullies works with Donald G. Smith
Watch preconceptions crumble in the company of strangers with Andrew Bill
Discover how love can overcome hatred despite grievous loss with Albert Tomei
Observe the physics of kindness with Huey D. Johnson
Rediscover the value of routine errands with Kurt Vonnegut
Hear the invitation of Oriah Mountain Dreamer to pursue what you truly love…and much more
by Cecile Andrews
What if one’s life were not a commodity, not something to be bartered to the highest bidder, or made to order?”
So begins one of the essays in this wonderful volume. It’s a question each one of us must answer. What if we resisted the commodification of life in our times, what if we refused to sell our souls?
That’s what these stories are about: resisting the forces that make life sterile, empty, lonely, and meaningless; engaging in behaviors that help us live life more deeply and ecstatically.
These stories are by and about people who resist the strongest current of the twenty-first century—the pursuit of false values and the resulting psychic numbing. You feel something truly authentic when you read these stories. Each has a narrative that captures and engages us, evoking emotions with intensity and aliveness. There’s nothing here about someone getting a promotion or winning the lottery or making lots of money. They are all about life-changing experiences of human connection—of kindness and honesty and risk. It’s rare today, in this age of constant and perpetual interruptions, to have this essential, satisfying human experience of being absorbed by the beauty and wisdom of others.
While these themes of human transcendence and connection are eternal, they are particularly significant now. In the last forty years, happiness in the United States has declined and depression has spiked. One prominent cause is a decline in warm, caring relationships. Psychologists have found that the biggest predictor of physical and emotional well-being is close relationships, and in the last forty years, meaningful time spent with others has diminished, and is continuing to diminish as the world rushes to embrace technology and speed at the expense of family and friends and living in the moment.
You can read a statistic like that, but the force of it is brought home in this volume. Here you experience life-giving encounters with others. Some accounts sweep you away, like Terry Tempest Williams’s story of her love for her brain-damaged uncle, or Maya Angelou’s story of her teenage pregnancy, or Rachel Naomi Remen’s story of a young man with cancer. Others are just as inspiring—such as the one by the corporate executive who quit his secure job to live in Big Sur; or the young woman who bought a van and headed out for a year’s worth of adventures; or the death row inmate who was transformed by a visit from Mother Teresa.
Even though all the stories are of personal experiences, many emerge from the most significant events of our times. There’s the story of French villagers who hid Jews during World War II, the account of an angry Vietnam veteran who was transformed by Buddhist teacher Thich Nat Hahn’s ideas, Victor Frankel’s essay about the vision of his wife that kept him alive in a concentration camp. These are someone else’s stories, but they give us comfort and insight into our own lives. Who hasn’t had a tragedy that has touched them? These stories help you find meaning in your own suffering.
And this is so terribly important. We must find and apply the meaning in our experiences; our values must be rooted in our real lives, if we are to resist all the forces that manipulate our emotions—from advertising to politicians to churches and schools. The stories in this book show us how to read our own lives and discover our own wisdom. They inspire us to live more fully, anchored by more than the struggle to get ahead in a consumer culture.
I read a lot of sociology, psychology, and history. But I can’t go without stories. Good stories are the one sure way to both lose yourself and find yourself. On one hand, you could say that we’re flooded with stories these days—particularly from television. But most of them offer only fake friends, counterfeit emotions, and ersatz wisdom. The stories in this book are real; the emotions evoked are real. They rekindle the sense that so much more is possible in the way we live our lives, in every moment, in each contact with others.
Kurt Vonnegut’s description of his daily life perhaps says it best—taking his time, moving slowly and chatting with people as he meanders through his day. His advice to us: “And I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you any different.”
This kind of playfulness and humor may be the best way to resist the commodification of our lives and to experience our days deeply and fully.
Cecile Andrews (www.cecileandrews.com) is the author of The Circle of Simplicity: Return to the Good Life. She works with the Simplicity Movement, a way of life encouraging people to make conscious choices about they way they live, stripping away the inessential so the essential comes through, and finding less stress and more fun. She and her husband, Paul Andrews (author of Gates and How the Web Was Won) are founding members of an urban ecovillage in Seattle, working to encourage sustainability for people and the planet (www.phinneyecovillage.net). Cecile is a community educator and has her doctorate in education from Stanford University.
The Butterfly Man
Mark Gruber, O.S.B.
The Reality Test
One Man Down, One Species Up
Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.
We Shall Live Again
Crime and Punishment
A Stranger in Italy
My Military Career
Hot Like the Candle’s Tip
Love in the Here and Now
Joanna Campbell Slan
Mark Gruber, O.S.B.
The Physics of Kindness
Huey D. Johnson
Donald G. Smith
Kurt Vonnegut with David H. Freedman
No Statute of Limitations
Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.
Salvation in a Concentration Camp
Viktor E. Frankl
Love at First Sight
Eyes on Another World
In My Father’s Footsteps
Dina Klugman Cramer
The 007 Rule
The Dump Run
Robert J. Matthews
Home Is a Place in Time
Mother Teresa on Death Row
Michael Wayne Hunter
Yet Lost for Other Causes
Janet Grace Riehl
The Sewing Machine Man
The Village Watchman
Terry Tempest Williams
A Powerful Gesture
Do You Love the Boy?
Big Sur and Starting Over
The Richest Gift
The Magic Formula
Neale Donald Walsch
Oriah Mountain Dreamer
One Man Down, One Species Up
by Brad Newsham
It wasn’t the usual night driving his taxi in San Francisco, or was it?
I had just dropped a conventioneer from North Carolina at the Fillmore Auditorium, when on the sidewalk over to my left I saw a white man down on his knees, in obvious distress, clinging to a lamppost as if it were the mast of a sinking yacht. An Asian woman was hurrying toward him, a look of concern on her face, one arm outstretched. I made a U-turn, stopped my cab thirty feet from the man, got out, lowered my wheelchair ramp and walked over.
Three or four people were beside him now. A young Tibetan-looking fellow had his hand on the white man?s shoulder and was murmuring some things I couldn?t hear. On the pavement in the circle of light surrounding us, I noticed two plastic bags of groceries from the nearby Safeway.
The man, a big, tall husky guy, appeared to be about fifty-five or sixty, a retired logger, I imagined, who?d recently put on some weight. After a life spent humping a chain saw up and down hills and jumping clear of crashing timber, he now looked beat up, bloated. His hair had gone to strands, his blue eyes were watery, and his red, puffy face was in full grimace. Through gritting teeth he said, ?If I can just get my leg straight.?
I gripped under his armpit. The Tibetan guy and the Asian woman and now two young black men and two more Asian women all grabbed other spots on the white man, and together we gave a big heave. Halfway up, the man reclaimed his own weight and the rest of us relaxed, but suddenly his legs buckled and in spite of our quick snatches at him he crumpled and slid back down the pole onto both knees again.
?Call ambulance!? said one of the Asian women.
A crowd had gathered around us, and a man thrust out a cell phone: ?¿Telefono??
?No, no,? the white man said. ?This is not as bad as it looks. It?s happened before. If I can get my leg straight everything?ll be O.K.?
?If you can make it to my taxi,? I said, ?I?ll take you wherever you?re going.?
He shook his head and pointed at the highrise across Fillmore Street. ?I live right there. I just need to get my left knee out straight.?
Wordlessly, the two black men grabbed him under his thighs and hoisted him two feet off the ground. The Asian women and I steadied his torso. The Tibetan guy unfolded the man?s left leg, and a skinny, long-haired white kid who?d suddenly materialized unfolded the right, and we all lowered him down onto his buttocks. Sitting up now, with his balky legs finally stretched out in front of him on the sidewalk, he let go of the pole and sighed: ?That?s a lot better. ?
No one rushed him.
A moment later the man said, ?If I could just stand up?? Now everyone, including all onlookers, shifted into position as effortlessly as a kaleidoscope being given a simple twist. With five or six of us lined up on either side of him, lifting, the man came right up like a high-speed elevator.
?Oh, yeah,? he said. ?Oh, yeah.?
No one let go until he locked his legs and took a few practice steps. He caught his breath, gathered himself, bent to pick up his groceries?but a dozen hands beat him to it.
The novelist Ann Tyler once suggested that if extraterrestrials were to land near a hospital emergency entrance and see all the white-clad attendants rushing out to assist the incoming injured, they would surmise that human beings were the most caring, most loving species in the entire universe.
The man shuffled off toward his highrise. The 22-Fillmore swept into the bus stop across the street and the two black guys and the Tibetan trotted after it.
The Asian women silently reclaimed their own bags and scattered. I retrieved my cab?s wheelchair ramp. On the radio the dispatcher was saying there was a call waiting over in Zone 56.
Brad Newsham is a San Francisco cab driver and author of two round-the-world travel memoirs?All the Right Places and Take Me With You. On September 11, 2002, he founded Backpack Nation, an organization whose aim is to dispatch globe-roaming ambassadors to act as agents of peace in the world. For more information or to contact Brad, go towww.backpacknation.org or www.bradnewsham.com. This story was excerpted from Stories to Live By: Wisdom to Help You Make the Most of Every Day.
James O’Reilly, president and publisher of Travelers’ Tales, was born in England and Raised in San Francisco. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1975 and wrote mystery serials before becoming a travel writer in the early 1980s. He’s visited more than forty countries, along the way meditating with monks in Tibet, participating in West African voodoo rituals, living in the French Alps, and hanging out the laundry with nuns in Florence. He travels extensively with his wife, Wenda, and their three daughters. They live in Palo Alto, California, where they also publish art games and books for children at Birdcage Press (www.birdcagepress.com).
Sean O’Reilly is director of special sales and editor-at-large for Travelers’ Tales. He is a former seminarian, stockbroker, and prison instructor with a degree in Psychology. Author of the controversial book on men’s behavior, How to Manage Your DICK, he is also the inventor of a safety device known as Johnny Upright. Widely traveled, he most recently completed a journey through China and Southeast Asia. He lives in Virginia with his wife and six children.
Larry Habegger, executive editor of Travelers’ Tales, has been writing about travel since 1980. He has visited almost fifty countries and six of the seven continents, traveling from the frozen Arctic to equatorial rain forest, the high Himalayas to the Dead Sea. In the early 1980s he co-authored mystery serials for the San Francisco Examiner with James O’Reilly, and since 1985 their syndicated column, “World Travel Watch,” has appeared in newspapers in five countries and on WorldTravelWatch.com. As series editors of Travelers’ Tales, they have worked on more than eighty titles, winning many awards for excellence. Habegger regularly teaches the craft of travel writing at workshops and writers conferences, and he lives with his family on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco.