The Storybook Sage


The short story that follows is excerpted and adapted from a longer short story I wrote for a friend who is indeed a "Storybook Sage"...

The Storybook Sage 

While most of us can bumble around, not really knowing that there is a sage in our midst, there are some creatures who are slightly more attuned to the presence of wisdom and seek it out while the rest of us blindly pass it by.

At night, when most humans have gone to bed or are awake/asleep starring into blue screens, other creatures make haste to seek out the Storybook Sage who invites in travelers from near and far who come seeking her wisdom. 

The Storybook Sage is quite young and devoid of many of the external markers we expect to find in our sages. Her hair shows no signs of graying. Her wardrobe does not include tweed coats with leather elbow patches or clerical robes. She does not speak in koans or walk barefoot or twirl fire or broadcast her ideas. But nonetheless, she is a sage. 

Last night was like many others for the Storybook Sage...a steady stream of visitors hoping for clarity and help. 

First came the little mouse, wearing his little overalls modified with a hole in the back for his little mousey tail. He looked exhausted and a bit dejected. “Come in little mouse,” she said, “Spell yourself for a while.”

“Harummpf,” the little mouse sat down on a pillow and buried his face in his paws. The sage quietly arranged a little tray of mouse-sized cookies in front of him, but this only made him burst into tears.

“There, there,” said the sage patting him gently on the head, “What’s the trouble?”

“I…I….I…” sputtered the little mouse through big (at least for a mouse) splashy tears, “If you give me  a cookie I’ll want a glass of milk, And if you give me a glass of milk, I’ll want a straw, and…” at this point the little mouse collapsed into a weeping ball of fur and paws and tail on the cushion.

“Oh little mouse. It’s not so bad,” said the sage kindly. “We all feel dissatisfied from time to time. It is so easy to imagine that happiness rests in what comes next, instead of what is right in front of you. But you don’t have to be trapped in that cycle anymore.”

“I don’t?” asked the little mouse, perking up for the first time since he’d arrived.

“Why no!” she said, “You could learn to revel in the spectacular now, and appreciate the things that are right in front of you. Like the cookies I just set out for you. Take a bite. Really taste the cookie and fully enjoy the sweetness of this moment.”

With this, the little mouse sat up straight, reached out for a cookie and took a small bite. He closed his eyes and let the swirling flavors of chocolate and cinnamon fill his mouth and his mind. He swallowed and then opened his eyes. A smile that started with his lips and met its full expression in his now perky tail came over the little mouse. “Oh thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said. “I’m off to write my sequel…If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, He’s Going to Feel Grateful.” And with a little wave of his paw and a twitch of his tail he scooted out through the crack in the floorboard.

And it wasn’t long after the mouse left before the Once-ler arrived from the far end of town where the Grickle-grass grows, with a ratty old thneed wrapped ‘round him from his head to his toes. He was wary, and skittish and letting out moans.

“Come Once-ler, come in, and sit for a while. You’ve traveled quite far, and you’ve traveled in style.”

“Not style!” cried the Once-ler, “No, this terrible thneed is not stylish or good or happy at all. It is my undoing, my shame and my scar. I wear it in penance because now I know, that that damned little Lorax man was as pure as fresh snow. He knew what was good, and he told me it straight. But did I listen? NO! And now this is my fate. He warned the Brown Bar-ba-loots would get crummies in their tummies and the poor Humming-Fish would have gills that were gummy. And he said that I, Once-ler, was crazy with greed, but I didn’t hear him because my ears were clogged up with thneeds. And now…and now…” the Once-ler was shaking, “I’ve mucked up this planet like it was mine for the taking. And my family has left me, my business has gone awry and all I can do is just cry, cry, cry, cry.”  And with this the Once-ler let out a great honk, blowing his nose on his polka dot sock.

“Now Once-ler,” said the sage, “Let me get this straight, you’re feeling quite sad because of harm done, and you’d like to make right and un-gum the gum?”

“Precisely,” said Once-ler, “That’s just what I’d like, but how, oh how could I ever make things right?”

“Well Once-ler,” said the sage, “I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do know that crying won’t help you for long. Let out your tears—yes—crying is fine, but when you’ve had your cry, then it is time to TRY. Go out to the Bar-ba-loots and tell them your sorry. Do the same for the Swomme-Swans and the Hummning Fish too. Don’t stop because you’re tired or because it feels too hard....Once-ler, my dear, you can go far. You once made a life out of whacking things down, now funnel that energy into healing the ground. Nurture new life, invite the refugees home, but dear Once-ler man, here is one thing you must know: Beating yourself up will not help you to grow. So stop feeling damaged and broken and sad, and know that mistakes don’t make you inherently bad. You CAN make new choices, you CAN chart new paths, but you’ll have to be brave and more kind to yourself, if you want to discover this new kind of wealth.”

With this the Once-ler gave the sage a great hug, and he cast off his thneed with a triumphant shrug. With a heart growing warmer with each passing step, he moved further and further away from regret. Off into the distance the Once-ler did stride, out towards a future where with each passing day, he labored to heal all that had gone astray. Including his own, dear Once-ler heart, because without that foundation, nothing else could start, so he practiced self-compassion and loving-kindness each and every day and watched changes unfolding in miraculous ways.  

The sage was getting sleepy, as it was quite late after the Once-ler departed. She cleaned up the crumbs left from the cookies she had shared with the little mouse and she folded the Once-ler’s cast off thneed and put it on the shelf. She had just crawled into bed when she heard a thumpity, thump, thump. A white rabbit came hopping into her room with a field mouse clutched in her paws and somewhat of a devilish grin stretched across her black lips.

“Oh Bunny Foo Foo,” she said getting out of bed, “Welcome… and welcome to your friend as well.” She had seen Bunny Foo Foo the night prior (sometimes we need to hear good advice a few times before it really sinks in). The little field mouse was squirming and had a starry look in her eyes. “Now Bunny Foo Foo, you’ll have to let that little field mouse go if you want to talk. You know that is my rule.”

With some hesitation, Bunny Foo Foo set the field mouse down. The sage rubbed a salve of fresh mint and lavender on her mousey head where she had recently been bopped, fetched the tray of mouse sized cookies and propped the little field mouse up on a cushion to rest. Then she turned her attention to Bunny Foo Foo, whose ears had started to droop.

Before she could say a word, Bunny Foo blurted out, “I'm sorry! I didn’t mean to bop her again.” Her ears drooped even lower as she said with growing awareness, “Oh no! If I do this one more time I’ll be turned into a GOON, and I’ll never get to thump and hop and twitch my nose and cuddle up with my bunny family in the Foo Foo burrow!”

“Hey, what about us?” piped up the little field mouse, who was beginning to revive after her bopping. “If you keep running around bopping all of us on the head, my family and I will never feel safe scurrying around through the green grass in the bright sunshine. We’ll keep living in fear of a bopping.”

“Oh what should I do?” asked Bunny Foo Foo her nose twitching like she was trying to hold back tears.

“Bunny Foo Foo,” the sage said kindly, “Did you hear what this little mouse has said?”

“That when I hop around bopping them, the field mice get scared,” she replied. And then with a sudden insight, Bunny Foo Foo continued, “Perhaps the field mice feel scared in the same way I feel scared when I think about the Good Fairy turning me into a GOON!”  “Yes they must!” said Bunny Foo Foo (who was a very verbal processor) “They must feel scared in that way. And that is a terrible, icky, sticky dark feeling.” At this point, Bunny Foo Foo turned her attention to the little field mouse…”Oh little mouse, I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize my bopping was making you feel so scared. I hate feeling scared and I don’t want you to feel scared either.”

“Perhaps,” said the sage, “You could make a plan so that this doesn’t happen again…”

And so while she put on the kettle for tea, Bunny Foo Foo and the little field mouse put their heads together and talked for the first time ever as equals, and by the time the kettle was whistling, they had a plan. They asked the sage for paper and paint and headed out the door together paw in paw.

The sage finally settled in to sleep for the night. Tomorrow was coming soon, and she needed to get some rest. 

The following morning on her way out the door, the sage spotted a little shred of white paper in the corner of her garden. She very nearly picked it up to throw the litter away, but when she looked closely, she saw it was a sign, which read: “Hugs, not bops! Welcome Bunny Foo Foo. Today is a new a day.”

Smiling, she returned the sign to the ground, and made her way up the hill to see what the new day would bring.