Lucy Lopez

 

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Short stories

Moby Duck and the Spirit of Grace

Moby Duck allowed himself the luxury of floating on the shimmering, pre-dawn water all by himself.  The waxing moon, high in the sky, dropped her tincture of white and blue beams far enough to rest over Silky Lake.  The tender, late spring breeze playfully kissed the leafy boughs of the fig trees that guarded Miss Silky, as the local inhabitants called their favourite water hole.  And playfully, it brushed, ever so gently, the fine, white down on the back of Moby Duck’s handsome body.

Moby Duck allowed himself the luxury of all these elements – the water, the moon, the light, the ripples, the breeze, the trees, the air.  They were his un-named friends.  He had once thought to give them names.  Then he had thought better of it, for after all, might they not already have names?  He thought to ask them if they did, but once again, thought better of it.  For how would he communicate his question?  And how would they communicate their answers?  He had never quacked them a question before and he really could not see them quacking back an answer if he did.  So, Moby Duck allowed himself the luxury of not asking the question. 

The tender evening breeze pulled ripples along the shimmering waters of Silky Lake and along with them bobbed Moby Duck.  He kept his eyes closed and pulled his wings down towards his body so that they kept it dry.  It was an old trick that his grandmother had taught him when he a very little lad.  She had not quacked it to him.  Instead, she had simply done it herself and allowed him to watch her.  It made learning so easy. 

With his eyes closed, Moby Duck could sense the elements even better.  The white-blue light of the moon looked clearer and sharper and he could see her beams all over Silky Lake, not just in front and beside him.  Like tiny pulses of current, the light trickled through the surface of his body.  He felt it most on his face and on the back of his neck.

He could feel the ripples of water along the underside of his body, as if they were tenderly combing through his soft feathers.  It almost made him giggle, for they were rather ticklish.  But he didn’t because almost at the same time, he felt the evening breeze over his face and at the tips of his tiny nostrils.  He could not tell where his skin and hair ended and the air began.  How could anything be so close to him and yet not be him, he found himself thinking. 

Before he could think further, he heard the rustling of the leaves in the ancient fig trees.  He could have sworn they were whispering each other’s secrets.  And then he felt something glide past his feet.  He knew he could send his beak down to gather a snack, but he decided that things were so nice just the way they were, he wouldn’t move.  He wasn’t hungry anyway.  And why would he eat if he wasn’t hungry?  Just because he could?  That struck him as a rather poor reason.  Yet, he could remember countless occasions when he had eaten for just that reason.

Without any warning, he suddenly became aware of his breath and his heart beat.  Somehow, he sensed, these too were elements that belonged with all the others.  And he realized that like those, he did not have names for them. 

What is it with names, he thought.  Why do I keep wanting to name things?  It is as if I don’t think they exist until I have a name for them.  And yet, they are more real to me when I have no name for them, for then I can sense them completely.  But give things a name and, golly gosh, parts of them begin to vanish.

What? 

Moby Duck shook his head rather suddenly, jolted by an unexpected shiver.  He had just caught himself thinking these rather unusual thoughts.  The evening breeze had settled a little and he could sense the gradual softening of the darkness.  He kept his eyes closed and allowed himself the luxury of feeling the transition that was taking place as sunlight began to dilute the deep blue dye in the sky.  He heard the first chirps of the sparrows and cormorants.  He knew from their pitch it was the babies that were most eager to talk. 

Now those sparrows have got a good thing going, he thought to himself.  They build their houses in the trees and they travel the skies.  The world must look pretty different from up there.  I wouldn’t mind a little sky travel myself.  And so, in the very early hours of this new day, Moby Duck allowed himself the luxury of a reverie.

He found himself at the time of the mid-autumn festival.  Most of the feathered folk, both land and sky-bound would gather around Silky Lake at sunrise the following day to thank the elements and each other for the bountifulness and efforts of the summer and to ask for protection through the winter ahead.  They were all looking forward to a day of celebration and entertainment.  Those who had wanted to perform had been asked to attend a special meeting convened by the kingfisher and his mate.  The purpose of the meeting was to give them an opportunity to perform for a smaller audience.  But it was also to let all the performers take the performers’ pledge.  This pledge had been put together by the bush turkeys and the magpies many, many seasons ago. 

After the kingfisher and his mate had greeted all the performers individually, he asked them to gather along the banks of Whistling Brook.  The brook was the place where all meetings of importance were held.  All the feathered performers were then asked to state the pledge that they were all supposed to have learnt.  Everyone spoke their pledge, some loudly, some proudly, and most, rather elegantly.  The old heron spoke it so inspiringly that it filled out his chest making him look about a foot wider and half a foot taller.  All of them appeared to take it very seriously.  And why wouldn’t they for this is what they pledged:

Upon this land and across this sky

Where past and present and future lie

We raise our gifts of song and dance

With wild and hearty extravagance

Just as the sun and moon and stars

And wind and water and trees and grass

All through the seasons, day and night

Take pride in elemental rites

So shall we now in peace commence

This long awaited extravagance

We pledge our gifts to always flow

From morning light through midnight glow

And through the days and nights that follow

Take pride in filling our spirits hollow

With works of praise and thanks and grace

And blessings from our eternal place

This be our pledge

This be our pledge

This be our pledge

Forever more in forever space.

Having made their pledge, some for the first time, the feathered performers perched in order of performance.  Then the kingfisher spoke. 

“Friends”, he said, “we are gathered here once again to prepare for our mid-autumn festival.  It is indeed a great honour and privilege to perform for our feathered community.

For some of you, it will be your first performance, for others, it may be your last.  To the first-timers, I welcome you and wish you an extra dose of courage and good luck.  To the ones who have decided they will not be with us again, my partner and I thank you on behalf of the entire feathered community for all the joy you have brought to our annual extravaganza.  I wish you a happy retirement.  And to all the others, may you continue to enjoy what you do and do what you enjoy!

Friends, I, myself, have performed a great many times, and each time, I have felt as if it were my first.  No matter how many times I had performed before, I still felt nervous at each mid-autumn festival.  I still wanted to do my best.  I still did not want to make any mistake.  And I still hoped that everyone would enjoy my performance and cheer loudly!  I expect that many of you may feel the same way.  And why not?  If it helps you give your best, without hurting you or anyone else, it cannot be a bad thing. 

Now dear friends, before we begin our rehearsal, there is something that I wish to remind us all about”.

Moby Duck noticed many of the performers, especially the older ones, raise the hairs behind their necks, then raise their heads and lower them again just as the hairs behinds their necks fell back into place.  It was a show of respect and an expression of gravity.  Moby Duck knew from this that something very important was about to be said.

“Friends”, the kingfisher spoke slowly and carefully, “the pledge you have just made does not begin and end at our festival.  It is a pledge that you carry in your hearts for as long as you choose to be a performer.  When the bush turkeys and the magpies composed this pledge, they had one intention: that by making the pledge, all who did would experience the true spirit of performance.  And what is that true spirit?”  The kingfisher paused, surveying the hundred or so performers along the brook.  He glanced at his partner and both appeared very pleased with the air of sombreness in which all the performers were listening.  He resumed with a sudden passion in his voice.

“The true spirit, my friends, is the spirit of grace.  Grace, my friends, is what makes a performance a gift from god, to your audience, through you.  Grace is what keeps you focussed, not on how good you are, but on how you are good.  Grace is what helps you seek out and find the elegance and beauty that your performance desires to be.  Because you see my friends, your performance is not your creation.  Rather, your performance creates you.  You are merely the organizer of your performance.  You put things together.  But there is nothing that you create, because everything is already created.  However, in putting things together, the beauty, the elegance, the charm, the poise that already exists, come together to create a new you.  This is why, in the spirit of grace, each performance is a new performance, a new creation of you! 

Now, some of you have heard me say this many times before and therefore may understand rather well what I say.  Others, especially the new ones among you, may not quite get it.  That is all right.  Keep coming each festival and I am sure you will eventually understand what I mean”. 

The kingfisher chuckled to himself.  “Just remember this”, he continued, “your performance creates you.  So, think about how you would like to feel before, during and at the end of your performance, and choose just those things that will help you achieve that.  That includes the thoughts, the feelings, the ideas, the actions, the help and the friends and places you spend time with.  And when you do that, you will perform in the true spirit of performance; the spirit of grace. 

I thank you all for the gift you are giving our community.  Tomorrow, when Grandmother Owl opens the festival, I hope that your hearts and minds will be filled with this spirit.  Now let’s begin”.  So saying, the kingfisher and his mate flew off to perch on a shaded branch of a weeping willow where they were able to watch the rehearsal. 

Moby Duck was one of the first-timers and as such he was feeling quite nervous.  As he watched the other performers so many thoughts went through his mind.  So many feelings coursed through his veins.  Most of all, he kept wondering about the kingfisher’s words.  The spirit of grace and the idea of your performance creating you were things he had never ever thought about before.  And even though they seemed so strange to him, in an equally strange way, they felt so real, so true. 

He had prepared a song that he had been rehearsing in a quiet part of the lakeside, always checking that no one was around to hear him or see him.  Now he would perform it for the first time to his feathered community.  Up until now he had been preoccupied with thoughts about what they would think and whether they would like it.  And even though he had composed this song himself, and was especially taken by it because it expressed a secret love, he wasn’t sure if others would find it even a little special.  Besides, once he performed it, it would no longer remain a secret.  He noticed a jumble of feelings going through him but there wasn’t time to think through them now.  It was his turn to perform and try as he might he could not get the kingfisher’s words out of his mind:

“Spirit of grace”.  “Performance creates you”.

It was well and truly his turn now.  He shuffled to the middle section of the brook and took a neat spring onto the great Rock of Magus, named after a magpie who was noted for her extraordinary magical powers.  He looked at the kingfisher and opened his beak.  Nothing else happened.  No sound, no song. He felt certain he had attempted to make a sound, but he heard and felt nothing.  He froze.  He kept his eyes on the kingfisher who seemed to be getting larger and larger, almost three times his normal size.  He opened his beak even more and tried even harder, pushing upwards from his throat and then from his chest and then from his stomach.  Still no sound.  The kingfisher was getting even larger, about as big as the Rock of Magus. 

Moby Duck was certain he was going to explode with all the pushing he was doing.  And he was certain that the kingfisher was getting so large that everything else, including himself, would be pushed out of the way.  Pushed so far away, they would be lost in the unknown. 

For a moment, Moby Duck felt that all his pushing had caused him to explode, but when he looked around for his remnants, he found nothing.  In fact, he could see nothing but the underbelly of the kingfisher, grey and indistinct.  He tried to raise the hair on the back of his neck, but nothing seemed to happen.  In fact, it seemed as if his body was no longer taking instructions from his mind.  This was when he felt a rush of emotions – panic, fear, bewilderment, anger, more fear, more bewilderment, more panic, and then all over again, in no particular order.  He was a breathing mass of emotions that could not be expressed through any part of his body, as if they had all jammed up his nervous system. 

He could no longer see the kingfisher but assumed that he had been engulfed by him.  He shut his eyes.  Just then, the word ‘grace’ floated into his mind.  Almost automatically, he followed the word wherever it went.  It simply would not let go of him, so Moby Duck allowed himself the luxury of following unquestioningly.  As he did, he felt his body slowly loosening up. 

 

Wherever ‘grace’ moved, it lit up a spot in his mind.  One spot showed elegance.  Another showed beauty.  Another showed poise.  Another showed delight.  Another showed gift.  Another showed magic.  Another showed offering.  Another showed charm. 

As each spot lit up, Moby Duck noticed more and more of his body parts moving.  It was as if his whole body was in a trance of its own doing.  His beak opened and closed without him having to think it.  He felt his entire body tingle with a brilliant smile.  And for the first time, he heard his voice.  It was not a sound he recognized.  It sounded like the most beautiful thing he had ever heard.  He listened to it as if this were his secret love. 

He felt compelled to stay close to it, even though it kept moving, floating here and there, soaring into the sky, gliding through clouds and dancing on the light of the autumn sun.  The whole world did look and feel very different from up here.  It was magical, completely free of the heaviness of all those feelings and thoughts that had kept him on the ground.  Free too, of the heaviness of his name. Here, he was light and nameless, a spirit created by the sound of his own voice.  Moby Duck had allowed himself the luxury of his spirit.

  A teardrop ran down his left eye, then his right.  It made him open his eyes just as his beak closed on the very last note.  As if waking from an enchanted dream, he looked in front of him with glossy eyes.  There was the kingfisher watching him with a tender look.  Moby Duck wondered why he felt mildly surprised to see the kingfisher the size he was.  He was not large and looming, as Moby Duck had somehow vaguely remembered him to be.  Instinctively, Moby Duck looked around him, moving his head rather slowly and dreamily.  All the feathered performers seemed to be in a trance.  Some of them appeared to be crying.  Others were applauding with their wings as softly as they could, as if afraid to disturb the beauty that had descended on them.

“I see you have found the spirit of grace”, the kingfisher said, interrupting what had felt like the silence of forever.  All Moby Duck could do was smile.  “Or perhaps the spirit of grace has found you”, smiled back the kingfisher.  “In any case, thank you for the gift of your performance”. 

Two sparrows appeared on the Rock of Magus on either side of Moby Duck and gently escorted him to the side of the brook.  They bobbed their heads up and down, suggesting that he have a drink.  Moby Duck lowered his beak into the ice blue water that streamed through Whistling Brook. 

Instead of the cold water that he was expecting, the water felt warm, and instead of the sparrows beside him, he found a few members of his family and his friends.  They were paddling in small circles close to him on Silky Lake, gathering their breakfast.  Moby Duck realized he had been dreaming. 

What a dream, he thought.  If only. 

He began to push his wings out and open his beak to quack good morning. 

  Nothing happened...

  The End

 

Hildegard von Bingen visits

We had entered a restaurant with a difference.  It had a few tables only.   Most of these were outdoors.  Some others shared the area upstairs with paintings of flowers and people and concepts.  On the ground floor was a colourful assortment of home ware and decorative items, a small sampling of books as well as a modest menu of organic coffees, teas and small meals.  An older lady with spectacles and a young lady with no make-up to alter her naturally interesting face also occupied the ground floor.  

We studied the menu, both of us making the same choice of organic apple pie made with spelt flour and served with ice-cream if we wanted it.  We both did.  I opted for variety and ordered a flat white coffee instead of the pot of green or herbal tea that I would usually have.  My son ordered an iced lemon tea.

The young lady at the till was happy to take our orders while telling us about the organic principles around which the restaurant was run and by which her boss sought to cultivate a ‘return to the natural’ culture.

I was enjoying the growing sense of comfort I felt as I browsed through the restorerant.  The colours and textures and shapes and styles of the goods on display as well as the crockery used felt refreshing on a very warm, Sunday mid-morning.  They too seemed to share a commitment to choosing ‘natural’, choosing nature.  I smiled, and smiled some more as I walked up the stairs to join my son and wait for our meals.

The older lady brought them to us.  I told her how much I appreciated a restorerant like hers.  She told me how important it was to restore our people and our planet to their natural state.  She sounded very determined, displaying a strength that, I thought, must have been developed through personal hardship.  She smiled. A strong smile.  Mine felt soft in comparison.  She left after telling me that we can each do our part and that that was all we could do.  Gentle words spoken in a strong manner.

We dug into our apple pies, my son and I.  The thought of the ice-cream being organic helped me tolerate it better than I would otherwise have.  I don’t enjoy ice-cream much.  I scooped out all the ice-cream from its shallow, square, white dish and placed it on top of the apple pie.  I wanted the apple pie to be a little soggy.  I was absorbed in how the ice-cream looked and tasted and spread slowly over the apple pie.  I was noticing the sourness of the apple and its crusty pastry on my tongue and inside my mouth when I heard my son say something.  It often sounds like he is muttering or mumbling to himself when, in fact, he is speaking to me.  Perhaps he has learnt to be cautious with what he says to me and so tries it out once before making it fully audible and often after I’ve had to say, What???  Or perhaps my hearing is starting to fail me.  Bit soon for a person not yet fifty though.

What??? 

I said the picture of the flower over there looks very nice.

All of consciousness stood still in that moment, in recognition and appreciation of a fourteen year-old child re-connecting with his own beauty.  For that is what it was.  Amidst the raucous rampage of adolescence that dull the natural sensitivities and amplify the need to conform to a culture-driven egocentricity, my son was touched by the soft feather of god’s breath.  Beauty called and he heard.  And he knew it had to be shared.  And I was thankful that he shared it with me. 

We’d spent eighteen dollars on our meal.  Eighteen dollars that I wasn’t even sure I had.  But this moment was worth much more.  A moment of love.  A moment of love’s beauty.  A moment of love’s generosity. 

Yes, I said.  And that was all I could say.  And that was all I wanted to say.  What else is there to say in the presence of beauty?  What else is there to say in a moment of love?  What else could possibly add to love’s comment?

When god speaks, the only response is yes.

The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHORT STORIES

Moby Duck and the Spirit of Grace

Hidegard von Bingen visits

 

Wild on Wonders!

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