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Friday, September 23, 2005

Crane Maiden

Isabella of "The Magnificent Octopus" wrote: "You can understand a lot about yourself by working out which fairytale you use to present your world to yourself in ... What fairytale are you?"

For this decade I choose the Japanese "Crane Maiden" because it contains the lesson I've been trying hardest to learn.

(This illustration, by the way, is by Chihiro Iwasaki, from a book version by Miyoko Matsutani.)

Classic tellings can be found here and here but here's my Cliff Notes version:

For many years a poor couple hoped to have a child but had pretty much given up. One day the husband freed a crane from a trap and, coincidentally, a few days later a child just showed up at the door, and stayed to live with them. Their dream had been fulfilled.

Seeing as how the couple is so hard up, the kid goes into a room each night, closing the door and weaving beautiful fabric which they can sell at market. Things are good.

The child requests they not peek when the door is shut. But of course one night they can't resist, and through the door they glimpse a beautiful white crane sitting at the loom. When the crane sees them, it flashes them a sorrowful, reproachful look and flies away forever.

So what's the moral?
  • Jobekah: "There are times when we must accept the mystery of a person."
  • A Japanese psychiatrist: it's about protecting the child from the mysteries of the mother.
  • "Not every story has a happy ending."
One might, also, see this story as a warning to do as you are told (see Lot's wife leaving Sodom and Gomorrah), but I think it's mainly about accepting peoples' boundaries. About realizing, more generally, that it's dignified and prudent to understand and abide by the limits of good things. To be grateful for what is offered and not hanker for more. Something I've been working on, hard. Something I now notice has been a continuing theme at Pratie Place:

Why The Americans Are So Restless In The Midst Of Their Prosperity: "Besides the good things that he possesses, he every instant fancies a thousand others that death will prevent him from trying if he does not try them soon. This thought fills him with anxiety, fear, and regret and keeps his mind in ceaseless trepidation, which leads him perpetually to change his plans..."

It will all work out: "The word kiasu comes from Hokkien. It means always wanting the best for oneself and trying hard to get it. ... We are ... fearful and greedy, for no good reason."

Wallowing in Excess: "When is enough, enough? ... Rather than savoring the pleasures of affluence we have achieved, we have abandoned the laws of thrift and embraced insatiable desire."

Thoughts on "enough": "I've gotten enough in this life. If I don't get more, it's ok ... Isn't this also known as, 'everything else is gravy?' ... Current challenges: ... To welcome people into my life, enjoy them for whatever time there is, and then say goodbye with generosity and without pain, grateful for the happy moments and not being regretful if there aren't more. Down with kiasu."

One of Pratie's very first posts was this Yiddish proverb:
Oyb men est nit keyn beyner, tuen nit vey di tseyner.
If you don't eat bones, your teeth won't hurt.

Finally, just for fun, here's a sweet translation by Tsururin of a variant called "The Crane Wife." (Tsuru no Ongaeshi)

Once upon a time, a poor guy was living all by himself.
In winter it starts snowing so heavy.
He heard some sounds on the way home in heavy snow.
When he went to where the sounds came from, he found a crane caught in a trap.
He felt sorry for the crane and released it.

At the night he heard someone was knocking the door.
When he opened the door, wondering who came at this late night, he saw a beautiful girl.
She told him she got lost and asked him to let her stay one night.
Then he let her stay at the night and the next.
As they stayed together, they decided to get married.
They were poor but happy together.
But they became out of money and food because of the long winter.
One day the wife decided to weave a cloth and told the husband
"Never look inside while I'm weaving."
After she kept weaving for three days, she came out in fatigue.
However the cloth was so great to go for a good price, they became out of money and food again.
Then she decided to weave again and kept weaving for four days this time.
The cloth was so much greater to sell at better price.
He became to want to make more money and to wonder how she wove without any threads.
Therefore he asked her to weave again and opened the door to look inside.
Then he saw a crane weaving with her own feathers.
When he was so surprised to shout "crane is weaving!!" the crane changed into his wife.

The wife told him that she was the crane he helped and she has to leave
because he saw her weaving, despite she asked him not to.
However he regretted for breaking a promise, it was too late.
She changed into a crane and flied over the sky.

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At 10:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love it!

At 11:27 AM, Blogger Cheryl said...

Me too - beautiful.
I would have thought the moral would be that sometimes there are blessings in allowing someone to present a face, to reserve their original nature, if they do that by choice. Forcing the hard truth to the surface costs everybody. I.e. don't dig the dirt, take things at face value?

At 12:36 PM, Blogger Isabella K said...

Wonderful story. I get something more like "protecting the child from a mother's need to know the mysteries of her child." Learning to accept — a difficult thing.

(I've re-read MY fairytale and intend to post more on it later today.)

At 7:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lovely stories. I like the interpretation of boundaries rather than scare tactics for obedience. Good food for thought.

At 2:26 AM, Blogger Batya said...

Yes, there are things we are better off not knowing. You can relate this to "tzni'ut," the Jewish Laws of modesty.

At 8:33 PM, Blogger lime said...

i know this is an old post but i came across it when i googled one of my favorite books. what a lovely reflection on a dear story. thank you.

At 8:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps the crane story comes from the dream world of creativity. In the midst of work, a man who is alone finds something caught within the trap of himself--a part of himself that he chooses to liberate. This part of himself then comes to visit him in the midst of his solitary life just as he is then. He invites that part in--it seems foreign and beautiful and loveable as if it were almost another soul. It is a feminine energy, balancing out his decidedly masculine energy. This is his muse, his creative self. Creativity burns with joy to be liberated--all her meaning becomes to consume her own energy in the thankfulness of liberation--she takes from herself her deepest part, consumes who she is to make something, to create a thing of beauty that will transform his life in every way. She does not stop halfway, she goes deep into the soul and sacrifices all. This energy, though beautiful, is out of balance with the practicalities of life. It does not take into account that one's life energy is being used up. But that is the way the creative soul works. In thankfulness, it gives too much, too desperately. The man, the part of the self that says, "we must be logical and practical" opens the door and peeks into the energy. The self-absorbed creator is discovered--no longer is the beauty of the product observed, but the pitifulness of the producer is revealed. The awareness of frailty and ultimate loss brings creativity to an end. Creativity, in her thankfulness, has used herself up too much. It is really a mercy that the man has discovered this overshooting of the self. However, it results in extreme disappointment. Nothing can compare with a visit by the muse. She cannot stay, however, practicality has won its way--the man returns to his solitary self and she leaves, never to return again... except that this is really just the experience of the man at that moment. He feels extreme loss of existential meaning as if something has abandoned him, even in his ability to survive the cold, the world.


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