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Selected Readarounds in Child and Youth Care

ListenListen to this

Kymaru and the magnificent multicolored bird: Metaphors for an angel

Thom Garfat

Editor's Note ...

It is difficult to choose a piece of your own work and then try to say why. It's kind of like looking into the mirror early in the morning and trying to decide if there is a piece of your face you like enough to say it's your favorite.

I don't know if Kymaru is my best or worst. I certainly don't kid myself into thinking it's a contribution. I chose it for the age old reason – I like it.

For me it represents a moment when I decided to let down some barriers and say, "This is who I am." I like it then because it is personal: because it represents a personal risk. For me, this is so much what Child and Youth Care is about: taking risks, even personal ones, in the knowledge that, in the end, it will be okay.

When I first sent this article in for consideration, I was nervous. After all, someone was about to see a side of myself l don't disclose all that often. Then when it was accepted for publication (yes, Martha, even editors have to go through that process) I was scared. I wondered about how many of my friends were going to think that I'd finally slipped over the edge; I was sure this was the end of the phone calls asking me to give talks; and I could imagine my management meetings going straight to hell in a hand basket (to quote my old Aunt Cecelia).

Well, none of that happened. Except, of course, my friends have been sending me brochures for quiet rest homes out of the country, my phone has been disconnected for lack of use, and management meetings 80 by unnoticed. Only Child Care (because I don't like the "and Youth" part) could be that accepting. Or is that what they mean by apathy?

Sometimes the biggest risk is only noticed by the one who's taking it.

Kylkymaru was a magnificent multicolored bird imported to the Kingdom of Maquala as a gift for an ancient fisherman whose time on earth was quickly slipping away. The old man had not requested the bird. It was his lifelong housekeeper who, while as old as he, had decided to bring the beautiful bird into the fisherman's life in his final hours.

Once, and only once, the ancient fisherman had told the housekeeper that only one thing would bring him life's final joy and that was to have with him in his last moments the magnificent bird that lived in the Magic Jungle. Late one night just before the sun rose over the Crystal Mountains which lay visible beyond the sea that stretched from his window, the old man had shared this secret with her. And so, because throughout the years she had discovered that she loved him, the housekeeper decided that the old man should have this joy.

"For surely," she thought, "in his time he has brought much joy to many and at the end of his life he deserves to have joy for himself in return."

She travelled along the great distance to the Magic Jungle to find the bird she believed would bring joy to the old fisherman she had looked after since the day of his First Birth on the Island of Vaftes, during the Years of Desolation before the Age of the Coming of Tomorrow.

It took the old housekeeper most of her Second Life to make the voyage, but she loved the ancient fisherman dearly and passionately wanted him to feel his moment of joy as he left forever for the Kingdom of Future Happiness. For her the sacrifice was inconsequential, because once she had heard his desire she had no choice but to work to make it come true.

After her grand journey, which had taken her through the Shadows of the Great Masus and the Dark Tunnel of Isolation, the old lady, who was called Kymaru, sat silently on the Long Sands waiting for the sails of the Travelling Ship to appear once more on the horizon. Beside her, in a cage crafted of great splendor, rested the magnificent multicolored bird that she had found deep in the heart of the Magic Jungle.

The contrast between the old lady lined with marks from the passage of time and the vibrancy of the caged bird would have been noticed by anyone. But the Long Sands were empty except for Kymaru and the magnificent multicolored bird in the crafted cage.

As she waited for the sails to appear, Kymaru listened to the sounds around her and slowly drifted into the trance-like state that overcomes us all at the end of a glorious adventure. The waves playing gently with the sand whispered like a chorus of spring winds laughing their way through silent meadows. The cry of other birds floating hidden above a distant cloud brought out the hint of a memory that lingered cautiously near the edge of her consciousness. She threw it aside and turned her attention to the magnificent bird beside her.

"You are so beautiful," she sighed. "Surely you will bring great joy to the fisherman for there is nothing like you in all of the Kingdom of Maquala."

"But if there is nothing like me, will I not be lonely and sad?" the bird questioned.

Kymaru was not surprised to hear the bird speak. In the trance-like state she was in nothing struck her as strange, and many times before in her life she had found it easier to communicate with animals than with other humans. This was one of the many skills she had inherited from her mother--a skill she usually kept buried deep inside of herself in that place where no one else was allowed to venture. Such was her way and such was her history.

I didn't know that birds could be so wise," Kymaru laughed, quite pleased to talk with someone.

"Oh, I am not wise," said the bird, its face assuming a somewhat human expression. "I am far too frightened to be wise. If I were wise I would help you know that I have always been a part of you. I would show you somehow that this caged bird which rests beside you is no more than a piece of yourself that was taken from you by your Evil Uncle on the Birth of your Eleventh Childhood and left deserted hem on this island so far from your home. If I was wise, I would help you see that as long as you keep me caged like this I can never rejoin with you and as long as we are separated you will seek forever to fill the vacuum inside yourself through filling the emptiness you find in others."

Here the bird hesitated for a minute as if lost deep in the contemplations that immobilize all of us at some time. In a moment, as if waking from a dream, the bird returned to the thoughts it had been sharing.

"No, I am not wise, because I do not know these things and I am too frightened to talk about them. No, I am not wise. I am only a bird in a crafted cage longing to be free and pin with the rest of my self that is you."

"If you do not know these things and are not wise, how is it that you speak of them? If you are not wise, why do you not speak only of foolish things?" Kymaru demanded, sure that she had caught the bird trying to fool her with the woven words and shimmering logic of those who would deceive us.

The colors of the bird's feathers seemed to glisten more brightly as she hopped down from her perch and strolled to the edge of the cage to peer more directly into Kymaru's face. Their eyes lingered together for a moment and Kymaru thought she saw something familiar there: like the old memory that had passed briefly on the edge of her consciousness only a few moments earlier.

"Perhaps it is because I am so foolish," said the bird. "When you have lived as long as I in the Magic Jungle with no one near you, you begin to think foolish things. After a while you cannot tell the difference and you think what is wise must be foolish and what is foolish must be wise indeed. Later you wonder if it isn't the other way around and, with nobody to talk to, you end up forgetting what was wise and what was foolish in the first place. Finally they both seem to become the same to you and so you decide for yourself which to call wise and which foolish. Such is the Way of the Great Loneliness in the Magic Jungle."

"Truly, you must be wise indeed," said the old woman, "for I cannot understand you."

"That is only because you do not understand yourself," replied the bird. "But then, how could you? For years I have been separated from you and isolated on this island, and now that you have found me, you keep me still in this crafted cage. As long as you keep this part of you, which is me, caged, how can you know yourself? No, as long as you keep me caged you can only know the part of yourself which rests outside this cage. And you can never know the part that rests inside, for it is separated from you."

"But how do I know that you tell me truth?" Kymaru challenged. "Even if you are a part of me, how do I know that I did not put you here myself? Perhaps you are a part of me that I wanted to hide from years ago, and because I could not conceal myself, I tore you from me and cast you to this island with one of the spells I learned at the knee of my mother. Perhaps you are a part of me I hide from myself. For on this island, or in this cage, you cannot hurt me."
The bird thought for a minute before responding. "First I must tell you that I am called Kylkymaru. You gave me this name when first you became aware of me." Kymaru knew this name, as if from ancient times, and it frightened her to hear it spoken aloud.

"Next, I must tell you that there is only one way that you will know that I am telling you the truth. You must open the cage and set me free. If I am not a part of you I will fly away and escape back into the Magic Jungle and continue to live my life of loneliness. If, when I am free ,I pin with you and you do not feel harm, I am only a part of you that you have been separated from all these years. If, on the other hand, I try to destroy you, you will have to fight with me for your survival. This is the risk you must take to know the truth that you seek."

Kymaru was by now very frightened and she tried to think of ways to destroy the bird. But every way she could think of to destroy the bird required skills she did not believe she had. Finally she knew she had no choice. She could not destroy the bird and she could not free it for fear that it would destroy her. To protect herself she evoked one of the spells of her mother and erased this new knowledge from her understanding.

In a moment so brief that the blinking of a bird's eye could not measure the change, Kymaru was again just a tired old woman sitting on the sands with a caged bird at her side. She had forgotten the words she had exchanged with the bird and once again she saw it only as a gift for the dying fisherman. But now, she no longer noticed its great beauty.
Soon the sails of the great Travelling Ship appeared on the horizon and the men came ashore to help the old woman and her bird board the vessel. As the ship sailed back to the Kingdom of Maquala, many of the sailors remarked in whispered comments that there was a strangeness to the relationship between the old woman and the, bird. It was indeed a thing of great beauty and everyone longed to approach, but she kept the bird away from them all and seemed not to notice how beautiful it was or how it stared at her as if begging to be free.

After a while they, too, stopped noticing the bird. It became a thing of beauty hidden away: caged, not free, noticed, but not seen. They wondered, before they forgot about it, how the old lady could carry such beauty and never notice it. And eventually even that thought slipped from their awareness.

At the end of her Iong voyage home, Kymaru arrived again in the Kingdom of Maquala and returned to the tumbling shack of the dying fisherman. There she found her old friend resting patiently, waiting for his end to come. She took the magnificent caged bird to his chamber.

As she placed it beside his bed the old man's hand reached over and undid the clasp which was holding the door closed. The bird flew immediately from the cage, circled Kymaru's head twice and then landed on the fisherman's shoulder where for a few minutes it whispered into his ear.

"Kymaru," the old man coughed, "you have brought me a thing of great beauty and joy. I am deeply pleased."
Kymaru was happy that she had brought him joy and, although she could not remember why, she was afraid of the bird now that it was free of its cage.

'I am dying" said the fisherman, "and before I leave I would like you to do me one Last and Great Favor."

Kymaru was honored because in her land to be asked to grant The Last and Great Favor of a dying friend was the greatest of things that one could do. She agreed immediately.

"What is your wish, old friend?" she asked.

"Take this bird to the edge of the window and set it free in the world," he replied patiently.

Kymaru noticed that somehow the bird was back in its cage with the door securely locked. She wondered if it had actually been free for the moment she had seen it on the fisherman's shoulder. She had not seen it go back into the cage and she had not taken her eyes from it.

"Perhaps," she thought, "it was just my imagination."

Although she was greatly frightened, she could not refuse the old fisherman's request. So she walked to the window and opened the door of the crafted cage. Outside the window ran a wide and swift river on its way to the Vast Sea of Oblivion.

Once free Kylkymaru flew immediately from the cage and floated just above the river in the air a few feet in front of Kymaru.

"Kymaru," said the bird, Y am pleased that you have set me free. I was so afraid that you were going to keep me locked up forever and I had begun to die. Because you would not let yourself look at me, you did not notice. The fisherman saw it right away and did not want me to die and so he asked you to set me free."

"For the moment you must go to him, for he is waiting to tell you something before he leaves," the bird continued. "I will wait here for you."

Kymaru returned to the fisherman's side and took his hand in hers for what was to be the final time.

His eyes opened briefly and he turned his head to face her. "You must follow the bird in all things," the old fisherman sighed. And then, turning away, he passed gently into the Kingdom of Future Happiness.

Tears in her eyes, Kymaru returned to the window where the bird still hung in the air a few feet above the raging river.

"The fisherman said that I should follow you in all things," she told the bird. "It was his last wish. What would you have me do?"

"Stand on the window ledge, take a deep breath and step into the air with me," the bird replied.

"But if I do this will I not fall into the Great River below and be swept away in the current? Surely, I will then end up in the Vast Sea of Oblivion where I will be lost forever."

"No" Kylkymaru replied, "when you step from the ledge, we will be joined together and I will save you from the destiny you see for yourself."

"Again you speak in riddles, " Kymaru said, remembering now her other conversation with Kylkymaru, "you are a part of me that I think will destroy me and yet you say that you will save me from myself. How is that possible?"

The bird's eyes twinkled briefly. "All things are possible when you trust and are united with all parts of yourself," she replied.

The old fisherman's last words still lingering in her ears, Kymaru stepped from the window into the emptiness of air between herself and this part of her.


From Journal of Child and Youth Care, Volume 4 No 5 1989  

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