One of my favorite episodes of American Public Media‘s Speaking of Faith (now known as On Being) has been an episode entitled “Listening Generously.” The guest was Rachel Naomi Remen: a doctor, a pioneer of holistic western medicine, an author, and a sufferer of chronic illness.
I encourage you to listen to the episode, either the unedited interview or the produced radio hour, but I want to share something with you that I find deeply beautiful, and continuously meaningful. Krista Tippet, the radio host, asks Rachel Naomi Remen to tell a story from one of her books, which Rachel says was her third birthday present, the story of the Birthday of the world. (This is a transcript that I made, as accurately as possible to how Ms. Remen told the story in the podcast.)
The Story of the Birthday of the World
In the beginning there was only the holy darkness, the source of life. And then In the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand thousand things, this world emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. And then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident. And the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. And the wholeness of the world, the light of the world, was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light and they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.
According to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world. This is very important story for our times. And this task is called tikkaum olam, the restoration of the world.
And this is of course a collective task, it involves all people who have ever been born, all people presently alive, all people yet to be born, we are all healers of the world. That story opens a sense of possibility, it is not about healing the world by making a huge difference, it’s about healing the world that touches you, that surrounds you. That’s where our power is. It’s a different way of looking at our power.
I suspect it has a key for us in our present situation, a very important key. […] I think that we all feel that we’re not enough to make a difference. That we need to be more, somehow. Either wealthier, or more educated, or somehow or other different from who we are. According to this story, we are exactly what’s needed. What if we were exactly what’s needed? How would you live if you were exactly what was needed to heal the world?
This is a story that I use to encourage myself when I can’t seem to go on. When everything seems too overwhelming, too impossible, that I am too small. This story, in many ways, is the basis of my blog. I think I have a gift for writing, a gift for telling stories — telling my story is exactly what is needed to heal the world, because someone out there needs to hear that they’re not alone. I just hope they find my blog so they can read my story.