In April, we are beginning a new series of inspirational interviews called "Life Stories". If you have a story to share, whether it is from your own life, or a story that has shaped your life, please use the contact us form at the right.
To start off our Stories theme, here is a new take on a very old story:
Once upon a time, there was a young girl named Dora. Dora was tall and pretty, and grew up being the center of attention... until her baby brother was born. After that, it was always "Dora, could you take Mikey out in the garden?" or "Dora, could you fetch Mikey a bottle?" Mikey this, Mikey that, always Mikey. Never Dora. Not any more.
One day when Dora was 12 and Mikey was 6, they were walking together in the forest. It was an evening in early autumn. The air was warm and the shadows lay long upon the pine carpet beneath their feet. Dora was walking a little ahead of Mikey, wanting to get home and spend a little time on her own. She'd spent the whole day at Grandma's house with Mikey and needed a break! The crickets buzzed but the birds were still and it seemed like the whole forest was on pause, waiting for something.
Mikey's voice broke the silence.
"Dora, look! Come look at this."
Dora felt annoyed. She just wanted to get home.
"Come on, Mikey. It's getting late."
But Mikey didn't come. Annoyed, Dora backtracked to where Mikey sat, crouched over the twisted root of a tree.
"Mikey..." Dora started, but her voice trailed off as she saw what held his attention. A box sat in the perfect half circle of tree root, as if it had been made to fit there. It was made of some sort of metal frame, with panels of glass with delicate scrolling brass and iron overlayed. Inside, lights danced like fireflies.
Dora had never seen anything like it. The light and shadow moving behind the glass entranced her and she didnt' know how much time had passed before Mikey's voice brought her back to herself.
"Can we keep it?"
Dora took Mikey's hand with her left hand and picked the box up gently with her right, and they walked the rest of the way home in silence.
At home, everyone puzzled over this odd box. It was beautifully crafted and incredibly sturdy in spite of it's delicate appearance. There seemed to be no opening, and yet there were clearly things inside it, moving around. Father tried every which way to open it, but nothing he tried worked. Mother shook it until the lights and shadows inside spun wildly around and Mikey cried out for her to stop. At last, they rested it upon the dining table, a mystery to be solved another time.
Dora could not stop thinking about the box. She lay awake in her bed at night, imagining how amazed everyone would be if she were the one to open it. If she could work out the secrets of the box, they might notice her again. They might remember what a clever and special girl she is. Then she would no longer be "Mikey's big sister". She would be Dora again.
She crept out of her bed, took the box back to her room and sat with it in the moonlight on the foot of her bed.
She turned it round and round in her hands. She felt at the catches in the scrollwork. No matter what she tried nothing worked. She was careful to replace the box on the kitchen table as the sun began to rise before falling in an exhausted heap on her bed.
For seven nights she did this, trying in secret to work out the mystery of the box. Her family noticed her becoming very pale and weary but, they did not guess the reason.
On the eighth night, Dora was ready to give up. She could barely keep her eyes open, but she was so desperate to capture that feeling of being special again that she was determined to try, just once more. She waited until her family had fallen asleep. It was very difficult to stay awake. As soon as the house was quiet, she crept back to the table. The box was now in a corner, pushed to the side, now more frustrating than exciting.
The moonlight was now gone. The sky was dark and there was hardly any light at all in the room. The little lights inside the box were still moving, so she could see the box, but nothing else. Her eyes began to close with the box still in her hands when suddenly, in that bleary half-awake state between dreaming and waking, she saw something! Her eyes flew open. Could it be? Could the answer have been right in front of her the whole time?
There were two tiny brass rolls at the corner of one of the edges. She had thought they must be hinges and any opening must be on the edge opposite. She had tried moving them up or down, but they were firmly fixed. She hadn't, however, tried sliding them! Fully awake now, Dora gently pressed her fingers on the outside edge of one of the rolls... and it slid to the right. She did the same with the one next to it, and it slid to the left. A space appeared, just big enough for her to slide a fingernail under. The lights inside the box went dark.
Dora began to raise the lid, but the things inside it were eager to be free. They pushed the lid open wide and a frenzied mix of light and shadow shot out of the box, and filled Dora. They moved through her wide open eyes, through her open mouth, and raced to fill her beating heart. They infused her with a sense of power and she felt lighter than she had ever felt. She no sooner thought "I feel like I could fly" than her body lifted from the bed. It was effortless, like flying in a dream.
"Maybe I'm asleep after all." thought Dora, but she had never felt more awake.
She floated into Mikey's room and woke him. She needed him to see her, to show him this wonderful power she had found.
Dora's family never knew what the box contained. They only knew that Dora had figured out how to open it, and that the lights and shadows were no longer inside it. Perhaps they had been fireflies after all.
But Dora had a secret magic. At first she thought it was just the ability to fly, but then she discovered that she had only to imagine something and it could be hers. This power came with a terrible hunger. When she amazed people with her magic, it touched that place inside her that wanted to be special. In those moments, she felt seen and valued. This feeling fed her power, and the more she used it, the more she needed to feed it.
She became hungrier and hungrier, filling her life with things to gain the envy of others. It did not matter if people looked at her with admiration, envy or jealousy, as long as they looked. Envy was just as good as love. It made her feel seen. But her hunger was eating her from the inside out.
Autumn turned to winter and Dora's starving heart turned colder. Winters passed and Dora grew older.
One particularly cold winter, Dora took herself to a great market place. She wanted a special coat made by a famous coat-maker. His coats were very expensive and only royalty could really afford them, but she went to see him anyway, knowing that her magic would give her what she wanted.
She found the coatmakers business and entered as if she were a queen. Attendants rushed forward to help her. In the center of the room was the most glorious coat she had ever seen. It was a fitted coat with a narrow waist. The edges were trimmed with luxurious black fur, the softest she had ever felt. The body of the coat was made of snow white silky fur, hanging in loosely flowing tiny panels which moved against each other like water as they shaped to her body. She had never touched such a thing! Reaching into the empty purse she carried, she drew out enough gold to match the price of the coat and placed it into the merchant's hand.
Outside the snow gusted around her. Warm inside her gorgeous coat, Dora floated through the streets eager for admiration, hungry for the attention this coat would surely give her. The harsh weather kept most inside, but a huddled form against a doorway caught her attention. She drifted closer. She was surprised not to feel the glorious recognition she was used to. The closer she got to the figure the more she became aware that there was nothing coming from this person at all! This made Dora very curious indeed.
Dora set her floating feet upon the snowy ground and crunched through the snow over to the huddled form. It was only a child! A child that reminded her of herself. The girl must have been about 6 years old and was dressed in rags and shivering,thin and alone in the heavy snow.
"Where are your parents?" asked Dora.
The girl made no sound, but looked at Dora with wide and wet eyes, neither admiring nor fearful.
Moved by a warmth she had not felt in a very long time, Dora took off her coat and wrapped it around the girl. She opened her mouth to speak to the waif, but when she did, shadow and light came out instead of words. Dancing firefly light and weaving gossamer shadow spiralled up into the falling snow and were lost in the night.
As the magic left her, Dora's hunger fled. The lightness that had made her body fly and weighed her soul down was gone. She had no time to feel the emptiness of her loss. The crumpled body before her was all she could see. Warmth bubbled up inside her, starting at her stomach and moving upward through her heart. It filled her from the inside and spilled out as light through her eyes, as soft words through her mouth, and as gentleness through her arms which now reached for the little girl.
Gathering the child close to her chest, Dora's eyes grew wide with the sudden understanding that the thing she had been so hungry for for so long had been inside her all along, and it was only in giving it away that she found it. A quiet knowing grew within her astonished heart, that peace comes not from being loved, but from being loving.
The child rested her tired head against Dora's shoulder, and together they made their way home.
Authors Note: The story of Pandora's box comes from the Greek legend about a young girl who is entrusted by the Gods to carry a container which she is instructed never to open. Curiosity gets the better of her, and she opens the box and unwittingly unleashes all the evils of the world. Doras motivation, the need to be loved, like curiosity, is something we all share. When we try to fill this need to be loved and valued through external means, we curse ourselves to a lifetime of emptiness and hunger. It is only when we begin to give the love and honor that we so deeply crave to others that we discover an endless font of riches that will never leave us hungry again.
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