of the oldest and most delightful written words in
the English language are the collective nouns dating
from medieval times used to describe groups of birds
and beasts. Many of these go back five hundred
years or more, and lists of them appeared as early
as 1440 in some of the first books printed in
English. These words frequently offer an
insight into the nature of the animals or birds they
describe. Sometimes this is factual and
sometimes poetic. Occasionally it is
profound: a pride of lions, a party of jays,
an ostentation of peacocks, an exaltation of larks,
a gaggle of geese, a charm of finches, a bed of
clams, a school of fish, a cloud of gnats, and a
parliament of owls are some examples. Over
time, these sorts of words have been extended to
other things as well. One of my favorites is
pearls of wisdom.
oyster is soft, tender, and vulnerable.
Without the sanctuary of its shell it could not
survive. But oysters must open their shells in
order to "breathe" water. Sometimes
while an oyster is breathing, a grain of sand will
enter its shell and become a part of its life from
grains of sand cause pain, but an oyster does not
alter its soft nature because of this. It does
not become hard and leathery in order not to
feel. It continues to entrust itself to the
ocean, to open and breathe in order to live.
But it does respond.
Slowly and patiently, the
oyster wraps the grain of sand in thin translucent
layers until, over time, it has created something of
great value in the place where it was most
vulnerable to its pain. A pearl might be
thought of as an oyster's response to its
suffering. Not every oyster can do this.
Oysters that do are far more valuable to people than
oysters that do not.
is a way of life for an oyster. If you are
soft and tender and must live on the sandy floor of
the ocean, making pearls becomes a necessity if you
are to live well.
and loss are a part of every life. Many times
we can put such things behind us and get on with the
rest of our lives. But not everything is
amenable to this approach. Some things are too
big or too deep to do this, and we will have to
leave important parts of ourselves behind if we
treat them in this way. These are the places
where wisdom begins to grow in us. It begins
with suffering that we do not avoid or rationalize
or put behind us. It starts with the
realization that our loss, whatever it is, has
become a part of us and has altered our lives so
profoundly that we cannot go back to the way it was
in us can transform such suffering into
wisdom. The process of turning pain into
wisdom often looks like a sorting process.
First we experience everything. Then one by
one we let things go, the anger, the blame, the
sense of injustice, and finally even the pain
itself, until all we have left is a deeper sense of
the value of life and a greater capacity to live it.
Remen and her work are pure inspiration. Let
her stories heal your heart and soul.
beautiful book about life,
the only true teacher.
Naomi Remen is nature's gift to us, a genius
of that elusive and crucial
capacity, the human heart.