Fairy tales do come true thosewhofavorfireblog

As Serafina and I were leaving the dentist’s office last Tuesday, a red-crested cardinal landed on my right shoulder. They’re ubiquitous here. It perched. It peeped. At first, I held still, not wanting to scare it and get my face pecked. I thought it would just fly away. When it didn’t move on, I grew a little nervous. We needed to cross the street and catch our bus home. I told the bird, but it didn’t respond.

We crossed the street, the cardinal comfortably standing on my shoulder, talking to me every now and again. He moved just a little to keep his balance. I was surprised. Serafina was laughing. Really, bird, move along. I used my left hand to try to shoo it away. No luck. It dodged, moving around toward my neck, tickling me. Serafina tried to get it to step onto her hand.


It pecked at her lightly. “Is that your bird,” asked a woman standing on the corner, waiting to cross the other way. No. No, it’s definitely not my bird. Serafina giggled harder. The bird hopped and tickled. Finally, the kind stranger helped him off and set him on the grass.

The evening before, I was at Serafina’s soccer practice, taking shelter from the rain under the canopy of a tree. As often happens, the rain turned to drizzle, which then met the sun and turned to rainbow. I didn’t even see the old crone appear next to me. I was caught up in the magic of a full rainbow across the practice field. “Rainbows remind me of my deceased husband,” the crone said. (And, you know, I’m only calling her “crone” because she was small and toothless, with disheveled hair and oversized, overwashed clothes, and because I want to make a point about fairy tales.)

The crone said that she woke to a rainbow the morning after her husband died three years before. They’d been married 43 years. Ever since, she’s made a point to stop and appreciate them because she’s certain they mean he’s visiting her. After we offered each other words of condolence and caught each other up on who each of our husbands was “survived by,” she spun off a bit into marital and post-marital stories that were somewhat less spiritual and romantic.

I joked later in the week that I was beginning to think I was a Disney princess, given the presence of a menacing and/or wise crone and the wildlife on my shoulder. Maybe Snow White? Or, was it Princess Aurora who talked to birds? But I couldn’t really be a Disney princess, could I? The original princesses were all rescued by someone. Their stories always ended with the royal wedding and a pretty gown.

Fairy tales have been on my mind for a month or more. I took a two-hour workshop online, the homework for which involved choosing a favorite fairy tale and finding commonalities between it and our own life stories. I chose the Grimm brothers’ Snow White and Rose Red. I remembered it always being a favorite, but I couldn’t remember anything about the actual story–just that Snow White and Rose Red were sisters. As I re-read, I remembered: one was dark and one was light. Their mom had two rose bushes, one resembling each daughter. One daughter was quiet, the other more boisterous. Each had her own specific household chores. Light and quiet, dark and passionate–they were inseparable.

The girls have several important encounters throughout the story–I don’t want to give it all away–that demonstrate their character and their mother’s. In rereading it, I saw generosity and acceptance; fear being overcome by altruism; the impulse to help, even with the knowledge that the person being helped will complain about the methods used. As I re-read the story, I remembered the plot and the eventual resolution, but I don’t remember the lessons of it ever being so clear. They resonated: Be kind; give without expectation; accept people as they are.

The tale of Snow White and Rose Red ends happily, but there is a necessary death in the story, a death that breaks a curse. Most of the original Grimms were grim. So much Hans Christen Andersen was tragic. Death was always part of the story, and not everyone could be rescued. The ever-present potential for real loss and pain makes these tales meaningful. It’s what turns the rainbows and the birds into messengers, telling us that the story isn’t really over. I don’t think I’m a Disney princess anymore, but I might have a shot at being a Grimm one.