It is remote, a wonder how it was ever found. Even the entrance is obscure, overhead like an attic. Climb up a ladder to enter through a manhole size opening. It is not the only one of its kind on Sulawesi Island in Indonesia, but so far it is the oldest one. It is the oldest one in the world.
It is 45,500 years old. To put that in perspective, Ramses II, the Pharaoh many associate with Moses, was 3,300 years ago. It is the oldest known figurative art fashioned by a human or human-like creature. It’s a pig, and a good enough likeness to match a species still roaming the island. Made with mulberry colored pigment, it’s surrounded by painted hand prints. Signatures? (“Pig Painting…” by Becky Ferreira in the NYT 1/13/21).
I don’t know about you, but I get goosebumps and tongue-tied when it becomes clear how long we have been telling our stories – and how long we have been trying to keep them alive. A little awe and wonder is just what the doctor ordered to light up this shroud of low grey clouds dogging us this winter.
Today is the inauguration of Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris. Imagine how that story will get told in the years to come, and how our stories will be told when the first twenty years of this century are distilled into an historical narrative. Standing in the midst of it, we don’t know if our hostile clashes of words, class, and race are the birth pangs of a new liberation and wonderfully transformed narrative, or the ending of a long chapter in the American story. We don’t get to know but we do get some input into how it takes place and how it gets told.
While telling stories is a year-round practice in traditional Ojibwa culture, winter is a special story-telling season. In fact, there are stories that are only told when the air is cold and snow is on the ground. It makes me think that now, in this long, deep pandemic winter, we ought to be sharing and honing our stories.
What will we tell our grandchildren about the last two decades? It began with partying like it was 1999 and fears of the Y2K bug. Remember that? Then 9/11 and the start of endless wars. A bubble of selfish greed so enormous it popped and slimmed everyone. An election of Hope and “Yes we can!” Then a MAGA wall to a pandemic to an insurrection. A roller coaster of such intensity we almost stopped watching the news.
The stories we tell matter, and how we tell them can empower or enervate. Perhaps today is the start of a new story, one we hoped for but never expected. “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end…How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come… “ (from Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien).