“Henry Rackmeyer, you tell us what is important.”
“A shaft of sunlight at the end of a dark afternoon, a note of music, and the way the back of a baby’s neck smells if its mother keeps it tidy,” answered Henry.
“Correct,” said Stuart.
-Stuart Little, by E.B. White
In the off chance you have not read Stuart Little recently, let me put the above excerpt in context: Stuart is a mouse, born into a human family. His family adores him as they would any new child, and though he never grows taller than 2.5 inches he is accepted and admired wherever he goes (except by the family cat). After Stuart leaves home to search of his bird-friend Margalo, he comes across a dejected looking man sitting on the curb of a sidewalk. The man tells Stuart he is a school principal, but one of his school’s teachers is sick and there is no one to replace her. Stuart, being the hero he is, steps in and saves the day.
In the classroom, Stuart zips through the day’s regular lessons. Spelling? Use a dictionary. Arithmetic? Who needs it. Social Studies? Never heard of it.
He does what any good teacher would do, and asks the students what they want to talk about. He nudges the conversation, of course… which leads to the question:
WHAT IS IMPORTANT?
It is an utterly beautiful bit of storytelling, and as I read it I thought how much better the world would be if every kid got Stuart Little for a teacher.
Then, last week, I participated in a workshop called The Art of Hosting. For three days, the 50 of us involved stepped forward to hold the conversations that were burning inside of us. Some of us spoke in specifics, but I tended to gravitate towards the all-encompassing conversations. The best I can do to label them is something to the effect of, “conversations about healing the world’s deepening crevasse of pain and separation so that we humans can start working together to fix this mess we’re in.”
Of course, it is very easy to get lost in a topic like this, but we learned that getting lost is actually the point. It’s in wading patiently and open-heartedly through the stories that we shift perspective, shift direction and shift the problems we are trying to “solve.” Questions are critical, answers are multiple, and outcomes are unforeseeable.
What is important?
The question just kept coming to me.
I feel like it’s pretty good question to put forward when we find ourselves stuck in a state of conflict.
I feel like it is a question that can lead us, eventually, to common ground.
We all want to have food on the table, but really… don’t we also want food that has a smell and taste to fill our hearts?
We all want a roof over our heads, but don’t we also really want a place that feels like home, that feels comfortable and maybe even inspires us just a little?
We all want to feel safe and secure, but so much more than that, right? Loved. Connected. Valued.
And really, what kind of person would not agree to the importance of the smell of a baby’s neck?
Curiosity, beauty, love… I’m sure we’ll find them if we take the time and the risk of diving into the messy stuff of life.
Maybe, like E.B. White (author of Stuart Little), we’ll even come out of it with a good story. After writing Charlotte’s Web he apparently said, “All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.”
If we move forward with intention like that, I we can’t go wrong.