Some stories stay with you for a long time, having their way with you, becoming integrated within you as you become more integrated within yourself. “Solomon’s Advice” has been one such story for me.
I first read this story in David Whyte’s wonderful book The Heart Aroused. He’d heard it from Angeles Arien, who got it from Allan B. Chinen’s book, Once Upon a Midlife, who may have gotten it from Italo Calvino. The story can, in fact, be found in Calvino’s book Italian Folktales. Clearly, this story has made the rounds.
I’ll let you track down the full story for yourself and give you a very abbreviated version because it is one part of the story that has been opening within me for a time. As the story goes, there is a shopkeeper with a wife and sons. One morning he finds a dead body lying across the threshold of his shop. Afraid he will be accused of the murder, he flees.
Yes. He abandons his family and flees.
Miles from home, he takes work as servant to a wise man by the name of Solomon and works for this man for many years. Ultimately, he decides to return home. Solomon gives him three pieces of advice before he leaves. He charges his faithful servant handily for the advice, too. The first piece of advice is this: Don’t leave the old road for a new one. As annoyed as the servant is about paying for such a simpleminded piece of advice, he does use it. And he saves his own life in the process.
Chinen has an opinion about what this bit of advice means within the context of midlife. So does Whyte. I wasn’t quite satisfied with either—though that might simply be my lack of scholarly attendance to what they had to say. But the notion stayed with me for many years. What did it really mean to not leave the old road for a new one?
Yes, yes. Plenty of people have midlife crises and go off in new directions to their detriment. I didn’t think that part of the story was a symbolic admonition to stick with tradition, or the known, or what society thinks we should do. And anyway, many other people in midlife leave the old road and blaze new trails to their betterment. There was something more there.
Then, in that early morning state of intuitive understanding we all sometimes have before we’re fully awake, a sense of its relevancy to me dropped right into my consciousness, more or less fully formed. It was simple. It fit so completely with the work I do as a shaman. It made sense within the context of my own life. And this is how I came to understand it.
To be continued.
Copyright 2013 by Melanie Mulhall