Every new year’s eve her husband gave her a gift. Nothing very expensive or unusual, a book, a scarf or a small piece of jewelry. One year he presented a statue made of clay. A seated Navajo woman, her mouth fashioned into an O shape, her body covered with gender-less people.
She placed it on her desk at work, facing her. The woman kept watch as she listened to the stories of those who came to see her. The job required her to listen to employees at all levels, be they executives, managers or just the average run of the mill employee. Often a member of the Board of Directors would come in, take a seat on the other side of the desk, and tell his or her story.
It started very slowly and remained unnoticed until it pressed on her heart, like a stone. Their stories began weighing her down, each new one placed on top of an enormous pile. Each one more tragic in its own way, each person feeling more helpless than the last.
Sitting at her desk one afternoon, she noticed the woman as if for the first time. All those bodies, making it impossible to stand or even move. The mouth in that O shape signaling some crisis, a pain or perhaps a cry for help. It hadn’t occurred to her before, but the woman reflected her feelings about the job, how the listening had become burdensome, and painful. Soon she too would be unable to move.
She quit her job.
Instead of listening to others, she began to listen to herself and she began to write. Although she had long ago ceased to write for pleasure, now the words came pouring out. First her own stories, then the stories of others. The stories had no obvious source; it was as if they simply appeared.
Sitting in her home office one day, she noticed the statue high up on a shelf. Its origin and history a mystery, she conducted some research. The findings were astonishing. She had completely misinterpreted the statue’s original meaning. The woman didn’t carry the bodies as a burden; her mouth didn’t indicate distress or pain and she sat for a reason.
The statue is a Navajo Storyteller, and it may be the best new year’s present ever.