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Hush little one, you are safe. Lay your head against me. Wait let me move my stethoscope, there that is better.

I feel your quiet breathing – the gentle in and out movement that shifts your entire tiny body as you sleep on my lap in the clinic.  You are so small for your three years of life, but you fill the room. Your mother is telling me her story, but you are all she and I see, hear, feel.

Your mother’s story is shocking and horrible – trauma, fear, flashbacks. It is beyond your comprehension or mine. She felt completely abandoned by hope or love. Until your tiny hand grasped hers. Until you smiled and cried and clung to her for your very life. She is good mother – I hear that in and between every word she says. I saw it in your sweet smile, your gentleness.

Now sleep. While she tells me her story, I will tell one to you. Sleep little princess.

Once upon a time there was a land far far away that was shrouded in much mystery. Some said it lay beyond the Western mountains, others that is was past the Southern seas. And others said it was just a myth. No one was sure who had first heard of it, or if anyone had ever been there. No one even knew what it was called. After many many years, most people laughed whenever one of the children would mention it and tell them to stop being silly and thinking about make-believe fairy lands. But what those people really meant was “We are very sad we never found that fairy land.” Because it was a very curious fact everyone longed to go there, even if for just a few moments. Because it was rumored in that land there was no more pain, no more sadness, just peace and joy.

The city where everyone lived, not the fairy country of which they dreamed, was filled with pain and sadness. We don’t need to talk about that pain and sadness. But it was very sad. The people couldn’t get away from it at all; they had no rest, no breaks, no nap times. It was only work, and pain, and sadness all day, all week, all year.

Once there was an especially sad young man walking through the city. He was a poet and carried a lute over his shoulder. Everyone knew him as the Sad Poet.  He would sit beside the gray river that flowed through the middle of the city over dirty worn stones and sing songs he had written about how sad the world was and how sad everyone was. Maybe because he was a poet, maybe because he was more observant than many other people, but sometimes he would see a small flower growing, or a bit of sunshine, or a smile briefly pass over someone’s face. These were only brief glimpses. Maybe because he was a poet he could imagine a more beautiful and happy place, but that would make him sad too because he thought it was just his imagination. Then he would cry and cry out loud to the empty sky “How long?”

On one especially sad and gray day, he looked up from his crying and saw a beautiful little girl staring at him. She was very tiny and had big brown eyes and big frizzy brown hair. She was dirty and her clothes were torn, and she looked like she hadn’t any home or food. But the really strange thing was she glowed with a soft golden light. He had never seen her before; in fact he had never seen a little girl like this before at all. He was so surprised that he stood up and stopped crying. Then he sat down. He was very surprised.

She looked him straight in the eyes, which was very strange because most children in the city wouldn’t look at you at all, and said, “Get up and follow me! Hurry now!” The Sad Poet was not used to little girls telling him what to do, but being a very smart poet, he decided to do what she said. So he got up and followed her.  That’s right, smart people should listen to little girls.

by Marc Chagall

He followed her beside the river. He followed her down back alleys filled with trash and rats. She was obviously a very brave little girl. He followed her right to the edge of the city where the dark forest started. Then she turned around and looked at him for the first time since the river.

He said, “Little girl, who are you?” She smiled at him and took his hand and said, “I am the daughter of the Queen of Fairy Land. She has heard your singing and crying and she has sent me to find you and bring you back to Fairy Land.”

The poet didn’t know what to say, he almost laughed but he stopped himself because he wasn’t sure if he was laughing for happiness or because he didn’t believe her.

The little girl laughed and grabbed the poet’s hand and said, “Come on silly poet, soon you shall see that happy land.” Then she led him into the dark forest, down tiny rabbit trails, and over beaver dams, and even once they had to crawl through a mole tunnel (don’t ask me how they did it, I am just telling you what happened!)

Eventually after a very long and very hard journey the little girl led the poet into a field of the most beautiful wild flowers and blossoming trees. The blues and yellows and purples and reds and pinks and greens were unlike anything the poet had ever seen. The smells were rich and full of life. It was so overwhelming that he almost fainted. The little girl showed him fruit that tasted like silken jewels and candied light (that is what he said, remember, he was a poet, sometimes they say things like that).

She led him through more and more beautiful places with healing waters and trees the would sing you to sleep, and gradually he became happy.

Then she left him.

Yes, she just vanished. The poet was confused and sad again, because they had become very good friends and would tell each other stories and draw pictures in the sand by the creeks and dance and dance and dance.

But she left.

The poet continued to wander around that beautiful land and he started think strange thoughts. He wanted his friends and family back in the city to find their way here. He wrote beautiful songs about how happy everyone in the city would be if they could come here and eat this fruit and wash in this water. They were the most beautiful songs he had ever written (and if he had known it, that had ever been written by anyone from the city).

It was right after he finished writing a particularly beautiful song and eating some particularly delicious grapes (he later said they sparkled with the light of a thousand stars) that the little princess showed up again just as suddenly as she had disappeared! They were so very happy to see each other that they danced a little jig right there under that grape tree (apparently they have different sorts of plants in that country).

When they finished dancing and laughing, the little princess became very serious and opened a bag a pulled out a beautiful diamond vial filled with a liquid that really did look like it had the light of stars in it. She said, “My mother has sent me again to ask you if you are ready to go back to the city.”

The poet started shaking in his boots, he wanted his friends and family to come here, not for him to go back there. So instead of answering her, he asked, “What is in that beautiful vial you are holding?” “Your tears,” she said.

The poet became very quiet and after a few moments he asked, “All of them?” She nodded very solemnly. The poet asked, “Why do you have them and why are you giving them back to me?”

“Oh Poet, my dear friend,” she cried, “You don’t know yet how hard your job is back in the city. For many many years I wandered the streets of the city looking for anyone who truly believed there could be a better place and you were the first. If you go back, people will not believe you but you will have these tears with you.”

The poet could only mutter, “I don’t understand.” The little princess smiled as she held up the vial and said, “Each drop of tears has the power to heal. So even if the people in the city don’t listen to what you say about this country, my mother has still given you a way to bring a bit of beauty and healing to the city.”

The poet took the vial in his hands and looked at it. He looked at the little princess and with a happy but serious face said, “I am ready to go back now, please tell me the way.”

Now she smiled the biggest smile she had ever smiled at him and reached up and grabbed his hand and said, “No, we are going together, now there are two of us to bring beauty and happiness to the city.”

And so they did.