The Crying Lake

“Wow! Look at that!” the younger of the two brothers shouted as soon as they arrived, pointing excitedly at the reflection of the moon in the lake. “Are we coming back here again for my birthday, Grandpa?”

“Not sure. Perhaps your mother could bring you,” the old man replied absentmindedly as he unpacked his travois.

“No! I don’t want that. Why don’t you come with me again, Grandpa? It’s more fun to be here with you.”

“Who wants to climb all the way up here again next week?” the older brother protested.

“Oh! Your birthday is next week already?” Grandpa asked.

“Yes, Grandpa! You have to come! It is my birthday, remember. You are coming, right?”

He stopped unpacking and looked at the child with intense curiosity. “Isn’t it your eighth birthday?”

“Yes, Grandpa.”

“And have you chosen a name yet?”

“No, Grandpa.”

“He is lying, Grandpa,” said the older brother. “He did choose a name already!”

“No, I didn’t,” the younger one said defensively.

“He is lying, Grandpa!”

“Is that so, little one?”

“Well, maybe I chose one,” the younger brother admitted. “But it’s a stupid name. I don’t want it anymore.”

“How so?” the old man asked as he walked over to the younger brother.

“The Shaman said the ancestors would whisper a name in a dream when my spirit was ready to walk alongside the spirit of the tribe.”

Grandpa nodded. “That’s correct. That’s how we all know our true names—the ancestors whisper a name into your heart. They use no words, and only you can hear it. And only you can decide if you accept the name or not.”

“I had the dream, Grandpa, three nights ago!” the younger brother said excitedly. “It was about this lake and the moon. In my dream, the lake and the moon looked just like they look right now.”

“Really!? Wow! That must’ve been a beautiful dream, my boy,” the grandfather said, stroking the boy’s hair. “This is the sixth full moon of the year, on a clear night. It is a special moment, indeed. See, there?” He pointed to the reflection of the moon and added, “See how the soft glow of the full moon reflects gracefully on the still lake? The spirits of the ancestors rejoice on a night like this; they join in the reflection of the glow. Together, they are the silver fire dancing above the waters. Do you see it, boys?”

“Yes, Grandpa,” the older brother said.

The younger one nodded. “That’s what I thought, too, Grandpa! About my dream.”

“And the ancestors in the dream,” the grandfather asked, “did they whisper a name to you?”

“Yes. They called me ‘Painted Moon.’”

“That’s a beautiful name, my child.”

“That’s what I told him, too, Grandpa, but he wouldn’t listen,” the older brother interjected.

The younger one frowned. “It is a stupid name! I want another.”

“Did you feel it was stupid the night the ancestors whispered the name to you?” the grandfather asked the younger brother gently.

The frown disappeared. “No, Grandpa. I actually liked it very much that night.”

“And then what happened?”

“It was the Shaman,” the younger brother answered. “He began speaking to the tribe the next night after dinnertime. He told a story about this lake. He called it The Crying Lake. He said the lake up in the mountains was like many men trapped between Heaven and Earth. He said The Crying Lake was full of love for the moon, but full of hatred for the sun.”

“Oh, yes, I was there—I remember that story.”

“Yes, but the Shaman didn’t finish the story, remember? That night, Hunting Wolf became sick, and the Shaman rushed away to attend to him…” the boy paused. “You see, Grandpa? I don’t want to be trapped. And I don’t want to be full of hatred.”

The grandfather smiled. “Well, little one, that makes sense. But perhaps if I finish the story for you, you’ll find out you have nothing to worry about. You are nothing like this lake! And your name is a fitting gift from the ancestors.”

“Okay.”

“I want to hear the story, too, Grandpa,” the older brother added.

“Well, alright. Come on—get closer. I’ll tell the story while you boys start the fire. Let’s see… Where to start?” The grandfather settled himself into place. “Okay. It is called ‘The Crying Lake’ because of how much she suffers. The lake lives a miserable existence full of pain and despair; she cries herself to sleep every night.”

“Why?” both boys asked at the same time.

“Most nights—ever since the time she became a lake—the Crying Lake reflects the light of the moon and the stars like a perfect divine mirror. Nothing else compares to its glory. It is a unique privilege, and one that makes the lake very proud. The lake cherishes each one of her drops of water the way a mother cherishes each of her children. The drops reflect light as if they were diamonds! The Crying Lake is happy at night, because she is full of love for the moon whose light she reflects so gloriously.”

“And then what happens, Grandpa? How come she is miserable?”

“The hot sun comes up every morning and batters the lake all day long. Unable to withstand the heat, thousands of drops of water from her surface die—they become flying mist and float up into the sky.”

Both brothers nodded. “Ah! That is sad,” the younger one said.

“The Crying Lake curses the sun all day long,” the grandfather continued. “She asks the Heavens for his death, but to no avail. Her heart is full of resentment for an enemy she can’t defeat. Every night, after the sun is gone, The Crying Lake mourns the loss of her children. Then the moon and the stars come out to soothe her and ease her pain. Reflecting their light gives her peace again and a reason to keep on going. Amid sobs, she falls asleep.”

“But is not her fault, Grandpa!” the younger brother protested, aghast. “How come the Shaman blames her for her suffering?”

“The Shaman didn’t blame her, little one.”

“It’s true, little brother,” the older one said. “The Shaman just said she was trapped.”

“That’s right. She’s trapped between Heaven and Earth, love and hatred, pleasure and suffering. She’s trapped between opposing pairs because she thinks she is just a lake. The same happens to a man—he feels trapped, thinking he is just a man.”

The younger brother’s frown came back. “I don’t get it, Grandpa.”

“If the lake were to realize her true nature, she would not experience pain as a lake,” the grandfather explained patiently. “She would not suffer injustice at the hands of others. She would not see death the way a lake sees death.”

The older brother spoke up. “Don’t you get it, little brother?”

“Nope.”

The grandfather smiled. “The true nature of the lake is water.”

“Water!?” the younger brother blurted out.

“That’s right.”

His frown was still there. “What do you mean?”

“As water, she would enjoy being a serene lake. As water, she would feel excited to become a floating mist. As water, she would relish being a wandering cloud. As water, she would love to become falling rain. As water, she would be amused to be a flowing river. As her true self, she would not feel the suffering she experiences under her transient identity as a lake— she would not feel any rage or pain or death, and she would not blame others. As water, she would be as she is in the now, no longer fractured by time and identity.”

“But, Grandpa, why doesn’t the moon just tell her?”

“It is not something the mind understands, my child. It is something the heart realizes, something the heart grows into, slowly, like the growing of a tree.”

“But, Grandpa, how can a man grow like a tree?”

“The seed sprouts when we listen to the whispers of the heart, the silent voices of our roots within, our ancestors. No one can listen for you.”

Silence engulfed all three, to be interrupted by a soft summer breeze, a glowing lake, and a crackling fire. The brief moment seemed stuck in time.

Finally, the little boy broke the spell. “Grandpa, I will be her heart and listen for her. I’m coming back here next week, on my birthday. I will soothe the lake during the day. I will be her Painted Moon.”