Fundamentally, the holy fool’s mission is to promote harmony and good will by correcting those personality flaws that impede human community. . . . [and how] the salvific element of play [is] inherent in the role of holy fool as spiritual physician . . . of the soul bringing transformation and renewal.
Sandra J. Pile
Mirth and Morality in Shakespeare’s Holy Fools
Yesterday, I stopped by the Concord Public Library to put a request in for an interlibrary loan for Sandra J. Pile’s book. In my absurdist compendium of all things New Orleans in the form of a Mardi Gras parade, which is how I’m currently referring to my ms., Mystick Krewe of Swan Songs, the Holy Fool is held in high regard; in fact, S/He drives the entire tone of the book.
So, it is not out of the realm of possibility that I should encounter such a person as I walked back into the sunshine on that cold and very windy St. Patrick’s day, although, at the time, I didn’t fully grasp it. Coming toward the entrance was a tall woman that I immediately sensed as someone who was homeless, since the library provides a warm haven for our many such citizens who struggle to survive, particularly in winter. She radiated color, however, and her bearing was straight, her walk energetic.
“Is that your dog in the car?” she asked. Lucy peered out the window, eager for my return, and had probably started smiling and wagging her tail when she saw me emerge. When I told her that it was, the woman said, “I thought so–I just had a feeling.” She asked if the muzzle around Lucy’s snoot was because she was nippy.
“No, actually, it’s a Gentle Leader, like a bridle on a horse. It works so much better than choke collars and doesn’t hurt.” She smiled. I noticed her more closely then, how her hat of deep rose with flecks of orange leaned back somewhat, as if it had been pointy then cropped just above the crown of her head. She seemed to be missing every other front tooth for the wide gaps, yet she bore no trace of self-consciousness. She was also carrying a large leather (?) bag, brownish, if I recall correctly, slung so that it hung down her front.
“I had a dog like that once. She was nippy when she got older, that’s why I asked.” Lucy was taking this all in from behind the closed window, eager to know what would happen.
“Would you like to pet her?” I asked, and she beamed and said she would. So we walked toward the car, I opened the door, and Lucy came as close as she could–her seat belt harness allowed her to go only so far–and the woman began petting and scratching her in just the right spots, behind her ears, under her snoot, on her chest. It was ecstasy at first sight. Naturally, Lucy began giving her famous arm hug as she licked her hand, and then, by mutual agreement, they leaned further so their faces were touching.
“Oh, kisses, kisses,” the woman cooed. “Such sweet kisses! I want you to know you’ve made my day, Lucy.” I told her that she’s made Lucy’s as well. “And look at your L.L. Bean coat and your blanket. Aren’t you lucky.” Then she told me that she’d had her dog until she was seventeen. “She had a stroke, and I couldn’t put her down, and one night, she wandered into a snow storm and I never saw her again.” My heart broke open, imagining her anguish waiting for the infirm dog to return, how the hours must have been excruciating. Her eyes got moist, and she leaned back for more Lucy love. Even as I understood her grief at such a loss, I also wondered if the dog had chosen to die that way; nevertheless, I could also feel the confusion of the dog, probably blind and deaf and arthritic, struggling to make her way back with a compromised ability to keep her balance, then finally, giving in and giving up, lying down and letting her death come.
When she stood up again, I asked “Don’t you want to get another dog?”
Her face clouded somewhat. “I can’t. I’m actually looking for a place to live myself.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said.
Now the cloud seemed to stretch thin, barely covering her, “Oh, it’s okay. Things happen.” Then she went back to Lucy for a goodbye kiss, her thin smile stoic, yet unconvincing.
I should have enfolded her in a hug–the one that rushed forth in the form of wanting to take care of her, take her in, fix her problem. Instead, I simply smiled and thanked her for petting and loving Lucy and told her that she’d given Lucy a huge gift. We waved goodbye as she headed for the library, where so many of our homeless gather.
In got into my car, kissed Lucy as she perched on the console, eager to reunite. There was so much for me to process from that brief encounter as I drove home; she’d given me so many gifts, and I realized I should have told her that in the hug I wanted to give her but didn’t: a renewed reminder to be grateful for all I have, particularly Lucy’s presence in my life. I would have wanted to enumerate those things: that I have a cozy home, a functioning car, a full set of teeth, but that would have been going to far. I petted Lucy and said, “I hope that never happens to us–I want to be with you when you die, and I want it to be easy and painless for you.” To myself, I said, For me, I know it will be excruciating.
As I began writing these words, I reviewed each facet of the encounter, how she so perfectly matched the image of the Fool in the tarot: the vagabond in somewhat shabby attire, holding a rose of innocence (the color of her cap), the shape of her cap (like a cut-off pointed one), her willingness to stop and play with Lucy, the large presence of the Dog who nips (her own long lost one) that began the whole thing. And the lessons she imparted most of all: transformation and renewal. I feel truly blessed and enriched. I can only pray she receives the same sevenfold.