The Story of Hairy Mary


As my family will attest, I am a story teller.   I love the fine art of embellishment, coupled with a silly voice and lots of uncontrolled facial and body gestures.   If done well it is an art.  If it isn’t, they just shake their head at my weird-ness. 

I love to tell stories, and I have a giant file at work that has bits of pieces of old legends and children’s stories.   Some of those bits and pieces will never see the light of day.  There might be a good piece to them, but nothing that I can make into a whole.  Others are bound to be part of a posting, sermon, or just random conversation.

In the end, the stories I enjoy most come from a world away.   The stories that come from Japan, China, and other parts of Asia are the most fascinating to me.  They remind me that although our culture is so different, we share some common traits.   Among those common traits is the simple truth that can be found in our stories.

One of my favorites is a Taoist story that is often called the Sack…

I have changed the details up a bit, and in my version it’s the story of a Mother and Daughter.

The daughter was a pretty little girl named Mary, with beautiful brown eyes, and beautiful curly hair.

Now Mary wasn’t the richest girl, and although she was beautiful I am sure there were others that were prettier.   And although she had incredible talent, in some areas she wasn’t the most talented or the smartest.   In the end, she was just an all around nice girl, and that made her one in a million.

But her class mates were not anywhere close to what you would call nice.  They picked on her curly hair.   They made fun of her worn out sneakers.   They said she wore funny clothes.   They said her hair was too long.

The classmates eventually gave her a nickname:    Hairy Mary.

Every where she went:  “Hey look, there’s Hairy Mary”  “Here comes that silly girl Hairy Mary”     

They were soon singing it.   “Hairy Mary”   “Hairy Mary”

Soon they were even dancing. “Hairy Mary”   “Hairy Mary”

With all the singing, dancing, and name calling…Mary was hurt.  She was angry.  

She would find herself so full of rage and anger that she would run away from everyone.     She soon just tried to hide in a corner.

If she heard “Hairy Mary” she was sure her heart would break.

Although she never told her mom about the trouble she was going through, parents usually can tell in the end.    After seeing the daughter hurting, and seeing what she was becoming, she knew she had to intervene.

One day after school, she waited for her daughter in front of their home.

When she finally arrived she sat her down and showed her two bags.   One was filled with potatoes and one was empty.

Mom said, I know how much you hurt, and how angry you are…  I want you to think of all the things that folks had done to you, and for each hurt… Grab a potato, carve their name into it, and toss it into the bag.

After a few hours, that big bag was filled with all the hurts of the past week.

A little while Mom came back, looked at the bag, and smiled.   She looked at the girl…and asked her if she trusted her.   “Of course,” said the little girl.

“Then I want you to carry that bag of hurts and pains with you all week long.  Whenever you are at home pick up that bag and carry it with you.”

A little confused, the girl did what she was told.  After a while she realized how heavy that bag was.   Soon her back was hurting.   She still carried it.

After almost a week of carrying the potatoes they started to stink.

Finally her mother came back to the girl, and asked her about the bag.   The girl said it was heavy and hurt…  and it even stank really, really bad.

With a smile her mom grabbed her hand.

“That is what it’s like to carry all those hurts that your friends give with you.  They hurt, cause your back to stoop and eventually they stink.   That is why it’s so important to let them go.”

From there her mom told her, to reach into that bag and remember each hurt.   Remembering is important.   As you pull one out, stop and think about that person who hurt you.   Think about why they might have done it.   Think about how it made you feel.   When you are finally done with remembering, say a prayer for yourself and them, and move on to the next potato.  

That’s forgiveness, she said.

With a smile, she said she would return in an hour, and with that the girl sat and went through that bag potato by potato. One by one, she chose to forgive, and the sack got lighter.

It was almost an hour when her mom returned.   The little girl was happy with her empty bag and held it out to mom to inspect.  “It’s empty, no potatoes mom!,” she declared with great joy.

But the mother smiled…  Yes the bag was empty, but from behind her she brought out a whole other bag of potatoes.  

“Now my dear daughter… Those potatoes were from last week…Did anything or anyone hurt you this week…?.”

“Yes,” she said with great hesitation, and one by one, potatoes were added back into the bag.  With another of those crazy smiles she told her daughter that she would talk about the sack of potatoes again next week.

Over the next 7 days those potatoes got heavier and heavier.   Her back hurt more and more.   They started to smell really, really bad.    Finally, the week was over and she sat down on the front porch said her prayers, and began waiting for mom to show up.

In a few seconds she appeared again, carrying a whole other bag.   Instantly, little Mary’s heart sank.  “How long does she have to spend life carrying around potatoes?  She immediately felt panic.”

The mom, seeing the girls frustration asked little Mary a question.

“Each week people hurt you,” she said. “And each week we add potatoes to your bag for you to carry around.  Are you tired of carrying those potatoes?”

“Yes,” replied the girl.  

“Then what should we do?”

“Stop getting hurt?” the girl asked.  

“Yes and No,… You can work to avoid those who do the hurting, but the only way to stop getting hurt completely is to hide away.   By doing that they win.”

“Maybe forgiving faster?”

“That helps,” mom went on, “but, sometimes the hurts come quicker than we can or want to forgive.   Remember sometimes it takes a long time to remember and consider.   You need to give yourself that privilege.”

Finally, the girl was without answers and she told her mom that she had no idea.

With a smile the mother said the only way to really be free from carrying potatoes is to throw away the bag. 

Its not easy, but by not allowing the careless or hurtful words of others cut us so deeply, we are basically refusing to carry a potato bag.    At first, while we are practicing forgiveness, we might take on just as many potatoes as we let slip by, but overtime we can learn to leave more on the ground that in the bag…”

That afternoon, the little girl agreed to try.

Truth is, we will never become the people of faith we long to be unless we find a way, to drop the bags too.


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