“Far away there is a lake in the middle of a forest. In the middle of the lake there is an island. In the middle of the island there is a church. Inside the church there is a well. Inside the well there is a duck. Inside the duck there is an egg. Inside the egg is the giant’s heart that he locked away for safekeeping.”
So goes part of the old Norse tale “The Giant With No Heart in His Body.” This was the tale I told after a glorious Intery Mintery Halloween celebration at school. 100 kids sitting open-mouthed and entranced in pin-drop silence as I wove the story of the cruel giant who had the power to freeze people into statues with a wave of his hand. Because he had no heart in his body, he was numb to their pain and acted without a trace of remorse. And because he was a giant, he had the power to cause massive harm and hurt. It appeared that his power was absolute and no one could stop him.
But you know how it goes in fairy tales. The impossible is a call for the extraordinary to kick in and one young man sets off to free his frozen brothers. And the extraordinary does not come with more firepower, semi-automatic weapons, Pentagon strategies. In this case, it begins by the simple act of sharing food with a hungry raven, putting a stranded salmon back into the stream, making a sacrifice to help a starving wolf. All of them promise to be future allies, though the boy is dubious as to how they could ever help him.
Through some clever strategies with the Giant’s wife, the boy does find out where his heart his hidden. And lo and behold, the wolf carries him to that church, the raven retrieves the key from the top of the tower, the salmon gets the egg from the well. The boy begins to squeeze the heart and the giant far-away screams for mercy. The boy agrees to stop if the giant releases his brothers and the giant does so.
Now here is the curious part. The wolf advises him; “Don’t put the heart back in the egg. This is non-negotiable. Squeeze it until it bursts in two.” The boy does so and the giant falls down dead. And that’s how they lived happily ever after.
That’s a hard thought. Would a pacifist have killed Hitler given the opportunity? One death, millions of deaths avoided? It’s a slippery slope to say killing is wrong and then to kill to prevent further killing. But how do you negotiate with someone who has no heart in their body?
Not likely that any of us will ever be tested in such a situation. But there are heartless folks out in the world causing great damage and they do need to be stopped. Being nice and understanding toward them is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. The stakes are high.
The part that strikes me is the giant. The giant has such power because of his size. And in contemporary terms, that size is the power we confer on someone through media exposure. On Youtube the other day, I saw a drunk Sarah Palin ranting incoherently in response to something Elizabeth Warren said. If she was an eccentric aunt, I could practice my compassion on her. But why does media confer such power to a heartless woman with extremely confused neuron connections in her brain? And remember that such giants can freeze the bodies and hearts of all who come within their range.
So my advice to the media is to shut off the cameras, cut the cord to their public exposure, stop granting them the illusion that they have the right to spew venom and let them rant and rave to whatever unfortunate family members have to put up with them—and that’s all. Of course, media will never do that because the whole show is about making a show and nothings sells better than rant and rage and all that hits us in the brain stem, at our lowest evolutionary function.
And so the show goes on and the giants stomp about the land with their frozen statue victims on display. Nothing to do but feed hungry ravens and put distressed salmons back in the water. And keep aware of which parts of our own hearts are locked away for safekeeping and create a circle of community where it is safe to bring them out.