Words and Numbers: A Children’s Story for Adults

(On my blog, I rarely edit my postings… and that is probably obvious to you. I posted this story a couple of  years ago. Since then I’ve rewritten it a couple of times with some editing assistance. I think this is my final version. I like this story very much. At the end is a song I wrote about the importance of stories in our lives.)

The Story of Words and Numbers

Storyteller sits on my bookshelf. Last night he told me this story. I tried to write it down word for word.

A long time ago, before such a thing as time even existed, Words lived peacefully with Numbers. The two existed only in spirit form, invisible, with no sense of separation or consciousness of completeness. All things were as One then, both Words and Numbers.

As people came into the world, created from the songs of angels, they used Words and Numbers to tell their stories, like the “In the Beginning” story. Words created that first sacred tale, enabling people to understand it through their hearts. Numbers told the first sacred story also, describing days, years and generations, so the people’s minds might grow. Favorite Words —love, forgiveness, and hope—helped people to expand their hearts. Favorite Numbers, such as 3, 7, and 40 became old friends, appearing again and again in stories and songs.

One very clear night, the People of the Angel’s Song looked up at the sky and asked, “How many stars are there?”

Words said, “Enough to fill your hearts with awe. Enough to guide you through your lives, enough for the poets and painters forever and forever.”

“I do not know,” said Numbers. “Let me see: 1, 2, 3…”

Words trembled in shock. “What are you doing?”

“I don’t know,” replied Numbers, continuing to speak, “42, 43…”

“You—you—you are counting!” stammered Words.

“I’ve never heard—78, 79—of that word before,” said Numbers “—107, 108—counting, hmm, I like it…2,312.”

The People of the Angel’s Song listened in amazement as Numbers kept counting the stars.

“Count more things for us, Numbers!” demanded the People.

Words drifted quietly away, back to the Where the Shadows Lived, barely noticed by Numbers or by the People of the Angel’s Song. For the first time, Words and Numbers were apart. Words was sad, and very lonely, but Numbers didn’t notice or care, thrilled by the new adoration of the People of the Angel’s Song.

Numbers grew larger and larger, but also required more and more of the People’s attention, especially when Numbers created Time.  Understanding the ways of Numbers would set them on a new path, Numbers now told the People, one that would lead to greatness exceeding even that of the sacred Angel’s Song itself. Then Numbers revealed to the People that their “In the Beginning Story” was untrue, because it lacked real Numbers. Words, Numbers claimed, had greatly confused the minds of the People of the Angel’s Song.

Fearful of destruction, of being used like old charcoal to start a new fire, Words ran far away to Where the Shadows Lived. (Storyteller said he put this part in his story so that he would sound more Native American-ish. Some have accused Storyteller of not being “Indian” enough.) Words cried out to One, the Mother and Father of the Angel’s Song. “The people no longer want me. They care only about Numbers, and counting, and all the things that have come from Numbers, like Time.”

Words sat on the ground, legs folded, trying to listen for a reply, unable to hear anything but the faint sound of Numbers counting just beyond Where the Shadows Lived. Words began to cry, then sob loudly in grief, missing the People of the Angel’s Song. (Storyteller said that just between us, he thought Words was a bit over-dramatic – he said that Words can be like that sometimes.)

After sobbing for a very long time, Words looked up from the ground. From far away came a sound, a quiet pounding, like a distant drum. Rising slowly from the ground, Words left Where the Shadows Lived and followed the sound, which grew louder as Words drew near to the Tangled Forest.  Words hesitated. The Tangled Forest was a fearful place, where the unwary might be trapped forever, unable to free themselves from the tangling vines of confusion, never to be heard from again.

Words remembered what Numbers had said many times, “Only a fool would enter the Tangled Forest.”

Yet the pounding continued, much louder now, still drum-like, but with a new sound flowing through it – like the ripple of a mountain stream.

Then, without warning, came the sound of two voices, one female and one male, speaking in perfect harmony. “Only a fool would NOT enter the Tangled Forest.”

Quickly, without thinking, and without any type of protection, Words stepped in among the trees and entered the darkness.

It was a confusing place indeed, obstructed by thick vines and strange sounds.  Words felt a sudden, overwhelming need to speak of love, anger, sympathy, and greed; of joy, pain, life and death; of fears, and of the past, the present, and the future, as well as many other things. In this confusing place, Words realized, Numbers could not exist. The drumming sound was even louder now, and Words noticed that its rhythm matched that of the ocean waves.

“What is this place they call the Tangled Forest?” Words asked.

Again, both voices answered as One.  “This is the home of the heart of the People of the Angel’s Song.

“I like it here,” said Words, “May I stay?”

“Not all the time,” said One, “But whenever Numbers becomes arrogant, demanding obedience without awareness of causing harm, run back here. Enter the Tangled Forest and speak bravely, for the People of the Angel’s Song cannot deny the truth of Words that come from the Tangled Forest, from their hearts. For it beats in perfect unison with the most sacred of their songs, the Angel’s Song.”

From then on, Words spoke many times from the heart. Each time the People of the Angel’s Song listened carefully, nodding their heads at Words’ wisdom. It was during one of these times that Tears came into the lives of the People.

“What are these things that come from our eyes?” they asked.

Words answered, “These are the Words from the deepest part of your heart.”

The People nodded. “Our knowledge comes from Numbers,” they said, “but One’s wisdom comes from Words.”

(Numbers, meanwhile, is still counting those stars.)


Gary McMahon