Happy April Fool's Day! When I was a child, my father and I would make paper fish and tape them on one another's backs, in the French tradition of Jour de Poisson. I continued this with my students when I was teaching; it was fun and silly, and it kept the practical jokes and outrageous lies at bay. I have friends who dislike April Fool's Day, and to be truthful, I don't much care for practical jokes or fooling people. I'd rather be real, and be able to trust that others are, too.
The Fool, however, is with me today. The holy fool, the Clown of God, the foolish youngest son, the simpleton -- the fool is very present in fairy tales and folklore. The innocent hero who must take the journey into the unknown somehow outwits the wisest men and the strongest magic-wielding women. Usually, he is the youngest of three sons, but sometimes he is the only son of a poor family, like Jack in "Jack and the Beanstalk." While the fool in stories is usually depicted as male, that does not limit these lessons to males. My work with fairy tales and myths reminds me that the tale is universal. It is about the journey of the individual, not of a particular person with a particular body and set of life circumstances.
There are tales in which the fool is reviled or tricked, where the main character encounters fools and is disdainful -- "The Three Sillies" is one of these. These aren't the fools I'm referring to; the fool I want to honor is the one who sets out in the world with a handful of beans, or a cat, or a wish for a beautiful princess, and finds the way is perilous and fraught with cruelty. Or, perhaps, he is a lazy fool, who is granted his wishes by a magic fish, and somehow ends up fulfilling all the king's conditions for marrying his daughter. This is the blessed fool.
Through innocence and purity of heart, the Fool can do what his brothers cannot. In the traditional Tarot deck, the Fool is a card of new beginnings and infinite possibilities. It is the archetype of hopefulness and open-hearted wonder. The little dog at the fool's heels reminds us to be awake to our surroundings, not to get caught up in the dream and wonder. In the tales, the Fool takes things as they come, without attaching his interpretation to them, and lives in the moment.
We value knowledge in this world, but sometimes, letting go of the knowledge and opening our hearts in wonder at the marvels we encounter in each day can allow us to meet challenges with greater wisdom than we could find through all our learning and experience. Sometimes, the most beautiful gift we can offer, is the one we know paints us in our simplest, truest light. This gift requires us to give deeply and freely of our innermost selves.
Be foolish! Be openhearted and innocent! Laugh and cry and conduct your business with guilelessness and trust. I'm not saying, be stupid; even the fool learns wisdom in the best stories, and this wisdom comes with riches and love. I wish you all a day of Foolery, full of love, riches, and wisdom, and the knowledge that the path opens to those who walk without guile as well as to the learned and the experienced.
Sara is a storyteller, writer, artist, teacher, wife, mother, and singer living in Minnesota. I write about storytelling, and about living a life with stories.